Who Wants Biden to Fail?

Oh, for the days when trolls were mythological creatures, living in Nordic caves. Today, they live online, poking us with bitter invective instead of intelligent arguments. That’s what some of President Biden’s defenders are doing, now that he is struggling. With only a weak defense to offer, most are in hiding. The few who venture out in public have turned to a last resort: trolling anyone who dares to criticize the president. Their favorite taunt is “Do you want the president to fail?”

The point here, apparently, is to try and inoculate Biden against any criticism by suggesting that to question his actions is tantamount to wanting the new president to fail and the country with him.

It’s an odd attack coming from the same people who began launching a four-year barrage of invective against Biden’s predecessor before he even took office. Odder still to see the patriotism card played by those who applauded athletes kneeling for our national anthem, endorsed a distorted “1619” history that denies our country was founded on aspirations for freedom, who declare America remains thoroughly racist, and who normally argue that our country is a malevolent force in the world.

I will ignore the trolls’ hypocrisy and bad faith, some of it directed at me, and answer the question anyway. I do not want the president to fail, but I do think some of his ill-conceived policies are bound to. A few deserve to. That’s on him, not me.

Like all decent people, I wish Joseph R. Biden Jr. good health. His job is arduous, and he is doing it for all of us, whether we voted for him or not, whether he is competent or not. Wishing him well is a simple act of human kindness.

Second, I do not want failures abroad. I want the U.S. to deter our principal adversaries — China, Russia, and Iran — from their malicious goals. I want policies and intelligence that prevent terrorists from attacking America and its friends. Who doesn’t? In all those areas, I want the Biden administration to succeed.

Do I think Biden is pursuing the best policies to accomplish those goals? No, and the unhappy results of his policies are starting to pile up. In my view, it is a grave error, for instance, to cut real military spending when we face a rising threat from China. Yet that is what Biden proposes. It was an unforced error to let Russia complete its natural gas pipeline to Germany, overturning President Trump’s tougher policy and weakening his sanctions on senior Russian officials. This energy project will make Germany more dependent on Russia and gives the Kremlin more money to pursue policies that harm America. In return, Biden got nothing more than a hearty handshake from departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Biden also erred in signaling Iran that the U.S. was eager to reenter the joint nuclear agreement without major concessions. He compounded his mistake by appointing the same Obama-era negotiators who struck the original “pallets of cash” deal with the mullahs. The only good news here is that the Biden administration has been unable to seal the deal. As for Afghanistan, do I gloat over the human misery inflicted by Biden’s tragically inept exit? No. Pointing to these failures and misguided policies is far different from wishing for bad outcomes. It is simple honesty.

Do I hope Biden fails on immigration? It’s too late to ask. The answer lies huddled in refugee camps on the Texas border and will soon be coming to a city near you. Biden’s policies have already failed. He seems to have learned nothing from those fiascos, except to avoid visiting the border. He’s sticking with the same failed policies that produced the most illegal border crossings in decades, overwhelmed Border Patrol agents, and are crushing the small towns absorbing the migrants, many of whom are COVID-positive.

This chaos seems to have been driven by the dual impulse of pushing progressive ideology and reversing actions taken by Trump. The problem is that some of Trump’s policies were working. The Biden administration made a fundamental mistake when it unilaterally terminated his predecessor’s agreement with Mexico, requiring asylum-seekers to stay there while the U.S. processed their applications. Soon after, migrants resumed their trek north, knowing they would face little resistance entering the U.S. illegally and could remain here for years awaiting a court date. Coyotes began recruiting migrants again in Central America.

Terminating the “stay-in-Mexico” agreement also effectively ended that government’s commitment to keep some 15,000 troops near the U.S. border, where they deterred human traffickers and interdicted drug smugglers. Those troops are gone, with predictable results. Gone, too, is construction of Trump’s border wall, which was working well. Biden ended construction immediately, even stopping portions that had already been paid for but not yet built. Biden’s goal may have been symbolic, but the effects are real. On immigration, then, it’s not a matter of hoping Biden fails. He already has, and he is doing nothing to change his broken policies or fix the mess he created.

Turning to inflation, I certainly don’t want to see the Biden administration fail. Who does? But his determination to pass a second, huge “infrastructure” bill makes failure much more likely. It will pour money into an already overheated economy and drive up prices. The only good news is that Biden’s plummeting popularity means it will be much harder to pass the bill.

Do I want the Biden administration to work with Democratic-controlled states and end “emergency” payments for people who aren’t working? Yes. Those were defensible only during the worst of the COVID pandemic. Continuing them in an economy where employers are desperately seeking workers is slowing the recovery. It is also fundamentally unfair to taxpayers who must work to pay for them.

Likewise, Biden’s effort to suspend repayment of student debts and stop the accumulation of interest on those loans should fail. It’s foolish and unnecessary now that the economy is coming back. It’s probably unconstitutional, too. So is Biden’s fiat that renters cannot be evicted for non-payment. We can debate whether those policies were sensible (or legal) during the worst days of the pandemic. But even then, such major policies should have been voted on by Congress. Biden himself publicly acknowledged that the policies don’t meet constitutional standards. But he cynically decided to implement them anyway, figuring it would take courts months to declare them unconstitutional. Those policies deserve to fail.

Do I want the biggest failure of all? Should President Biden be removed before his term ends? Not unless he is clearly unable to carry out the duties of his office (which the 25th Amendment addresses) or is impeached and convicted for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” such as participating in family corruption. Bad policies are not enough to remove a president.

For Americans concerned about preserving our Constitution and its fundamental procedures, it should be troubling to see the 25th Amendment being floated so readily, as Florida Sen. Rick Scott did last Monday. That amendment has a specific purpose: to remove an incapacitated president. It should never be used as a quick-and-dirty way around the impeachment process, notwithstanding how Democrats and some bureaucrats bandied it about during Trump’s presidency.

Biden does face legitimate questions, however, about whether he has suffered some cognitive decline. He could resolve those questions by taking a standard cognitive exam and releasing the results.

To return to the trolls’ questions: Do Biden’s critics want the president to fail? I don’t. I want our foreign enemies deterred, inflation contained, and the border secured. I wish Joe Biden good health. Where his policies are failing, as so many are, I want him to change them—or pay a heavy price on Election Day. That’s democracy. In 2022 and 2024, voters can assess the results, go to the polls, and send Biden and his party a sharp, clear message. Yea or nay.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at charles.lipson@gmail.com.

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