U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders. | TOM BRENNER - REUTERS - X06967

THERE is something admirable about the way the United States inaugurates its President, requiring him to make an oath to obey the constitution and inviting him to set out his priorities and his faith in the country’s future. British leaders are much too buttoned-up and emotionally constipated to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings in this way and would probably regard a request to open up about patriotism to the people who voted for them as a damned cheek.

Joe Biden seemed to me to strike all the right notes last week and, unlike his predecessor, made a speech worthy of his office. It was a relief that the threatened violence did not occur, but that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It was also a relief, doubtless to Biden as well, that Donald Trump chose to stay away and sulk instead.
Whether the 46th President can deliver on his promises, not to mention the deeper malaise at the root of American society, obviously remains to be seen. As a headline in the Daily Telegraph put it: “Can Biden really fix ailing America?”

Probably not. What he can do, though, is rid the White House of Trump’s way of doing things: return to a respect for democratic and constitutional norms, stop making foreign policy in half-baked Twitter storms, stop slagging off anyone who dares to disagree with him, cut off all links with the neo-fascist elements in US society, which Trump shamefully encouraged, deal with the Covid pandemic in a more professional way, help to make Americans more trusting of their political leaders.

Reversing the fall-out from the Trump era will not be enough on its own, however, to halt the historic decline in American power and inner cohesion that predated Trump by several decades. The country is more bitterly divided than at any time since the Civil War and a large chunk of the population has all but lost faith in the power and will of elected politicians to improve their lives.

That is why a man like Trump could get the votes of over 70 million people, more than the entire population of the British Isles. Having beaten Trump, Biden now has to address the reasons why such an amoral scoundrel could command such support.

The country’s social, cultural and economic inequalities have reached extreme levels. A surge in housing and health care costs has made it impossible for many of the poorest families to see any prospect of ever achieving a reasonable living standard. Many of them drop out of school, don’t marry and seek relief in drugs and video games. It is no surprise that crime in the cities continues to rise. The richest and the poorest seem to have lost the values they used to share, along with their pride in America. For many, the American dream is a nightmare.

Young people are no longer sure of the value of democracy. If this is democracy, they say – looking at the way the capitalist system is manipulated by corporate lobbyists and corrupt politicians – maybe we should try something else. Racism is endemic in many of the country’s official institutions.

Americans appear to have lost their can-do frontier spirit. They are less inventive, less willing to take risks. Outside Silicon Valley, there are fewer entrepreneurs in business and industry. The seriously sick US economy will not be healed or energised by the tax rises that the Democratic government has promised to make.

Biden will bring a fresh and unprejudiced approach to the problems of race and poverty. But he is 78, the oldest President ever to take office.
He is confronted by a one of the worst combinations of domestic problems in his country’s history. Is he strong enough to handle this level of challenge?
Even with a good man in charge, one has to fear for America.

Fight this beach ban!

PUERTO Pollensa council has rightly protested at an arbitrary decision by the Coastal Department to close the children’s playgrounds on the town’s beaches. It is a strange decision.

The playgrounds are well designed and give great pleasure to children playing on the beach – and some respite for their parents. Even in winter my children play there every weekend. The picnic tables set out among trees at the Llenaire end of the beach are also to be removed. They are placed discreetly, hard to see from the road (as if that really matters) and are a popular place for locals and expats to enjoy parties in the summer.
Why such joyful and harmless activities should be banned makes no sense at all. The reason given for removing the playgrounds is that they could easily be sited elsewhere. Of course they could, but that misses the whole point of providing play areas for children on the beach and having picnics with a view of the sea.

The same logic could be applied to the makeshift bars and restaurants around the beach. I expect the owners are fearful that they too may be under threat. They are a convenient amenity for locals and tourists alike, providing good, cheap food and warm service. This joyless and unthinking ban must be lifted. Announcing it in the middle of the Covid pandemic was hardly brilliant timing. Once the disease has receded and the country opens up again, the island is going to need every amenity it can find to bring back the visitors who are its lifeblood. A petition should be prepared against this outrageous decision - I am one among many people I know who would gladly sign it.

Where are the vaccines?

SPAIN appears to be notoriously slow in making the Pfizer vaccine available. Although it was announced on Christmas Eve that 4.5 million doses would soon be available and that over two million people would be vaccinated by the end of March, that target already seems unlikely to be reached.

In Britain the vaccination of over-80s began on December 8 and so far a total of 3.5 jabs have been administered. In Majorca, as far as I can judge, no one outside care homes and now hospitals has received the vaccine. No wonder the number of cases is still rising. They won’t come down until the vaccine is made more widely available.

The fact that so many vulnerable old people living in the community in Mallorca, some with other ailments, have still not had the jab is a source of great regret and could soon become a scandal.