A window into Biden’s presidency
A new dawn is upon the United States following Trump’s departure from the White House and the future of the nation is uncertain. Jack Walton walks us through Biden’s first few weeks and predictions for the next four years of his presidency.
First a bang, then a whimper. As post-Capitol Hill Insurrection Donald Trump shuffled off the world stage, Twitter-fingers tied behind his back, stopping only briefly to read a few things about “[rising] above the rancour” and “hope and vitality” off a teleprompter (phrases absent from the Trump lexicon through his entire presidency) the world’s diaphragm muscles relaxed. After four years of fireworks and melodrama, the low-key finale to the long goodbye felt symbolic of a softening process that was to come. Joe Biden had arrived, breathe out, it won’t be spectacular but at least it’s not him – the politics will fade into the background once again.
As a low lying, rarely seen or heard candidate, Biden was expected by many to be similar in office – understated, low-action, the antithesis to the Donald.
Sure, on those rare occasions he spoke, he said the right things, appealing to Bernie Sanders and his sinking vessel during the Democratic Primaries with a rescue fleet of progressive policy; a proposed $100 billion affordable housing investment, tripled federal spending for low income schools and lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60. Whilst in doing so he avoided a Clinton-scale isolation of the Sanders base, tipping the election in his favour, it was a bargain most Sanders supporters entered into cautiously, certain betrayal was awaiting them further down the line.
To many, Biden’s promises amounted to the patina of progressivism on a tired old boot. They had good reason. This was still Social Security cuts Joe Biden. Nafta-backer Joe Biden. Former Pro Hyde Amendment (preventing women using Medicaid money for abortions) Joe Biden. This is the same Joe Biden who backed the Iraq War and the bailout of the financial sector and who plagiarized a speech and drafted the 1994 Crime Bill precipitating mass incarceration. Even for a near-Octogenarian, it was an impressive tally of blackspots. This was not likely to be a radical change presidency. Centrist sludge up ahead.
To many, Biden’s promises amounted to the patina of progressivism on a tired old boot.
And yet, ‘Slow Joe’ has burst out of his bunker into the light with his tie wrapped around his head, fists pumpelling chest and ready to go, unleashing a dizzying number of executive orders “essentially compressing 100 days into 10” according to the New York Times. Keystone XLPipeline – cancelled. Paris Climate Agreement – rejoined. First ever US National Climate advisor – appointed. Muslim ban – ended. Border Wall Construction – ceased. First ever US National Climate advisor – appointed. Legacy of Trumpism – drop-kicked over the White House fence.
Stressing the importance of “investing in deficit spending in order to generate economic growth”, Biden’s open cheque book approach has been far more forward thinking than the last time he was in power, as Barack Obama’s Vice President, when fiscal caution was frequently emphasised. And his frenetic assault of directives and executive orders is hopefully a sign of things to come.
However, as Simon Tisdall has written in The Guardian, most of these early executive orders and moves, whilst impressive, are essentially “postures, not policies”. Whilst understandably eager to dismantle as much of his predecessor’s work as possible, the authoritarian tinge that executive orders carry makes them no substitute for actual legislation. Reactions to their usage is often marked by tribal hypocrisy – it’s great when it’s your party in power, it’s deeply undemocratic when it’s the other lot. Moreover, they don’t actually alter the law – allowing them to be picked apart when the implementing party leaves office. They provide a framework for governance, rather than a permanent strategy.
In essence, Biden has overseen a swift and impressive tonal shift.
Thwarting the existential threat of climate catastrophe and addressing racial tension at a structural level, in the face of such strong opposition, is an enormous task.
However, it’s one thing putting out fires; detoxifying the White House air of its remnant stench of weapons-grade ineptitude, scrubbing its walls of narcissism and tanning-product chemicals. But for Biden to be successful a large quantity of real doing will have to follow the necessary undoing. If he truly seeks unity then he’ll need a longer term method, via Congress, to implement his agenda.
For Senator Joe Biden, this was his specialism – bi-partisan agreement and compromise. But he becomes President at a time bi-partisanship is a feeble anachronistic currency, a handful of cocoa beans in an era of crypto-markets. This is a divided Congress in the heart of a divided nation – the value of ‘compromise’ is depreciating.
It won’t be easy. Trump’s climate legacy was denialism. His race legacy inflammation of tensions and empowerment of white supremacy. His political legacy tantrums, feuds and dishonesty. The sounding of the death knell for the man himself does not mean the end of his ideas – either in the country or even in the halls of power. Thwarting the existential threat of climate catastrophe and addressing racial tension at a structural level, in the face of such strong opposition, is an enormous task.
So yes, Joe Biden has started as he means to go on, with aggression and purpose – the symbolic gestures are certainly positive. The actual substance, however, will need to follow.