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Disillusioned by Biden — and willing to hold his feet to the fire

We can’t be so tribal that we are incapable of criticizing leaders we fervently want to succeed.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden
REUTERS/Leah Millis

It’s hard to admit it, but I have Donald Trump to thank for my success as an essayist in the past three years. My writing, mostly published in MinnPost, has taken aim at Trump’s family separation program, his general policies regarding immigration, his lack of empathy, his incompetent handling of the pandemic, his responsibility for the Jan. 6 riot, his treatment of women. Often I was motivated to write by a sense of outrage. When President Joe Biden was elected, I wondered if I would be motivated to keep writing. Turns out I was naïve.

But it is harder to write when the emotions I am feeling are sadness, disappointment, and befuddlement. I don’t even want to think about Biden and the fall of Afghanistan, even though I believe withdrawal from that long war was the right decision. I don’t want to examine how sad I am about the scenes of suffering I am witnessing on television. I don’t want to write about what I view as incompetence. I don’t want to write about how confused I am by this apparent lapse in foresight by Biden and his team.

A good start

Although I had my doubts about Biden as a candidate, I was pleased by how his administration started out. Conversations with liberal friends indicated they felt the same. I liked how he held himself above the fray when the legitimacy of the election was being questioned. I thought the team he put together seemed pretty good. I supported his commitment to diversity. His handling of the pandemic was a huge breath of fresh air. I was pleased the infrastructure bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. I even allowed myself to hope that his administration would reverse the systemic inequality that has been growing for decades.

Then came this past week, during which I didn’t want to watch or read the news at all. But if I care about the people trying to cross the southern border due to harsh conditions in their home countries, I have to care about the people trying to get out of Afghanistan. I despair for the women being raped, forced into child marriages, cowering in their homes, required to wear head-to-toe burkas. I am appalled that the quick withdrawal of troops shows a lack of empathy for the Afghans, as well as disregard for the safety of Americans still in the country. Biden’s foreign policy team has presided over a situation being compared to the Bay of Pigs invasion or the fall of Saigon! And I am heartbroken that Biden appears not entirely truthful when he talks about Afghanistan, as reported by fact checkers from organizations such as The New York Times. The thing I disliked most about Trump was his lying.

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No cult of personality

But I do want to point out a difference I think we are going to see. Biden voters are not the kind of people who support a cult of personality. I hope that we liberals hold Biden’s feet to the fire as he tries to salvage this situation and honestly explain what went wrong. We are capable of challenging Biden, based on the facts.

I don’t know too many Trump supporters. But those I do know became more enthusiastic about him during his presidency, not less. When I brought up concerns such as his racism, mentioning specific comments, I was told categorically that Trump wasn’t racist. The subject was often changed to how great the economy was or the evils of the mysterious “deep state.” One supporter told me he was the greatest president in his lifetime. Partly because his followers distrusted the mainstream media and believed he cared about people like them, Trump’s poll numbers barely budged. To the rest of us, it looked as though facts didn’t matter.

photo of article author
Martha Bordwell
Biden doesn’t have that kind of unconditional support, which I think is a good thing. I suspect his poll numbers are going to go down before they go up again, if they go up again. Maybe information will come out that makes sense of what currently looks like bungling. Maybe a lot of people will be saved; the evacuation will ultimately prove successful. Maybe the Taliban won’t be as bad as feared. I truly hope that, in retrospect, I will decide that this essay was too harsh, as some of my friends have said when I told them what I was planning to write. I also hope that, unlike Trump, Biden will learn from his missteps and become a better leader.

We have seen what happens when a president thinks he isn’t subject to consequences. We can’t let that keep happening. We can’t be so tribal that we are incapable of criticizing leaders we fervently want to succeed.

Martha Bordwell of Minneapolis writes about current events, family life, and travel.

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