(AP) — When Joe Biden walked into the Oval Office for the first time as president a month ago, his pens were ready. Already.
Lining a fine wooden box, they bore the presidential seal and an imprint of his signature, a micro-mission accomplished in advance of his swearing-in.
Four years ago, pens were just one more little drama in Donald Trump’s White House. The gold-plated signature pens he favored had to be placed on rush order in his opening days. Over time, he came to favor Sharpies over the government-issued pens.
On matters far more profound than a pen, Biden is out to demonstrate that the days of a seat-of-the-pants presidency are over.
He wants to show that the inflationary cycle of outrage can be contained. That things can get done by the book. That the new guy can erase the legacy of the “former guy,” as Biden has called Trump.
On policy, symbolism and style, from the Earth’s climate to what’s not on his desk (Trump’s button to summon a Diet Coke), Biden has been purging Trumpism however he can in an opening stretch that is wholly unlike the turmoil and trouble of his predecessor’s first month.
The test for Biden is whether his stylistic changes will be matched by policies that deliver a marked improvement from Trump, and a month is not long enough to measure that. Further, the length of Biden’s honeymoon is likely to be brief in highly polarized Washington, with Republicans already saying he has caved to the left wing of the Democratic Party.
The first time the nation saw Biden in the Oval Office, hours after he was sworn in, he sat behind the Resolute Desk with a mask on his face.
Trump, of course, had eschewed masks. Not only that, but he had made their use a culture war totem and political cudgel even as thousands of Americans were dying each day from a virus that properly worn masks can ward off.
Though Biden wore a mask in the campaign, seeing it on the face of the new president at the desk in the famed Oval Office made for a different message. Biden wished to make a sharp break with his predecessor while his administration came to own the deep and intractable crises that awaited him.
The strategy had been in the works since before the election and began with Biden at the desk signing a flurry of executive orders. The intent was clear: to unwind the heart of Trump’s agenda on immigration, the pandemic and more while also rejoining international alliances and trying to assure historic allies that the United States could be relied upon once again.