How Biden Can Govern in Spite of Everything

tags: Joe Biden, Franklin Roosevelt, 2020 Election

Mr. Baker is a novelist and a historian.

“The People Have Chosen EMPATHY,” read the video screens flanking President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during their victory speeches in a Delaware parking lot on Saturday night.

They also told us that the people had chosen “UNITY” and “SCIENCE,” but they had it right the first time. Empathy — or rather, President Trump’s inability to even fake it — was what doomed him.

Politically, the arrival of Covid-19 should have been a godsend to Mr. Trump, as any experienced politician would have known. A natural disaster is a leader’s meat. No one was about to blame him for a virus that originated in China. All he had to do was to make a good-faith effort to suppress it — and to show empathy.

A President Trump who started each daily news conference at the height of the (now resurgent) pandemic by reading a letter from the loved one of a victim or lauding a frontline worker; a President Trump who flew into Detroit or Chicago, or even the “anarchist city” that is his native New York, with an Air Force One full of PPE; a President Trump who did everything he could to empathize with the American people and turn the medical response over to the experts, would likely have breezed to victory in last week’s election.

Yet in a wider sense, the president’s inability to even fake a show of empathy hamstrung his entire administration.

Mr. Trump ran and was elected as a “disrupter” president, in a long American tradition. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Ronald Reagan are previous examples of disrupters — presidents who upset the political status quo, broke up a political stalemate, resolved or at least confronted a lingering problem head on and changed the course of our country’s history. And different as the times they lived in and the problems they faced were, they all had one thing in common: an ability to empathize with Americans at a moment of confusion or crisis.

Jefferson, Jackson and both Roosevelts were wealthy landowners, Reagan was a former Hollywood star, and Lincoln a well-off railroad lawyer. Yet all of them were able to at least project a populist image: Jefferson greeting the British ambassador in his bedroom slippers, Jackson the very personification of frontier toughness, Reagan a genial alternative to the scowling, Cold War conservatism of Barry Goldwater. Teddy Roosevelt, the youngest man ever to hold the office, and his adorable family entranced the nation. Franklin Roosevelt was “the only man we ever had in the White House who would understand that my boss is a son-of-a-bitch,” as a North Carolina textile mill worker once said of F.D.R.

Read entire article at New York Times

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