Joe Biden is a kinder, gentler destroyer of American norms

I know what you’re thinking: Trump’s behavior was qualitatively and quantitatively more authoritarian than the rest. That may be true, but as the old joke goes, “We’ve already established what you are, now we’re just haggling about the price.” For those of us concerned about upholding the constitution and liberal democratic norms, Biden’s refusal to reverse this trend does not engender much confidence about the future.

The truth is, this overreach was a long time coming. Modern technology (nuclear weapons, TV cameras, etc.) has conspired to make the president more powerful (something we’ve lamented at least since Richard Nixon), even as Congress has insanely ceded more and more of its governing and oversight authority to the executive branch and its various and sundry bureaucratic agencies, like OSHA (thanks again, Nixon!). It was predictable that future presidents would continue to push the envelope.

The real problem, though, is apathy. Almost nobody cares. A president’s backers aren’t about to let niceties stymie their agenda, and there isn’t really a constituency for people who consistently prioritize process over points on the scoreboard. This is true even when the process is something as fundamental as a peaceful transfer of power.