I think it's safe to say Donald Trump reached new lows when it comes to the art of presidential scandals. Among the president, his immediate family and the less than savory cohort he's surrounded himself with, the scandals of the last four years have run the gamut from absurd to deadly to absurdly deadly.
Biden will need to raise the bar once he takes office, and he can’t be given a pass just for being better than Trump.
The good news is that President-elect Joe Biden could basically walk right over the bar for ethical conduct Trump has set and clear it without missing a step. Unfortunately, though, that's no way to judge a president — against the worst of the worst. Biden will need to raise the bar, and he can't be given a pass just for being better than Trump.
This isn't a case of whataboutism. Holding Biden's White House accountable isn't about papering over Trump's misdeeds. In fact, there's little that Biden could do that could erase or justify Trump's commitment to enriching himself, violating the rule of law and otherwise debasing the presidency.
But memory is a funny thing, especially when it comes to presidents. Comparisons are generally made between the current officeholder and the most recently departed.
That's meant that Trump has constantly been compared to Barack "No Drama" Obama. Biden will likewise be held up to Trump's performance.
Trump is something of an anomaly in that his shadow casts backward, as well. That has left Democrats yearning for the Obama years and their relative simplicity in a way that Republicans didn't once George W. Bush left office, even as Bush's approval ratings rose after his term. Biden tapped into this nostalgia throughout his campaign, constantly reminding voters of what the Obama-Biden administration achieved.
Holding Biden’s White House accountable isn’t about papering over Trump’s misdeeds.
And yet, things weren't exactly idyllic back then. The Obama White House committed plenty of its own sins, even if none of them were of the monstrous tenor of Trump's child separation policy. Pursuing the targeted killing program in Pakistan and Yemen, continuing the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, ramping up deportations, investigating and prosecuting reporters — all were policies that deserved harsh scrutiny, scandals that warranted outrage or both.
Biden, like Obama, should be held to the previous standards set for presidents, leaving Trump as an outlier. But here's a very, very important caveat: The Republican Party cannot be allowed to be the sole arbiter of what is and is not a scandal in the Biden White House.
Almost all controversies in Washington are exploited politically — it's to be expected of all but the most heinous scandals. Both parties' members know that to be called out for "playing politics" is about as stern a set of empty words as exists on Capitol Hill.
What I'm saying, though, is that Republicans have for years exaggerated and embellished Democrats' supposed offenses for political gain. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a particularly rich target — remember Benghazi? Even as evidence mounted suggesting that many of the allegations against the Obama White House in response to the 2012 attack in Libya were conspiracy theories, Republicans still took every opportunity to talk up the "four dead Americans" whom Clinton had supposedly left to die.
The culmination of those efforts, including hours of hearings and a whole House committee organized for the sole purpose of hurting Clinton's presidential campaign, issued a final report that found no wrongdoing by any Obama officials after all.
If allowed, Republicans will go back to their pre-Trump ways, hyping the misdeeds of the Biden administration until they look like they're on the scale of, well, the Trump administration's actual offenses. We're already seeing it gear up, as Biden's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget is being criticized for her mean tweets about Republicans. I mean ... now you're going to pretend to care about tweets?
That can't be allowed to happen. Not after four years of ignoring — or outright acquiescing to — Trump's misdeeds. It's in bad faith, and it should be called out as such. That's going to require a firm reminder from the media and voters any time a member of Congress gets on TV trying to "but her emails" Biden.
If we're going to get the presidency back to any sort of stability, Trump's way of doing business has to be left behind. Democrats needs to be ready to criticize the head of their party in a way that Republicans have been too cowardly to do. And Republicans need to be blocked from memory-holing the Trump administration's existence as they launch attacks on Biden.