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Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, is hesitantly hopeful in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. With authoritarianism on the rise around the world (Tanden specifically pointed to Brazil as an example), she explained that Donald Trump is one of the few to be ousted through democratic means. Having lost both the popular and the electoral vote, which is an unusual outcome for incumbent candidates, Trump has lost his hold on U.S. democracy.
As part of a lecture series hosted by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs on November 10th, Dean Gary Segura interviewed Neera Tanden — who, in addition to being the president of the Center for American Progress, is a UCLA alumni — on her thoughts about the 2020 election, the pervasive nature of bigoted ideology (e.g. practices such as family separation) perpetuated by Donald Trump, her predictions on what U.S. public policy will look like during the next four years, and more.
In addition to her work with the Center for American Progress, Tanden has worked closely on policy of several Democratic campaigns, giving her insight into what a Biden presidency may look like. In particular, when questioned if Biden would be willing to compromise — a common critique of the Obama administration — or if he will take a more assertive approach, Tanden believes nuance will be key in either approach. If Georgia’s runoff elections result in a Republican-dominated Senate, she is worried his cabinet appointments may be obstructed — in which case, she explained, he would have to appoint acting cabinet members more assertively. Additionally, she mused that Biden may be slightly more assertive than Obama, taking advantage of executive orders following Trump’s precedent. Tanden identified climate change and immigration as crucial issues that would benefit from definitive action. However, she is not entirely opposed to compromise. For example, she also spoke about the importance of potentially compromising on a second COVID-19 relief bill. As Tanden elaborated, some money put toward COVID-19 relief is better than none at all.
Before Biden is able to take any of these actions, Trump must leave office on Jan. 20, 2021.With his current unwillingness to concede and his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud (which is exceedingly rare), Tanden is concerned about the impact that Trump’s lies and threats will have on the country, specifically on the Republican Party. As she put it, “…we are witnessing a profound damage to democracy in the sense that Republican leaders are willing to basically do anything to appease Trump’s fantasy that he can win … we should be deeply anxious that Donald Trump is manufacturing a […] lost cause narrative […] He can never lose, [he] can only be cheated.” Trump holds power over Republicans. With the threat of losing their own reelection campaigns if Trump denounces them, Republicans hesitate to challenge Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election. Despite Tanden’s concern about the influence of Trump on national culture, she is not concerned with the validity of his claims nor his threats of lawsuit; as she explained, she is confident that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States.
Until Joe Biden takes office as the 46th President of the United States, Neera Tanden urged for optimism, while also reiterating the importance of paying attention to the current political climate. “Democracy is vulnerable,” Tanden reminded her audience, calling back to her earlier remarks regarding the difficulty of ousting authoritarian leaders. We have room for hope and progress and an obligation to remain engaged.