President Joe Biden effectively kicked off the Thanksgiving holiday period on Friday by following a decades-long tradition: pardoning a turkey that will escape the dinner plate.
Over recent days workers have also been preparing the groundwork for illuminating the US national Christmas tree to the rear of the White House.
Arriving this week in Washington, which will be home for the next few years, it was clear, however, that despite the impending holidays there was little festive goodwill in US politics.
A year after Biden won the presidency, his poll numbers are slumping – down to 41 per cent approval – and the partisan nature of US politics appears to be worsening, if anything.
Addressing a conservative Christian audience in Texas, he said: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion.” The comments seemed to question the US constitutional provision for freedom of religion.
Biden this week celebrated a major achievement: the passing of a long-discussed initiative to rebuild infrastructure across the US.
Washington is a beautiful city with wide roads and a clean and well-functioning metro system. However, many travellers from abroad to parts of the United States are surprised at the crumbling nature of some of its infrastructure.
Even while many in American politics accept that roads, railways and bridges across the country are badly in need of upgrading – indeed former president Donald Trump regularly spoke of a major infrastructure plan without it ever materialising – the Biden €1 trillion initiative did not receive widespread bipartisan support.
Threats and abuse
In modern Washington politics, many on the Republican side could not allow a Biden victory even on an issue that has widespread backing. In the House of Representatives, just 13 Republicans voted with the Democrats.
Worse still, some Republican lawmakers who supported the infrastructure legislation faced threats and abuse for their troubles.
Biden travelled the country this week to sell his infrastructure plan.
But as he secured one victory, another major problem was looming in America – the return of high inflation.
Unlike some of the scares raised by Trump – remember “Antifa is coming to your neighbourhood” and “The migrant caravans are heading for the border?” – rising prices are all-too evident in the lives of millions of Americans.
Washington is an expensive city. Even arriving from Dublin the prices here can be surprising, particularly for property and for eating out.
Two-bedroom furnished apartments can easily run to $4,000-$5,000 per month while utilities are also expensive. Meat products are noticeably dearer than at home.
While those moving to Washington can expect high prices, across the country everyone is noticing the rising cost of living.
Inflation overall in October exceeded 6 per cent. Gasoline prices are at a seven-year high while the prices of meat, fish and egg are up nearly 12 per cent on last year.
Not so transitory
For Biden, the problem is his administration initially played down the issue and argued rising prices would be transitory. However, the problem has intensified. The spike came as trillions of dollars in federal pandemic aid resulted in Americans and companies seeking to buy more goods at a time when supply lines are under pressure.
There is also suspicion within the administration that some profiteering is going on. On Wednesday, Biden wrote personally to the Federal Trade Commission maintaining that prices at the pumps were rising while refined fuel costs were falling and industry profits increasing.
There is concern that the inflation spike, if unchecked, could lead to rampant Republican victories in the midterm elections now only 12 months away.
There are also fears inflation could prompt some politicians in Congress to baulk at Biden’s even more ambitious €1.75 trillion “build back better” plan for greater social spending covering areas such as health, education, housing and climate, as well as key corporate and other taxation issues that will be keenly watched in Ireland.
The Democrats have a very tight majority in Congress and are well behind in the polls. Biden needs significant milestone victories before then.