FOR THE past three-plus years, the country has lived — and suffered — in Donald Trump’s America. With a President Joe Biden, America would be starkly different. To begin with, it would not be Joe Biden’s America, which in itself says something significant about the difference. The nation would return to a time when most Americans were not forced daily to contemplate the president’s latest provocation, government officials would be picked based on competence and commitment to service, not their capability to play the sycophant, and the president would judge his success based on legislative accomplishments rather than TV ratings. This is not to say that Mr. Biden would be a mere throwback to the years of President Barack Obama, or before, but that he would muster democratic norms and values to face an uncertain and dangerous future.
Some changes would be immediate. Mr. Biden would begin his term by restoring competence to the federal government’s senior ranks. Over his decades of political experience, the former vice president has surrounded himself with some of Washington’s most capable hands. Some, such as possible Biden White House chief of staff (and occasional Post contributor) Ronald A. Klain, boast Washington résumés almost as long as Mr. Biden’s. Others, such as vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris, are relative newcomers. The common attribute is a record of accomplishment in public service. It is a substantial bonus that Ms. Harris would also be the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president. Her selection, after a sometimes tumultuous primary campaign, shows that Mr. Biden does not hold counterproductive grudges when seeking talent for top positions.
Upon taking office, Mr. Biden would quickly halt some of Mr. Trump’s most severe depredations: the breakneck shredding of environmental regulations; the systematic effort to undermine Obamacare in federal agencies and in court; the constant pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Trump’s political enemies on bogus charges, while pardoning the criminal acts of his friends. Mr. Biden would rejoin international organizations and agreements that Mr. Trump renounced, such as the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord, and he would restore executive-branch protections to “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.
That could be just Day One. In the weeks following, Mr. Biden has promised to create a task force to reunite the 545 migrant children still missing their parents after the Trump administration forcibly separated them at the border. If it is not passed by a lame-duck Congress, he would push a long-stalled economic rescue package to support the unemployed, underemployed, businesses and public services struggling to cope with the ever-worsening coronavirus pandemic. He would release evidence-based national coronavirus guidance, ramp up testing and funnel money into safe school reopenings.
The biggest accomplishments would take more time. Mr. Trump has no second-term policy agenda on his website, just a list of “accomplishments.” Mr. Biden has page after page of specific plans on everything from gun violence to opioids to reforming the bankruptcy system.
The past several years have proved the public wants the government to ensure that all Americans have decent health-care coverage; Mr. Biden would build on Obamacare, adding a public option to do that. After years of irrational neglect, climate change will have to be addressed aggressively; Mr. Biden has a credible plan that would focus on solving the greenhouse gas emissions problem. Repudiating Mr. Trump’s inhuman cruelty, he would repair immigration policy by providing a pathway to legitimacy for those living and working peacefully in the country, improving legal pathways into the United States and enhancing border security. He would make a down payment on addressing wealth inequality by repealing Mr. Trump’s wasteful tax cuts for the wealthy.
Mr. Biden would need Congress’s cooperation to make big strides, but he would be the first president in modern memory to enter office with deep relationships on Capitol Hill and decades of experience crafting legislative deals. Though he has had ample reason to do so, he has steadfastly refused to write off Republicans, an instinct that earned him mockery from progressives but that could serve him well in building legislative coalitions.
The project of racial healing would long outlast Mr. Biden’s term, because it will take culture change as well as policy reform. But, among other things, he would unleash the Justice Department to once again demand change from deficient police departments; focus on crime prevention rather than incarceration by diverting people with substance abuse or mental health problems into treatment; and collect better crime data so states can develop evidence-based alternatives to warehousing generations of human beings.
On foreign affairs, Mr. Biden would put the United States back on the side of the good guys: traditional allies who cherish freedom and democracy. Mr. Trump has courted and supported dictators and strongmen across the world. Mr. Biden would call a summit of the world’s democracies to regroup and promote basic liberal values, because having more unfree countries in the world is both a moral and a security threat to the United States.
No presidential term looks exactly like what candidates expect or promise. Presidents always face circumstances and crises that no one anticipated. But the public could once again rest assured that the person at the wheel has the nation’s best interests at heart. Mr. Trump made the biggest problems worse, and he tragically mishandled the crises he was dealt. Mr. Biden would refocus on accomplishment. His administration would represent not only an end of the Trump era; it has the potential to make real-world progress on the central challenges facing our nation and our planet.