One year ago today, President Joe Biden was voted into office, ousting incumbent President Donald Trump. Biden inherited a country faced with a deadly pandemic and fractured by political divisions, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. In the past 12 months, the president’s actions have sparked conversation and controversy around the U.S. and within the Brown political community. The Herald spoke with student representatives from political organizations on campus about their thoughts on Biden’s first year in the Oval Office.
Ellis Clark ’23 and Edan Larkin ’23, president and vice president, respectively, of the Brown College Democrats, both emphasized the importance of holding Biden accountable to his promises after their efforts to support his campaign. “I don’t think many people necessarily supported Biden because Biden was their ideal candidate, so we understand that we need to keep holding him accountable,” Larkin said. “That was something we were well aware of when we were fighting so hard to have him elected.”
Clark and Larkin expressed disappointment in what they viewed as the Biden administration’s failure to protect voting rights, cancel student loan debt and improve safety and acceptance for migrants. Biden has recently faced backlash for what many left-leaning Americans consider a continuation of Trump’s immigration policies . Despite their frustration with the Biden administration, Clark and Larkin believe that Biden has made significant progress specifically in the nation’s COVID-19 response.
“75% of America is vaccinated, and we’re not even getting tested anymore at Brown … You can look at your day-to-day life from a year ago to today, and in the COVID-respect, I do think that is much better,” Clark said. “But it’s nowhere near where we wanted to be in terms of not having to mask up.”
Clark and Larkin acknowledge that the club’s views may not represent Democrats across the country, as many club members tend to push for more progressive policies. “In many ways, (Biden has) delivered to an extent on the things that he promised,” Larkin said. “The bigger issue is, things that he promised aren’t exactly what young members of the Democratic Party want to see, particularly in Brown Dems. We have more of a progressive outlook and more of a progressive membership.”
Larkin voiced concerns that Biden’s presidency is widening the divide within the Democratic Party between moderates and progressives, skewing the general public’s perception of the Democratic Party to the political left.
“I personally would pin Biden as dead center,” Larkin said. “With rhetoric like Trump spewing ‘Socialist Joe’ and things like that, I’ve seen this increasing feeling of associating Joe Biden with socialism or with leftism, and I do sometimes worry about the conservative push that will respond to that.”
While the College Democrats expressed their disappointment in Biden’s unfulfilled promises, David Sacks ’22, president of the Brown College Republicans, shared that members of his club disagree with many of Biden’s actions. His personal impression of Biden’s first year is “not great, not terrible.”
While the Brown Republicans have mixed feelings over Trump’s immigration policies, they support stricter immigration protocols overall, with Sacks voicing concern over immigration at some borders where COVID-19 screening may not thorough enough.
In particular, members of the club are disappointed at the halt in construction of the Keystone Pipeline, according to Sacks.
“We liked the energy independence it is starting to give us now,” Sacks said. “Without its construction, people are out of work, which is not a great thing to do during a recovery from a pandemic.”
Criminal justice reform is another issue that Sacks and members of the College Republicans are concerned about. “Biden should be encouraging more bipartisanship in that regard, as opposed to holding out for more extreme options,” Sacks said. “We want more accountability for the police, and I think that with more extreme positions on both sides … we’re not getting there, but step-by-step is better than nothing.”
The College Republicans also hope to see Biden legalize marijuana and address drug problems by increasing awareness and focusing on mental health, according to Sacks.
Sacks also shared the club’s general disappointment in Biden’s pandemic recovery efforts. “Biden’s doing his best, but we don’t agree with the approaches he’s taking,” Sacks said. “We’re not thrilled about the fact that small businesses are suffering and corporations are doing well.”
Sacks added that for him, Biden’s leadership has proven the strength of some Trump-era policies. “Biden’s presidency is highlighting the fact that some of Trump’s economic stuff worked — lowering corporate taxes, lowering income taxes ,” Sacks said.
Currently, Sacks believes the Republican Party has the opportunity to figure out its goals and purposes. “The Republican Party is facing a bit of an identity crisis right now,” Sacks said. “We need to decide who we’re about, and I think we actually have a historic occasion to become about working people and people who need help.”
Adam Shepardson ’22, president of the Brown University Libertarians, shared a similar frustration with Biden’s inaction in decriminalizing drugs, but said he is especially dissatisfied with the lack of criminal justice reform and improvement in immigration policy under the Biden administration.
“The one silver lining I thought might possibly come from the Democrat administration has gone out the window and we’re going to have a repeat of Trump’s immigration policies,” Shepardson said. “I’m not a huge fan of that.”
But Shepardson explained that his expectations for Biden were not very high in the first place. “In general, I do not have particularly fond opinions of Biden as things currently stand,” Shepardson said. “That may improve if he does cash in on his campaign promises about immigration at some point, but that’s obviously not happening now.”
Tony Unger ’22.5, chair of the Brown/RISD Young Democratic Socialists of America, said he has remained dissatisied with the Biden administration, primarily in areas like the infrastructure investment plan and COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
“I was optimistic, probably unjustifiably so, by the infrastructure bill,” Unger said. “A lot of the climate provisions, I thought would have been a step in the right direction … but we’ve seen in recent weeks that it’s been whittled down to sorts of spending that I think are actually quite bad.”
Yet Unger believes that Biden’s first year is not entirely without success, citing the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.“Unequivocally, every member of the YDSA would agree that it is pretty impressive that he got us out of Afghanistan,” Unger said. “That’s a major step forward. It made a lot of people angry, but it was the right move.”
Unlike others, Unger expressed that Biden had met his expectations, though those expectations were low to begin with. “We had very few expectations for Biden,” Unger said, “and in most regards he’s lived up to what we expected him to do.”