There’s an internet meme that made the rounds for about two years after Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s “Infrastructure Week.” It started out as a serious initiative, at least as serious as Donald Trump can be. Trump declared Infrastructure Week as if it were “a very special episode” of his presidency for Sweeps Week.
The first real proposal for “Infrastructure Week” took place in early June, 2017. Granted, it might have gotten more attention if it hadn’t occurred at the same time as fired CIA Director James Comey’s damning Congressional testimony describing the Trump campaign’s “relationships” with Russian intelligence.
Looking back, it’s tempting to wonder whether that first Infrastructure Week was merely a distraction to divert America’s attention from the Comey testimony. Indeed, every revival of Infrastructure Week appeared to coincide with some unprecedented new Trump scandal. In fairness, maybe the distractions were only coincidences. After all, there hasn’t really been a week without an unprecedented Trump scandal.
At the time, optimists hoped that some Democrats would cross the aisle to support investment projects that would produce jobs. Instead, as is now a recognizable pattern, Trump’s recommendations focused on fattening the wallets of investors rather than improving the lives of Americans, leaving the crumbling bridges and roads behind.
What was Donald Trump’s first “infrastructure” initiative? He proposed privatizing Air Traffic Control, not a new idea, and likely doomed from the start. The plan was chock full of tax breaks for private investors in construction projects, the only legitimate business within the nation’s entire GDP that Donald Trump has ever actually witnessed.
Criticism of the plan began immediately, and Trump responded with his next jobs program, “apprenticeship week”. Unfortunately, that backfired, partly because people noticed that “Trump’s proposed budget would slash the Labor Department’s budget by a fifth to $9.6 billion and its job training programs by more than a third.” Maybe he confused “apprenticeship” with his TV show “The Apprentice” and assumed the program would be funded by commercial sponsors. Where is the My Pillow guy when you need him?
Over time, “infrastructure week” became a meme on Twitter, used at times like this: “Trump insists that (some person who criticized him) should lose their job hosting a TV show.” During these tantrums (irrelevant to his actual responsibilities as leader of the free world), “Welcome to Infrastructure Week” would trend on Twitter. The whole notion of “infrastructure” has become a joke in which the punchline is Donald Trump’s incompetence.
In comparison, who doesn’t know that Joe Biden rides the rails on Amtrak? His campaign motto, Build Back Better, recognizes the importance of infrastructure: “Build” is the foundation of roads, bridges, highways, public spaces, utilities, broadband access, and, of course, transit. “Back” recognizes that the pandemic has cut our national revenue stream, the fuel that funds infrastructure. It’s actually been declining for longer than just this year. In reality, politicians have systematically starved the mechanism that funds our foundation, so it needed to be built back before the pandemic even began. Lastly, “Better” recognizes that we now have the opportunity to use new technologies and set new goals for energy efficiency, retraining, and public health.
Joe Biden was on the team that spearheaded the recovery of the US auto industry in 2009, and he sees this crisis as an opportunity to make the world better. He often says, “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, all he can muster is one word: ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, I think of a word as well: ‘jobs.’”
Campaign slogans don’t move mountains, but earth moving equipment does, and Joe Biden has outlined very specific plans, with their costs, to invest in American infrastructure. Here are the elements of the Biden Plan:
Joe Biden promises to create well-paid union jobs that expand the middle class. These jobs will be filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers – including women and people of color. He recognizes the nation’s obligation to workers who built our infrastructure for now-outdated technologies. For these workers, Biden will establish a task force similar to one created in 2009 to help Detroit weather the auto crisis.
This task force will “help these communities access federal investments and leverage private sector investments to help create high-paying union jobs based upon the unique assets of each community, partner with unions and community colleges to create training opportunities for these new jobs, repair infrastructure, keep public employees like firefighters and teachers on the payroll, and keep local hospitals open.”
The call for infrastructure improvement is inextricably woven with the dire needs to address both the struggling economy and the climate crisis. The Biden plan will create the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure. This will deliver the clean energy future that is long overdue and boost the economy with jobs that will still be relevant and necessary in the future.
The climate-centered approach will leverage innovations already emerging from our national laboratories and universities. This plan will build jobs in new industries and re-invigorated regional economies, and focus on manufacturing products in America.
Infrastructure investment in sustainable technologies will “lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.”
Besides infrastructure, investments in the auto industry, transit, power, buildings, and housing will create jobs in the short term and create sustainability in the longer term. New jobs bring opportunities for workers entering the workforce as well as for experienced workers retraining for challenges in the new sustainable economy.
The infrastructure program will require investment of $1.3 trillion over ten years. This investment will rebuild the middle class with competitive job skills, to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and to make sure that economic growth is shared across cities, towns and rural areas across the country. Furthermore, the programs will prioritize the communities that have suffered the most from our inaction—low income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities. They’ll get 40% of the investments in housing, pollution reduction, workforce development, and transportation.
Joe Biden described his plan in detail in a Wilmington, Delaware speech on July 14, 2020. “These investments are a win, win, win for this country, creating jobs, cutting energy costs, protecting our climate.”
Now that’s how you have an Infrastructure Week.