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OPINION: America Needs to Step Up to the Challenges

By Lee Hamilton


Having won the election for U.S. President, Joe Biden now has an opportunity to take stock of America, to assess where we have been and where we are going. With voting now behind us, I see several trends that will challenge President-elect Biden and his team.

We do not seem to have a strategy to fight COVID-19. The pandemic has caused over 240,000 deaths in our country, yet we are casting about for a response. President Donald Trump should have led the fight for a strategy, but he did not, and neither did the Congress. 

In health care, the number of Americans with insurance fell by 5 million this year, largely because of job losses caused by the pandemic. The Affordable Care Act — enacted 10 years ago — expanded coverage and provided protection for people with pre-existing conditions, but it urgently needs improvement. President Trump has said for four years that he would replace the law, but he never unveiled a plan to do so. 

On the international scene, our working relationship with allies has been an admired part of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. President Trump, however, has been comfortable with authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, and has been unwilling to follow our traditional policy of working closely with our allies, especially in Europe. 

President Trump has ignored our advocacy for human rights that had been a distinguishing part of American foreign policy for decades. Nations around the world look to us as a beacon of light on human rights and democracy. 

Another trend is that Americans have less trust in one another, less confidence in the decency of our fellow Americans, making it more difficult to resolve problems. 

America has a remarkable history of meeting our challenges dating from the founding era, when we were a nation of 2.5 million people but produced an astounding array of talented leaders: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and others. We need to revisit that history, share, talk and instill its lessons in our citizens. 

By stepping up to these challenges, President Biden will lift our spirits and make us feel better about our country.

Our country and its institutions are, of course, imperfect. Not every challenge can be addressed at once. All of this puts a heavy, but not insurmountable burden on the president-elect. In addressing them, he certainly will need help — and lots of it.

We are the United States of America — an exceptional nation, as we say. If we do not step up, who will?        

Lee Hamilton, 89, is a senior advisor for the Indiana University (IU) Center on Representative Government, distinguished scholar at IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, and professor of practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Hamilton, a Democrat, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years (1965-1999), representing a district in south central Indiana.