Biden can have an American presidency by focusing on ‘outsiders’

The night that Joe Biden was projected to win the presidency he made a promise like one he had made many times before. “I will govern as an American president,” he said. “I’ll work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did.” He outlined important policy priorities, but gaining the trust of all Americans isn’t just about the Biden policy agenda. It’s also about the Biden perspective on our problems. The left-right axis in our politics matters, but the outsiders versus insiders axis matters more.

For more than 15 years, while working for political leaders and building a startup focused on connecting diverse youth to tech opportunities, I heard Americans complain about feeling disconnected from the decision-makers and policies that promised to help them. They’ve seen manufacturing jobs disappear, low-wage service work pop up to replace them, and dug themselves deeper into debt, trying to keep up. These aren’t just Donald Trump voters. Many of these Americans live in communities like the one where I grew up on the west side of Detroit, where presidencies have come and gone while drugs, crime and low wages stuck around decade after decade. America needs to keep these disaffected voters invested in the system and lower the risk that they’ll become enthralled by conspiracies or militant movements.

It’s Biden’s turn to try to deliver for these “outsiders,” with perhaps a less inspiring style but more pragmatic approach.

This isn’t about finding a third way, triangulating between political poles. Our politics has a third dimension and Biden must keep this outsider approach in mind when wooing Trump voters and uninspired Democrats.

Subtle nips and tucks won’t work. Trump ripped off the bandages that covered our scabby racial wounds, and his anti-immigrant prescriptions amped up our susceptibility to nativist snake oil. George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s killings have only given more credibility to those who believe that a system built on the control and exploitation of Black bodies is incapable of stopping its thirst for them. 

We’re way past flowery words. Like a suitor trying to woo back a despondent lover, now is the time for Biden to make grand gestures.

The president-elect will gain credibility by balancing the influence of the wealthy and well-connected with regular folk. Workers, small business owners, people on the front lines of the justice and health care systems can help him raise the tide for all working people and power a few boats for those being left behind. In an economy where corporations don’t feel loyalty to communities or employees, workers need to be equipped to navigate the choppy seas of their careers. More portable benefits, such as universal health care, mean more agility for workers to change jobs or start businesses without fear of losing their shirts if hit by a storm.

Young people are sitting on over a trillion dollars in personal debt, and the highest proportion of that is student loans. That level of debt appears to be depressing home-buying and family creation. If conservatives don’t want free college or loan forgiveness, they need to put another plan on the table that will help lighten that load. The entire economy will benefit.

African Americans are in another lagging boat that could use a power boost. According to the Federal Reserve, despite doubling over the past 50 years, the typical Black family still has less than 15 percent of the wealth of a typical white family. Building that wealth is challenging at every level. One analysis from Patrick Bayer and Kerwin Kofi Charles reveals that, when factoring in the incarcerated and other working-age men who have dropped out of the labor force, Black men still haven’t closed the wage gap with white men. As for Black women, despite generating $44 billion in business revenue, they raise only 0.6 percent of the venture capital funds available. 

Even if American institutions want to fix this problem, there aren’t enough African Americans in decision-making roles to help. Among Fortune 500 companies, Blacks are only 3.2 percent of C-Suite executives who report to CEOs. And since the pandemic began, about 41 percent of Black-owned businesses have failed.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are well suited to represent these outsiders. Biden will be the first president since Ronald Reagan without an Ivy League degree. Harris will be the first vice president to graduate from a Historically Black College or University. They should stay more rooted in the political needs of Scranton families and Howard University alumni than Delaware bankers and Berkeley activists. That means prioritizing police accountability, protecting us from the coronavirus and doing whatever it takes to get more people more resources, faster. For most outsiders, outcomes matter more than ideology.

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic campaign strategist, CBS News analyst and hosts #ThisisFYI on Instagram and Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @JamalSimmons.

Tags black small businesses Donald Trump Joe Biden middle class Student Debt Crisis Wealth gap

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