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On multiple fronts, Biden recalibrates our presidential expectations

Many of us are still collectively having to remember that Biden is restoring norms and repairing what it means to be an American president.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks at a FEMA COVID-19 mass vaccination site at NRG Stadium, in Houston, on Feb. 26, 2021.Patrick Semansky / AP

After four years of Donald Trump, many Americans were conditioned to cringe a bit in response to every headline that began, "President says...." We had every reason to believe what followed would be awful.

But six weeks after President Joe Biden's inauguration, we're occasionally reminded of the value of recalibrating our presidential expectations.

Late last week, for example, Biden traveled to Texas to offer support in the wake of a brutal storm that left Texans without reliable access to power and water. The president did not launch a feud with the governor. Biden didn't give lectures with bizarre advice -- such as "raking leaves" -- that Texas should've followed. The Democrat didn't appear at a local hospital to brag about crowd sizes while taking cheap shots at political opponents.

Rather, Biden acted like a normal president, pledging support, showing empathy, thanking those who are helping their neighbors, and doing his best to comfort those who've suffered.

The New York Times noted in passing, "As soon as Mr. Biden touched the ground in Texas, he set a different tone than his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who more than once threatened to withhold federal funding from states recovering from disasters because he had toxic political relationships with state officials there."

It may have been an entirely different kind of story, but Biden's Texas trip came to mind reading this Associated Press report on the administration's aid to Ukraine.

The Pentagon on Monday announced a $125 million military aid package for Ukraine, including two armed patrol boats to help the country defend its territorial waters. The remaining $150 million in military aid approved by Congress for the 2021 budget year will not be provided until the departments of State and Defense are in position to certify to Congress that Ukraine has made "sufficient progress on key defense reforms this year," the Pentagon said.

It was nearly two years ago, of course, when Trump was also supposed to extend U.S. security aid to Ukraine, but the Republican instead saw an opportunity: Trump tried to extort the U.S. ally into helping him cheat in his re-election campaign. During a phone meeting with the Ukrainian president, when his counterpart broached the subject of military assistance, Trump famously responded, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

But that was then, and this is now. In 2019, aid to Ukraine was a White House opportunity for corruption and an illegal quid pro quo. In 2021, it's a routine extension of an uncontroversial foreign policy.

In 2019, a presidential trip to Texas in the wake of a disaster was an opportunity for self-indulgent and tone-deaf photo-ops. In 2021, it's an act of kindness and compassion.

Our recalibration is ongoing. Many of us are still collectively having to remember that Biden is restoring norms and repairing what it means to be an American president.