The modern presidency, from FDR on, has promoted the notion of leadership as cult of personality. Under Trump, this phenomenon reached its apogee—by turns comic and malignant. It is simply inconceivable to imagine Biden saying, “I alone can fix it.” It is even more so to imagine him privately thinking it. In many cases, a long career in Congress has been a disadvantage to people seeking the presidency; they end up thinking and talking like legislators. In this context, it will be an asset. Biden naturally defaults to “we” rather than “me.”
If Biden establishes himself as ideological broker, rather than ideologue, if he restores in Washington an instinct for shared responsibility rather than an instinct for remorseless conflict, that would indeed be a formula for a great presidency. He would change the way people think of the office, and change the way Americans look at their country, in ways that would outlast his tenure.
Sidney Milkis, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said the greatest presidents are “at the center of developing a new political order,” one built around “a new philosophy, a new set of institutional arrangements, a new set of policies.” Biden has a chance to do this, Milkis says, by inventing a new model of the presidency for the context he inherits: “Trump has shown us how dangerous this cult of personality is, and Biden can be looked at as an antidote to that. Enough of the country is looking for leadership that would be normal, would be focused on building a coalition.”