You know what’s truly remarkable and promising about the incoming Biden-Harris administration? It’s so normal.
Soothingly normal. Reassuringly normal. Lowering-everybody’s-blood-pressure normal. And after Inauguration Day, we have reason to hope, even boringly normal for days or weeks at a time.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe President-elect Joe Biden has the potential to be an enormously consequential president, if only because the massive challenges he faces — the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism, the need for bold and immediate action on climate change — create the opportunity for transformative change.
And I believe Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will play a groundbreaking role as Biden’s partner, pushing an administration whose principals have such long experience in Washington to look toward the future rather than the past.
But just look at Biden’s nominees thus far. Republicans, under pressure from the party base to demonstrate some performative resistance to the new team, thus far have found only two appointments to even feign concern about.
They complain that Neera Tanden, named to head the Office of Management and Budget, has a history of posting mean tweets, including about GOP senators. Wait until someone shows them what President Trump has tweeted about colleagues such as Sen. Mitt Romney and, recently, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
And they warn that Lloyd Austin, a retired general, will need a waiver to be confirmed as secretary of defense. But they know they will be hard-pressed to explain why the first African American named to lead the Pentagon should be denied a waiver identical to the one given to Jim Mattis four years ago.
And yet, nobody is complaining that Tanden, Austin or any of Biden’s other nominees are less than eminently qualified to do the jobs Biden proposes to give them. Janet Yellen, Biden’s pick for treasury secretary, has already run the Federal Reserve. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is literally one of the nation’s most experienced diplomats. Biden tapped her as ambassador to the United Nations. And he chose Tom Vilsack — for heaven’s sake, a man who has already spent so much time as secretary of agriculture that they should really think about naming the headquarters building after him — to do the job again.
Biden’s agenda is progressive, but most of the nominees he’s announced lean toward the party’s moderate wing. That should be no surprise: after all, so does Biden. There will be conflict, sometimes pitched, between center-left and further-left within the Democratic Party, both in Congress and at the White House. But that’s familiar; it’s how Democrats always are, and probably always will be. It’s normal.
Biden’s team shares an aversion to public histrionics. Pete Buttigieg describing Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as “romantic” is the most controversial thing any of them have said all week — and yes, I include incoming White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon’s colorful description of congressional Republicans in that calculation.
It’s hard to remember after living with Trump’s madness for four years, but filling the Cabinet with experience and competence is the way things are supposed to work. Presidents don’t put U.S. foreign policy in the hands of an oil-company executive who never before worked in government or diplomacy. They don’t choose a defense secretary because they are under the impression that his nickname is “Mad Dog.”
Think about it. Whether he leaves voluntarily or is dragged from the premises kicking and screaming, Trump will vacate the White House no later than Jan. 20 at noon. At that point, the insanity level of our nation’s public life will settle back to within its usual range.
Incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki will not begin her tenure by haranguing the press corps with laughably false claims about the size of Biden’s inaugural crowds. When she gives briefings, she will surely spin facts to paint the Biden administration in the best light, but she won’t invent “alternative facts,” more accurately described as baldfaced lies.
When Biden holds his first Cabinet meeting, attendees will not be required to abase themselves with over-the-top praise for their Dear Leader. When the new president’s national security team briefs him on looming threats, Biden will actually pay attention.
And the nation’s agenda will not be set by Fox News hosts. Or MSNBC hosts, for that matter. If there are presidential tweets, they will be few — and sane. Doomscrolling will be a thing of the past.
There will be times when we can go a whole day, even a whole week, without thinking about what the president is saying or doing. It may be an adjustment. But normality is way underrated.