America's challenges come in many forms
Presidents come into office with aspirations and plans, but those agendas have to match the demands of the times. President Biden understands that America stands at a critical juncture, so he has fashioned even more ambitious plans than he might otherwise.
The immediate test – hardly the only one but not a small one either – is his massive plan to address decades of deferred work on the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure. For today it means good jobs, and for tomorrow it means a more efficient economy and sustained prosperity.
But can a dysfunctional Congress, which has been essentially unable to pass major forward-looking legislation so far this century, have an honest, good-faith debate? The final budget figure for roads and bridges is less important than getting something done and getting the country moving toward better days – and beginning to prove that we are still a country that can get things done.
Any number of events – the response to the pandemic is an acute example – has much of the world questioning not just our competence but our seriousness of purpose. And that matters. Why not follow China, many ask? It is the world's ascendant power, and it gets things done.
America remains, as the phrase goes, the best idea in history. But our form of government – a representative democracy – is under sustained attack from within and from our adversaries overseas.
Biden knows that too, and that's driving some of his decisions. But much of this is out of his hands. Can We the People find a renewed commitment to citizenship – an embrace of our freedoms as well as our obligations to community and country? Can we break out of the comfort of cynicism, polarization and gridlock? Can we demand better from our leaders? Can we see something larger than ourselves?
Make no mistake: China thinks America is yesterday's news, and it will not stop taking what it wants because we ask nicely. We have to invest and compete and win.
China will not respect human rights or human dignity because we ask nicely. We have to set the example for the parts of the world deciding between authoritarianism or freedom. We have to remind the world that freedom is gloriously messy but also compatible with a people pulling together for a common purpose. We have to remember that ourselves.
Biden the optimist likes to say it's never a good idea to bet against America. It's up to all 330 million of us – in ways large and small – to make good on that faith.