This was excerpted from the December 22 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)Welcome back, America.
President-elect Joe Biden’s picks for Cabinet and top White House jobs show he intends to be an aggressive and energetic general in the global battle against climate change. “Folks, we’re in a crisis,” he said at the weekend, after a year of raging wildfires, flood and drought. “Just like we need to be a unified nation to respond to Covid-19, we need a unified national response to climate change.”Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord and he nominated leaders with strong climate credentials, including Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top regulator, to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan — America’s auto epicenter — and a supporter of electric vehicles, to head the Energy Department. But the effort goes way beyond agencies with traditional environment mandates. From the State Department to Transportation and top White House economics posts, he has picked champions of transformational climate policy. Ex-Secretary of State John Kerry, a founding father of the Paris accord, will sit on the National Security Council as global climate envoy, signaling a key foreign policy priority to match Biden’s $2 trillion plan to reach net-zero domestic carbon emissions by 2050.Climate action has broadened in the four years that Trump spent burbling nonsense about wind power and showerheads. Many US firms, even in the carbon sector, now perceive an existential need to green their industries, already embraced by foreign competitors. US states and cities have launched their own initiatives. And the cost of saving the planet is falling as new energy tech evolves.Biden’s work is cut out for him. Republicans, emboldened by better-than-expected congressional elections, are ready to paint climate policies as socialistic, un-American power grabs. They could block Biden from passing new climate laws. And a conservative Supreme Court may challenge his attempts to use executive power to tilt the economy toward clean energy.Read MoreBut climate politics now has the momentum, and that will drive Biden’s presidency at home and abroad.’When their time comes’With only limited Covid-19 doses available across the US, members of Congress have been prioritized for inoculation in an effort to maintain governmental continuity on Capitol Hill. But several lawmakers now gladly getting vaccinated had downplayed the danger of the virus earlier this year. Iowa’s Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, for example, said in September that she was “so skeptical” of the Covid-19 death rate, and suggested that health care workers were inflating mortality statistics for profit. On Sunday, she tweeted that she had received the first dose of the lifesaving vaccine, and encouraged Americans behind her in the queue to “do the same when their time comes.“Making America Greco-Roman again The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, is styled after an ancient temple.President Donald Trump shows no reverence for those twin legacies of the Greek and Roman civilizations — democracy and the rule of law. But the ancients did know a thing or two about real estate. Just weeks away from returning to the property game, Trump has issued an executive order recommending that new federal buildings be conceived in the antiquity-inspired Classical style.”Designs should, like America’s beloved landmark buildings, uplift and beautify public spaces, inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public, and, as appropriate, respect the architectural heritage of a region,” the order states.Pillars, faux temples, friezes and marble are in. Modernist concrete monoliths are out — Trump is particularly disdainful of the Brutalist school of architecture that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and he singles out the boxy Housing and Urban Development building in Washington for scorn. He has plenty of company in his tastes — George Washington himself engaged French civic planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant to shape the US capital as a metaphor for America’s new democracy and ancient roots. Plus, few tourists flock to DC to gaze at the Lego-like Brutalist FBI building.But a cynic might wonder whether this particular effort to Make America Great Again is another nostalgic bid to deny cultural progress and trap the country in a mythical past of aesthetic uniformity. Dictating the revival of Classicism has often been a hobby for autocrats through the ages.The Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture instructs federal contractors to find inspiration in “Michelangelo, and Palladio; such Enlightenment masters as Robert Adam, John Soane, and Christopher Wren; such 19th-century architects as Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Robert Mills, and Thomas U. Walter.”But the builder-in-chief is losing his touch: Nowhere does the order state that future government buildings come with his signature “Trump” emblazoned in big, golden letters.The 1960s Expressionist HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C.