In recent years, it has become somewhat of a truism in certain conservative circles that Donald Trump is someone to be embraced and Joe Biden feared. But as Trump’s time in office comes to an end and a new Presidency begins, it is time to reassess that view.
Before looking at policy matters, it should be remembered why most conservatives originally opposed Trump when he first sought the Republican nomination in 2015: as a human being he did not embody any of the values traditionalists support. From his lack of religious faith, to his disregard of women and his marriage vows, as an individual Trump represented the precise opposite of what conservatives are meant to value.
In more political terms, his regular violations of long-standing constitutional norms, such as his unprecedented refusal to respect the decision of the Electoral College, have represented not just an attack on those specific norms, but a wider attack on the collective wisdom and learnt experience of America’s forebears. By any objective standard this type of behaviour has not been conservative.
The normal refrain to these criticisms is that this Faustian pact was worth it to secure as many conservative judges as possible. Yet this was mainly achieved through the violation of further norms, like abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court judges and rushing through a nomination weeks from an election. As a result, it seems likely the Democrats will retaliate with their own constitutional reforms when they get the right opportunity. Consequently, time seems likely to show much of this legacy was built on sand.
By contrast, Biden is indisputably a decent family man. More significantly, he is notorious for being an institutionalist, with a deep reverence for America’s political traditions – perhaps one of the few public servants with such an attitude left. His reluctance to endorse radical ideas like court packing, despite the overwhelming pressure from his party, is notable. Indeed, part of his electoral appeal is that he represents stability and moderation, a rebuke to the far Left.
For allies around the world there are also good reasons to welcome his victory. Whilst Trump was right to reverse America’s weak stance towards China, his erratic and abrasive personal nature, as well as his tendency to support other authoritarian regimes, meant America under his leadership was never well placed to assemble the necessary moral coalition to make a stand; the EU’s recent signing of an investment deal with China, in spite of US protests, shows this. Conversely, Biden’s political career has been built on developing relationships and building alliances.
On trade, the promise of the Biden presidency is also exciting. One of Trump’s biggest mistakes was to start a series of trade wars, no worse so than his decision to withdraw America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, damaging commerce in the free world and opening the door to China to step in. Fortunately, with post-Brexit Britain having declared its intent to join this agreement, there is now the perfect excuse for America to rejoin (for electoral reasons, it seems unlikely a trade deal will ever be politically viable if negotiated bilaterally).
Because of all this, for those who value things in leaders such as moral integrity and a respect for tradition, as well as a belief in free trade and an ethical foreign policy it seems the next few years, in US political terms, will be an improvement at least.