We’re three weeks out from an attempted coup at the US Capitol. Republican leadership has closed ranks around ex-president Donald Trump. Coup enthusiast Sen. Josh Hawley is mewling about wokeness. And among the more floridly batty coup stans, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been caught gunning in past Facebook posts for the assassination of Nancy Pelosi.
Oh, and there’s also the frenzy over GameStop, Reddit and Robinhood — a fable of shrewd youth and bearish hedge funds. If you haven’t tried to grok that one yet, you’re probably too late to capitalise, so let it slide.
All the while, almost beneath notice, President Biden has been doing his job. The brand-new president is a little more than a week into his first 100 days, and heck if he hasn’t been faithfully executing the office of president of the United States.
It’s tempting to say that Biden’s White House is promising only for what it’s not: the benighted reign of his predecessor. It certainly is quieter. One of the logos of Biden’s first month in office should be the Unicode “undo” symbol.
But the president and the vice president haven’t just been undoing Trumpian damage. They’ve been sticking to their plan, and notching daily wins for the nation with little fanfare.
Time to leave the tabloids for the white papers, as hard as it might seem to pull yourself away. The white papers are where the big news is now.
On his first full day in office, Biden had the United States recommit to the World Health Organisation and rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change. This was not vacant virtue-signalling. In partnership with the WHO, the US can collaborate on global effort to recover from the pandemic.
As for the move back to the Paris accord, the US is once again party to a legally binding international treaty in which all signatories commit to keeping annual global warming under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. States in the US not yet committed to aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions are now under federal pressure to do so, and fast. General Motors has announced a plan to phase out traditional cars and sell only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.
Biden also quickly ordered the nation on to COVID-19 “wartime footing,” committing the federal government to expanding testing and vaccination and reversing discrimination in diagnosis, treatment and inoculation. This week’s plan: enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by summer’s end. With these policies, Biden isn’t undoing anything. The Trump forces had done so little to coordinate an all-around national response to the pandemic, Biden had nothing to undo.
On Day 2, the administration brought the White House press briefing back to life with Jen Psaki, his level-headed White House press secretary. Shortly thereafter, Psaki was joined by Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser. As Fauci reflected on the bind he’d been in to repress his insights while working for Trump, he too seemed revivified for the COVID battles to come.
The daily briefings at the White House, and at the State Department as well, have shored up the authority of the Biden-Harris administration, and point to the fact that the Trump administration’s resistance to formal briefings was foolhardy. “Prior governments didn’t brief to throw a bone to the press,” media critic Jay Rosen pointed out on Twitter. “Standing there was a scene of power.”
Just after his inauguration, Biden gave an address on the economic crisis, laying out his administration’s commitment to direct financial, rent, mortgage and eviction relief. These moves are part of an extensive Biden-Harris plan, drafted with the blessing of economists across the political spectrum, to build back to full employment. Biden issued an executive order the same day to restore some collective bargaining rights and promote a $15 minimum wage for all federal employees.
This week, Biden reaffirmed the century-old law — touted but flouted by the Trump administration — that government expenditures for infrastructure and defence, including the hundreds of billions spent on procurement, go to American companies and workers.
The list goes on: The ban on transgender people in the military, repealed. Ditto the so-called Muslim ban. Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council, introduced pragmatic reforms of institutions where systemic racism has created unemployment, poverty, hunger, disenfranchisement and disease among people of colour.
Biden also re-upped America’s commitments to its allies, especially Nato. Biden and Putin had a talk and even agreed to extend the last remaining US-Russia nuclear arms treaty. But Biden also confronted Putin about Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny. In the margins, Biden has also posted corny but welcome house rules on tone, courtesy and goodwill meant to combat cortisol poisoning in politics.
It’s now common to praise Biden for, above all, bringing normality and even tedium back to the federal government.
Once the burlesque clamour of the last administration fully recedes from memory, we may discover that disciplined, focused and enlightened action for the greater good is way more compelling than we’d remembered.
Virginia Heffernan is a noted American journalist and cultural critic
Los Angeles Times