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World Affairs: Biden’s terrible first year

Joe Biden promised a return to normal. In almost a year in office, he has managed to achieve that neither at home, or abroad. Now questions mount about whether the aging American President will even run for re-election, and, if he doesn’t, whether his Vice President, Kamala Harris, is even popular enough to secure the Democratic nomination.

It was not, of course, supposed to go like this. Joe Biden is almost everything his predecessor, Donald Trump, is not. In terms of character, there is much to admire about him: He is a jocular, happy go lucky, sort – a kind of idealised American grandpa. He has little difficulty connecting with people at an emotional level, and making them feel like he cares. Indeed, he almost certainly does care. Biden is one of those people who radiates something often missing in politics: a sense that he is genuine. When he speaks about his “Republican friends”, it is not a sneer. He is the kind of fellow who genuinely does have Republican friends. When he spoke, during the election, about his anger about President Trump’s alleged assaults on decency, you got the feeling that it was more genuine than performative. Even some of us who might disagree with Biden’s views and policies had reason to hope that he might do something to calm down the relentless, nasty, partisan poison that seems to infect American politics.

He has not. Some of that is his fault. Some is not.

Biden cannot, for example, be blamed for the large number of Americans who still sincerely, and falsely, believe that he stole the last Presidential election. On that score, the blame lies with Mr. Trump. What Biden can be blamed for is this: Instead of trying to bring a divided nation together around unifying policies, he has, instead, pursued an agenda from the furthrest fringes of his own party.

This year alone, he has advocated for policies which have enacted over six trillion dollars in new spending. Despite that, his year still feels like a political failure, because the centerpiece of his domestic agenda was the so-called “build back better” bill, which would have added another two to three trillion dollars in spending, at a time when inflation is running at almost six per cent. Instead of taking the wins he has achieved – on infrastructure spending, for example – Biden has presented the notion of spending trillions more on left wing priorities as make or break for him. In the end, moderates in his own party have said “stop”.

At every step, Biden’s domestic agenda has not been that of the moderate grandfather, but of the radical young activist: On Climate Change, he proposed a historic, sweeping, bill that would have all but ended fossil fuel extraction in the US. That failed. But he also shuttered oil pipelines, and limited fracking. The subsequent rise in gas prices might not be directly related to those policies, but they make it very easy for Republicans to tell the story that they are. On social issues, Biden’s administration continues to pursue the kind of radical approach to redefining gender that is popular in social studies departments in Trinity College Dublin, but not especially popular in rural Iowa. On Covid-19, having promised to end the pandemic, he has failed miserably. He has that in common with other world leaders, of course, but American voters rarely see “the other guys are as bad” as an excuse.

And internationally, he has very little to show for a year in office: In Europe, Russia threatens an invasion of Ukraine. China continues to grow her power, and project it, into previously American spheres. Afghanistan may have been a quiet disaster for years, but thanks to Biden’s decision to withdraw troops, it is now a loud, and open, disaster. The Climate Summit in Glasgow was an unmitigated failure.

Very little that Biden has turned his hand to this year has worked – except, maybe, the corporate tax treaty. And even that will have little cachet amongst American voters, who will struggle to connect it to any improvement in their own lives.

What’s remarkable about all of this is that for a man so different in tone and temperament to Donald Trump, Biden has made very similar mistakes. Trump, for four years, governed almost exclusively for his base: the idea of charting a middle course was repugnant to him. It was all culture war, all the time. All goodies, and baddies, all the time. Eventually, the public got tired of the tweets, and the ranting, and the constant sense that politics is one, long, never ending war.

Biden was elected to change that, and he has consciously refused to do so. For four years, it felt as if the White House was engaged in a long war on liberal, blue, America. Now, it seems that it is engaged in a similar war on Red, conservative, America. And voters are tiring of it already.

Some partisans will not like this piece, given that, as a centre right platform, they may feel it is Gript’s duty to bash Biden into the ground and praise his predecessor. But the truth is that if Trump had not made the mistakes he did, he would still be there today. Voters, whether on the right, or the left, want confidence, competence, stability, and peace. Neither the present US President, or the man he replaced, seem to have figured that one out.

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