Three Questions to Annette Husong in Washington
1. Joe Biden was sworn in as the new president in Washington on January 20. Usually, this is a large celebration with tens of thousands of people. This time, the city resembled a high-security wing. Could visitors even go there? What was the situation like?
The first inauguration I attended was Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. Later, I witnessed the inaugurations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I still remember the jubilation and the festive atmosphere in each case. Hundreds of thousands of people on Museum Mile in front of the Capitol, the parades with bands and dancers. Everywhere were stalls with flags and pins, parents were out with their children to witness the historic event. Visitors had traveled from all corners of the U.S. to join the festivities or because they had snagged a ticket to one of the evening's balls. President Biden's inauguration on January 20, however, was completely different. Like all other Americans, I followed the event via the Internet and on television. Downtown DC, although only a few miles from me, was completely cordoned-off for security reasons. After the storming of the Capitol on January 6, the authorities did not want to take any chances. Fortunately, nothing happened. Did it dampen the festivities? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. The online presentation of the ceremony was perfectly organized, the cameras were close by, and you felt like you were "there". The best thing was: you didn't get cold feet! Americans would not be Americans if they did not make lemonade when life gives them lemons, as the saying goes. There were alternative celebrations: street parties (with face-masks and physical distance), zoo parties, and a fireworks display on the Museum Mile in the evening, visible from afar.
2. Almost two weeks earlier, Washington was virtually "sealed off. Can you describe a little bit what it was like to be in the city? And were the Americans understanding of this?
The mood in the city was depressed. The run on the Capitol on January 6 had been frightening. Something like that had happened only once before in U.S. history, in 1812. Many perceived the attack as a direct assault on the institutional heart of American democracy. The subsequent presence of police and more than 25,000 armed troops in downtown Washington reinforced the sense of being in a war zone. There was talk of a "Red Zone" and a "Green Zone," as in Baghdad after the Iraq war. Everything was cordoned off and closed off. An acquaintance who lived near the Capitol during the 9/11 Islamist terrorist attack said it reminded her of that time. The scary thing for many here was that this time they were trying to protect Americans from other Americans, not foreign attackers like they did back in 2001. It was a deeply sad situation.
3. Ms. Hussong, you are on the road visiting companies and political decision-makers in the USA. What is the mood like? What do people expect from Joe Biden? And what do you expect?
On the day of the inauguration, all three American stock market indices rose, a sign that investors are reacting positively to the change of government. Companies need political and regulatory stability. They want to know where the journey is going. Biden and his Cabinet members are established figures, experienced in government, and many have worked in business as well. Biden's top priorities of fighting the corona virus and renewing the economy benefit everyone and have broad support. To be sure, there are still many unanswered questions, such as the extent to which Congress will support another economic stimulus package or Biden's other environmental, infrastructural, and tax policy plans. Furthermore, the Senate must, after all, officially confirm additional cabinet members and other policy appointments before the government will be fully operational. This is not automatic. Congress is divided, and right now Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are still negotiating the rules of the game for the coming legislative session. As for the transatlantic relations, the new administration is certainly a positive development. With Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, there will be new opportunities for cooperation. Germany will play an important role in this. The immediate challenges are great - the pandemic, environmental protection, boosting the economy, and how to position itself geopolitically vis-à-vis China and Russia. The U.S. also faces immense domestic and societal challenges that will take up much of the administration's attention. My impression from conversations with business representatives, diplomats and political advisors, and from the media coverage in the U.S., however, is that Washington is willing and interested in tackling the future multilaterally as well. Washington sees Europe as an important and strategic partner in this. Germany and the EU should confidently seize this opportunity. We have so much to offer in terms of knowledge and ideas. Personally, I am interested in how we involve young people in shaping the future. The younger generation is motivated, committed and, in many respects, more detached than the youth of the past. There is potential which should be used.