Donald Trump came to office with a clear platform. In many respects, he delivered what he promised. He governed for his voters, not for the nation.
He tore up free trade deals. He stood up to China. He picked coal over climate. He delivered tax cuts to the wealthiest citizens. He made slow progress on building a wall. He enforced a ‘Muslim ban’. He made NATO allies increase their contributions to the alliance. He reshaped the courts.
He also had disasters and failures – on healthcare reform, in manufacturing job creation, by separating migrant children from their parents, by fanning racial division, and by his catastrophic handling of the pandemic, with its associated economic crisis.
He renounced political correctness. He was blunt. He was brash. He was offensive and aggressive. He was himself, anti-politician, the disruptor. And although he did much of this with the diplomacy and deft touch of a bulldozer, he did try to fulfil his promises, to tick his boxes, in return for what he craves: legitimacy and approval.
Trump came to office with all the baggage of his life to that point: the dodgy business deals, the tax avoidance, the grotesque statements about women, the bullying, the namecalling, the blurred lines between what is right and what is decent. America elected him as president. And in 2020 more than 74 million Americans tried to keep him there.
President Joe Biden assumed office with a hefty clean-up ahead merely to restore the status quo. ‘What is our mandate?’ Biden asked during his victory speech to the nation. ‘I believe it is this: Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.’
But is that enough for a nation of strivers? Is it enough for those left-wing Democrats seeking a more radical agenda? Is it enough for the independent voters of America who were fed up with Donald Trump and want a return to normalcy, but also progress?
Decency and humility will not repair the economy, nor will they bring jobs back to the working class, nor fill the hip pocket of the ordinary American. That’s why people turned Trumpward in the first place.
For them, Joe Biden represents the establishment politics they rejected.
Biden is the antithesis of Donald Trump in many ways: normal versus norm-shattering, selfless rather than self-centred, a lifelong politician replacing a political novice, stability over predictability. The nation has now chosen a centrist Mr Nice Guy who will attempt to bring Americans back to the middle so they can shake hands across the divide. But first, he will have to shift them out of their corners. And he inherits a country reeling from a once-in-a-century pandemic and an economy in tatters.
If he succeeds in pulling America out of its death spiral, President Biden, the oldest man to sit in the Oval Office, will have performed a mammoth task.
And reform won’t be easy: a split Senate and a conservative Supreme Court wait in the wings to stall progress to the left. Biden is a circuit breaker to four years of degradation and acrimony among Americans. For once, love has trumped hate. But America needs more than that to heal a divided nation.
And if Biden fails, the forgotten men and women of Trumpland will rise again.
This is an edited extract from Greetings from Trumpland by Zoe Daniel and Roscoe Whalan, published March 3 by ABC books.