The Morning Jolt

White House

Biden Begins to Overturn Trump’s Administrative Legacy

President Joe Biden swears in presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today, Joe Biden gets to work enacting a leftist agenda with some window dressing on the pandemic; contemplating what it would have taken for Donald Trump to overcome his character flaws; and Antifa in Portland declares they “don’t want Biden, they want revenge.”

Biden Begins by Rejoining WHO and Climate-Change Accords and Stopping Border Fence Construction

The voters elected Joe Biden and more or less gave him three basic instructions: First, don’t act like Donald Trump; second, end the pandemic; third, get our economy back to where it was before the pandemic.

Everything else on the Biden agenda was the usual laundry list of promises to Democratic Party interest groups, the kind of proposals that Hillary Clinton touted with great enthusiasm.

On his first day, President Biden did take some steps on the pandemic front. He signed an executive order requiring the wearing of masks on federal property and calling for a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” encouraging Americans to wear masks. (It is fair to wonder how much those who aren’t wearing masks now will be persuaded by an executive order.) He returned the U.S. to the World Health Organization, without any accompanying proposal to hold the organization accountable for its colossal failures at the start of the pandemic. Biden’s letter to the WHO didn’t even mention any problems at the organization. Biden also created a few new White House and National Security Council staff positions focusing on the pandemic.

Biden rejoined the Paris climate accords. (Climate change ranked eleventh out of twelve issues in a Pew survey of voter priorities last year, just above abortion. The economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments, and the pandemic were the top four.) It’s not easy to accurately measure what the U.S. will have to do to honor its promises in the accords at the moment, because measuring U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions from 2020 is complicated by vast swaths of the economy being shut down by the pandemic for long stretches.

He ended the declaration of a national emergency that permitted the reallocation of funds to build border fencing and ordered a pause in all construction and a reassessment of all ongoing projects. The order to halt “shall apply to wall projects funded by redirected funds as well as wall projects funded by direct appropriations.” Biden also made sanctuary cities eligible for federal grants again. Biden repealed all of the so-called “Muslim travel ban” restrictions upon those entering the country from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

POOF! Just like that, much of the Trump-immigration-policy legacy is undone.

Biden repealed Trump’s executive orders requiring federal agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they enact, requiring them to review whether they really need all of their advisory agencies, to defer to Congress in the interpretation of regulations, and requiring more stringent adherence to “administrative pay-as-you-go,” often called PAYGO.

POOF! Just like that, much of the Trump deregulatory legacy is undone.

This is a Democratic administration, stepping into power when the left wing of the party is ascendant. The Biden administration is as (over)confident in the popularity of its broader agenda as the Obama administration was in January 2009. While Joe Biden may be eager to usher in an era of bipartisan compromises, most of the team around him is as convinced as the old Obama crowd was that American politics has permanently changed direction, and that the Republican Party has been reduced to a “rump regional party.” (Tom Nichols and Jen Rubin both used that particular phrase to describe the GOP not too long ago.)

Billionaire Ray Dalio wrote in his autobiography about the accumulation of experience and with it, hopefully, wisdom. After a while, each new problem and circumstance seems less unique and unprecedented; Dalio describes seeing a situation and thinking, “it’s another one of those.

If you remember January 2009 or January 1993 . . . this is another one of those.

The Lingering Anger of a Wasted Presidency

The end of the Trump presidency leaves me angry, in part because it would not have taken much for him to have been a much better president — and who knows, maybe even win reelection.

Donald Trump, the famous germaphobe and critic of the Chinese government, would have had to treat the pandemic as a top-tier crisis from Day One, and not have kept making unrealistic predictions that it would just disappear someday. He would have had to frequently express sympathy for those who lost loved ones to the virus. He would have had to let the medical experts take the lead in the daily pandemic briefings and not have relished getting into sideshow arguments with members of the press. He would have had to recognize that this was one situation that was not all about him and not tried to make it all about him.

The president would have had to discourage people from having large gatherings and not have attempted to resume his rallies as if nothing had happened. A presidential decision to consistently wear a mask, and encouraging others to do so, would have helped. We’ve gotten a lot of confusing and conflicting guidance since the start of this pandemic. All Trump had to do was ask questions, listen, and help communicate the best answers available to the American people and the world.

He would have had to put down the phone and not have tweeted tirades nearly as often. If he was angry, he would have needed to just rant to whomever was within earshot, get it out of his system, and move on to more important things. He didn’t need to spend so much “executive time” watching cable news and going into a rage every time he didn’t hear as much praise as he expected. Apparently just about everyone around the president urged him to make changes such as this, and warned him that this could cost him reelection, but he refused to listen.

In that first presidential debate, he just needed to be quiet when it wasn’t his turn and let Joe Biden’s mouth get himself in trouble.

Trump might have cracked a book on the presidency and studied the past to see what worked and what didn’t. He might have recognized that even if he thought all of this tradition and decorum and reverence for the presidency was stupid, lots of Americans took it seriously. The dignity of the office is part of what makes them proud to be Americans. When you step into the Oval Office, you’re stepping into a secular sacred space. That room, and behind that Resolute desk, is where Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman heard reports about World War II, where Dwight Eisenhower announced the integration of schools in Little Rock, Ark., where Kennedy informed the country about missiles in Cuba, and where Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviets for shooting down a South Korean civilian airliner. There’s a supreme responsibility that comes with that office. It’s not just another set for a reality-television show.

He would have had to recognize that the only way to create changes that can’t be easily reversed is through legislation. He would have realized that his policies were always more popular than he was — and pledged to talk more about them and less about himself.

It didn’t have to be this way. Trump’s presidency didn’t have to be so disorganized, erratic, chaotic, sucked into maddeningly petty feuds, burning bridges left and right, driving away genuinely talented staffers and cabinet members, blowing up negotiations at the last minute, and constantly marching into box canyons without a backup plan.

And when the president lost, he could have set himself up well for running again someday, instead of ending in ignoble disgrace on so many fronts. Plenty of great men have lost bids for reelection. John Adams lost his bid for another term in 1800, Winston Churchill’s time as prime minister ended when his party lost the majority in July 1945, and Lech Wałęsa lost the Polish presidential election of 1995.

But Trump isn’t just defeated. He’s widely seen as responsible for a riot that killed five people, disrupted Congress for a day, and tried to prevent the 2020 presidential election from concluding as the law requires. He acknowledged that his term would end, but never acknowledged that Biden won and couldn’t extend him even the most basic courtesies. He’s the first president to be impeached twice. He may well be indicted by some prosecutor in the not-too-distant future. Twitter threw him off their platform, decreeing him a danger for incitement of violence. Instead of dismissing ludicrous conspiracy theories such as QAnon, Trump egged them on and retweeted them. He listened to lunatics such as Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. And by the end of his presidency, he was listening to the MyPillow guy lay out plans for invoking the Insurrection Act to stay in office.

Then again, maybe asking for Trump to adjust his behavior is like asking a dog to ride a bicycle or a fish to yodel.

This interview with four authors who wrote biographies of Trump before he ran for office offers a particularly grim portrait, contending that on some psychological level, Donald Trump really couldn’t and can’t help himself. He has no impulse control, no ability to contemplate the long-term consequences, no ability to put other people’s needs first. He needs constant adulation, sees any disagreement as a betrayal and any criticism as a vicious attack. He was the most irresponsible of minds and souls, entrusted with the nation’s greatest responsibility. No one should be surprised his presidency ended the way it did.

ADDENDUM: Meanwhile, over in Portland, Ore., Antifa “protesters” smashed windows at the local Democratic Party headquarters and marched with banners declaring, “We don’t want Biden, we want revenge.” The banner features the silhouette of a Kalishnikov rifle, making them arguably the only group on the left that opposes gun control.

Another banner declared: “We are ungovernable.” Points for honesty, I suppose.

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