Last week, the New York Times published two editorials that presented false comparisons between the administrations of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, referring to the two presidents as the “two weakest presidents since the Progressive Era. This is absurd. Trump was the worst president in U.S. history. Biden is a serious political leader, devoting significant time and energy to rebuilding faith in the U.S. government at home as well as credibility in the U.S. presence abroad. At the same time, Biden has had to rebuild political institutions that Trump politicized, and to advance a liberal agenda supporting public health and the disadvantaged that Trump ignored.
One would think that all journalists would at least be aware of basic differences between the Trump and Biden administrations that have affected their own ability to report the news. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, took dead aim at the First Amendment when he secretly pursued email records of reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN. Trump’s constant bleating of “fake news” has created an enormous problem for news gathering in the United States. Last week, Biden’s attorney journal, Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice banned the use of subpoenas, warrants or court orders to seize reporters’ communications records or demand their notes or testimony in order to uncover confidential sources in leak investigations.
The DoJ ban on the seizure of records or notes from reporters is particularly noteworthy. Nevertheless, one of the Times’ editorials charged that Biden “rarely has set policy goals,” and as a result Biden’s appointees have “no idea how the president would want them to make key decisions.” The new DoJ rules institutionalized a policy that President Biden put in place last year, which certainly qualifies as an example of Cabinet officials knowing what the president wanted as well as an example of Biden knowing what he wanted to do from the outset. Yet, Yuval Lewin from the American Enterprise Institute, a contributing Opinion writer at the Times, referred to Biden’s “presidential feebleness.”
On a variety of issues dealing with health care, infrastructure, gun control, and technology, Biden has had a clear legislative agenda that he has carried out despite a virtually deadlocked Senate and a very narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Biden’s legislative record in his first 18 months rivals that of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, who had huge majorities in both Houses of Congress as well as a more bipartisan atmosphere.
Perhaps, Lewin should have compared the personnel appointments of Trump and Biden, particularly the Cabinet appointees, and would have titled his editorial “What Do Biden and Trump Have in Common? Weakness.” Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, allowed the Chinese to harass and intimidate U.S. diplomats; Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, made sure the harassment would stop. The comparison of Trump and Biden appointees could extend into all areas of governance, particularly the regulatory agencies, and document the vast differences between the two administrations.
The policy differences didn’t start with Donald Trump, however. It has been more than a century since a Republican president actually championed legislation that advanced the interests of the American public. Theodore Roosevelt conserved natural resources and protected wildlife; pushed for the Pure Food and Drug Act; created the Departments of Labor and Commerce; used the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act to monitor the economy; and prosecuted corrupt Indian agents who cheated various tribes out of land. There hasn’t been a Republican president with a similar record since Teddy Roosevelt.
Biden’s leadership in the Ukraine crisis, particularly the formation of a united European alliance against Russia, provides an excellent example of the fundamental differences between Biden and Trump. Biden orchestrated a huge military commitment to Ukraine, which was leveraged to gain commitments from the European Union that exceeded 11 billion Euros in financial aid in addition to significant military assistance. Conversely, Trump was impeached (the first time) for the abuse of power, which accused him of corruptly using the levers of government to solicit election assistance from Ukraine in the form of investigations to discredit his Democratic political rivals.
The impeachment trial documented Trump’s truckling to Russian General Secretary Vladimir Putin, and demonstrated that the United States was a victim of Trump’s machinations. Conversely, Biden has led the way against Russian savagery in Ukraine, and brought along very nervous leaders in Europe, particularly France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz. Biden’s Ukraine policy hardly serves as an example of what Levin terms a “feeble execution of the government.”
Biden took on the Pentagon to get the complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan after a U.S. occupation that occupied three presidents for twenty years. Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to conduct a withdrawal, but they were intimidated by the resistance of the Pentagon’s leading generals and ultimately refused to do so.
It is time for the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times and the Washington Post, to take advice from Margaret Sullivan, a veteran press critic with both the Times and the Post, and “rededicate itself to being pro-democracy.” In her new book, “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life,” she notes that “as our democratic norms foundered, much of the mainstream press was asleep at the switch, and seemed perfectly content to stay that way.” The mainstream media’s efforts to bend over backwards in the name of fairness is intellectually dishonest. It is our journalists who should be alerting the American public to the challenges that it faces, which is the job of fact-based, public service journalism. After all, it is a matter of self-preservation of our democratic republic.