One Year In: The Joe Biden Presidency

One Year In: The Joe Biden Presidency

On January 6th 2021, things got a little shaky in Washington. Without getting into details, one president was preparing to take office while another’s feelings were hurt. The latter may have said some things that shouldn’t have been said; maybe suggested his followers descend on the Capitol in defiance of a “rigged” election with “fake” results. And yeah, sure, if you want to be technical with it, they may have done just that in a blatant disregard for democracy. It’s hard to remember.

Well, against type, old “Sleepy Joe” remembers. In one of his most defining moments yet, he made a speech last week regarding the “web of lies” the former, “defeated” president had spread resulting in this insurrection. While his rhetoric and performance may have been lauded by his side however, it begs the question as to how prominent Trump and “Trumpism” remains in defining this presidency.

Indeed, a year on now, the battle for the “soul of America” (as Biden put it) rages on. Despite a multitude of major spending bills, the picture being framed by the media is still one of left-and-right friction, via the nitty-gritty of negotiating these bills, mask mandates, and vaccine uptake; its narrative spins every accomplishment or historical event under this paralysis.

For example, the withdrawal from Afghanistan (and the immediate return of the Taliban) was set in motion under the Trump presidency but Biden’s been saddled with much of the blame (not that he should be wholly exonerated from it). The vaccination program, depending on who you ask, has been a disaster. Either Trump had already done “the best job” he could have with it and set everything in place, or else Biden was extolling authoritarian virtues by implementing a federal mandate or even taking credit for what Trump had done before him. Trump criticised Biden’s action and then (at a rally) encouraged his followers to get vaccinated. It’s a little confusing. I think the official position they’ve landed on is that “vaccinations are fine but you shouldn’t have to get one but they’re also a scam”. Plus, masks are “lame”.

Naturally enough, most governments have had to readjust their strategies somewhat to contend with new variants, like Omicron. To a degree, Joe Biden was naive to suggest life would be back to normal by now though. Alas, that’s run-of-the-mill politics at its laziest and yet, he’s taken bold action in this department with the $1.9-trillion stimulus “American Rescue Plan” (passed in March). Unfortunately, with a cling-film, flimsy thin majority, the Democrats have struggled to follow up on the other two parts of the “Build Back Better Plan”- the II) “American Jobs Plan” and III) “American Families Plan”. (Although, parts of II made their way into the $1.2 trillion “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”, passed in November.) The pressure to regain ground in this debate (publicly contested by Senator Joe Manchin) may play a role in establishing Democratic credibility in the mid-terms.

On that note, what is “Democratic credibility”? For while the Republicans still largely stand by Trump (2/3 even still believe his lies about the election), the Democrats remain tentative in deciding just how progressive they want their party to be and where its future lies. Indeed, many feel Biden’s as-of-yet unrealised plans don’t go far enough- an age-old adage for progressives. Plus, there’s a general feeling that Biden is serving as a temporary, caretaker president with many eyes turning to Kamala Harris for 2024. Biden has stated he plans to run for re-election but even his supporters’ doubts haven’t been assuaged. This, unfortunately, reflects the notion that great, transformative change cannot be expected in these next few years, even if they are needed.

As mid-terms have historically been a disaster for Democrats and many of the same contentions from the Trump years remain, Joe Biden may simply have to contend himself with dulling the rancorous hate that’s divided America. Sadly, it’s not just down to him. It’ll take a degree of bi-partisanship, an acknowledgment on the GOP’s part that Trump lied, and the media to stop droning on about Trump all the time. It’ll take some time for us to acknowledge the success rate of the Biden presidency with a clear filter.

Joe Biden at 100 (Days)

Joe Biden at 100 (Days)

In the pantheon of presidential historical evaluation, the first 100 days has never been an accurate indicator of what is to come. Often referred to as the “Honeymoon period”, it tends to reflect a more restrained take on the presidency, given its freshness, initial public support, and change of power dynamics. In a sense, everyone’s testing the water and willing (on some part) to give the benefit of the doubt. This is doubly true for the Biden administration, who have come into their own with a long-suppressed sigh of relief following the turmoil of the Trump years.

This is perhaps the most evident thing about the new president; his normality and candour in juxtaposition to the raging clown prince of crime, whose final days saw siege upon the Capitol. Joe Biden has been effective, thus far, in restoring a sense of normalcy and decency in how America tackles its problems. A naturally empathetic man, he’s struck the right tone in addressing mass shootings and the pandemic, in a time when true leadership has been needed.

His words have been supported to by action too; namely, the $1.9 trillion Covid Bill set to alleviate the economic offsets of the pandemic. More liberal commentators, worried that he would prove too moderate, have been surprised by this bold course of action. Thankfully, Biden understands that dramatic times call for dramatic responses and having paid witness to the gridlock of the Obama years, he’s done his base right by practically ignoring the Republicans’ attempts to slim down this bill.

The pandemic has, at this point, reached a turning in the tides with over 200 million Americans vaccinated at this point (a goal set out by the administration). As always, I would be reluctant to give Trump any credit since he only ever served to aggravate the World Health Organization, undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, and meander wildly on the severity of the virus but it is worth at least noting, that some structure was in place for Biden to capitalise on this reversal of fortunes. As a leader, he’s set a good standard however, asking Americans to continue wearing masks while paying respect to the scientists Trump so callously questioned.

The Covid Bill hasn’t been the only bold proposal put forth too. Biden has also unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan which has long been overdue (Trump had actually been correct in 2016, assessing this as one of America’s gravest issues but failed to deliver in appropriate fashion). To his critics, this may be overreaching. They’d have a point too, since the buck has to stop somewhere. With that said, with the awesome power of the presidency, it is gratifying to see these major issues tackled with some gravitas. Just remember, that any leader’s going to be popular when spending.

Elsewhere, Biden has marked a contrast with the Trump administration by suspending the Keystone pipeline and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. He’s also gotten the first notable gun control package in three decade (though limited) and boasted the fastest cabinet appointee approvals in four presidencies. On the surface, it seems like this has thus been a highly successful, action-oriented start. Beneath the surface however…

Well, not to quash people hopes but yes, the tough days are ahead. As eluded to earlier, spending makes one popular but bills have to be settled and the economic downturn of the last year’s events has yet to manifest. (We can only hope this massive investment will curb the worst of this.) The immigration problem, too, is rearing its head, as Biden struggles to set out a new policy, differentiating from Trump’s. (Even George W. Bush has called on his party to act in Congress to work on this.) Plus, while justice was exacted in the George Floyd trial, we’re still seeing disgusting instances of police brutality against Black Americans. Now that a Democrat is in power (and the party has a slight majority), some legislative action will be expected. The Republicans, momentarily out of sorts for now, will return with their combative stances and make this presidency increasingly more difficult.

So, while a dark cloud looms on the horizon, we can at least be thankful that Biden has proven more radical than expected in his approach to the immediate major problems facing him. With his conciliatory inaugural address too, he has hopefully set out a renewed air of compassion for the politics of compromise in Washington. In a sense, reversing the hateful rhetoric of 2016-2020 may prove his greatest feat.