Even in defeat, President Donald Trump has sucked the air out of the national discussion with his farfetched effort to overturn the election. His latest pardons, for disgraced members of Congress and war criminals, have dominated the news cycle. It’s easy to forget more substantive news: President-elect Joe Biden is putting together an agenda.
This editorial board has long railed against government by executive order, which Trump and Barack Obama both used profligately. Biden already has signaled that he, too, will immediately reverse some Trump orders by rejoining the Paris climate accords and reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows some undocumented immigrants to remain here.
We long for a bipartisan coalition that is committed to reining in the power of all presidents to govern by fiat, but are realistic about the prognosis. On a broader level, it’s clear so far — by Biden’s Cabinet picks and public statements — that the president-elect will steer the ship of state back into conventional waters. That approach is a mixed bag.
Count us among those Americans who have Trump fatigue. Nevertheless, the established order was fraught with peril long before Trump entered office. For instance, although Trump didn’t substantively roll back America’s military commitments or pare back excessive spending, he had given voice to Americans who are weary of both approaches.
Fortunately, the nation’s voters have imposed some guardrails on the new administration by chipping away at Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives. Whichever party controls the Senate after the Georgia runoffs will hold only a slim majority. That will limit the ambitiousness of President-elect Biden’s agenda.
We’re encouraged that Biden might be forced to resist a big-spending push from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, but hold little hope that the administration will rein in the nation’s spiraling deficit. Currently, the national debt stands at an unconscionable $27 trillion. Even before the pandemic hit, the federal government was already forecasting annual budget deficits of over $1 trillion a year over the next decade.
We’re guardedly optimistic about the Biden team’s go-slow approach on foreign policy. The shift from nationalistic bluster to international cooperation will be profound, but Biden’s team is signaling that it will be “cautious and incrementalist,” as the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Wright explained. Biden is likely to promote freer trade and re-establish relationships with America’s allies, which offer some encouraging signs.
Despite his efforts to rebuild the foreign-policy status quo that existed before Trump, Biden will have to wrestle with populist conservatives and progressives, who both look askance at international meddling and militarism. We urge the Biden administration to heed those concerns. He can work with allies, but must refrain from using the military as the world’s enforcer.
We expect to have vast differences of opinion with the Biden administration, but also plan to give it a fair shot. So far, we’re relieved by its modest goals. Neither party currently is as committed to free markets, individual liberty and limited government as we’d like, so the less any president tries to accomplish, the better.