We asked writers from left, right and center to offer creative ideas for the next president — not necessarily the obvious policy measures at the forefront of political discussion. Plus: 7 artists illustrate their own proposals.
Biden Should ...
End the War on Drugs Seek a Compromise on Religious Liberty and Gay Rights Convene a Racial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Cancel All Student Debt Use Bitcoin to Help the Poor Let the Space Race Continue Make Immigration More Humane Create a New Deal-Style Program for Artists and Writers Distribute Vaccines Fairly Build a National Child-Care System Spend Money on Rural Areas Address Climate Change Be a Feminist Appoint a China Czar Tackle Gun Reform Encourage Multifamily Housing Help More Americans Study Abroad Bring Theology, Philosophy and Poetry Into Schools Learn from the Rest of the World Stop Neglecting the United Nations Develop a Plan to Repair Civil Society
Bring Theology, Philosophy and Poetry Into Schools
By Robin Givhan
We need an education in how to be better human beings.
We have become a divided and siloed citizenry, each of us eyeing our neighbors with suspicion and a sometimes willful lack of understanding. Too many of us interpret freedom as an individual pursuit rather than a communal one. We are uncomfortable with imprecision, with shades of gray. We don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, which we so often are. We fear a world in which our place is small, instead of marveling at the vast diversity of our universe.
We need to be taught how to seek out the humanity in our neighbors. As our country still struggles mightily with racial injustice, religious stridency and misogyny, it’s evident that seeing others clearly and compassionately doesn’t come naturally.
One small step toward clarity would be a national education strategy that elevates a curriculum focused on the human condition, critical thinking and the responsibilities we have not only for ourselves but for those around us.
We would be a better nation if we committed more brain power to the study of theology, philosophy and poetry. Each of those disciplines has the capacity to weave ethics, morality and sensitivity into our public dialogue in a way that is thoughtful rather than bombastic. They could teach us to engage each other with rigor, but also mercy.
If only there were a national mandate and budget for bringing instructors in those specific fields into elementary and high schools — settings where we begin to get a tenuous grasp on our place in the world.
This isn’t an argument for bringing religious doctrine, prayer or articles of faith into public schools. Far from it. But there’s a benefit to a secular study of world religions if only to better understand racism, war, gender inequities, economics and the breadth of human history. Religion has undergirded so many cultures and brought about the destruction and desecration of others. To study it as an intellectual discipline, not as an act of faith, might finally free this nation from its divisive God fever.
Philosophy could give us the tools to consider our individual lives in the context of the moral universe. We can ask ourselves the big questions: What is happiness? What is justice? How do we define equality? Perhaps we will come to accept that the search for answers is an endless but noble pursuit.
And, finally, poetry just might give us the means to articulate, with deep precision and empathy, the complexity of our world.
These disciplines can’t teach us how to be kind, but they can help us understand why kindness is a virtue.
Convene a Racial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
By Peniel E. Joseph
During the first 100 days of his administration, Biden should convene, by executive order, a national Racial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. This long overdue effort, backed by presidential authority, would finally allow the nation the chance to come to grips with centuries of racial trauma that present a clear danger to American democracy if they remain unconfronted.
This year featured an American Spring of racial justice protests inspired by the brutal and public execution of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement. Between 15 million and 26 million people took to the streets at the height of the protests, which inspired demonstrations around the world.
That reckoning has seen political, cultural and economic institutions publicly acknowledge the depth and breadth of systemic racism and the need to finally eradicate white supremacy in American society. But politicians, corporations and celebrities publicly admitting that “Black Lives Matter,” while an important first step, is not enough.
Through the crucible of racial division, a global pandemic and massive economic hardship, 2020 has, paradoxically, presented the nation with a generational opportunity to finally achieve our country. We should begin with a presidential-level commission that will chronicle the tragedy of America’s racial history with unvarnished clarity. Biden should embrace such a charge not because it will be easy, but because it is precisely the kind of difficult decision that bold leadership requires.
The second part of the commission’s charge should be policy remedies that will provide justice for Black Americans disproportionately scarred by poverty, punishment and the covid pandemic in our lifetime.
Reconciliation, the part that too many Americans want to begin with, will come only after public expressions of truth and policy commitments to justice. A national Racial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission would go a long way toward healing not only our racial divisions but restoring America’s political soul.
Peniel E. Joseph is a professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directs the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. His most recent book is “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Make Immigration More Humane
By Jesse Zhang
Biden should prioritize Dreamers and keeping families together. As a first-generation American with immigrant parents, I hope Biden is able to make the immigration process more humane. The red tape needs to be cleared, ending the paperwork limbo many immigrants find themselves stuck in.
Jesse Zhang is an illustrator in Brooklyn. She works in watercolor, ink and digital art.
Seek a Compromise on Religious Liberty and Gay Rights
By Jonathan Rauch
Endorse the Fairness for All Act, Mr. President. It’s exactly the kind of win-win, bipartisan, creative initiative you’re looking for.
In June, the Supreme Court extended employment-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans, but it left a harder issue unresolved. What about the religious baker who can’t, in good conscience, cater a same-sex wedding? The Catholic adoption agency that feels it can’t place kids with same-sex couples? The Mormon university that objects to including same-sex spouses in dorms for married students? In those and similar cases, LGBT rights advocates and religious-liberty advocates have been at loggerheads, fighting a pitched battle in the courts and using scorched-earth, apocalyptic rhetoric.
There is a better way. In December 2019, a consortium of influential religious organizations and the American Unity Fund, a center-right LGBT rights group, unveiled the Fairness for All Act. The proposed legislation expands federal LGBT civil rights protections to cover public accommodations, education and more, but it also includes carefully negotiated, narrowly drawn exemptions for religious businesses and organizations. Beyond its legal fine print, the Fairness for All Act shatters the wall of opposition to LGBT protections among religious conservatives — a political breakthrough.
Unfortunately, Democrats turned their backs. The bill found only Republican sponsors. Democrats preferred a one-sided alternative, passed in the House in May 2019, that would expand LGBT protections while narrowing existing religious-liberty protections. That option appeals to progressive purists, but it has zero chance of Senate passage, and the conservative Supreme Court majority might gut it anyway.
By endorsing the Fairness for All Act, Biden would swing Democratic firepower behind it. He would demonstrate that he is committed to advancing nondiscrimination while also addressing the concerns of the faithful. He would signal that he is serious about uniting the country. He would show that the vital center is back in business.
Last and not least, he would make millions of Americans — gay and straight, secular and religious — better off.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Distribute Vaccines Fairly
By Shema Love
Biden should focus on eliminating any obstacles that would prevent the opportunity for rebuilding, reconnecting and restoring our nation after the pandemic. The vaccine rollout will undoubtedly highlight the major inequalities in our health-care system. Who gets the vaccine first? Who gets tossed a mask?
Shema Love is an artist and the founder of Shema Love Designs, a Black-owned creative studio in Brooklyn.
Build a National Child-Care System
By Tanzina Vega
In January 2020, I became a mother. By May, I was preparing to return to my job as a public radio host and work from a coat closet while a babysitter cared for my 4-month-old in the next room. It was a hacked work-from-home setup mirrored by countless other women across the country who were lucky enough to be able to afford child care. As a single parent, I rarely get a break from work or mothering, but I was at least able to afford hiring a sitter. And that’s something many other working mothers around the country have struggled to do.
Among the many inequities covid-19 has revealed is how the burden of child care has fallen squarely on the shoulders of working women — and the deep imbalances by race, social class and even marital status when it comes to child care in the United States. Reporting has shown how some low-income and single mothers have had to choose between their jobs or taking care of their children. Those women are also less likely to have backup child-care options. And low-income women of color are more likely to be essential workers putting their own health at risk. Since the pandemic began, hundreds of thousands of women have left the workforce — that’s bad news. Our economic recovery depends on having women participate in the economy.
We can start by paying women better. Equal pay for equal work is yet to be a reality in many industries, something that the Biden administration might want to take up again after President Obama laid the groundwork in 2009 with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
But the most ambitious thing the Biden-Harris administration could do is to create a national child-care system that engages the business community as well as federal, state and local governments. All parents should have access to high-quality, affordable (dare I say free?) child care. We should no longer have a society where some mothers can afford live-in au pairs, while others scrounge for help at the risk of losing their jobs. Whether they are risking their health and safety on the front lines of the pandemic or Zooming from home, working mothers have given everything they have this year to their jobs. The Biden-Harris administration owes it to them to see their children are well taken care of.
Tanzina Vega is host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “The Takeaway” from WNYC and PRX.
Stop Neglecting the United Nations
By Suzanne Nossel
The Biden administration should prioritize forceful leadership at the United Nations, reviving fealty to the liberal values that inspired the organization’s founding. Washington has always been equivocal about the United Nations; at their best, U.N. members have rallied to vanquish the Taliban and repair the ravages of natural disasters. More often, though, the organization hosts great power tussles laced with rancor and ending in impasse. At a time of taut stalemate among world powers with sharply divergent aims and ideals, the United Nations is more apt to mirror those tensions than resolve them. The Trump administration’s malign neglect squandered U.S. influence at the U.N., leaving the forum diminished.
For a new administration aiming to shore up human rights and democracy amid rising autocracy around the world, the United Nations is one proving ground. The forum has not stood still during the Trump administration’s insouciance. China has awoken to the world body’s potential as a vehicle for its ambitions, leveraging America’s retreat to widen its role and reach, working assiduously to weaken the U.N.’s emphasis on individual rights. U.N. member states and officials are adapting fast, heeding Beijing’s demands, muzzling criticism and, in some cases, coming to regard the U.N.’s original ethos — including human rights and the rule of law — as expendable artifacts of a bygone era that should cede to a global governance scheme channeling China.
But the battle isn’t done. The United Nations — whose founding pacts underwrite a 75-year-old liberal order binding all nations — remains a bulwark against authoritarianism, provided the United States can fortify its values and revive its relevance. The Biden administration should push forward, fully funding its commitments, rejoining the World Health Organization and the U.N. Human Rights Council, and deploying top-flight diplomatic talent to U.N. posts worldwide. It should marshal support for new initiatives to buttress free speech in the digital age, confront the risks of artificial intelligence and mass surveillance, and better protect journalists, artists and dissidents. Ambassador-designate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a venerated former career Foreign Service officer, is well positioned to integrate U.N. priorities into U.S. bilateral relations and seize on regional realignments to address the sore point of Israel’s anomalous treatment. Sophisticated media and public engagement strategies can reignite popular appreciation for what the United Nations stands for.
Beijing does not share Washington’s ambivalence about the U.N. It rightly recognizes the world body as a forum where 21st-century great-power aspirations may be realized or dashed. The Biden administration should see it the same way.
Suzanne Nossel is a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
Address Climate Change
By Eric Hanson
Climate change is the great existential crisis we face today. Civilization itself depends upon reliable climate patterns. There are droughts and floods, but when those aberrations become the new norm civilization cannot thrive, farmlands cannot grow crops, cities have no water supply or are drowned by too much of it. Humanity is resilient, but we need to face reality. For the past four years President Trump and the Republicans have pushed a policy of denial. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris must restore reason, science and devotion to facts so we can survive this looming crisis.
Eric Hanson has been an illustrator and writer for more than 20 years. He lives in Minneapolis.
Encourage Multifamily Houses
By Gish Jen
Having recently converted our single-family house back into a two-family, my husband and I are the envy of our town. So many, after all, are asking questions like: What is our old age going to look like? How are our kids going to be able to afford a house and child care? And, most important, how do we want to live?
In fact, in the Boston area, we have a tradition of triple-deckers. In the old days, this often meant three generations living together, one per floor. If everyone was healthy, working parents enjoyed support, grandparents enjoyed companionship and children enjoyed attention. If anyone was unhealthy, there was a community to help. There were financial advantages as well. Any empty units could be rented. Elder care, child care and housing costs were all minimized.
So what happened? The multifamily house came to be seen as a kind of housing one aspired to leave. Indeed, to move out was to make good. But was it? The dream of the single-family house is tied up with a vision of America as a land of unencumbered individuals, who need nothing but themselves. It’s a vision that the current pandemic has shown to be a fantasy.
What’s more, as Georgetown Public Policy Review has noted, “Among the varieties of residential housing, single-family houses are by far the most environmentally destructive,” with a carbon footprint that far outstrips multifamily housing. Nevertheless, huge swaths of America are zoned for single-family housing only.
Today, the multifamily residence can house an elective family as easily as a biological one — any sort of pod, really. In a land of increasing alienation, it fosters connection and well-being; it expands our social options. Why not support multifamily housing with tax deductions, loans and grants? It is good for the soul and good for America.
Gish Jen’s most recent novel, “The Resisters,” is out in paperback this month.
End the War on Drugs
By John McWhorter
Biden should do all that he can to make it impossible to earn anything approaching a living selling drugs on the black market — which means ending what we call the war on drugs.
This would require making even hard drugs available for modest prices from regulated outlets, as well as a new focus on treatment rather than punishment for those addicted to these substances.
For young men, disproportionately Black, who have been underserved by schools and community resources, and for whom male role models are too often away in prison, it is understandably tempting to fall into selling drugs, as this work requires no previous experience and takes place within the familiarity of the community setting. However, this also sets up too many men for prison or even death, often leaving their children behind.
More to the point, the war on drugs is a prime generator of encounters between the police and these men, as much through officers assigned to search for drugs as men actually possessing or selling them.
With no war on drugs, police officers would encounter Black men less frequently, as, meanwhile, underserved Black men who otherwise might drift onto street corners would, if there were no other choice, seek lawful work. Poor Black communities would turn a corner within a single generation, and the sense that America never gets past race would significantly lessen. (As we have seen in 2020, the poisonous relationship between Black communities and the police is the fulcrum of the race debate.)
To make serious progress on this conflict would be as signature an achievement of a Biden administration as Obamacare was to the previous Democratic one.
John McWhorter is a professor of linguistics at Columbia University, a contributing editor at the Atlantic and host of Slate’s podcast “Lexicon Valley.”
Tackle Gun Reform
By Ndubisi Okoye
Biden should address gun reform by evaluating how people buy guns, instituting stronger background checks and creating gun buyback programs to eliminate the use of military-grade weapons. I believe that people have the right to bear arms, as stated in the Second Amendment, but we as a country need to reassess what level of armament is excessive.
Ndubisi Okoye is a Detroit-based multidisciplinary artist with a passion for art and design.
Spend Money on Rural Areas
By Ruy Teixeira
When Joe Biden assumes office, job No. 1 will be to get the coronavirus crisis under control. Job No. 2 will be returning the economy to full employment and basic health — and more stimulus will invariably be needed to bring the economy back.
But how and where the money is spent will make a big difference. As much spending as possible should go toward ensuring that the economy, when functioning normally, produces better outcomes for left-behind workers and communities. This will not happen naturally, as we can see from the recent experience of the recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The economy recovered, albeit very slowly, but the economic gap between dynamic large metropolitan areas and the rest of the country — particularly rural and small-town America — widened. Democrats did very well indeed in the former in 2020 but managed only very modest progress, and sometimes none at all, in the latter.
Biden says he wants to be a president “who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States. And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people.”
There’s really only one way to do this: bringing all parts of America forward to greater prosperity, rather than allowing the current geographic split in economic trajectory to continue. This could entail any number of steps — from universalizing broadband access in rural areas, to investing in rural colleges and infrastructure, to direct employment subsidies in distressed areas — but the important thing is to try. Contrary to the Zen precept, you can’t hit the target unless you’re aiming at it.
Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority” and “America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.”
Use Bitcoin to Help the Poor
By Avik Roy
Bitcoin, the digital currency created in 2009, is dismissed by many as the domain of geeks and speculators. But bitcoin and its underlying technology will have as much impact on finance as the Internet has had on commerce and journalism. Much of the promise of bitcoin is its ability to make the banking system more inclusive.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one-quarter of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. Big banks hassle low-income consumers with fees for everyday services. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, prohibits banks from opening accounts for people without physical mailing addresses, such as refugees and the homeless. Technophobes in the Trump administration, led by Steven Mnuchin, are trying to make these problems worse through slapdash restrictions proposed last month.
These constraints and inconveniences drive many low-income Americans to payday lenders and check cashers, with their high interest rates and fees. But if these individuals could be paid in a digital currency like USD Coin — a version of bitcoin whose value is pegged to the dollar — people could receive and spend small amounts of money without high bank fees. And, unlike in conventional savings or checking accounts, holders of even small amounts of digital currencies can now collect interest on their holdings, at rates exceeding 5 percent.
Because cryptocurrency transactions are recorded on a public ledger known as a blockchain, they also provide a promising avenue for cash welfare and other means-tested programs — ensuring that public assistance ends up in the hands of those it is intended to help. Even a 10 percent improvement in the efficiency of welfare payments would make an enormous difference for those struggling to make ends meet.
Biden has a historic opportunity to open up the financial system to those it has excluded. He should take it.
Avik Roy is president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
Cancel All Student Debt
By Jose Berrio
Biden should cancel all student debt and make quality education accessible to everyone, regardless of their income. While thinking of how to illustrate this topic, I noticed how similar the words “loan” and “lawn” are, so the idea of Biden mowing millions of dollar bills instantly came to my mind. It’s a representation of a brighter and fairer future where people don’t have to spend the majority of their adult life in debt as a result of student loans.
Jose Berrio is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator from Bogota, Colombia, and based in New York.
Let the Space Race Continue
By Katherine Mangu-Ward
In 2020, American astronauts returned to space on American-made rockets, a feat that had been impossible since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. It was a bright spot in a garbage year, courtesy of SpaceX and NASA. There will be forces in the Biden administration hostile to anything that smacks of privatization. But to keep racking up space successes, all Joe Biden has to do is cut-and-paste Obama-era policies — especially the federal government’s relationship to the commercial space industry.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program — funded at the cost of less than a single shuttle flight — was aimed at encouraging private companies to develop the capacity to serve the transport needs of the International Space Station. The program was piloted under President George W. Bush, but in a somewhat surprising move (and over the objections of congressional Republicans), the Obama administration extended and expanded the initiative. That gave the competitive private industry just enough breathing room to get across the finish line with cheap, safe reusable spacecraft to ferry cargo and eventually humans. It was a small bet that paid off bigly under Donald Trump, who had the good sense to leave well enough alone for once.
For extra credit, Biden should work to kill the wasteful Space Launch System, with a super heavy-lift rocket built primarily by Boeing for NASA, that is projected to cost up to $2 billion per mission when it’s done — if it’s ever done. Leave the pie-in-the-sky scheming about the moon and Mars to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and anyone else with cash to spare and a hankering for a new frontier. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
After the year we’ve had, it makes more sense than ever to plan for the possibility that we’ll need to nope out of this godforsaken planet. It would be relatively cheap, weirdly bipartisan and politically expedient for Biden to keep that horizon open.
Katherine Mangu-Ward is editor in chief of Reason magazine.
Help More Americans Study Abroad
By Moisés Naím
Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher widely recognized as one of the leading humanists of the Renaissance. Erasmus is also the name for the European Union’s breathtakingly ambitious program to help millions of young people study outside their own country. America needs its own Erasmus.
Formally launched in 1987, the E.U. program organizes and finances student exchanges across the continent. Its budget for 2014-2020 was nearly $18 billion, and there are plans to raise it to nearly $26 billion for 2021-2027. The program gives 4 million Europeans the opportunity to study, train and live in other member countries.
Erasmus was created in a climate of idealism and high pan-European ambition. Imagine, the nascent E.U. leaders thought, a continent where millions of young Europeans know not just the languages and customs of their neighbors but have real human connections across national borders. The goal was to encode cosmopolitanism in a whole generation.
To defeat the narrow parochialism that brought us the calamity of the Trump presidency, America needs its own Erasmus program: the kind of deep understanding of another nation and a different culture that a year abroad can offer and thus, hopefully, mitigate the forces that stoke racism, xenophobia and narrow-mindedness.
Today, as David Hamburger has argued, government programs sponsoring Americans to study abroad are underfunded and largely out of reach for many. Funding for flagship programs like Fulbright and the Peace Corps in the United States is a fraction of what it is with Erasmus. That’s nowhere near enough. In inflation adjusted dollars, Fulbright funding even declined 10 percent over the past decade.
A large, ambitious Erasmus-like program targeted at minorities and low-income Americans would not, on its own, heal the rifts that so deeply divide this society. Poor Americans have a hard-enough time financing an education in their own country. For them, studying abroad may sound like a pipe dream.
But in fact, other countries educate their youngsters at a fraction of the cost of the American system, meaning an American Erasmus could potentially save as much money as it costs, or more. And it could do this while strengthening America’s ties with the world and, thereby, strengthening America itself.
Moisés Naím is distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Learn from the Rest of the World
By Rebecca Hendin
As an American living abroad, I am frustrated seeing America lag so far behind so much of the world on basic issues. Biden should move American policy to catch up. Trump looked particularly insane from the outside looking in, but plenty of what looks backward about America from a global perspective predated Trump and needs work.
Rebecca Hendin is a London-based American illustrator, cartoonist and animator. She grew up in St. Louis.
Appoint a China Czar
By Lanhee J. Chen
Joe Biden needs to hire a single figure — a czar, in Beltway speak — to oversee the U.S.-China relationship. This “China Czar” should report directly to the president and be able to make recommendations across the many dimensions of public policy that are affected by Washington’s dealings with Beijing.
The United States and China have the single most significant bilateral relationship in the world. It’s not just a foreign policy problem, strictly understood. The U.S.-Sino relationship includes diplomatic, human rights, military, trade and technology concerns — to name a few. And as China has grown more assertive over the past several years, the necessity of a unified, strategic view of how to interact with it has grown.
In the U.S. government, there are several senior officials on the president’s staff and across the executive branch who are responsible for at least some element of this important relationship. But no senior-level government official is singularly in charge of attending to all of its dimensions and coordinating policymaking across agencies, subject matter and personnel. That’s a problem when our relationship with China involves so many areas of public policy.
What’s more, the American officials who are currently responsible for managing the U.S.-China relationship have other challenging issues on their plates. For example, the senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council is ostensibly the president’s “quarterback” on China issues but also must coordinate policymaking on our relationships with allies across the Indo-Pacific region (including countries as varied as Indonesia, Australia and Japan) — not to mention the problem of what to do about the rogue regime in North Korea.
Joe Biden’s presidency will be defined in no small measure by what transpires in our relationship with China. He’d be wise to ensure he has a single person whom he can depend on and hold accountable for helping him navigate the difficult terrain ahead.
Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and served as the policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Create a New Deal-Style Program for Artists and Writers
By Elizabeth Catte
In the closing weeks of his campaign, Joe Biden visited the community of Warm Springs, Ga., a place beloved by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The October stop was not the first time Biden had drawn connections between himself and FDR. In July, Biden had told the New Yorker that, like FDR, he felt the weight of steering the country out of crisis and would likewise use tools that were pragmatic but ambitious. It is easy to hold those invocations as suspect — given that they were made by a centrist figure who embraces a “help not handout” philosophy — but for the sake of our imaginations we should entertain them, to build a world, if only in our minds, that Biden likely will not.
There could and should be a world where we see the revival of what became known, during the New Deal in 1935, as Federal Project Number One: an array of programs, such as the Federal Writers’ Project, designed to provide financial support and work to unemployed or aspiring artists, writers, historians and musicians, sustaining a cohort that included Zora Neale Hurston and Studs Terkel. Federal One was not just about supporting “make-work” initiatives, as many of the New Deal projects are best remembered, but was also intended to open creative spaces that explored the lives of ordinary Americans. In some cases, these projects helped break down establishment-serving narratives that had concealed the contributions of workers, minorities and women.
Part of my desire to see such a revival is selfish. As a writer, I want creatives like me to be able to work, and some estimates point to a significant loss of income for 95 percent of us during the pandemic. But more broadly, we need to return the arts to being a functioning part of our everyday lives, especially in a moment that will be bordered on all sides by unprecedented national grief.
Elizabeth Catte is a writer and historian living in Virginia and the author of “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia” and the forthcoming “Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia.”
Be a Feminist
By Louisa Bertman
I believe true gender equality can happen only through racial and gender equity and the need to acknowledge the disproportionate lack of social, political and financial opportunities we as a country have created through a systemically racist and sexist history. I hope Biden will #leanin #getloud #hirefemale and #beafeminist.
Louisa Bertman is an editorial illustrator, gif artist and animator specializing in social and political activism. She lives in Cambridge, Mass.
Develop a Plan to Repair Civil Society
By Farah Pandith
In the aftermath of an unprecedented year of grief, fear and unrest, America is hurting. Our society has been torn apart; trust has eroded. It feels as if so many of our common connections have broken.
President-elect Biden has said he wants to “restore the soul of America” and “unite us here at home.” To do that, we must address the needs of our whole society from the inside out, with a focused framework to advance our common causes and meet the challenges we are confronting together.
Fortunately, there is a prototype. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 objectives constituting “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.” Now, the United States needs its own version — focused not on promoting sustainable development but on fostering a sustainable society. We can call them the Domestic Sustainable Society Goals.
These goals would be a call to action by all 50 states and the District of Columbia to heal our nation: to stitch together our societal fabric and rekindle common cause. This will require cooperation across ideological, racial, spiritual, geographic and income divisions to foster a healthy civic marketplace and new partnerships. The interconnected goals for America would use specific data-driven, measurable policy aims with bipartisan buy-in and the collaboration of public, private and nonprofit sectors working in tandem with activists, educators, volunteers and community leaders. Goals would include meeting a variety of civic benchmarks such as emotional prosperity, health and well-being, civility and good works, gender equity, clean water and sanitation, food security, infrastructure innovations (such as universal broadband), housing, literacy and equal justice. Economic benefits could be made available to state and local governments for successful efforts.
It took all hands to divide the country. Now we need all hands to undo the damage. The Domestic Sustainable Society Goals would take advantage of this unprecedented moment in American history to accelerate action together.
Farah Pandith is the author of “How We Win: How Cutting-Edge Entrepreneurs, Political Visionaries, Enlightened Business Leaders, and Social Media Mavens Can Defeat the Extremist Threat.” She is the first Muhammad Ali Global Peace Laureate, a senior fellow at the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Art direction by Suzette Moyer and Clare Ramirez. Design and development by Clare Ramirez.