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Biden’s first actions to eliminate systemic racism: So long to Trump’s 1776 Commission

Equity will be a centerpiece of the Biden administration, with the drive led by Domestic Policy Council chief Susan Rice.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki And Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice Hold Briefing
Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice speaks at the White House on Tuesday, discussing plans for President Biden’s racial equity agenda.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the afternoon of Jan. 18, with just hours left to his term, ex-President Donald Trump published his “1776 Commission” report, his attempt while still in the White House to bend history, defending, as the ACLU put it, “America’s founding on the basis of slavery” as well as likening “progressivism to fascism.”

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden with a signature revoked the executive order Trump issued on Nov. 22 establishing his 1776 Commission — part of Biden’s first round of actions to address systemic racism within the federal government and fulfill a major campaign pledge.

Biden said, “In my campaign for President, I made it very clear that the moment had arrived as a nation where we face deep racial inequities in America and system — systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long.”

“I said it over the course of the past year that the blinders” had been taken off of the American people. … “What many Americans didn’t see, or had simply refused to see, couldn’t be ignored any longer,” Biden said.

“Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd’s life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around — all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn’t be forgotten. It stirred the conscience of tens of millions of Americans, and, in my view, it marked a turning point in this country’s attitude toward racial justice.”

Trump steered his now defunct 1776 Commission to be a whitewashed version of the slavery that went hand-in-hand with the establishment of the U.S.

Indeed, in releasing the report — just over a week ago, seems longer — the Trump White House said there was a need to “restore understanding of the greatness of the American founding.”

Trump was taking aim at the New York Times “1619 Project,” dedicated to reframing and explaining the ignored history of Black slaves and how that legacy has shaped our nation.

Biden, in abolishing the 1776 Commission, called it “offensive” and “counter-factual.”

Equity is to be a centerpiece of the Biden administration, with the drive led by Domestic Policy Council chief Susan Rice.

Referring to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters at a White House briefing, Rice said, “I think we have seen — and it’s been plain for all Americans on their television sets — just how serious a problem we face from nationalists and white supremacists who have demonstrated a willingness to resort to violence in some instances.”

The Tuesday actions did not include criminal justice and policing, expected in the coming weeks, Rice said.

Biden in his remarks listed “the full range of communities who have been long underserved and overlooked” as “people of color; Americans with disabilities; LGBTQ Americans; religious minorities; rural, urban, suburban communities facing persistent poverty.”

Biden also ended Trump’s ban on diversity and sensitivity training in the four executive orders he signed:

  • The Justice Department will not renew contracts with privately operated federal prisons in a move to phase out use of for-profit facilities. Ex-President Barack Obama started to do this at the end but never got it done.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development will look at Trump policies “that undermined fair housing policies and laws.”
  • Combat Trump-generated “xenophobia” targeting Asian American and Pacific Islanders pushed by the Trump administration.
  • Re-establish “federal respect” for American Indian and Alaska native tribes.

Presidents use executive orders to advance unpopular or controversial policies that cannot muster support in Congress. Because EOs are not law, a president can create and erase them at will.

Biden’s racial equity only applies to the federal government.

That means the impact is limited.

Biden within the federal government can address systemic racism where it exists — in training, hiring, procurement and policies where congressional action is not needed.

“I’m not promising we can end it tomorrow, but I promise you: We’re going to continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the federal government is going to be part of that effort,” Biden said.

The reality when dealing with systemic racism and equality is that the federal government is a limited entity. Whether Biden can promote equality policies on a large scale remains a major question hanging over his administration, but it’s only the end of week one.