Is it possible to criticize Joe Biden without being a pro-Trumper? If not yet, will it ever be?
Donald Trump may be the most polarizing political figure in American history. The unprecedented fervor that was a major contributor to both his election in 2016 and his defeat four years later has shaped the political landscape in which his successor operates. Nine months into Biden’s presidential term, he is constantly navigating the hyper-partisan environment left to him by his predecessor.
That Trump’s most loyal supporters have fiercely opposed Biden from the beginning is no surprise. And despite some occasional threats from progressives in Congress, most of Biden’s fellow Democrats have been equally zealous in their defense of him. But large numbers of Americans voted for Biden not out of party allegiance, but because of Trump’s temperament, conduct or character. They supported Biden’s COVID relief and economic stimulus, and were grateful for his return to a less erratic approach to leadership.
But more recently, many of the swing voters who elected Biden last November have noticeably cooled on him. Much of this discontent is COVID-driven: the Delta variant’s impact on the economy and national psyche has dragged the president’s poll numbers down to their lowest levels to date. But Biden has also faced a difficult stretch on the international front. While a majority of Americans support his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the mishandling of the exit has called many to question his broader claims of government experience and foreign-policy savvy.
These problems are fixable. Every presidency has its ups and downs, and Biden is simply experiencing the first of several difficult stretches he will face in office. But it is apparent that even when Biden faces deserved criticism, his allies are quick to dismiss it as predictable attacks from the most fanatical of Trump acolytes.
In recent days, Biden’s administration has stumbled on several fronts. For example, the United States embarrassed and enraged our nation’s most long-standing international ally by announcing a new defense agreement with Great Britain and Australia that humiliated the French by undermining that nation’s largest military contract.
While the deal between the United States and Australia will be of great benefit to both countries by increasing security against potential Chinese aggression, it was clear that Biden’s advisers had at worst lied and at best willfully misled their French counterparts. French President Emmanuel Macron was so outraged that he ordered the withdrawal of his country’s ambassador to the United States for the first time in history.
This affront followed closely on the heels of Biden’s unilateral decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which infuriated many European allies due to the lack of coordination with regard to the move. Prior to taking office, Biden had pledged to rebuild our international relationships with longtime partners. But in both these cases, our friends were left fuming.
When the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military had mistakenly killed several Afghani civilians and children with a recent airstrike, it directly contradicted previous assertions that the drone attack had successfully eliminated Islamic State terrorists. This type of operational blunder took place far below the level of commander in chief, but Biden was noticeably silent in the aftermath of this tragedy, as he was when U.S. troops hurriedly abandoned the strategically critical Bagram Air Force base prior to the full pullout this summer.
Finally, Biden was silent when the FDA rejected his call for widespread COVID booster shots last week—the latest episode in an ongoing administration struggle to articulate a consistent and understandable message, which has drawn criticism from even longtime Biden supporters.
Much of the electorate is still in deep relief that Trump is no longer president. But holding Biden responsible for his errors is not an effort to overturn the last election. It’s simply an example of representative democracy working the way it was designed, and should be treated as such.
Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.