February 2, 2021 Reading Time: 13 minutes

In the first ten days of his new administration, following his inauguration on January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden signed more than 25 executive orders changing the direction and content of federal government activities. That is four times as many executive orders as were signed in the same number of first days in the White House as Donald Trump, and five times as many as Barack Obama gave his signature to in his comparable period in office. There seems to be a new precedent of far greater government by decree. 

Through these executive orders President Biden, among other things, initiated the United States once again being committed to the climate change targets of the Paris Accords; reversed Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization; halted construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. gulf coast; froze any further new permits for oil drilling on federal government-owned land; instructed all federal agencies to follow goals and targets for racial and gender-based “equity” outcomes in employment and contracting and regulatory oversight; reinforced protectionist “buy American” rules in all federal government procurements; extended “freezes” on federally funded student college loan payments and extended a nationwide federal restriction on evictions and foreclosures until at least the end of March 2021; virtually “nationalized” government control and oversight of the manufacture and supplying and distribution of anti-Covid-19 vaccines; imposed anti-virus face mask wearing on all federal property and public transportation; and a slew of many others. 

Progressives Delighting in Biden’s Flood of Executive Orders

Some in the American political “progressive” movement have hailed this de facto “government-by-presidential-command” as both good and desirable, indeed, essential to the future political health of the country. For instance, the January 29, 2021 online issue of The Nation magazine contained an article by its national affairs correspondent, Jeet Heer, on, “Biden’s Executive Orders are Essential to Restoring Democracy.” 

First of all, the author argues, these executive orders make it very clear who is president of the United States in the face of Republicans who cannot reconcile themselves to that reality. By signing his name on these documents in the Oval Office of the White House, this shows who won the election and who is the boss of the country. In other words, for all the doubters, “This will show you. Now, live with it.” 

But more than sticking it into the eye of those who won’t accept Biden’s legitimacy to the office of the presidency, Mr. Heer insists that signing and implementing these executive orders “show that elections have their consequences – and that the 81 million Americans who helped Biden win the White House deserve to have their views imprinted on government.” Also, by issuing these executive orders, it demonstrates how “transitory” were the Trump years, by basically overturning by the stroke of a pen as much as it is possible of an entire preceding presidency. It is almost as if Trump never existed in that role. 

The author takes a swipe at a recent editorial in The New York Times, hardly a bastion of limited government, free market views, for suggesting that Biden should “ease up” with his presidential pen, and work more with Congress to bring about desired changes. 

The Liking for Unrestrained Leaders in Charge

No, Mr. Heer wants a presidential pen that is quick in initiating change. “Congress works slowly,” he says, and it will take too much time to pass laws for removing the Trump policy legacies. After all of this is done, Biden can then foster “a healthier relationship with Congress.” 

In Jeet Heer’s view, and one presumes the outlook of The Nation editorial board, “Biden’s executive orders aren’t a threat to democracy. Rather they spring from an energized Democratic Party that is helping to revitalize American democracy and make it functional again.” 

This desire for swift presidential action and impatience with the slower wheels of Congressional deliberation is nothing new among members and supporters of the Democratic Party. When Franklin D. Roosevelt returned from one of his wartime meetings with Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, he told one of his staff members, “What helps a lot is that Stalin is the only man I have to convince. Joe doesn’t worry about a Congress or a Parliament. He is the whole works.” 

If only FDR could have been a dictator, too . . . the “whole works” without American voters to convince or a U.S. Congress to deal with or a Supreme Court that overturns his central planning programs. Well, one can at least dream. 

Progressives’ Arrogance and Hypocrisy

Let us take a few moments to look at Mr. Heer’s reasoning on President Biden’s recent executive actions. Those who may have read some of my articles over the last four years will know that I have been a forthright critic of many of Donald Trump’s economic and social policies and his own executive actions. I have also not minced words in expressing my, well, disgust with Trump’s rude, crude, boorish and arrogant words and deeds both before and following his election to the White House in 2016. 

But it takes real audacity to express shock and anger at those who have expressed concerns about voting “irregularities” during the recent presidential election and whether its outcome was completely fair and square when many in the Democratic Party and the “progressive” movement asserted and insisted for the entire four years of Trump’s term in office that his was a “stolen” and therefore illegitimate election due to the “interference” and manipulating intrigue of “the Russians.” That Trump was a puppet, with Vladimir Putin the ventriloquist; accusations that were never proven to have any basis in fact. 

Let me further add, that even if less than perfect care was taken in the procedural oversight of the accepted ballots and votes counted, it is clear to me that whether by more “legitimate” votes or less, Joe Biden won the election. And for those who think otherwise: live with it, get over it, and move on. This is the same advice I gave to my “left-of-center” acquaintances for the last four years. 

The attitude expressed by Jeet Heer about Biden letting his legitimacy critics know who is president by “in your face” executive orders is no different than Donald Trump’s words and deeds in the face of those who challenged his right to be in the White House. “See this? That’ll teach you. And I hope it really annoys you!”

Fantasy that Biden’s Victory Represents the American People

But what of the more substantive argument that Mr. Heer makes that it is only by taking direct action through executive orders that President Biden can give an active policy voice to the 81 million Americans who helped put him in the White House? And that, therefore, elections, but especially this election, have “consequences?” 

If you look at the vote totals between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, Biden received 81.28 million votes to Trump’s 74.22 million votes; that is, Biden got over 7 million more votes than Trump. Out of 159.63 million total votes cast, Trump had the support of 46.8 percent of Americans to Biden’s 51.3 percent of American voters. Besides these votes, the Libertarian Party candidate, Jo Jorgensen, had 1.72 million votes or 1.2 percent of the total. The remaining votes went to lesser candidates running for the presidency who were on the ballots. 

This means that to Biden’s 81.28 million votes, 78.35 million Americans did not vote for him, or 48.7 percent wanted someone else other than the present occupant of the White House. To say that Biden’s executive orders are meant to “revitalize” democracy by having the “views imprinted on government” of the 81.28 million who voted for him, is really to say that nearly 49 percent of the voting citizens of the country are to have the policies of the candidate that the slightly more than 51 percent voted for imposed on them, whether they like those policies or not. 

It should not be forgotten that some of those Biden votes came from people who were voting against Trump, and not necessarily for the entire grab bag of Democratic Party and “progressive” policies being implemented through executive order. This is reinforced by the fact that the Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives, narrowing the Democrat majority in that branch of the Congress to 10 votes. The Republicans have kept the Democrats to a tie in the U.S. Senate, with the tie-breaking vote dependent upon Kamala Harris as the Vice-President of the United States, who presides over the Senate. 

Survey Says: Americans are Divided on Policy Priorities

The political division in the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the nearly 49 percent of the electorate who did not vote for Biden is highlighted in more detail from a Pew Research Center survey released on January 29, 2021, about people’s views on the importance of various policy issues. The breakdown offered by the Pew Survey, which was taken in early January of 2021, also looks at the difference of opinions based on gender, race, and age and not just political party affiliation or leanings.

 The top policy concerns of Americans in the survey, in general, are: improving the economy (80 percent) and finding a way to handle the coronavirus crisis (78 percent; followed by increased job availability (67 percent), defending against terrorism (63 percent), improving the political system (62 percent), reducing healthcare costs (58 percent), securing Social Security (54 percent), improving education (53 percent), dealing with the problems of the poor (53 percent), addressing issues around race (49 percent), reducing crime (47 percent), addressing criminal justice reform (46 percent), dealing with immigration (39 percent), dealing with climate change (38 percent), strengthening the military (37 percent), dealing with global trade (32 percent), improving transportation (32 percent), and dealing with drug addiction (28 percent). 

Notice that the two issues constantly emphasized in the mainstream media – race relations and climate change – are very far from the top of the list of concerns for the aggregate of those surveyed (49 percent and 38 percent, respectively). 

Democrats and Republicans Divided on Policy Issues

But the picture changes once looked at below the survey aggregate of all those who responded. For instance, when looked at in terms of Republican and Republican-leaning vs. Democrat and Democrat-leaning, 72 percent among Democrats consider race relations as important to grapple with; among Republicans and leaning that number was only 24 percent. Dealing with climate change, 59 percent in this Democratic category considered it important by 59 percent, but by only 24 percent of this in the Republican category. (Notice that not even 60 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning consider climate change as “the” problem for the country to confront, in spite of the hoopla in the press.)

On the coronavirus, 93 percent of Democrats emphasize the importance of dealing with it, while that number drops to 60 percent among Republicans. Dealing with problems of the poor is considered important by 68 percent of Democrats, but by only 35 percent of Republicans. Among Democrats 67 percent are concerned about reducing healthcare costs, while 46 percent of Republicans feel that way. The pattern is reversed on different issues, such as reducing crime, with 55 percent of Republicans viewing it as important to deal with, while only 39 percent of Democrats feel that way. Among Republicans, 51 percent think it is important to strengthen the military, while among Democrats that falls to 28 percent. And for reducing the federal government’s budget deficit, that is considered important by 54 percent of Republicans, but only 29 percent of Democrats. 

Racial Differences on Policy Importance

Along race or ethnic lines, the Pew Survey divided responders into three categories: white, Hispanic, and black. Addressing race issues mattered to 83 percent of blacks, 68 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of whites. Dealing with problems of the poor was important to 77 percent of blacks in the survey, 64 percent of Hispanics, and 46 percent of whites. On improving education, this mattered to 72 percent of blacks, 66 percent of Hispanics, and 45 percent of whites. All three groups had large majorities for dealing with the coronavirus, with this said by 95 percent of blacks, 82 percent of Hispanics, and 72 percent of whites. 

Interestingly, less than 50 percent in all three groups considered dealing with drug addiction as a serious problem to face, with 43 percent among blacks, 39 percent among Hispanics, and 23 percent among whites. The same was true with climate change, with 49 percent of blacks saying it was important to deal with, 46 percent of Hispanics, and 34 percent of whites. And, again, on the issue of immigration, with 47 percent of blacks saying it was an important issue, 45 percent of Hispanics, and 37 percent of whites. 

Policy Views Among Men and Women

Among men and women, differences on issues were expressed, but on most of them the percentage divergences between them were relatively small, in spite of the frequent assertion that men and women often think differently on social and economic issues. But, interestingly, whether the percentage differences between men and women was smaller or larger, on virtually every issue, women considered it a more important issue to be dealt with, including bolstering the military.

On a noticeable number of the issues in those listed at the beginning, both men and women assigned urgencies of less than 50 percent to one after another, such as problems of drug addiction (31 percent women and 25 percent men), climate change 41 percent women and 35 percent men), strengthening the military (41 percent women and 34 percent men), and dealing with immigration (43 percent women and 35 percent men). 

On race relations as an important issue, 56 percent of women said yes, while 41 percent of men did so. For reducing healthcare costs, 63 percent of women said it was important and 52 percent of men said so. On defending against terrorism, 68 percent of women and 59 percent of men. On dealing with problems of the poor, 57 percent of women and 49 percent of men. The urgency of the coronavirus crisis, 80 percent of women and 75 percent of men. And on strengthening the economy, 82 percent of women and 78 percent of men. 

Age Group Differences on Policy Issues

Finally, there are noticeable differences among demographic age groups in the Pew Survey. Among those 50 and older, 77 percent considered defending against terrorism important, while only 39 percent said yes to that in the 18-29 age group, and 58 percent for those between 30 and 49. For those in that youngest 18-29 age group, only 14 percent thought strengthening the military to be important; but even among those 50 and older, barely 50 percent considered it important. 

In spite of all the talk of “the young” seriously concerned with the environment, dealing with climate change was ranked as important by only 43 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29. All other age groups clustered in the 30s percentages concerning climate change. Dealing with immigration was also low for all age groups, with the youngest group in the survey with only 33 percent saying yes to that question while the older age groups considered it important in the 40s percentages. Again, all the age groups assigned a low importance to dealing with drug addiction, being in the 20s and low 30s percentage ranges. 

What all age groups were concerned about, in the sense that each of the groups considered it important noticeably above 50 percent, were strengthening the economy, improving the jobs situation, solving the coronavirus problem, and health care costs. For all age groups, dealing with problems of the poor hovered in the low and mid-50s percentage range. For all the talk that “the young” are deeply concerned with race relations in America, only 54 percent of those in the 18 to 29-year category said it was important to deal with, and with other age groups that fell to the upper 40s percentages. 

The Media Views of People’s Views are not Accurate

Those in the “progressive” and more “radical” wing of the Democratic Party insist that Biden’s election to the White House expresses the “democratic” will of the American people for a radical change in the direction of more paternalist, interventionist, even more socialist-oriented policies and programs. Certainly, a writer such as Jeet Heer in The Nation wishes to portray this to be the case. And he is not alone in this. 

The fact is, there are significant divergences of values and views about the current situation in the United States concerning the policies considered to be more and less important to grapple with. It shows itself most starkly among political party lines and racial groupings, at least as conveyed in this recent Pew Research Center survey. It is noticeable, but in general far less so, among men and women; and there are divergences among age groups, but less on many issues than is suggested in the media. 

What is pretty clear is that the buzzword, hot button issues in much of the mainstream media and among the academic and political “progressive” ideologues are not the burning problems of society in the minds of “the people” as expressed in this Pew Research survey. Climate change, income inequality, race relations? Not at the top of the lists for the vast majority of the people. Even among Democrats and the Democrat-leaning, climate change barely had 60 percent of the respondents saying that it was a crucial issue. Less than 50 percent of both men or women in the survey considered climate change urgent. And this low percentage was also the case among age groups. 

Even when healthcare costs, or dealing with the coronavirus crisis, or improving the economy and the jobs situation were given high percentage responses in terms of importance, this in no way informs how the people expressing these concerns see the answers to them. For instance, on the need to improve schooling, a 2018 survey found that 47 percent of Democratic Party-identifying black and Hispanic parents favored charter school opportunities. While among Democratic Party-identifying white parents that number was only 27 percent.

Progressive Hubris of Knowing Where Society Should Go

For the Jeet Heers of the world, the ideological presumption is that seeing a problem automatically implies the need for bigger and more intrusive government. For more centralized planning “solutions” to make that beautiful and better collectivist world that, surely, if everyone was as enlightened, informed and “socially aware” as them, they would see this to be true.

Convinced they are on the “right side of history,” that they are the virtuous warriors for the establishment of “identity politics”-guided outcomes for social, racial, and gender groups, bolstered by the destruction and the banishment of all in the past and the present that needs culture cancelling, they cannot wait for the cumbersome, time-consuming, and reactionary-plagued institutional means of legislative procedures as established in the U.S. Constitution. 

Furthermore, the racist, sexist, and capitalist exploiters and oppressors have so manipulated the political system in buying elected representatives to the House and the Senate, that the “true” democratic will of “the people” may be foiled or even worse if we remain tied to the clearly false “bourgeois” notions of democratic procedures and methods.  

Real “people’s” democracy requires breaking through the logjam of out-of-date Constitutional barriers to “progressive” change. We have “our person” (don’t say “man,” it’s not politically correct!) in the White House. He/she shares our view or we can assist him/her to see the logical implications of the general views that we all share in common. We know it to be right, after all, that all of history is a trajectory away from individualism and the private property rights of the past to collectivism and political central planning of society for the good of all, rather than simply for a few who unjustly have too much. 

Quickly Pushing Through and Implementing the Agenda

So, sign and implement as many such presidential executive orders as possible, President Biden, to establish the precedent and the, then, embedded policies so that changing them or reversing them becomes difficult; then reinforce it with “entitlement” legislation in that slow-moving Congress, so any future attempt to repeal it will seem to be the same as threatening the very premises of what then has come to be taken for granted as the “American way.” It will be the “third-rail” that if anyone tries to repeal any of the interventionist-welfare state and socialist-type planning by any other name, it will mean their political death in any attempt to return to the “bad old days” of misguided economic liberty and personal choice. 

This is what makes the new administration’s direction such dangerous times right now. Because those with influence inside and outside of the Biden White House right now are determined not to let a crisis and confusion go to waste. But the old Chinese proverb that in every crisis there is also opportunity, applies no less for critics and opponents of the Biden’s administration’s agenda.

The Pew Research survey makes clear that much that President Biden and those around him are attempting to implement through executive order and other means are policies and political positions that many in the society do not share or to which they do not assign the same degree of urgency. Or for which they do not necessarily see the same big government answers to each of the problems. 

This, therefore, creates the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, and to argue and reason about and refute the political premises, economic and social policy ideas, and the ideological foundations upon which this collectivist push is being made. 

It may be politically incorrect to express it this way anymore, but, “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings.” (Does saying this make it a candidate for “cancelling”?) Either way, policies implemented are ultimately the outcome of ideas fought over concerning whether or not to value and secure political freedom, economic liberty, and constitutional order. In spite of a lot of totalitarian-like rhetoric in the air, the intellectual field is still open to vigorous debate and competition. It just needs to be taken advantage of by not presuming the contest is already lost. 

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling, an AIER Senior Fellow, is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ebeling lived on AIER’s campus from 2008 to 2009.

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