Joe Biden’s inauguration, with its authoritarian camp lights and general atmosphere of Praetorian threat, was exactly the kind of swearing-in that his predecessor might have relished. About a hundred days after Mr. Biden’s presidency begins, it’s hard to escape the feeling that his administration, too, could end up being the one Donald Trump envies.
After announcing his intention to “crack down on China,” the president kept Mr. Trump’s tariffs largely in place and supplemented them with a broad “Buy American” order. Perhaps even more worthy of Mr. Trump was the new administration’s refusal in March to export unused supplies of the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca on the grounds that the United States must be “over-supplied and too prepared ”. Mr Biden’s sudden about-face on this issue a few weeks later was also aptly Trumpian.
A kind of joyful recklessness persists. “Five years ago, did you ever think that one in two or three in five or six would be biracial couples?” isn’t a question one can easily imagine asked by any American politician other than Mr. Trump – or his successor, who actually asked it to CNN viewers in February.
There is also the issue of immigration policy. Despite his formal reinstatement of the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals and other, mostly symbolic actions, such as the proposal to replace the word “alien” with “non-citizen” in US law, Mr. Biden presided over the kind of barbaric shows on our southern border that were all too familiar for the past four years.
This month, he briefly pledged his administration to maintain Mr. Trump’s parsimonious annual cap on the number of refugees the United States will accept (although in response to criticism, the White House now says it will reconsider. the question next month). Under an obscure 1944 health status also favored by the Trump administration, more Haitian nationals have been deported over a period of a few weeks this year than throughout 2020, and around 26,000 people in total appear to have been deported. expelled since its inauguration.
Mr Biden’s suggestion, made during his primary campaign, that illegal entry into the United States should no longer be treated as a criminal offense, his promise to end construction of the border wall, and his promise that no deportation would only take place during his first hundred days in the office – let’s go, and everything is gray.
What should the Biden administration prioritize?
- Edward L. Glaeser, an economist, writes that the president should use his infrastructure plan as an opportunity to “get the country out of its zoning straitjacket”
- The Editorial Board argues that the administration should revert to the Iran nuclear deal, and that “at this point, the hard-line approach defies common sense.”
- Jonathan alter writes that Biden must now do what FDR did during the Depression: “restore faith that the long-wary federal government can achieve quick and tangible achievements.”
- Gail collins, Opinion columnist, has a few questions on gun violence: “First, what about gun control bills? The other is, what is filibuster? Is all that Republicans can do?
In foreign affairs, too, it certainly seems that Mr. Biden shares his predecessor’s desire to avoid both neoconservative warmongering and mainstream liberal internationalism in favor of something more overtly self-serving. Between announcing the return of the remaining 2,500 American troops from Afghanistan on September 11, he carried out airstrikes in Syria, spoke equivocally about our shameful adventures in Yemen and largely ignored the genocide in the Tigray region. in Ethiopia.
After a brief interlude in which members of his party seemed to call for something like a second Cold War in response to exaggerated claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election, he seems to have accepted that the 1980s really wanted their policies foreigner returns after all this, which is why little has been done in response to the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The United States may be on the verge of reverting to the nuclear weapons deal between the Obama administration and Iran, but when it comes to North Korea, the nation is also, in the words of Lloyd Austin, Mr. Biden’s Secretary of Defense, fight tonight, “presumably with fire and fury.
All of this suits an inward-looking administration more interested in a foreign policy of appeasement than do-gooderism or even justifiable humanitarian action for which there is little popular support.
Even in the realm of economics, where it might have been assumed by supporters and critics during the presidential campaign that Mr. Biden would adopt a more progressive agenda, he differed from the center-right bipartisan economic consensus along oddly lines. familiar. In addition to keeping Mr. Trump’s moratorium on evictions in place, for example, he continued with the suspension of interest on student loans and the collection of monthly payments.
That’s not to say that Mr. Biden never deviated significantly from his predecessor. But as other political observers have pointed out, there is a real sense in which many of his departures were in accordance with the spirit, if not the somewhat less well-defined letter, of Trumpism. Despite some occasional rhetoric to unions that have become a mainstay of conservative populist rhetoric, Mr. Trump was arguably the least union-friendly president since Ronald Reagan, while Mr. Biden restored some collective bargaining rights by executive order. .
After making a lot of noise about the importance of the social safety net during his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump has held standard Republican positions on issues such as work requirements for Medicaid recipients, which Mr. Biden reversed. It somehow never occurred to Mr. Trump or anyone in his orbit to allow Americans to purchase health insurance plans in the online marketplace outside of the open enrollment window. unnecessarily narrow, as Mr. Biden did months ago.
Why is Mr. Biden more successful in implementing some of his predecessor’s policies? Certainly the legendary of Mr. Trump thoughtlessness and its inability to staff a cabinet with qualified officials supportive of what was apparently its agenda is history. A more interesting question, however, is where has the outrage of potential opponents of moderate protectionism and realism in foreign policy gone? Would Mr. Biden’s broken promises on deportations be any less excusable if he, too, used to call immigrants revolting names?
Metaphysics, said philosopher FH Bradley, is the discovery of wrong reasons for things we instinctively believe. It may well be that the essence of Mr. Biden’s presidency is to find sane reasons for doing all the things – some nasty, some reasonable, a plain laudable handful – that his predecessor had attempted out of wickedness or indifference. .
Matthew Walther is the editor of The Lamp, a Catholic literary journal, and an editor of The American Conservative.
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