Transitions and contrast from inauguration day

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 25, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

Joe Biden took the oath of office as the 46th president of the United States under extraordinary circumstances unlike anything we've seen in my lifetime. I can't say that I was particularly excited about his nomination, but his choice for VP in Kamala Harris felt like it balanced out having another ancient white guy in the Oval Office. More to the point though, Biden may be snooze-inducing, but he's a functional adult who has devoted his entire professional life to the service of his country. I might give the old man static about his age, but I do respect people who devote their lives to public service, regardless of their political orientation. This is an unfortunately stark contrast to the outgoing president whose intent was about power, and retaining it even when it wasn't earned. We'll get to the score card in a bit.

Frustrated with the daily nonsense that Trump induced, I started to wonder what I would do if I were president. Between Bush's and Obama's books, I don't think I could survive the campaign process, but as the top manager of the federal government, you have a luxury you almost never have in business: You get to pick your team and drive toward outcomes that have nothing to do with profit. Governing is not like a business at all, but all of the management wisdom that I've gained over the years would most certainly apply to the job of president. My m.o. has always centered around the humility of understanding that I do not have all the answers, and that you must surround yourself with people who fill in all of your blind spots. The more complex and large your organization is, the more you must delegate, trust and enable others to follow through to your desired outcomes.

Biden started to build out a team of experts the moment it was clear that he won the election. The appointees have almost universally been experts in their fields, including a lot of people who have experience governing. Experts and experience are inherently valuable to reach desired outcomes, and there are not shortcuts to this. Contrast this to the Trump administration, which was a revolving door of cabinet members, many of whom had no experience in the relevant departments that they led. Close advisors were family members and associates with no experience in anything relevant. Furthermore, 7 advisors or staff were indicted or convicted from Trump's inner circle, and 34 indictments came out of the Mueller Report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump drained the swamp and filled it with criminals and sycophants that pledged loyalty.

Biden's inauguration speech was predictably about unity and addressing the crises of the pandemic, racial injustice, the economy and climate change. He was not antagonistic toward political adversaries, only hopeful about meeting these challenges. Notably absent, he didn't list grievances or blame scapegoats, let alone declare that we've all been the victims of "carnage," as Trump did in his inaugural speech. Words matter.

The inauguration ceremony itself was weird. Covid alone would have made it weird enough, but then add in the fact that DC was essentially an occupied city, with 25,000 military troops from various agencies and services. It happened just two weeks after a bunch of delusional people followed the previous president's directive to challenge the election, with no evidence of it being fraudulent. It's the kind of thing that you're used to seeing in other countries, where dictators ascend to power by fascist means, discrediting elections, the free press and anything that causes them to appear weak. And of course, Trump was one of a handful of presidents ever to skip out on the swearing in of his predecessor, which I feel is petty and pathetic.

There was good weirdness that first evening though, when a perfectly capable press secretary answered questions as honestly as possible, wasn't really stumped by anything, and was willing to get back to reporters on things she couldn't answer. This is one of the many reasons that I hate moral equivalence arguments about "sides:" this side tends to hold its own accountable and understands the role of the press in this system of democracy.

Biden wasted no time undoing much of what Trump "accomplished" in his term, which is to say that he countered or rolled back executive orders (the ones that weren't already struck down by the courts, and there were a ton of those). Presidents rarely achieve any lasting legacy without passing legislation through Congress. Just ask Obama, as his major achievements included the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, tax relief acts in 2010 and 2012, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Matthew Shepard Act and some reform of the Patriot Act to reduce domestic surveillance. Not to take anything away from Obama, but basically he got one big win per year in office. (And hey, remember "death panels" and socialism and the destruction of "traditional marriage" by Obama? None of that happened.)

Trump did none of that, despite having party alignment for half of this term. Trump signed a lot of bills, but his administration didn't initiate any significant legislation. The tax cuts in 2017 were a big win for him, but they came from the GOP leadership in Congress. Two years later, the Congressional Research Service reported that the law mostly benefited high earners and corporations, with negligible impact on everyone else. It also added trillions of dollars to the deficit over a ten-year period. 

And if you consider those "wins" at all, was it worth it? There's a pretty long list of negatives that came with it, not the least of which is the complete break of decorum and respect for the dignity of the office. If people had little trust in government before, now they have even less reason for that trust. This is a man who made the argument that the election was fraudulent, even though it was the same election that allowed the GOP to gain seats in the house, even in states he lost. It was then litigated in 50 cases he lost, often with judges he appointed.

Biden is a moderate, old school politician with decades of experience in government, working with seven presidents as a senator, then as a VP. There are a lot of talking points by the willfully ignorant about him being a socialist boogeyman (or more ridiculous, a communist), and the usual batch of fear mongering, but I don't think the Democrats could have picked a more benign candidate. I expect that during this year he'll get the vaccine supply chain under control, propose economic relief as appropriate, and next year, if things stabilize, address racial justice and climate issues.

I am concerned about the wave of white supremacy and fascism that adheres to Trumpism, because even if it is forced into some dark corner of the Internet, it doesn't mean it ceases to exist. I'm also concerned about all of the people who believe that such an association is OK, if only to hope that their "side" is winning. As I've said before, you can engage in right-leaning or "conservative" politics and still disavow the racists. Racism is not a difference in opinion. This is the definitive issue of our national identity, and it's one we've been failing to fix for centuries.

For now, I just revel in the fact that I can wake up and there are no news alerts. No one was fired or called a name on Twitter by the leader of the free world. Another executive order wasn't struck down by the courts. There are no inappropriate phone calls with foreign leaders or domestic officials. No former officials are getting indicted or convicted. Racists aren't being called fine people. The world feels a little more sane.


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