Biden is calming U.S. politics by not saying very much

No, much the sharper change is his reticence. If this seems a superficial gain, consider that, better pandemic-management aside, the US needed nothing more direly in 2021 than a cooling of its indignant politics. One way of going about this is to make the sonorous and futile appeals to unity that almost all presidencies start with. Biden, a sentimentalist about the essential oneness of America, was not above that.

But he has also tried the bolder stratagem of unavailability. A less visible president is a less contentious one: a head of state, not government. Biden has given voters the time and space to busy themselves with other things. Republicans have not just a moving but an almost spectral target to hit. A quietly radical president? There is a case. But he is also radically quiet: his elusiveness, not his programme, is the most dramatic break from the recent past.

Cynics will put it down to the self-preservation of a visibly aged man. (Remote diagnosis of a leader’s mental state, that unlovely feature of the Trump years, turns out to be cross-partisan.) But the calmer atmosphere is precious, whatever its source.