Saturday marks one month since the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency. There’s a lot to be said about the differences over policy between Biden and his predecessor. There’s even more to be said about their contrasting styles. What’s most striking, though, is the return of something that has been missing since at least late 2016: The last month has felt like one month.
Take a moment to let that sink in. If you’d said something so banal and seemingly obvious in 2015, you’d get a lot of side-eyes and questions about what types of drugs you’d consumed recently.
Instead, you’re likely to get a knowing nod. During former President Donald Trump’s time in office, the passage of time seemed to slip loose of the bounds that once constrained it. Days seemed to contain years’ worth of news. Months seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. It was only when you paused to consider what you’d just lived through that those months revealed that they contained several eternities.
“The touch and taste of the 2010s was nonlinear acceleration: always moving, always faster, but torn this way and that way, pushed forward, and pulled back under,” Katherine Miller wrote in an October 2019 BuzzFeed News essay that still lives rent-free in my brain. Emphasizing that disorientation, she continued, “Trump drags and twists the entire country through six turns each day.”
To work through what a difference these last four weeks have been in comparison to the same period in 2017, I went back to the archives to see what the Trump administration was up to during his first month. And friends, it was, in fact, a lot.
There was the petty: We had White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s lie to the media about crowd sizes; Kellyanne Conway gave us the term “alternative facts” in defending Spicer. Conway plugged Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on live TV; Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s fashion line because of its poor performance.
There was the petty and racist: Trump signed the “Muslim ban”; the Muslim ban was blocked in court. Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her opposition to the Muslim ban. Conway cited the “Bowling Green Massacre” to defend the ban. Trump insisted that “illegals” were the reason he lost the popular vote in the election. He threatened to send federal officers to Chicago to deal with gun violence.
And then there was the really big stuff: a botched raid in Yemen. Absolutely bonkers phone calls with foreign leaders. Michael Flynn was fired. A Supreme Court nomination was announced. Trump defended Vladimir Putin in an interview.
Those paragraphs really can’t do justice to how disorienting it was at the time. An agent of chaos sat at the Resolute Desk, and we all fell victim to his whims. Every day was a new adventure in crisis mismanagement, often caused by the person nominally tasked with resolving them.
An agent of chaos sat at the Resolute Desk, and we all fell victim to his whims.
That frenetic, jittery energy is almost entirely absent under the Biden administration. Honestly, it has been a combination of relieving and unsettling that without drama, the government has just been … working. Task forces have been meeting without breaking out into fights; discussions at the White House haven’t devolved into weird ego-boosting sessions; foreign leaders have been getting called with readouts provided to the media. You know, the usual.
Even as the aftershocks of the last era continue to rumble (see: the impeachment trial), there’s been a decided lack of constant panic at the federal government’s apparent incompetence. The only downside is that this newfound calm helps mask just how much slow, plodding, methodical work will need to be done over the months to come.
This one-day-at-a-time mentality means it feels strange that it has been a month and yet the Biden-proposed coronavirus stimulus package still hasn’t passed through Congress. (In contrast, the American Recovery and Relief Act was signed on Feb. 17, 2009.) The legislative section of the White House website is still surprisingly bare. But that delay is out of the White House’s hands — it’s Congress that is shepherding the bill through the House. It will be another whole month before it reaches Biden’s desk.
After that, though, it’s not clear what the next priority will be in terms of marshaling Congress, the president’s most visible job that’s not actually his, technically speaking. The White House is backing the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which congressional Democrats introduced Thursday. Biden has also met with senators from both parties to rally support for a massive infrastructure bill he wants to propose after the stimulus bill becomes law. And the wish list for legislative priorities just keeps growing.
So far, it has been nice to focus on one day at a time instead of living through roughly 300 mini-apocalypses every 24 hours. Given that we’re still living through a pandemic and the state of Texas is an ice block, we’ll see how long it lasts.