Making America Great Again

Joe Biden has been in office for ten days. Why hasn’t the pandemic been stopped, the economy turbocharged, the country healed, and the Buffalo Bills won a Super Bowl?

You think I’m joking, but Republicans are already asking those questions (OK, not the Bills one, but they’re thinking it)…..that is, when they’re not complaining that the monsters in the Democrat(ic) Party are picking on poor old Donald Trump by holding him accountable for trying to overthrow the government. 

The nerve of those libtards!

It’s to be expected of course. The contemporary Grand Old Party remains comprised of the worst people in America who are not on a registered sex offender list. (And some who are both.)

But the joke is on the GOP, because Joe Biden actually is taking swift and effective action on COVID, the economy, and many many other fronts. Indeed, starting the very afternoon he was inaugurated, he and his team have been working overtime with a blitz of executive orders and other actions designed to do just that. The fact of the matter is, that is what Republicans are really upset about: action, not alleged inaction.

Are any of these matters an easy fix? Hell no—there’s a long way to go. But what Biden has done so far is admirable and remarkable and speaks to his seriousness of purpose and commitment to keeping the promises he made on the campaign trail. What a refreshing change of pace. 

Over the four years that I’ve been writing this blog, the overwhelming number of posts have been angry screeds, mostly related to something bad done by Donald Trump. (Did anyone notice? I think I covered pretty well.) So it is a pleasure now to write something positive about the man occupying the office of the President of the United States. 

So let’s have a report card for Biden’s first ten days. (Because that’s the way Democrats get treated.) 

EXECUTIVES EXECUTE

As of this writing Joe Biden has issued 42 executive orders, aggressively reversing the policies of the Trump administration per his electoral mandate, and bringing the United States back into the community of nations where we were once the global leader.

He reopened Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces for Americans in need of coverage during the pandemic.

He revived DACA.

He canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline.

He stopped construction of the border wall.

He dispensed with Trump’s Muslim ban. (Yes, it’s fair to call it that.)

He made masks mandatory on federal property.

He lifted Trump’s ban on trans people in the US military.

He extended the federal moratorium on eviction and foreclosure.

He reversed a Trump ban on federal funds for international aid groups that perform or inform about abortions, the so-called Mexico City rule, and ordered a review of rules preventing funding for US clinics that offer abortion referrals, like Planned Parenthood.

He put the US back in the Paris Climate Accord.  There are indications he will also bring us back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, which would be damn smart

He ordered the DOJ not to renew contracts with private prisons. (Not yet addressed: privately run prisons for immigration detainees run by the Department of Homeland Security.)

He moved forward with the promise of a task force to reunite the migrant children kidnapped by the last administration with their parents. (One of the hardest of the new administration’s tasks, as well as one of the most appalling of the last one’s sins.)

He ordered HUD to investigate Trump’s dismantling of fair housing policies in order to discriminate against people of color. 

He extended the pause on student loan payments

He brought the US back into the World Health Organization.

He allowed Dr. Anthony Fauci to speak frankly to the American people. (Fauci’s delight was palpable.) 

He issued an executive order to re-establish “federal respect for tribal sovereignty.” (Coulda used that in 1492 but better late than never.)

He elevated climate change to a national security matter and re-established a task force of scientific advisors on the topic. (Science! What a novel idea!) In connection with that, he issued a sweeping order to initiate a review and possible reversal of a whole slew of Trump actions that devastated environmental protections

He launched a $700B program to encourage the federal government to buy more American-made products—ironically, a program that sounds like it might have come out of the last administration, with its flag-waving America First windowdressing, except that this time it’s genuine, and not merely misdirection while Trump’s line of ties get made in China, and his Trump brand suits in Indonesia, and Trump brand vodka in Europe.

He unceremoniously fired Trump loyalists within the federal bureaucracy who refused the customary request to resign, and has taken aggressive action to remove “stay-behind” bureaucrats that Trump try to embed within the government to sabotage the new regime. 

And last but not least, he let Vladimir Putin know there’s a new sheriff in town by ripping him a new rectum over arms control, interference in the 2016 election, the Solar Winds cyberattack, and the treatment of Navalny. I am picturing Vlad sitting at his desk in the Kremlin sighing wistfully, and gazing at a picture of Trump while listening to Streisand sing “The Way We Were.” Misty watercolor memories indeed.

WHAT’S SO FUNNY ‘BOUT PEACE, LOVE, AND UNDERSTANDING?

And this is but a sampling. Most of all, of course, Biden has been spinning up the plans and mechanisms to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including a massive nationwide rollout of the vaccine, almost from a standing start given the Trump administration’s criminal refusal to take even the most basic steps to address that urgent, life-and-death public health issue.

Of course, there’s lots more damage left to undo, and the biggest moves may be yet to come. For one, Chuck Schumer has suggested that Biden declare a national emergency in order to obtain broader authority to fight climate change, as Trump did in order to try to build his beaded curtain along the southern border. 

It’s clear that the Biden team carefully prepared this blitz of executive orders, proposed legislation, and other actions during the months of the transition and even before, during the campaign itself. Unlike school, IRL that’s not cheating, folks—it’s prudence and foresight, the actions of competent, experienced, professional public servants. (That includes doing its level best to pre-plan its COVID response, given that the Trump administration willfully refused to share information during the transition period—an act of almost unfathomable pettiness and sheer evil.) 

My litany of specific executive orders also leaves out broader and more intangible aspects of the new administration, reflecting the return of competent adult supervision of the federal government in general. 

For instance, we now have daily press briefings again, ones that don’t play like scenes from Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. From day one White House press secretary Jen Psaki has been an instant rock star, offering a return to an intelligent, informative, mutually respectful exchanges between the administration and the press, and she’s done it all while missing a crucial vowel in her surname. An inspiring story of triumphing over adversity.

Bonus points for bringing in, for the first time, an ASL interpreter…..which, as some wag on MSNBC said, it’s hard to believe we never had before. I know that’s the kind of thing that makes right wingers snicker, because hey, common decency, basic humanity, and equality are for weaklings and cucks, right?

But every one of these seemingly little things is a brick in the reconstruction of sane governance in the US of A, and even ambitiously trying to improve what we once had. Building back better, some might say.

RASHOMON ON THE POTOMAC

Anticipating your complaint: I am aware that Republicans do not think these are great accomplishments by Joe Biden. Very much the contrary. They are not impressed by the speed with which he is working—they are appalled by it. 

It was the same when progressives looked at what Trump did, like the Muslim ban, which he put into place at the end of his very first week in office. One of the knocks on Trump is that he didn’t do enough as president, and it’s a fair cop. Instead of playing golf and eating cheeseburgers and tweeting from the toilet, he could have been doing lots of things to help the country, like, oh I dunno, fighting a pandemic. But in another sense, Trump did plenty as president…..it’s just that almost all of it was bad. Like kidnapping children, yanking us out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, diverting money from schools for the children or servicemembers to pay for his border fence, cozying up to dictators, serving as Putin’s man in Washington, and more.  

Per above, the Republicans are therefore not actually focused so much on complaining that Biden isn’t doing enough—that will come later. For now they are mainly complaining that he shouldn’t be doing these things at all, clutching their pearls and collapsing on their fainting couches over the idea of spending money to fight the pandemic, for example. (Deficits, ohmygod!) And they are definitely complaining that Joe’s fellow Democrats in Congress are pursuing an impeachment that would hold Trump accountable for actions that are the very definition of a high crime.

When Republicans see a headline like “Biden dismantling Trump’s legacy,” they greet that with predictably Biblical rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. (Dog bites man.) As the New York Times reports, they have the gall to claim that by so doing, Biden is “betraying his pledge to seek unity.” 

Right on! Where does Joe Biden get off pursuing policies that he and his party believe in, and were duly elected and given a mandate to pursue, instead of continuing the repudiated policies of his predecessor, whom the American people definitely chucked out of office, no matter how much he wants us to believe otherwise???? The nerve of these freakin’ Democrats!

As we are frequently reminded, elections have consequences. It is usually the people who just won the last electionwho do the reminding, and the ones who lost who need it. It was Elizabeth Warren who had the best retort on that point, which was that when it comes to unity, “How about if we’re unified against insurrection? How about if we’re unified for accountability?” 

Of course, there is another more subtle irony to this dishonest Republican call for unity. It presupposes that there is a deep, problematic divisiveness in American society that is crying out for such healing. 

And who gave us that divisiveness?

One guess. 

FAKE NEWS PHASE II

So in detailing this laundry list I am not trying to convince any Trump supporters that, hey, this new guy is all right. I am speaking to my own tribe, and to independents and undecideds (if any still exist), to conservatives who grudgingly voted for Biden and are watching him warily to see how he does, and to Bernie bros who are doing the same.

Also to the Fifth Estate.

Along with the expected Republicans bitching, you won’t be surprised to learn that the mainstream media also feels obligated—presumably out of the same false sense of “objectivity” that Trump exploited throughout his reign—to criticize Biden too. Muscle memory, I guess. 

This week the New York Times Editorial Board (!) published a piece titled, “Ease Up on the Executive Actions, Joe,” which argued that “President Biden is right to not let his agenda be held hostage, but legislating through Congress is a better path.”

As Brian Williams quipped on MSNBC, “I don’t know what Congress they’re looking at.”

The muckity mucks at the Times go on:

These directives, however, are a flawed substitute for legislation. They are intended to provide guidance to the government and need to work within the discretion granted the executive by existing law or the Constitution. They do not create new law—though executive orders carry the force of law—and they are not meant to serve as an end run around the will of Congress. By design, such actions are more limited in what they can achieve than legislation, and presidents who overreach invite intervention by the courts.

Thanks for the civics lesson, New York Times, but what exactly would you have Mr. Biden do instead? 

The editorial board goes on to decry “the whipsaw effect” of each president undoing the orders by fiat of his or her predecessor, using fiat of his/her own. A valid point. So what’s your solution, Gray Lady?

To be fair, the Times did acknowledge Republican hypocrisy in decrying the exact kind of executive overreach in which the GOP itself gleefully engaged—“Satan’s pen,” as John Hudak of the Brookings Institution dubs it. But it scolds Biden—virtue-signaling its own much-vaunted “objectivity,” kinda sorta—without offering any substantive ideas or alternatives. 

By way of example, it cites how the establishment of DACA, followed by its suspension, followed by its reinstitution, has been hard on the Dreamers. No doubt. But would it have been better not to have reinstated it? Or never to have created the policy at all?

“Dreamers deserve better than to be subject to the whims of whoever holds the White House, “says the Times. “It is long past time for Congress to establish a clearer, more permanent path for them.” No shit. So what do you propose President Biden do, when faced with an obstructionist GOP minority that will hold the administration hostage using every available lever?

Undoing some of Mr. Trump’s excesses is necessary, but Mr. Biden’s legacy will depend on his ability to hammer out agreements with Congress. On the campaign trail, he often touted his skill at finding compromise, and his decades as a legislator, as reasons to elect him over Mr. Trump. The country faces significant challenges to recovering from the pandemic, from a global recession, from years of safety nets and institutions and trust being eroded. Now it is time for the new president to show the American people what permanent change for a better nation can look like.

Jesus Christ, are they kidding? Putting the burden of compromise on Biden, when his opponents won’t even repudiate a violent attempt to seize power by their own once and forever leader? 

(Tell me more about the liberal bias in the media, please.)

This is coming barely a week after the monstrous Donald Trump left office. I fear that this sort of blinkered pre-2016 “bothsidesism” from the mainstream media—never mind the right wing media—is what we have to look forward to during the Biden era. I can’t say I’m surprised, except maybe by the speed with which it happened. But still:

Shame on you, you ink-stained wretches. 

GHOSTS OF PRESIDENTS PAST

Several times in the past week I’ve heard a news reporter say, “The President did or said such-and-such” and found myself surprised that the President actually did or said something good. Then, quickly, I am reminded—after four years of operant conditioning—that the President is now a decent human being and competent leader, and not a malignant pusbag with a Swiss bank account.

This is a bit like my wife’s story of being a kid in the 70s, watching Nixon on TV and asking her mother, “Why does the President sometimes wear a white wig and sometimes he doesn’t?”

Not every president is George Washington…..and fortunately, not every one is Donald Trump either. 

The challenges that still lie ahead for Joe Biden and for the country he leads—that’s us, folks—remain daunting, to a historic degree. Comparisons to the challenges that faced FDR when he took office in March 1933 are not out of order. There are going to be failures, and stumbles, and mistakes, and setbacks.

But he is off to a good start, no matter what the Sons of the Confederacy, the White Power Party, Orange County QAnon Moms for Putin, and the New York Times would have us believe. 

********

Photo: AP

This blog also available on Medium and Substack.

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