During the Trump presidency I was frequently perplexed, to put it mildly, that his supporters had nary a critical word to say about him despite his capacity for serial outrage.
His supporters were clearly biased. Biased to the point that no facts or evidence that challenged their loyalty could be admitted or considered. He wasn’t the “teflon president” (Reagan). Trump was more the “Star Wars president,” protected by the best shield of all. He and his supporters inhabited an alternate reality.
I am now wondering about my own “Biden bias.” I was both glad and enormously relieved when Biden/ Harris won. I very much want his presidency to succeed. I want the U.S. to step back from the abyss of authoritarianism and regain our collective sanity — and democracy.
But am I now myself guilty of bias? Am I giving Biden a free pass?
The past six weeks have not been good for the Biden administration. From Afghans dropping from departing aircraft, to border patrol on horseback rounding on immigrants as if they were cattle, it has been bad. In between, a U.S. drone strike reportedly targeting ISIS-K, killed seven Afghan children and an aid worker. And we seem to have managed, despite claims about the importance of our alliances, to have infuriated France to the point that they recalled their ambassador. The infrastructure bill, which once had bi-partisan support and seemed sure to pass, is now held hostage by the progressive wing of the Democrat Party and Biden’s own verbal miscues.
I would be the first to say that President Biden is facing a terrible welter of complicated issues, any one of which is daunting on its own terms. COVID pandemic, a halting economy, the Afghan War, border and immigration issues, and — as if that were not all enough — the challenges posed by China.
I am prepared to cut him some slack, quite a lot, in fact. But I also wonder, if I were on other side of the great political divide what would I now be thinking about the vaunted “competence” of Biden and his administration? Alas, they aren’t looking terribly “competent,” or “experienced,” “seasoned” or “grown-up” or whatever word you want that was used to differentiate him from Trump last fall. From the Afghan departure to the border crisis, which has been going on almost since Biden came into office, “competence” is not the word that comes to mind.
Honestly, if Trump were at the helm for these events, I think I’d be screaming bloody murder.
Many new presidential administrations encounter some pretty severe bumps in the road in their first year. Remember Clinton’s early years? Some go on to right the ship and make progress in the inevitably choppy seas. Some do not. Remember Carter? Will Biden? Lord, I hope so. But I have a disquieting feeling that time is already running out. I hope I am wrong.
I do worry, as I’ve previously commented, that the Biden administration has seemed to construe a narrow victory in 2020 and the slimmest of possible majorities in the House and Senate as a mandate to “go big.”
As I see it, Job # 1, for Biden’s first year was to build trust by accomplishing some basic things and attending to what was pressing, e.g. the pandemic, the economy, national unity. Getting the infrastructure bill passed looked like a big step in the right direction. Alas, Biden and the Democrats hooked it to a $3.5 trillion dollar package that begins to look like the Titanic. They seemed to construe their razor-thin slim majority as a mandate for transformation.
My experience tells me you don’t get to even take a crack at transformative change until you have built trust with a solid, if modest, record of accomplishment and steady at the wheel. We are increasingly far from such basic goals.