But now those hopes may be deflating again, and not because Biden has mishandled anything or betrayed his promises. He could wind up being the kind of mirror image of Trump we first expected — in ways that offer both relief and disappointment.
It’s no small thing that this president is competent and acts as though he represents the whole country. More than anything else, Americans are pleased with how he has handled the pandemic (his approval on that task has reached 63 percent, far higher than his overall approval).
A new book from Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta reminds us how disastrous Trump’s handling of the pandemic was; among other things, Trump wanted to send infected Americans to Guantánamo Bay and at one point cried, “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”
It was the mishandling of the testing effort that played a key part in allowing the virus to spread. But Trump was always more concerned with how the pandemic would make him look than with how many Americans were dying.
The fact that Biden has so far done a good job of using the government’s powers and resources to manage the pandemic ought to be enough on its own to win him the thanks of the nation — even if our ability to defeat it is now being threatened by red states whose low vaccination rates are providing a breeding ground for the dangerous delta variant. But that won’t be nearly enough to sustain him politically or satisfy his supporters.
In the legislative arena, we’ve been caught in a holding pattern as Democrats try to pass an infrastructure bill and electoral reform, both of which are being held hostage by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Every sane person understands that Republicans will never support either, so the most likely outcome is that electoral reform will fall to a GOP filibuster and infrastructure will be passed through a majority reconciliation vote.
Then, next year, Democrats will get to pass another reconciliation bill. In between, there will likely be no major legislation.
Let’s remind ourselves of what that means. Among the plans and pledges Biden campaigned on were the following: raise the minimum wage, create a public insurance option, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, provide significant new funding for child care and pre-K, create a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and other undocumented immigrants, pass measures guaranteeing equal pay for women and the right to collective bargaining, ban new assault-style weapons, and make community college tuition-free.
No Democratic voter thought he’d be able to do all that, but they hoped he’d be able to do a healthy chunk of it, especially after Democrats took control of the Senate. Yet today, you’d be forgiven for thinking none of it will pass Congress and be signed into law while Biden is president.
This, too, would make him a mirror image of Trump, but for very different reasons. When Republicans took total control in 2017, they passed a big tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, tried and failed to repeal Obamacare, and pretty much called it a day.
But that was fine with Trump’s base. His promises were so ludicrously grandiose that even his most ardent supporters quickly learned they were merely a performance. It didn’t matter what he did with the powers of his office so long as he was owning the libs and being a walking, talking middle finger thrust at everyone they hated.
But that is not the case with Biden and Democrats. They give him credit for doing his best, but they also expect real and sustainable progress on the issues they care about. In many cases that means legislation that can’t be quietly reversed by the next Republican administration.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be happy with what’s happening now throughout the executive branch. The collection of grifters and right-wing ideologues Trump installed in government agencies has been replaced with competent, experienced people who believe government should work. On the whole, they’re moving policy in directions Democrats would hope for and expect.
Whether Biden gets the chance to do more is partly out of his control; it depends on Manchin’s continued resistance to filibuster reform, the shape of the economic recovery, and whether Democrats upend the historical pattern and not only keep control of both houses but expand their margin in the Senate by two or three votes (which would take power away from Manchin).
And of course, we’re only five months into this presidency. Many things can change. But whatever your expectations were for the Biden presidency, they’re probably narrower than they used to be.