The President-elect is building his administration on old-fashioned notions that facts matter, that commanders-in-chief must project stability, that Cabinet officials need experience and expertise, that a fractured nation is governable and that the world wants the US to lead.
In restoring a more conventional version of the presidency, Biden is using his mandate to counter the political forces that led to Trump’s rise and which still delivered more than 73 million votes to the President, albeit in a losing cause.
His Washington restoration is not without risk, and is already coming into conflict with Trump’s blend of nihilistic conservatism that is likely to dictate the Republican Party’s strategy even when he has left the Oval Office.
Biden laid out his bet in its most tangible form yet Tuesday as he unveiled his national security and foreign policy team, who fanned out behind him on stage, masked and ready for action, like a SWAT team of dark-suited technocrats riding to the rescue.
“Let’s begin the work to heal and unite America and the world,” Biden said.
His recruits, many of them protégés, represent the antithesis of the philosophy, style and comportment of Trump’s authoritarian, “America First” and anti-science White House that is driven by conspiracy theories and a personality cult.
Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken has toiled for decades in government and on Capitol Hill, while rubbing shoulders with the diplomatic crowd. Jake Sullivan, the next national security adviser, is a Rhodes scholar and Yale Law graduate who is also a domestic policy expert. Biden’s pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has flown the flag for the United States in foreign embassies for 30 years.
Biden’s domestic, health and economic policy teams, expected to be revealed after Thanksgiving, will likely share the same blend of experience and knowledge after catching the eye of a President-elect who has more years on his Washington clock than any modern predecessor.
In an interview with NBC’s “Nightly News” on Tuesday, Biden said he would consider appointing a Republican to his Cabinet who had voted for Trump.
“The purpose of our administration is once again uniting. We can’t keep this virulent political dialogue going. It has to end,” Biden said.
His overarching point is this: the American people, after watching chaos, nepotism and anti-intellectualism in government amid a pandemic that killed a quarter million of their fellow citizens and as the US turned its back on its friends abroad, now just want people who know what they are doing and don’t make too much noise doing it. Each of his nominees highlighted on Tuesday from Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, and Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Hispanic, represent individual departures from Trumpism in personality, background and qualifications.
Multilateralism, diplomacy, quiet competence, scientific rigor, inclusivity, collegiality between top officials, respect for civil servants, the intelligence community and a welcome for immigrants are in.
Bashing allies, populism, nationalism, White House backbiting, despot coddling, ring-kissing Cabinet meetings, political hacks running spy agencies, and downplaying politically inconvenient threats – like killer viruses – are out.
Former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu believes that Biden’s nominees reflect the man who chose them.
“The President-elect has been demonstrating and modeling what presidential behavior looks like,” Landrieu told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.
“He is just trying to demonstrate to the people of America what it looks like when you have a president that is balanced, that is stable that is thoughtful and experienced,” he said.
The President-elect is likely to adopt that persona again when he delivers a Thanksgiving address to the American people from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday.
A completely different America
The sharp turn that America will take on Inauguration Day on January 20 reflects the stark choice that was before voters on November 3 – which has been only made more clear during Trump’s subsequent attempt to steal the election. It also underscores the elasticity of an American political system that has the ingrained capacity to counter the excesses of its leaders and often produces presidents who are the opposite of their predecessors.
Four years ago, Trump won an election after a campaign in which he vowed to destroy the political and economic establishment in Washington. His presidency tore at the institutions of federal power and the consensus of elites on economic, domestic, immigration and foreign policy.
His one-time political guru Steve Bannon once referred to this chaotic crusade to rip up regulations, tax rules, diplomatic traditions, and the decorum of the presidency itself as the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
In many ways, in placing his faith in seasoned Washington hands like Blinken and Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines, Biden is rebuilding that administrative state. Perhaps only the President-elect himself is a more establishment, experienced and conventional figure than former secretary of state and long-time senator John Kerry, who will serve as presidential climate envoy and is exactly the kind of global citizen that Bannon and his fellow travelers decry.
Biden is not hiding his belief that more government is good. In a statement released on Monday after the Trump administration finally agreed to begin a transition, his team vowed to gain a complete understanding of Trump’s “efforts to hollow government agencies.”
And several of Biden’s national security nominees on Monday made a point of paying tribute to the unseen functionaries of government who keep the country running but were treated like an enemy within during the Trump years.
“My fellow career diplomats and public servants around the world. I want to say to you, America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back,”