Despite his hyperventilated refusal to acknowledge the fact, President Donald Trump will be leaving the White House soon. Then, let us hope, the obsession with him will end.
Is it within the realm of possibility that CNN will return to the business of newsgathering? Will MSNBC become something other than an outlet for the Democratic Party? Will Fox News follow the more restrained style of Brit Hume, Martha McCallum, and Bret Baier, rather than its partisan personalities?
Whatever the cable news outlets do, the election holds some possibility that our feverish politics will subside. The results produced neither a blue nor red wave. We are a 51% to 49% country, no matter whether a Democrat or Republican wins the national election.
Trump’s persona cost him dearly in the suburbs and perhaps the overall election. In congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative races, Republican candidates ran ahead of Trump. Could it be that his policies gathered more support than the man? Have COVID-19 and Trump’s pugnacious exterior negated the accomplishments of his administration?
Commentators should give the record of the Trump administration a full and measured debate. For example, did the tax and regulatory policies make our economy more competitive? Has energy policy freed us from dependence on Middle East oil? Has the stricter enforcement on our southern border reduced the flow of illegal immigration?
Unlike his predecessors, Trump managed to pass the first criminal justice reform bill in 20 years and provided more for historically Black colleges and universities than any president in recent history.
What of the Trump administration’s foreign policy accomplishments? Have the defeat of the Islamic State group and peace agreements between Israel and neighboring states brought the chances of greater stability to the Middle East? Did the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine stall the Russian offensive? Has the movement of some NATO forces to Poland also put the Russians on notice? Has the resistance to China’s rampant intellectual theft awakened our allies to the problem? Has the avoidance of prolonged and unresolved military interventions made future interventions less likely?
Has the Trump administration blunted the impulse for globalism, changed our supine policy toward China, emphasized American manufacturing and begun energy independence? Should that be the case, then his presidency has been consequential and its impact has altered the political landscape.
Trump has perhaps established the groundwork for a new political center — which was probably the last thing on his mind.
The congressional elections have moved the political needle in that direction. Regardless of the outcome of January’s Georgia Senate elections, the congressional Democrats will not have a commanding margin. Despite any preelection expectations, Joe Biden is unlikely to be the next Franklin D. Roosevelt, steering a massive legislative agenda through Congress.
In all likelihood, there will be no significant restructuring of the tax laws, “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal, forgiveness of loans to college students or instant citizenship for immigrants here illegally. Nor will Biden and the congressional Democrats add statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, abolish the filibuster or pack the Supreme Court and the appellate courts.
Such consequences need not lead to a stalemate, and the political center does not have to be an arena for paralysis. Past centrist administrations produced significant accomplishments. The Eisenhower administration had the interstate highway system, the Nixon administration had environmental and consumer protection law. And the Clinton administration had welfare reform.
After the deep partisanship of the Obama and Trump administrations, the public may need a respite. Biden could be an earth-smoother rather than an earth-mover — and the role may suit him.
There is room for common ground. With a bipartisan effort, Washington can accomplish important business that reduces our massive deficits and federal debt burden; fortifies our public health infrastructure against future pandemics; and constructs an immigration policy that protects our borders, deals humanely with current immigrants and encourages needed talent to our shores.
None of this will be easy, and Congress has routinely failed to pass a form of entitlement reform central to debt and deficit reduction. Trump had no interest in the matter, and the congressional Democrats went along with him. Congress and the president can no longer avoid the problem.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, debt and deficit are burgeoning out of control. The essentials of immigration reform must include the rights of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigrants, border protection, a path for some illegal immigrants to gain a green card and residency and a legal immigration policy based upon merit.
There are those on both sides of the aisle opposed to any compromises. Bipartisan agreement of these issues will risk these members’ wrath. None of these compromises will satisfy those on the left who want unlimited spending and immediate citizenship for immigrants here illegally. Nor will it please those on the right who want no accommodations for immigrants.
Will Biden surprise his doubters and show political courage? Will he take on entitlements and immigration reform and forget the short-term political consequences? In doing so, he could become a consequential one-term president who shapes the future.
Biden could join other one-term presidents who affected history: President James Polk, who consolidated the American nation, and President George H.W. Bush, who skillfully guided a peaceful end to the Cold War. It may even include President Donald J. Trump, although many would bite their tongue before admitting it.
Robert J. Bresler is professor emeritus of public policy at Penn State Harrisburg. He lives in Lancaster Township.