The Biden Presidency’s one-year anniversary: Some criticisms are valid…some are not

One year into the Biden presidency: some criticisms are valid…some are not

Today, January 20, marks the one-year anniversary of Joe Biden’s presidency.  He has had his fair share of challenges: the Covid pandemic, the economy, foreign policies, etc. He has had some successes and some failures. As a result, his average percentage of public approval ranges from the low to mid-forties. His critics have identified his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Afghanistan, the economy, the failure to achieve legislation on the Build Back Better and voting rights as his principal failures. Some of these criticisms are valid…some are not. I will comment on Afghanistan and the pandemic.

Last August, Biden received harsh criticism for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. He made mistakes on several aspects of that withdrawal, but an understanding of historical context is needed. The war in Afghanistan had gone on for twenty years. Back in February 2020, then president Trump negotiated with the Taliban leaders a deal in which U.S. and Taliban soldiers would not attack each other, but the U.S. would have to remove all of its military personnel by May 2021. The Trump administration excluded the Afghan government from even participating in these negotiations. So, Biden´s options were quite limited:

  1. Remove all U.S. soldiers by May of 2021 according to Trump´s agreement
  2. Negotiate a few extra months for the removal of the troops (this is what Biden did)
  3. Escalate the war by sending thousands of additional soldiers back into Afghanistan

Those who criticize Biden for removing all military personnel from Afghanistan have a right to their opinion. But unless they leveled the same criticism against Trump in 2020, they are inconsistent and guilty of hypocrisy.

A second area of criticism leveled against Biden has been in his response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Biden inherited a very chaotic situation from Trump. Infections and hospitalizations were so numerous that ICU space at many hospitals was totally filled up. To his credit, Trump did accelerate the production of vaccines with his Operation Warp Speed program, but his ridicule of mask wearing, his recommendation of drinking bleach as a cure, and his blocking and manipulation of scientific evidence were immoral and cost him the election. Early in his presidency, Biden made great progress against the pandemic, but (mistakenly) claimed victory over Covid. Then the Delta variant hit… and then the Omicron variant. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed again. The Biden administration failed to order enough tests. The CDC has given confusing information and guidance about the spread of the pandemic. The President and his team have made mistakes in their handling of the pandemic, but we the people are also partly responsible. The growing scientific evidence tells us that the best ways to fight Covid are to get the vaccinations, test frequently and isolate when we test positive, wear masks in public spaces, and wash our hands frequently. If we have not followed these guidelines, (and if there are not extenuating circumstances), we citizens have contributed to the spread of Covid.

Vaccine mandates require special comment. The Biden administration mandated that health workers at institutions that receive federal funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) be vaccinated. It also mandated that employees at large private companies (with over 100 employees) receive the vaccination or be tested weekly. Mandates are points of tension between individual freedom and public safety. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Biden administration was correct regarding the health worker mandate but overstepped its authority regarding mandates for large private companies. The drinking of alcohol provides a helpful parallel. People can legally drink alcohol in their own homes, even to the point of getting drunk. The government, health agencies, and religious organizations can recommend that people don’t drink excessively, but adults legally have the right to do so in their homes. (Total banning of alcohol was attempted during Prohibition, but did not work). Nevertheless, governments appropriately mandate that people cannot drive their cars while they are under the influence of alcohol. Individual freedom is limited when public safety is at stake. Although there is a very slight risk with any vaccination, the evidence shows that not getting vaccinated against Covid is much more dangerous. Unvaccinated persons are 17 times more likely to become hospitalized than their vaccinated neighbors. This greater rate of hospitalization puts public safety at risk due to greater strain on hospitals (no available ICU space, needed surgeries are postponed, stress and burnout among health care workers, etc).

Vaccines are highly successful in fighting Covid. Are federal, state, and private sector mandates part of that successful battle? The courts will make their rulings as they weigh individual liberty versus public safety. Nevertheless, if more people voluntarily received the vaccinations, we would approach herd immunity and the pandemia could be reduced, and mandates would not be necessary.

The one-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency is a good time to evaluate the past and make the necessary corrections. Biden should do so…and so should we.

We Have Met the Pharisees and They Are Us

Most people have heard of the Pharisees. They were a religious group of leaders within Judaism during New Testament times. Although Jesus agreed with them on some doctrinal issues (like the resurrection of the dead), he challenged them on many of their practices. He criticized them for their religious arrogance, for their hypocrisy and for their self-righteousness. I have never wanted to be like the Pharisees because I have not wanted to receive that same type of criticism from Jesus.

Nevertheless, I am more similar to the Pharisees that I would like to admit. Explore with me the inner thinking of the Pharisees.

  1. They were proud of their knowledge of the Scriptures. I too am proud of my knowledge of the Bible.
  2. They used this knowledge to benefit themselves and to put down others. I have, on occasion, used my knowledge of the Bible and other topics to elevate myself and to criticize others.
  3. The Pharisees were arrogant and thought that their group was always right. I, and most citizens in my country, think that our group, our political party, our church, and our nation have been right (almost always) and that the ¨Other¨ is wrong.

What are the tragic consequences of this modern-day Pharisaic behavior? Many people are rightfully rejecting institutions due to the hypocrisy of their leaders. This is especially true about younger generations. Young adults are abandoning their churches at record rates. They are skeptical of political parties. The hypocrisy of many Boy Scout leaders has led to its bankruptcy. The behavior of some police officers has caused a crisis of credibility.

What is the cure to this Pharisee-itis? Before we just assume that we are “right”, we need to dig deep into our heart and ask tough questions about our motives. In the words of Jesus, we need to take the beam out of our own eye before we take the speck out of the eye of our neighbors.

Let’s begin the slow, long road towards greater moral integrity.

Hypocrisy in High Places

The headlines today deal with revelations about President Trump’s taxes over the past two decades and I will comment on this in a future blog. Today I would like to denounce the hypocrisy in the U.S. Senate which is happening right before our eyes.

Back in February of 2016 Justice Antonin Scalia died which left a vacancy on the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Court. The Republican controlled Senate refused to give Garland the necessary hearing. They claimed that a Supreme Court replacement should not take place during the last year of a president’s term in office. The battle cry was “Let the people decide through the presidential election in November’ (even though that meant an unfilled vacancy in the Supreme Court for ten months).

On September 18, 2020 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Those same Republican senators who argued that the Court should remain vacant for ten months (McConnell, Graham, Grasse, Rubio, Cruz, etc.) now argue that the vacancy should be filled immediately through a nomination by President Trump. The overarching principle of “Let the people decide by voting in the presidential election” has been thrown overboard.

Lindsey Graham is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that governs the “advise and consent” Senate process of confirming Supreme Court nominations. He used to be a person of principle, but he has sold out his soul. In 2016 he said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president whoever it might be, make that nomination.” In 2018 he was even more clear, “if a Supreme Court opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.” Graham has broken his word. He is afraid that Trump will lose the election and that Biden will nominate a person much more liberal than a nominee by Trump. Lindsey Graham is a hypocrite and should be so judged by his own words. He is practicing the morally bankrupt maxim of “the end justifies the means”. But you cannot obtain a good end (a Supreme Court justice of your preference) by using the immoral means of breaking your word.

The defenses by the Republican senators are twofold. The first is that times have changed and the White House and the Senate are controlled by the same party. That was not the heart of their argument four years ago. Then they said, “Let the people vote!” They also claim that the Democrats would do the same if they were in their shoes. If Democrats practiced the same hypocrisy, I would denounce them as well. I have criticized Democrats before and I would denounce them again. Our ethical principles mean nothing if we don’t apply them to friend and foe alike. Let’s clean out the swamp of hypocrisy in our midst.

The Impeachment Trial and Hypocrisy

The impeachment trial of President Trump is coming to an end. It is likely today there will be a vote on the calling of witnesses. That vote will probably be about 49/51 and therefore not enough to pass. If this happens, Trump will be acquitted shortly thereafter.

There have been many irregularities that need to be clarified. Here are my reflections.

Hypocrisy is evident in both sides: Democrats and Republicans. Two decades ago, President Clinton was impeached in the Republican controlled House of Representatives but acquitted in the Democrat dominated Senate (just the opposite of the current composition in Congress). Some of the current key players on both sides were also quite involved in the Clinton trial (Lindsey Graham, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Mitch McConnell, and others) and they are on record arguing for ethical and procedural positions on witnesses, documents, etc., in that trial that are just the opposite of what they have affirmed in the current situation. Although it is possible for people to change their minds on ethical principles, in this case the tribalism and hypocrisy are quite evident. We the people are naïve if we don´t recognize that many politicians change their moral principles to suit their personal or political ambitions. We the people should call them out, Democrats and Republicans alike, for their hypocrisy.

Witnesses – According to U.S. history, we have had fifteen previous impeachment trials in the Senate (of Presidents and others). In every one of these trials, there have been witnesses. If no witnesses are permitted to give testimony in the Trump trial, it is a complete break with precedent.

A bogus argument – The White House lawyers have repeatedly claimed that the Democrats in the House did not do their job, because they should have called witnesses like Bolton. As a consequence, the lawyers argue that the Senate should not call witnesses just because the House Democrats failed to do their job. This is the height of hypocrisy and I hope that most citizens see through this guile. The lawyers know quite well that Trump defied every single subpoena for witnesses and documents. When subpoenas are defied, the lawyers claimed the House should have gone to court to obtain this testimony, but they know quite well that appeals to the court would take months to work through the judicial system. (the House did take their subpoena of previous White House Counsel Don McGahn to court, but nine months later, the courts have still not given their final decision) This is stalling. What makes it worse, early on the WH counsel said that taking the subpoenas to court was illegal. Arguing that the House could not go to court and then arguing that the House should have taken the extra months and/or years by going to court is a sham. Most Americans recognize this as hypocritical.

In an earlier blog weeks ago, I expressed the need for eyewitnesses to testify. Eyewitnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are the ones whose testimony under oath could confirm whether President Trump is innocent or guilty. Both of these men were appointed by Trump. Both are Republicans. Rules could be established that limit their testimony to one day or one week. To vote against calling these witnesses is an admission of not wanting to seek the truth.

Not hearing from the most relevant witnesses gives the appearance of hiding the facts and covering up misdeeds. John Bolton´s book will eventually be published, and his understanding of the truth will be made public. Let it happen during the trial and not when it is too late.