It is of sharp significance that Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., 78 years old, the 46th president of the United States, delivered an inaugural address Wednesday that was entirely and conspicuously bereft of any policy substance.
He used the word “unity” or “uniting” a dozen times in a speech of about 2,550 words, insisting that “it’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do.” But he never told the tens of millions of Americans watching, or the countless others beyond our shores, what exactly his bold acts were going to be.
Former President Donald Trump four years ago, by contrast, in a much shorter – and bolder – speech coming in at just over 1,400 words, used his swearing in to zero in on the dramatic policy redirection that was to come.
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” Trump said. “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.” To a large extent, Trump succeeded.
Ronald Reagan, the 40th chief executive, who embarked upon his historically successful presidency 40 years ago Wednesday, similarly focused on the profound policy changes that were about to come, declaring that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” having “grown beyond the consent of the governed.”
Fifteen years later, a president of the party of big government, addressing hostile Republican majorities in both the House and Senate during his State of the Union address, would concede Reagan’s observation for tactical purposes, stating that “the era of big government is over.”
Bill Clinton was wrong, of course, about the massive growth of the state, a still-relentless expansion that Reagan had mixed success in addressing.
But what is notable about all of these orations is that the only policies presented to the audience for its favor are conservative ones. And it is for this reason that Republicans can and should take great heart at the outset of the Biden Era, in spite of the lament from GOP consultant Karl Rove that the party is “broken,” “fractured,” and in “the midst of a civil war,” with “an ugly several years” staring it in the face.
Embrace The Man’s Successes While Eschewing The Man
As Republicans seeking majorities in the House and Senate in 2022 are told ceaselessly of the toxicity of Trump by the media and by their opponents who now hold full power in Washington, they will also behold the tens of millions of die-hard Trump supporters whose votes can be theirs – or can be no one’s, should they be mistreated and stay home. Or, worse still, can be cast for a MAGA third party that assures power for Democrats in the future for as far as the eye can see.
And campaigning Republicans will know that there is but one course of action: Embrace the unprecedented successes of the man’s presidency, and the unfulfilled promise of his second term, while, to some degree or other, eschewing the man.
In some respects, the departure of this most unusual of presidents may be better for the future of his own movement, and the Republican Party that served as its vehicle, than had he won.
Clearly, the unexpected GOP gain of more than a dozen seats in the House – in spite of all the supposed ill will against Republicans over COVID-19 – indicates approval for the policies of the last four years. Those policies brought record low unemployment, record high economic growth, unforeseen peace deals that were thought impossible in the Middle East (based on increased U.S. support for the state of Israel), and a level of support for social conservatism never seen in past Republican presidencies, notably Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court and the lower federal bench. None of the new GOP congressmen and congresswomen were elected because voters thought their personalities resembled Trump’s. No reasonable observer can blame any of them for the riots in the U.S. Capitol on the day that the electoral votes were counted.
Biden on Wednesday alluded to the violence that was used as pretext for a slapdash second Trump impeachment; he did not mention Trump’s policies, any more than he spoke of his own. Why would he? But in the coming years, why would Republicans speak of anything else?
Donald Trump is gone now, but his resoundingly triumphant policy legacy looms large. All elected Republicans in Washington unreservedly condemned the invasion of the Capitol by a pack of miscreants unrepresentative of Trump’s supporters.
It should be equally easy for them to learn from the last four years: Trump added realism and toughness to the Reaganism that 40 years ago took the Republican Party away from the philosophical vacuity of the Nixon-Ford years. Free trade is no longer a rationale for America hiding its head in the ground on communist China. And there is nothing bigoted about demanding full control of our borders and a sane immigration policy.
“Sleepy” may be considered just another of Trump’s nicknames for one of his opponents, but the signs are already there that this elderly new “moderate” president hasn’t anything near the vigor to match his party’s woke radicals who seek full-scale social revolution. There is no unity coming, as Joe Biden promises, other than, as Orwell warned, “fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting – 300 million people all with the same face.”
— Written by Thomas McArdle