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Eight lessons for politics and policy in 2021 and beyond

Eight lessons for politics and policy in 2021 and beyond
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While the votes are still being counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, but outcome is clear: Joe Biden has been elected the 46th president of the United States.

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden taps California workplace safety leader to head up OSHA Romney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS US mulling cash payments to help curb migration MORE exceeded the 270 needed for a majority in the electoral college; President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS US raises concerns about Iran's seriousness in nuclear talks MORE is challenging and seeking to delegitimize these results through recounts, in the courts and a campaign of misinformation to the public; The Senate will stand at 49-48 Republican majority, with two seats in Georgia headed for a very expensive runoff on Jan. 5; Democrats underperformed in the House, and while they will retain control of the chamber, they will do so with a slimmer majority; and Democrats underperformed in statehouses across the nation, and Republicans will play a larger hand in drawing the political maps for the next decade. 

But, if you’re like me, you’ve been glued to cable networks, FiveThirtyEight, the New York Times and Twitter, and you knew all that already.  

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So let’s go a level deeper. What does all this mean for politics and policy in 2021 and beyond?  We draw eight lessons:

Biden’s win is a big deal. Even though it wasn’t the “blue wave” that some hoped for, it has massive implications for thousands of policy decisions over the next four years. That’s because personnel is policy, and the president-elect will have the opportunity to install new leaders all across the government. The era of Trump is over — for now.

The opportunity for systemic change will be limited. Why? Because there will be a divided government. Expect confirmation fights over progressive nominees and a move to the center on policy preferences. Compromise will no longer be a dirty word in Washington. 

Build it and they will come. Infrastructure investment could finally have its day, and it could mean big things for tech from 5G-broadband deployment, to renewable energy to electric vehicles.  

The Joe and Mitch show is just beginning. The fact that Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists MORE (R-Ky.) have a good personal relationship means that there could be agreements on a host of long-simmering health care issues, from COVID-19-relief, to potentially even fixes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, it’s hard to see major action on more ideological issues such as immigration reform and climate change.

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Scrutiny of Big Tech is here to stay. Policymakers on all sides of the aisle are mad as hell about the way that Internet companies have handled this election. Republicans believe that Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives, and Democrats believe that the platforms do not do nearly enough to stop the spread of misinformation. So there will be plenty of hearings and legislation on Section 230, perceived bias, privacy, antitrust and so much more. Yet, with divided government, will that translate into a legislative consensus? Not clear at this point. This is something to watch over the next weeks and months.

There will likely be bipartisan action to stop foreign interference in U.S. elections. With a change in administration, there will be increased appetite among a bipartisan majority to put forth efforts to protect our electoral process and institutions. This will include money to states to improve election security, cybersecurity efforts and a focus on stopping or limiting state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.   

State and local policy on technology issues will continue to be crucial. Over the past four years, the most meaningful action on technology issues has been in states and local governments. Think of AB5, the California Privacy Act and, most recently, Proposition 22. While we believe action on the federal level will heat up across the board, there will continue to be major efforts in Sacramento, Calif., Austin, Texas, Albany, N.Y., Springfield, Mass., and elsewhere that could mean life and death for gig companies, clean energy, transportation and micro-mobility companies and fintech.  

Trump will not go gentle into that good night. He may start Trump TV, he may just troll the president-elect, or he may actually run in 2024. But this is a man who feels burned and cheated and has an army of his supporters at his beck and call. We underestimate the president at our own peril.  

The wounds of the last four years will not heal overnight, or even any time soon. They are deep and lasting. There will be a host of Republicans jockeying to run for president in 2024. Biden will face major criticism from his left for being too weak on a host of issues. This will be a period marked by constant fighting and grinding gridlock.

Yet, even still, there will be an opportunity to shore up our democratic institutions and find ways forward on select, yet important issues. The question is — will our leaders find the political will to do the job.  

Scott Gerber is a partner and co-founder of Vrge, a public affairs firm that drives strategic campaigns to win the battles over technology, policy and security. Follow him at @scottcgerber.