Memo to Joe: It's not 2015 anymore

Memo to Joe: It's not 2015 anymore
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We are starting to get a sense of what a Joe Biden administration will look like, and it turns out it’s a throwback to the bad old days of 2015. Remember that time, the American reckoning of the disenfranchisement of our working class? That led to the frustrated outpouring of the Trump era, which lingers at the heart of the Republican Party and in a mirroring populist variant on the left of the Democratic Party. President-elect BidenJoe BidenUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden to tap law professor who wants to 'end banking as we know it' as OCC chief: reports MORE promised policies for a new American center that would capture this moment and take us to a better place, a new place where we would rethink together as one nation our economy, the role of our government in it, and our place in the world.

Instead, within less than a week of election results, we are already seeing the return of President Obama’s Surgeon General and possibly the leader of the Obama education transition team. Even the left is seething about the projected return of Rahm Emanuel to the president-elect’s cabinet. But it makes sense, given the pattern we are witnessing. After all, Emanuel was Obama’s chief of staff. 

We are hearing about the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear deal. I have no issue with the Paris agreement as long as it is fair to U.S. interests, but in this new era of the Middle East, when Arab Muslim countries and Israel are not only accepting one another, but are forging an alliance against Iran, it seems foreign policy insanity to return to the failed Middle Eastern strategies of President Obama and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in A new UN climate architecture is emerging focused on need for speed MORE. Who is Biden to know better what to do with Iran than countries on the ground in the Middle East? We must respect the autonomy of the region to determine its own interest, and so far it is lining up pretty clearly against dealing again with Iran. 


If Biden is serious about rejoining the international community with thoughtful alliances in place of arrogance, maybe he ought not be so presumptuous as to tamper with the emerging Middle East’s new configuration of relationships simply because he seems most comfortable over the last few days reverting to the past.

This is not a time to look backward, because in truth, 2015 wasn’t so great. If it was, there would not have been the upstart election of 2016 and the utter remaking of the American electoral map. It is now a map in which class is the emergent key variable. If this election proved one thing for sure, it is that our definition of diversity has expanded to include working Americans of all backgrounds who don’t have a college degree and deserve better as they struggle month to month. Biden has emphasized his blue-collar Scranton, Pa., roots. Let’s start with that, and an executive team of new people and ideas, rather than the rehiring of the managerial class from the Obama administration.

If Biden is serious about bringing our country together, he should put some Republican populists, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE’s (I-Vt.) team, and some Republican and Democratic centrists such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (R-Maine) and Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerKatie Hill launches effort to protect Democratic majority in House GOP ramps up pressure on vulnerable Democrats in spending fight Conservative group targets Spanberger, Luria in new ads ahead of reconciliation bill MORE (D-Va.) all in the same room. Bring in some nonpartisan policy experts who know how to apply their research, and who understand that our festering sectoral resentments are, in the end, based on an economic model that lately has excluded most Americans. Close the door for a few days and see what happens. I would wager an infrastructure plan would emerge, putting back to work for good wages millions of Americans. 

I project here and now that a reopening model for COVID-19 would develop that would take into account both the science and a humane approach toward keeping our small businesses afloat. Too many Americans have suffered wage reductions while the elite coasts along, no pun intended. Maybe, as a symbolic act, members of Congress and the president-elect can take a wage reduction themselves, because no matter how hard they work, that kind of act would go a long way toward building a renewed bridge between Washington and the people of America.

Earlier this year, I wrote that there is a new American center. I argued that Obama’s typology of working Americans as “bitter clingers” and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE’s pejorative follow-up term, “basket of deplorables,” have inalterably changed the electoral landscape for both parties. That certainly appears to have been proven true. As Democrats in Congress learned the hard way on Nov. 3, Biden’s coattails down-ballot were exceptionally short. 


Start with rebuilding a democracy that reopens the prospect of equality of opportunity. End exclusionary zoning and build more workforce housing. Deregulate so that businesses aren’t strapped continuously by items such as permits and inspections, but still find a way to provide for fair wages and worker protection. Come up with a clearer, fairer tax code that doesn’t only compel audits for low-income Americans.

There are no more ideological orthodoxies. Americans can’t afford them. Let’s bid farewell, once and for all, to those pedigreed experts from 2015 who failed to address the structural inequalities that led to 2016. There are lots of ways that Biden can keep his promise to move forward with and for all Americans. Going back in time isn’t one of them. The new American center has arrived.   

Abraham Unger is director of urban programs and associate professor of government and politics at Wagner College, New York. He is the author of “The Death and Life of the American Middle Class.”