An Assessment of the Biden Presidency

During the Trump days, I argued that the Trump presidency signified the waning power, if not end, of the Reagan regime. To that extent, Trump bore comparison to Jimmy Carter, whose presidency also signaled the end of another political order (the New Deal).

I was wrong about that, and I explained how and why in a lengthy piece in 2019.

My argument about Trump was based on two theories: one, my own, about conservatism and the right; the other, Steve Skowronek’s theory of the presidency.

In the New York Times this weekend, I take stock of the Biden presidency, asking, essentially, this: if Trump turned out not to be Carter, how does that help us understand Biden? The Skowronek theory still applies and yields some interesting insights.

As the year ends, I should note that I haven’t written as much this year as I have in the past. Family turned out to take up a lot more of my time this year than in years past. But I did manage to write a few pieces that I am proud of.

The first was my lengthy consideration of the Trump legacy, after 1/6, and what it might mean for American politics in the coming years. You’ll see it’s in keeping with much of what I say about Biden in the Times piece.

The second was an analysis of the surprising convergence between Philip Roth and Hannah Arendt.

The last was an appreciation of the work of Janet Malcolm.

I do have a number of pieces in the hopper, however, which should be coming out early next year. One is on late capitalism. Another is on Adam Smith. And a third is on John Maynard Keynes.

Be well, everyone.


  1. gracchibros December 11, 2021 at 12:31 pm | #

    Thank you Corey, I’ve read the Times piece twice now, and like it, despite Skowronek being a complete unknown to me, as I suspect he is to many others.

    I think Biden’s behavior since the late spring, through the summer and fall right up to the present is both a mystery and very infuriating to those hoping for a transformational presidency. The hopes rested on Biden picking up usable and popular policy pieces from the Sanders campaign and the Green New Deal, moderating them in terms of content and scope, and pulling the left and center together around his legislative proposals.

    However, his behavior towards “acting President” Joe Manchin is inexplicable except by the not quite hidden clue that Biden spoke his heart’s desire to the corporate world: nothing much would change. Biden essentially handed a co-presidency to Manchin under the 50-50 Senate tie’s logic of making “every Senator” a near president with “veto” power. It seems this has been the guiding assumption and you know what? It doesn’t seem to have made Biden angry or restless at all. A strong hint about what’s going on, that he’s comfortable with Manchin playing the heavy in the evisceration of his proposals.

    Biden had at least three options vis a vis Manchin before he resigned his Presidency. One, a private meeting conceding some ground, but drawing a clear red line over the fate of the overall proposals. (Should have dangled and held off in appointing Manchin’s wife the job at the Appalachian Regional Commission). Second, a commitment, private and public to a genuine policy of “Just Transition” for displaced fossil fuel workers, instead of the farce on that issue contained in the 547 page House report on the Climate Crisis. That farce, out in public in June of 2020, was a strong clue about the capitulation of the party’s center to the status quo on climate. And third, Biden’s last resort was a public speech putting all the pressure on Manchin for wrecking the party and the country’s chance to move into the 21st century instead of staying moored, barge like, in the tides of the late 19th. I paid a price personally for laying this out in a sharp polemic in late October at the Daily Kos, which has since banned me.

    Yes, Corey, there is no powerful movement in the society right now, progressive and green, that would carry a transformative presidency through to its goals. Sanders from 2016 until March of 2020 did represent a fighting but incomplete chance, but the reaction to his candidacy in 2020 not only by the party’s center – its remarkable stone wall after the Nevada primary, but also by the many progressive “movements” which have yet to coalesce into one unified one, also broke apart in 2020: upper middle class feminists decided Sanders was too crude and too leftist for their professional tastes and so broke for Warren; church going black women in the South decided a Jewish secularist from Vermont didn’t understand them even if he seemed to be sympathetic via his economic proposals (would someone please tell me what their test of authenticity is: hugs instead of policies?) – they stuck with whip James Clyburn; and the substantial number of business oriented Democrats who would have nothing to do with Sanders, breaking with him just as they did with Ben Jealous in the MD gubernatorial race.

    And finally, I think you are short changing the green aspect of the Green New Deal which you avoided reference to by coming close but only getting to, revealingly, a “new New Deal” and three other rather oblique references to the climate crisis. It seems to me that a green axis for the Democratic Party maybe more inclusive than a egalitarian economic one, ought to be able to “fuel” a mass movement…indeed, I think when and if it ever happens, it will be along the lines of a Green New Deal, still the most ambitious policy proposals every put in front of the American people in one time, and one place. I think the Green New Deal Resolution, however clumsily worked on behind the scenes before debut, and however rough in policy nuances, still did better than anything before and since, have powerful historical logic before, uniting under the old notion of equality both ecological and economic justice. The reaction of a good part of the AFl-CIO was as telling as their opposition to universal health care…

    It is very clear that both within the Democratic Party and whatever goes for the Republican, the dominant corporate forces will allow no such transformation, ecological or egalitarian, on their watch over the key citadels of American power.

  2. Stanley Varon December 12, 2021 at 2:28 pm | #

    Just read today’s piece in the Times. I was very impressed and will now look for Prof. Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind.

    I believe there is a nascent progressive movement that could serve the purpose mentioned in the article but has been weekend by the Pandemic which makes meetings, discussions and direct action more difficult. However I will attempt to have the leadership of the grassroots organization in which I am involved read and consider today’s piece in planning for our future roll and activity.

    Thank you.

  3. Jonnybutter December 13, 2021 at 2:47 pm | #

    I liked your NYT piece Corey, and the others you cite in this post. I know many of us appreciate your efforts to help us keep our eyes on the horizon. I’m keeping the little paper bag nearby just in case, but it really does help

    I agree v much with the NYT piece that a “reconstruction that is ready to be made [may be] insufficiently desired.” I know you’re being judicious, but I take a lot of what you say as nice understatement – like the above line.

    I have two confessions to make in my post. The first is that I volunteered for John Edwards in 2004. Don’t scoff at me please. He talked about poverty, which was novel for a Dem. Plus one of his operatives gave all of us precinct captains a little strategy flier that impressed me. The main point of it was “Act, don’t react”. That struck me as a key insight for Democrats, and unfortunately it still is just about as pertinent now.

    “The right’s ability to unleash one debilitating culture war after another…”. Why do they have that ability? B/c Dems cede it to them. Dems live in the GOP and Reagan’s world, as you suggest weak oppositions tend to. Dems just copy the GOP, in the form of reaction. ‘If GOP runs a culture war, we’ll run our own culture war (‘believe science’; deplorables; and many more); and in that war we will respond to each of their points – and sternly!’ In other words, they accept the GOP frame. They largely insist on the GOP frame!

    I do think the party is changing. You asked on twitter why – if Biden and the Dems are so weak – they’ve been able to pass big leg? Perhaps things are changing (at least in the House and states) more than we can apprehend. I’m pessimistic that it will be fast enough, but can’t predict anything obviously.

    My second confession is that I followed Sumo wrestling for a while. (Oh yes, I’m fascinating). The two party system in the US reminds me of a Sumo match. There can be only two contestants, and the idea is to cause your opponent to lose their balance while you maintain your own. So the goal is to make someone else do something, rather than to positively do something yourself. Sometimes nothing happens in a match, and the two enormous men just do a sweaty, grunty, four minute isometric exercise with each other’s bodies. I think US politics is less of a contest than most Sumo matches though; the Dems don’t have a lot of balance to begin with. Republicans can suss out what Dems and liberals are in denial about, and they just push those buttons. It’s really too easy. But the MO is similar.

    “Despite the clarity of the path the Democrats must take if they hope to topple the Reagan order, it’s not clear the party wants to take it.”

    I still think that our two weak parties aren’t equally weak. The Dems have less of something important: a coherent ideological commitment. Yes, the GOP is cynical and craven beyond belief in some ways, but they also deliver what they promise more big things, even now, than do the Dems. I would bet there are many Republicans who are loathe to lose abortion as an issue. It’s appropriately grotesque to say that the Conservative movement have *dined on abortion* for decades, and to have to finally pull the trigger on it must be scary. Better politics to take narrow slices out of abortion rights, and outlaw it de facto bit by bit across the country. Leave Roe for later. This seems to be what Roberts wants, but I don’t think he’s going to get it.

    My point is that it is perilous for them yet they’re going to do it anyway. They know they have to! Dems aren’t really sure what they can and can’t get away with – they haven’t found the bottom yet.

    If I knew a good blessing I’d say it. I know a lot of curses, but I’ll keep them to myself. Cheers to all

  4. Frank Wilhoit December 29, 2021 at 9:56 am | #

    A few pinpricks, if I may.

    “…the right is still calling the shots….” I understand what you mean by this, and on that level I agree with you, and would extend the point to the entire period since 1980. But the real problem here is that propaganda is calling the shots, not any Constitutional or institutional entity whose defined responsibility is to call shots. This goes back at least to Northcliffe. What has changed in the Trump/Biden era is the impossibility, due to ” “social” “media” “, of intermediating the public discourse, and, in its train, the remarkably swift abandonment of even the idea that it ought to be intermediated. The upshot is self-service propaganda, a genuinely mind-twisting thought.

    “…[Trump] suffered defeat when he tried to break out of their vise….” You assert this as a given. I don’t think he did try, and I don’t think it was possible to try, or even to conceive of trying. This is another consequence of the supremacy of propaganda, and explains the paradoxical appearance that parties are at once weaker than ever and stronger than ever. Individual politicians no longer exist. Parties and their members — “leaders” down to grass roots — are creatures of their propaganda. There is no Trump. There was no Reagan. They are only metonymies for the propaganda ideology.

    “…An independent social movement is what Mr. Biden does not have.” It is so much worse than that. He does have one. It is too small. Not just a little bit too small, but negligibly small.

Leave a Reply to Jonnybutter Cancel reply