Two years ago, I wrote about a grim milestone: the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock ahead 20 seconds to a record 100 seconds to midnight. For the first time since the clock’s 1947 inception, the distance to catastrophe was measured in seconds as scientists sounded the alarm on “an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.”
On Thursday, the Bulletin announced that the clock remains at 20 seconds (for the third year in a row), a “clear warning to the world” that “[w]e need to back away from the doorstep of doom.” To the casual observer or the devout cynic, this development a year into the Biden administration may seem like proof that “Biden’s no better than Trump” or “all politicians are bad.” However, an analysis of the data reveals otherwise.
Comparing Donald Trump and Joe Biden when it comes to the Doomsday Clock requires looking at how the clock moved at analogous times. After Trump’s first year, the clock edged 30 seconds closer to midnight (at two minutes away), where it remained the following year before inching another 20 seconds to the perilous 100 seconds to midnight position, where it remained in his final year. By contrast, after Biden’s first year, the clock did not move.
This means that under Trump’s presidency, the clock never moved away from doomsday but lurched us 50 seconds closer to midnight. Biden, who took office under dire circumstances and inherited a mess from Trump, has managed to hold the clock steady. After Trump’s first year, by contrast, the clock catapulted 30 seconds in the wrong direction.
Moving the clock away from midnight must be a priority. The Bulletin cited several factors influencing its decision, such as the lingering pandemic and “particularly concerning” disinformation about the Big Lie, which threatens to “undermine” not only future elections and democracy, but “the United States’ ability to lead global efforts to manage existential risk.” However, the Bulletin also offered 13 practical steps to move us away from the precipice of disaster.
The Bulletin noted that the new government last year “provided hope” that we can stop and, hopefully, reverse the clock’s direction. The Biden administration has “made progress in reestablishing the role of science and evidence in public policy,” despite rampant disinformation campaigns. The Bulletin also cited positive recent developments in nuclear deterrence between the United States and Russia, Iran, and China while noting that North Korea has “not resumed testing of nuclear weapons or long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).”
Although the new Doomsday Clock announcement is gloomy, we can only imagine how the clock would tick today had Trump won reelection. After four years of suffering under the tiny hands of a rage-tweeting wrecking ball, the United States is one year into a presidency that has both hands firmly on the steering wheel. Now is the time for the world to put doom squarely in our rearview mirror.