Biden wins, but can he lead?

If the vote counts are to be believed—and there is zero proof to suggest they should not be—former vice president Joe Biden is now president-elect. Perhaps not officially, as that comes when the electors of the Electoral College meet in December to certify the election, but every indication is that President Donald Trump has come up short in numerous states and is unlikely to claw back to the margins he needs. The future of the government, then, is in the hands of the two-term former vice president from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now begins the work of justice.

His job will not be easy, of course, and there’s probably going to be a lot of GOP interference in his legislative goals, but Biden should do something the Democrats have rarely done, and that’s make an aggressive effort at listening to all the marginalized communities they’ve invoked. Already we’re seeing a celebration of Stacey Abrams and other Black women, but there are Black women beyond just Abrams, and their material needs must be met as much as their political ones. The queer community, too, has been held up as a vital constituency for Biden, but here too there is a need for attention that goes beyond honorable mention.

A good example of this dynamic is evident in the Trump administration’s attacks on critical race theory, a formerly obscure frame of understanding that up to now was found in the halls of universities, but is now a favored bogeyman of the far-right. The ultimate harm of Trump’s attacks on this theory is not the universities, it is the marginalized communities that would benefit from investigation into the inherited biases that make up much of our political system. Yet, there does not seem to be a comfort among Democrats to turn back such attacks. This is wrong.

Having seen the damage that almost four years of Trump has done to epistemological growth and reckoning with our nation’s failings, it would be wrong for Democrats to shy away from the hard work of acting on these new understandings that such a field brings. Questioning how race, gender, sexuality, class and other characteristics are impacted by the government might not be popular within the Oval Office or its future iteration, but that is not an excuse for failing to act.

Black trans women face extremely high mortality rates, in many cases murdered by people who are trained to not see them as human. This public health crisis is so extremely focused on its violence that immediate action is necessary. Biden should take this up. The benefit of speaking to trans rights is not just limited to the trans community, but a broad-based approach is not what Biden needs to take. There is no moral failing, no downside, to treating Black trans lives as important and cherished while also acting to protect them and make their lives better.

Indigenous people, too, face a difficult terrain now, with Trump tearing up tribal lands for his wall, courts struggling against Indigenous sovereignty and COVID-19 destroying households on reservations. In its heritage of taking from Indigenous people, the United States should be rebuked. Biden should be the one to do so.

My own optimism around this kind of revolutionary action is not too rosy. I simply cannot believe that the Biden administration will act in ways that go beyond cautious line-stepping. The things our marginalized communities need require actions that will not play well with media narratives, opening Biden up to criticism, and yet, it’s about time a president acted anyway. Trump has spent the past 3 years and 11 months acting to harm communities without restraint, attacking Indigenous sovereignty, attacking the trans community, attacking criticism of the U.S. Biden should not hesitate to take similarly aggressive action but in the interest of uplifting people.

Imagine a U.S. that’s not afraid to look at the Black community and say that its trans sisters are being taken too soon, there is nothing wrong with material care and assistance from the government, the country has failed to protect the community’s health. Imagine a renewed respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for the land that treats it all as Indigenous land, action that ensures reservations are homes and not prisons.

Unfortunately for all these possibilities, Trump has been more harmful than many of his predecessors. Shrinking social concern in favor of maximizing political output, the money-hungry golden calf of the GOP has staunched momentum toward social justice and has moved us backward in many regards. Portfolios might be healthy but the country as a whole is not.

Biden should not let this opportunity slip by.