The growing boldness of Russia on Ukraine, not to mention China on Taiwan and North Korea on nuclear testing, has made the comparison between this new administration of ours and the most famously inept presidency of our lifetime more unavoidable than ever. And while the failure of his radical domestic initiatives, increasingly angry tone, and divisive rhetoric have brought Joe Biden lower in the polls than any first-year president in memory and well beyond, these increasingly distressing characteristics add up to a greater make-or-break issue. It is almost frighteningly similar to the one Democrats have spent the better part of half a century trying to sidestep and explain away, following the most famously weak chief executive in modern history.
The president was one Jimmy Carter. The issue is weakness. It’s a subjective concept, but one most often resulting from, and magnified by, the glare of hard reality on the international stage. It is the whole that adds up to even less than the already unfortunate sum of the parts, the effect when one failure piles atop another, eventually and irreversibly tarnishing and rendering as toxic not just the man himself, but the entire political brand represented by his leadership.
Let’s cut through the polite rhetoric and admit that Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, and their fellow despots around the globe are delighted that Biden is president instead of Donald Trump. That they are acutely aware of how weakly this 46th president has appeared and are expanding their tyrannical ambitions accordingly is as glaringly obvious as the sun rising in the east: Putin amassed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, China sent dozens of warplanes to buzz Taiwan, and Kim Jong Un has launched six ballistic missile tests since the new year.
Of course, when you fall asleep at an international climate change summit you deem of earth-shattering importance, you project weakness. When you allow more than a dozen to die amidst mobs in Afghanistan and leave $80 billion in cutting-edge military hardware for your enemies to scoop up and sell to terrorists, you project further weakness. When you unleash murderous drone strikes on innocent targets and then try to justify it, you demonstrate rank cowardice – and weakness. When you exclude a “minor incursion” from the greater context of Russian aggression, signaling a plan for inaction, you invite an invasion – because of weakness.
Thus we face the ever more urgent need to reverse this curse of weakness and protect the country from the increasingly unchecked advance of tyranny across the globe. This issue has now taken on an importance arguably equal to or greater than that of rising inflation.
None of this aggression was on display when Donald Trump was president. And the most glaring aspect of Biden’s projection of weakness is how it compares to his predecessor’s show of strength. Trump made clear from the jump that he would rebuild American military power – which was flagging after eight years of Barack Obama – to a point where enemies would dare not take liberties. And they didn’t. Trump’s demonstration of strength – and the threat posed by it – made the employment of such massive military superiority unnecessary, allowing him to become the first president in this century not to initiate any new foreign conflicts.
If this sounds like the plot – or more precisely, reverse-plot – of a movie you’ve seen before, it is. When Ronald Reagan scored a landslide victory over Carter in 1980, he did so after Iran had seized American hostages and paraded them before the world and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev had cashed in on Carter’s weakness by invading Afghanistan and strengthening his grip on Eastern Europe. Reagan was victorious on the strength of a phrase which Trump co-opted for his own campaign. No, not Make America Great Again, but Peace Through Strength. Like MAGA, it was much more than just a slogan. It was a comprehensive policy statement in three words.
Of course, unlike Reagan, Trump did not win a second term, though he evidently intends to try again in 2024. The enduring question is why the country would turn away from a president who had quieted the drums of war, delivering both peace and (pre-pandemic) prosperity, where now we are threatened with war and runaway inflation? It is left to those who voted for Biden to explain their logic – beyond the indoctrination from elite media’s four year scorched-earth campaign to take down Trump.
Carter did demonstrate admirable energy, commitment, even passion, in his presidency, but he was, by most all accounts, just in way over his head. It was understandable, the narrative goes, because in our anxiety to rid ourselves of the stain of corruption left by Watergate, we tried a nice guy who proved unequal to the task. Likewise, many Trump-deranged D.C. insiders might still defend their support of the current feckless chief executive because he remains, through it all, not-Trump. But by doing so, these defenders of the establishment and left-wing dominance of American institutions may well be taking a gigantic risk, inviting another period of GOP domination of the executive branch. Note that after Carter, and significantly, the Democrats’ far-left nominee, George McGovern, in the cycle before him, five of the next six presidents were Republicans.
Reagan was mocked for identifying the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and for his goal of not just containing but destroying Soviet communism. And like Trump, he was accused by the left of being a warmonger. But the Soviets’ eventual downfall was achieved in spectacular fashion shortly after Reagan had completed his two terms – without a shot being fired. Leftists don’t like to talk about that, but you can look it up. The certainty that Reagan would respond with force undoubtedly tamped down expansionist dreams and ultimately led to the unthinkable: the dissolution of the government itself. Peace through strength indeed. Trump followed the same script.
Of course, in the end, the sad, borderline tragic difference for the nation between these two radical reversals in the White House is that, in the case of Reagan, we corrected weakness with strength, while we did the opposite in replacing Trump with Biden. One is left to wonder whether the tradeoff is worth it not just for the millions of newly vulnerable Ukrainians and Taiwanese, but for the 81 million people who reportedly pulled the lever for Joe Biden and are now sleeping less comfortably because of it.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.