Assessing Progress in the White House

A Transatlantic View on Joe Biden’s First 100 Days

On the day of Joe Biden’s address to Congress marking his first 100 days in office, New Urban Progress hosted a discussion on the successes and failures of the new administration’s first spell in charge. Three experts on transatlantic relations and the Democratic movement weighed in: “Future of Diplomacy” Executive Director Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Democratic Party National and Political Organizing Director Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, and Stiftung Mercator fellow Michael Werz. They discussed not only the state of domestic American politics, but also what the new presidency means for transatlantic relations.

The transition to the Biden presidency was no ordinary one. The rioting at the US capitol on the day his victory was certified, spurned on by the refusal of the previous president to accept the results, have left a strong imprint. Much of the discussion therefore focused on the state of American democracy. Michael Werz, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, warned against complacency: “We should not fall under the illusion that democracy has been saved in the United States.”

Watch the full discussion:

Even beyond the much-analyzed poor areas in rural Appalachia, there continues to be a significant share of the US population that is alienated from modern American society, Werz said. Upwards of 30% of the electorate did not view the current government as legitimate. That amounts to “a unilateral foreclosure of the social contract”, Werz argued.

“We are still in a democracy crisis”, concurred Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, National Political and Organizing Director at the Democratic National Committee. She emphasized how the Democratic Party had successfully laid the groundwork for fighting against Trumpian politics. The party had adapted profoundly thanks to successful organizing, she said. “When you wonder what opens up to populism, look no further than a stagnant party that has made no room for new voices.” The least progressive thing for a party to do was to stay the same as in the 1980s, she added. 

“You cannot implement the progressive agenda unless you have the buy-in from the depth of the country”Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Executive Director of the “Future of Diplomacy Project” at the Harvard Kennedy School and the incoming director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), was surprised by how well Biden has used the crisis moment to advance his agenda. She emphasized in particular his engagement of lower levels of government: “He has spoken to America’s mayors no fewer than nine times since he came into office – because he knows full well that you cannot implement the progressive agenda unless you have the buy-in from the depth of the country”.

The panelists

  • Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook is Executive Director of the “Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship” and the “Future of Diplomacy Project” at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is a member of the New Urban Progress Sounding Board
  • Mũthoni Wambu Kraal is Partner at NEWCO Strategies and National Political and Organizing Director at the Democratic National Committee.
  • Michael Werz is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Senior Mercator Fellow.

The discussion was moderated by Sumi Somaskanda, Senior News Anchor at DW News. After the live event, fellows from New Urban Progress – a transatlantic project on the future of the city – had the opportunity to talk privately with the panelists. 

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute. Learn more about the project and sign up for our newsletter. The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).