Just two weeks into Joe Biden’s presidency, Penn Democrats hosted Annenberg Director of the Institute for Public Service David Eisenhower for a post-election dissection on the current state of American politics.
More than 30 students gathered virtually over Zoom on Monday evening to listen to Eisenhower’s thoughts on the recent inauguration and what the new Biden-Harris administration has accomplished during its first few weeks in office.
Eisenhower, the grandson of former President Dwight Eisenhower and the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, first mentioned the University's prominent connections in the 2020 election. Biden was appointed to an honorary professor position as a Benjamin Franklin presidential professor of practice in 2017, with a dual appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences, and opened the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in D.C. in early 2018.
“Biden’s portrait has actually been hanging over our coffeemaker for the last four years [at Annenberg.] So this was definitely a particularly interesting year for Penn, being that the Republican nominee, the former President, was a graduate, and his opponent was a member of our faculty,” Eisenhower said. “This was really an all-Penn election.”
Eisenhower, who teaches COMM 395: "Communication and the Presidency" about the role of communication in the successes and failures of past presidential initiatives, added that he believes the Biden administration is poised to realign the dominant ideology of modern American politics.
“I'm a believer that big ideas essentially shape national politics. The Republican ideals have been the dominant ideology in government since, really, the Reagan era,” Eisenhower said. “We are long overdue for what you would call a realignment. I would say the Biden administration has an opportunity to be a ‘reconstruction,’ in which all of the branches of government come together behind a new direction in national policy.”
Since stepping into the White House on Jan. 20, Biden signed a number of executive actions aimed at promoting racial equality, such as ordering the Justice Department to end the use of private prisons and redressing racially discriminatory federal housing policies enacted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Eisenhower told event attendees that he believes that Biden will be able to lead America to embark on an “era of activism” in areas of income inequality and issues of racial justice.
“I think that what we’ve been coming around to is this idea that the public sector now must take the lead in many vital areas. We have problems of national importance, and we have to address them,” Eisenhower told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Now, people are really looking to the federal government to address things like racial justice and income inequality, and I think this is encouraging because, now, our problems have a face. They have a name. We see the problems we have, and now we get to work.”
Following the inauguration, many Penn students expressed hope that Biden will be able to reverse Trump-era policies aimed at the environment, immigration, and education. Students previously told the DP that they hope the administration will prioritize policies that help the economy and combat racially discriminant practices in the criminal justice system — sounding sentiments similar to Eisenhower's discussion.
Holly Anderson, Wharton sophomore and Penn Dems communications director, said she found Eisenhower’s beliefs about the need for a political realignment and bipartisanship to be inspiring.
“We heard professor Eisenhower speak about Biden setting a tone of transformation and unity for his administration,” Anderson said. “I believe his assessment of partisanship and the need for realignment in this country — as in moving away from polarization — and more towards progressive thinking is really spot on.”
College sophomore and Penn Dems political director Noah Lewine said that he especially valued this opportunity to hear about the new administration because it came from the perspective of Eisenhower, who he said has not only taught about transitions in presidential power, but has also experienced them firsthand.
“Professor Eisenhower reminded us how difficult it is for a president to create lasting, generational change in the way that only a handful have so far,” Lewine said. “After hearing him speak, I’m as optimistic as ever that President Biden will make the most of this moment.”
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