What Normal Looks Like
Bloom Briefing 45: Biden Admin-Week 1, A Bad NYT Op-Ed, and Republican Radicalization
This week, the Bloom Briefing focuses on the relatively normal start to the Biden Administration, a bad New York Times op-ed critiquing week one of the Biden Administration, and the continued radicalization of the Republican Party.
What normal looks like
In many respects, the first full week of the Biden Administration was exactly as promised: normal. The list of executive orders signed by President Biden (some important, some symbolic) represents a return the country being pointed in the right direction. They touched on a number of important issues, including combating climate change, making the country more welcome for immigrants, reforming the federal prison system, and protecting workers.
I think it’s important to savor this moment. Some of the most egregious transgressions of the Trump Administration have been reversed (if not yet remedied). We are committed to mitigating climate change. We have ended the Islamophobic travel ban. We have ended the zero tolerance policy at the border that resulted in family separation and child asylum seekers having to wait in Mexico. These aren’t all small things, and we ought to feel good about their realization.
In addition the policy priorities, there has also been a restored sense of normalcy to more operational parts of governance. For example, the whitehouse.gov website is publishing in Spanish again. The CDC’s data on COVID-19 testing, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is now public again. There are regular press briefings. The first week-and-a-half give the impression of someone who aspired to be president to… do the job of being president.
NYT gets critique of EOs wrong
The slate of executive orders are, however, both a reminder that government can do good things and a testament to how broken our government is. The New York Times editorial board picked up this thread in a much-criticized op-ed lamenting Biden’s use of executive orders. But rather than note that Democrats’ reliance on executive orders is the result of Republican intransigence and a 60-vote threshold in the Senate for passing legislation, the suggestion is simply that Biden should sign fewer executive orders.
This passage on protecting Dreamers is probably among the stupidest ever published in the New York Times (and that is saying something for a publication that prints Bret Stephens multiple times per week):
Executive actions are far more ephemeral and easily discarded than legislation, which can set up a whipsaw effect, as each president scrambles to undo the work of his predecessor… This creates instability and uncertainty that can carry significant economic as well as human costs. Just consider how the Dreamers, immigrants illegally brought to the United States as minors, have had their lives disrupted in recent years. Mr. Obama established DACA to protect them from deportation. Upon taking office, Mr. Trump moved to end the program, setting off years of legal challenges and throwing these people’s lives into a nightmarish limbo. Mr. Biden now has moved to reaffirm the protections. The fragility of the Dreamers’ status has been laid bare. Presidents have wide latitude, both constitutionally and statutorily, to set immigration policy. But Dreamers deserve better than to be subject to the whims of whoever holds the White House. It is long past time for Congress to establish a clearer, more permanent path for them.
There are valid critiques of governance through executive action, but this particular example is inane. The New York Times editorial board doesn’t dispute that protecting Dreamers is a good idea (they “deserve better”). But the passage entirely fails to note that one party (Democrats) is committing to ensuring a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers while the other is trying to deport them. Obama’s executive orders regarding Dreamers were in response to Congressional inaction. Trump is a xenophobe, so he rescinded Dreamers’ protections. Biden restored them.
The New York Times editorial board is itself confused about the relative important of process and outcomes. If it thinks Dreamers should be protected, then it should be calling on Republicans (not “Congress”) to protect Dreamers. If it thinks the process is important, it should be calling on Republicans to play ball on immigration reform. But Republicans are blocking the process and disagree with the policy, so the New York Times editorial board turns this into a critique of Biden. If the process and the outcome are both important, blame Republicans for obstructing the process and the outcome. If the outcome is more important than the process, acknowledge the importance of protecting Dreamers and blame Republicans for having the wrong priorities. This piece suggests that the process is more important than the outcome. When it comes to protections for Dreamers, the outcome is clearly more important than the process.
Republicanism Post-Trump is Going to be Terrible, Terrifying, and Terroristic
I have writtenbefore about the Republican Party’s long and steady path towards anti-democratic illiberalism. There was a brief moment in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt where it appeared that the Party might recant on some of the worst impulses of the Trump Administration. That moment seems to have passed.
New reports emerged this week about Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene having repeatedly called for the execution of top Democrats on social media in 2018 and 2019. Let that sink in. A woman who called for the execution of her political opponents now shares a workplace with them. Video also emerged this week of Greene harassing (literally, chasing around and shouting at) David Hogg, the 20-year-old survivor of the Parkland school shooting and gun reform activist. Greene has expressed the point of view that the shooting was a hoax.
Are Republicans in Congress embarrassed to be associated with Greene? In contrast, Lauren Boebert (another QAnon-believing Republican from Colorado) mocked David Hogg on Twitter after the video of Greene harassing him emerged. There was some internecine Republican politicking this week, but the target was Representative Liz Cheney, and the cause was her vote to impeach Trump. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz held a rally against her in her home state of Wyoming.
Nor have right-leaning media outlets displayed any kind of concern that they may have helped facilitate the rise of right-wing extremism. As the DOJ brought conspiracy and sedition charges against three (so far) members of the Oath Keepers (a right-wing white supremacist hate group), Laura Ingraham defended the group on Fox News. Predictably, the stance is more extreme at fringier outlets. A Newsmax host said, “Democrats… are pushing America towards a Civil War.”
As Christian Vanderbrouk wrote in The Bulwark (an anti-Trump conservative publication), a number of conservative intellectuals had been calling for political violence weeks before the coup attempt. Of conservatism, Vanderbrouk writes:
A cancer of complicity afflicts nearly the entire movement, and while there are decent leaders who deserve support—particularly from far-right primary challengers—the GOP is too compromised by extremists to be trusted with political power any time soon.
The rise of the anti-Trump center-right is important. Without a group of people holding that position, there is little hope for Republicanism to move away from its most extreme elements. But it would be nice to see more reflection from center-right figures on how they previously facilitated the rise of the right’s more extreme elements. At The Nation, David Klion takes on the case of conservative writer Anne Applebaum.
Biden’s assumption of power merits a return to Fintan O’Toole’s piece from January, 2020 in New York Review of Books about his Irishness, loss, and attempts to position himself as the heir to the Kennedys.
At The New Republic, Osita Nwanevu looked at the present state of politics around DC statehood.