AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
At Joe Biden’s press conference last week, in one of the rare instances when a reporter asked him a tough question about his record, the President responded with a question of his own: “Can you think of any other President that has done as much in one year? Name one for me.” Following his botched Afghanistan withdrawal, a crisis at the border, skyrocketing inflation, supply chain woes, a crime wave, and a pandemic that is still ongoing, Biden might have a point – although not the one he thinks he does. In terms of positive accomplishments after year one, however, Biden need only look to his most recent predecessor to see an example of a president who indeed did do far more, in the face of far greater hostility.
Comparing the early presidencies of Joe Biden and Donald Trump can be challenging, as the media narratives surrounding their respective tenures couldn’t be more different. The night of the 2016 election, when it became clear that Trump was likely to win the presidency, political pundit Mark Halperin said that “outside of the Civil War, World War II, and including 9/11, this may be the most cataclysmic event the country has ever seen.” Mainstream pundits heralded the election of Donald Trump as the coming of America’s darkest age. The stock market was predicted to shatter, and we were told that our economy would never recover and the election would embolden American adversaries to attack us and our allies.
Of course, none of this came to pass. In Trump’s first year, the Dow rose 31% and the economy grew steadily. While there was strong rhetoric, the United States engaged in no new major military conflicts. Trump’s first year also saw several domestic policy successes, including confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the first of Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees. He also signed into law the historic 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a major boost to working and middle-class families, and embarked on the most aggressive deregulatory campaign since Ronald Reagan, repealing a litany of federal regulations that he argued were limiting job growth in America. These pro-worker policies set the stage for America’s lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and one of the strongest economies in recent history.
President Trump’s first year also saw a number of foreign policy successes. His immediate withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was celebrated for prioritizing American manufacturing over imports. Additionally, he withdrew from the Iran Deal, the Paris Climate Accords, and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. All of these moves were heavily criticized by mainstream media outlets, but set the stage for later successes like the Abraham Accords. Again, the media’s predictions that disaster would follow such actions were proven to be pure fantasy. The measures were popular with the American public and did not lead to significant diplomatic fallouts or conflict.
By contrast, the mainstream media hailed the election of President Joe Biden as the outright victory of “good over evil.” Pundits and media professionals forecasted that, under Biden’s leadership, COVID would be a thing of the past and America’s international standing would improve. The widespread deployment of the COVID vaccines (a direct product of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed) buoyed this analysis. The expectation was that Biden’s administration would be one of competence, compassion, and national healing. The talking point that “the grownups are back in charge” was invoked heavily surrounding Biden’s inauguration.
The reality that has become increasingly clear over the past year, however, is that the media should have saved their melodramatic meltdown for when Joe Biden took office.
Everything the media incorrectly said would go wrong under Trump has actually gone wrong under Biden. On the pandemic front, an overreliance on vaccinations while largely deprioritizing other harm reduction methods left his administration completely flat-footed when the Delta and Omicron COVID variants hit American shores. Increased testing access, increased hospital support, COVID therapeutics, high filtrations systems for schools, and higher quality mask distribution were all largely left by the wayside. As a result, the second year of the pandemic (under Biden) has seen more deaths and infections than the first year (under Trump).
On the economic front, most Americans see the Biden economy as a failure. It’s true, as Biden is so fond of saying, that his first year has seen record job creation, a drop in unemployment, and an economy whose GDP numbers are generally back to pre-pandemic levels. However, Americans are smart enough to understand that much of the job creation results from business reopening following the government-mandated lockdown. In more concrete terms, Biden’s economy has been ruinous for many Americans. Record high inflation, sharp decreases in purchasing power, and recent drops in the stock market have left the average American struggling to keep food on the table. Additionally, the consistent supply chain disruptions have caused food shortages in supermarkets across the country, triggering severe anxiety in American families.
Biden’s first year fell far short of his promise to increase American standing on the foreign policy front as well. The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan was a massive international humiliation that mortified our allies. Not long after, France – America’s oldest ally – recalled its ambassador after the Biden administration botched its handling of a submarine deal with Australia. China has grown more aggressive in its posture towards Taiwan and other key American allies in Asia. And now, a Russian invasion of the Ukraine appears imminent, even as Biden meekly offers “economic sanctions” as a solution.
To be sure, Biden’s first year in office hasn’t come without some successes. The COVID relief package passed early in his tenure, although it had little to do with actual COVID relief, was generally popular and well-received by the public. Congressional Democrats also passed a major infrastructure bill which Biden later signed, another broadly popular piece of legislation. But even these two supposed wins undercut Biden’s narrative of success. Thanks in large part to other poor economic policies, the COVID relief package and infrastructure bill – totaling more than $3 trillion – exacerbated rising inflation, something which played a role in sinking Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.
In short, the case that Trump had a far better first year in office in terms of accomplishments is a strong one. But perhaps even more intriguing is how both presidents fared compared to their expectations. For four years the media and cultural elites insisted that Donald Trump would be the end of democracy and the world as we knew it, criticizing his every word in what would come to be known colloquially as “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Yet heading into his final year, Trump had actually improved his approval rating and appeared poised to cruise to reelection until the pandemic hit.
One year in, even with the media firmly on his side, Joe Biden appears to be headed in the opposite direction. Most of those who voted for him did so on the promise that he would be moderate and measured as president. His failure to be either has left many Americans with a sense of betrayal; that the media, the political elites, and Biden himself all sold them a false bill of goods.
Based on the comparison of their records, it should be no surprise—although it is still amazing—that a majority of voters now say Trump was a better president than Biden. That’s not the way Biden or his media enablers expected him to end his first year—that much is for sure.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.