What in the World: Utopic Joe

By the time you read this column, Joe Biden will presumably have been sworn in as the 46th president of these United States. Simultaneously, Trump will begin retirement in Florida doing what retired presidents do: getting sweetheart book deals, speaking to sycophantic groups for hundreds of thousands of dollars and golfing. For the latter, his work — whatever that looked like — is over, and for the former, his is just beginning.  

Those of you for whom this is your first, or even 10th, election, let me offer some friendly disillusionment. Joe Biden will disappoint you, often grievously, and that is okay.  

Joe will not prevent the ravages of climate change. His presidency will not usher in an “equitable” future where some are more equal than others, and universal healthcare is about as likely as the U.S. pulling entirely out of the Middle East. I say these things neither gleefully nor unkindly but as a statement of fact. The office of the president is powerful, but it — thankfully — does not imbue its holder with a godlike capacity to effect change universally and immediately. As the saying goes, the gears of government move slowly, and for a good reason. After all, the tools you use to pass a bill of your dreams can just as easily be used to pass that of your nightmares.  

“Screw precedents and the dangers of weaponizing branches of government for partisan ends!” you might say. “The future cannot wait for compromise and debate. Something must be done now!” Even if we allow for such destructive short-term thinking, President Joe Biden is entering office with the barest majorities in the Senate and House, a Supreme Court that now boasts many originalists who will cast a skeptical eye upon any future executive orders and legislation and a COVID-19 vaccination project still in its infancy. Furthermore, there isn’t any money to spend, so, even if there were a way to get progressive pet policies through Congress, when it came time to enact them, the vault would be opened to find a single cockroach scuttling across the bare floor. Like it or not, you voted for a caretaker president — no ageist pun intended — not a progressive messiah.  

But let me not leave you without some positivity. As shocking as it might sound, I do want Joe Biden to succeed. To desire the utter destruction of one’s political opponents, I find loathsome — as this so often has the effect of diminishing the American public’s faith — and those of the world — in our institutions. While I have outlined what Joe Biden will find it nigh impossible to do, there are places in which he can have a marked positive impact on the American political landscape.  

When it comes to international relations, a return to stable policy-making would be most welcome. While it is likely that I will disagree with his policies, I award points for consistent buffoonery over his predecessor’s wild vacillations. Better our allies think us a reliable dullard than a loose cannon. 

As for domestic policy, overtures of the common good — lowering of the political temperature in the U.S. — would be lovely. Such a strategy would entail Biden treating his opponents as human beings with differing policy objectives but similar desires for human flourishing. This would be a marvelous alternative to the arrogance of Obama and the reckless and provocative rhetoric of Trump. Would it work? Perhaps not, but I would respect the biscuits out of Biden for making an attempt and sticking with it. Heck, it might even help. After all, he’s going to need the Romneys and Murkowskis of the Senate if his party is to pass legislation by any more than the barest of margins.  

If you would allow me this, a blessing for the road. For you, President Joe Biden, I pray for the best of health in a demanding role, clarity of mind when the way is uncertain and indefatigable moral fortitude to see difficult decisions through. May you uphold your oaths of office and serve well as the executive. May you understand the limits of that office and seek to assist in healing the loathsome rents in our body politic. God bless you, sir, for you shall need all the help you can get, and I mean that earnestly. 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know at abell@lawrence.edu

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