17/02/2022

Research / Geopolitics

FIRST YEAR OF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

In just a year into Joe Biden’s presidency, we already see that the administration’s work is riddled within both its domestic and foreign policy initiatives. The pragmatic and US-centred foreign policy approach of Trump persisted – albeit in a much softer tone, while domestically, the administration is being torn apart by opposing forces of the political spectrum as it pursues grandiose social reforms.

Trying to balance between the expectations of the international community and the US’ own
strategic interests, as well as maintaining the support of both the wider political class
and the more progressive elements within the Democratic Party have made Biden’s
popularity plummet, which jeopardises his legislative power for his remaining – and
would-be second – term as well.

Joe Biden has been in charge of the White House for more than a year now,
enough time to make an impact as President of the United States and let the
primary characteristics of his leadership show. After the divisive years of the
Trump presidency, America and the rest of the world were expecting Biden to
return to a much simpler time, when the country felt united under charismatic
and competent leaders. Unfortunately, the times have changed and even if he
wanted to, Biden could never become a new Obama, much less a Reagan or
other popular figures of the Cold War. Both in domestic and foreign policy areas,
the problems we saw before persist, which results in President Biden’s falling
approval rates and a quite uncertain future for his party.

Domestic policies
A “return to normalcy”?

When President Biden was inaugurated on 20 January 2021, most of the American
media establishment celebrated a so-called “return to normalcy” – as opposed to the
presidential term of Donald Trump, characterised as chaotic, untraditional and
(sometimes wilfully) scandalous. Compared to the Trumpian business-type of
leadership, the American public was expecting Biden to continue the legacy of career
politicians before Trump in his politics – based on his four decades of experience in
policy-making – and, due to his fame of being vice-president to Barack Obama, that
he would bring back the reliable formulas and approaches they became used to during
those years. In a way, Americans expected the charismatic leadership and rational
decision-making of Obama, only under someone with a different name this time.
Nevertheless, Biden is not Obama, nor could he be even if he wanted. The times have
changed in four years and the pressure on the Biden administration to carry out large
social reforms is greater than anything Obama had to deal with. Apart from the different
foreign policy challenges, the prominent rise of identity politics – officially backed by
the steadily growing progressive wing of the Democratic Party (DNC) –, the rapidly
widening social, economic and ideological cleavages among Americans, and the
Covid-19 pandemic on top of that, forced Biden to build up a unique set of domestic
policies, which are more leftist and more socialist than those under Obama.
The name of the “game” – as professor Tamás Magyarics put it in a recent podcast
- is “extending the welfare state” for it to incorporate much wider areas than before. Much
like under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who put forward the New Deal (essentially
establishing the American welfare state) in the 1930s, President Biden’s wide array of
planned reforms could be regarded a social and economic Green New Deal. It is, in
fact, a historical tradition among Democratic presidents to ever expand the certain
aspects of the welfare state, but President Biden’s massive domestic spendings in this
regard are incomparable to others, at least in the post-Cold War decades. For instance,
President Obama’s new legislations had cost just over $5 trillion over the course of
both of his terms combined, while Biden already managed to garner bipartisan support
for a giant $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill (heavily investing into public transportation and
electric vehicles) passed by the Congress in November, and also announced a $1.75 trillion social spending bill – dubbed Build Back Better (BBB) to reflect his campaign
slogan – to create a continental style “safety net” (which includes affordable housing
and tuition benefits, and a staggering $555 billion for fighting climate change through
tax incentives for renewable energy consumption).
This bill is currently waiting for the approval of the House of Representatives with a high chance of passing, mainly because it is an already watered down version of a previous (and unrealistic) $3.5
trillion plan and because it is designed to complement the infrastructure bill (especially with its climate related initiatives).
Additionally, in its general political approach, the Biden administration seems to aim
for achieving a Western European (or even Scandinavian) type of social democratic
welfare state, which can be seen in its liberal immigration policies, police reforms,
educational initiatives and its plans to restructure the entire tax-system – all of these
are (mostly) in line with the progressives’ numerous social justice movements.

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