Biden lays the foundation for a normcore presidency

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Today's Agenda

Biden's Presidency Takes Boring Shape

You probably don't remember, but there was a time in this country when not every presidential utterance would trigger your fight-or-flight response. You could go days without thinking about the president of the United States, unless he wore a tan suit or something. 

Were those days perfect? Of course not. They lulled us into ignoring the rise of President Donald Trump, who is still making politics way, way too interesting. But after four years on his roller coaster, we need a break. President-elect Joe Biden won by promising to make politics boringly competent again, and he's living up to it so far. His first official act was picking a chief of staff, Ron Klain, who was apparently built in a laboratory for just this job, writes Jonathan Bernstein. He even has experience fighting a pandemic. Yawn.

Biden is also returning foreign policy to blessed normalcy, holding phone calls with world leaders and actually releasing readouts of them all, a practice Trump's White House dialed back when his calls got too weird. More broadly, Biden will restore equilibrium to relationships around the world — not just with allies but also rivals such as China. Though Biden can sound pretty hawkish about China, Wang Huiyao expects he'll be far more pragmatic than Trump, dialing back the trade war and finding areas of cooperation, starting with fighting the pandemic. 

Biden's election might seem like bad news for India's Narendra Modi, one part of a two-man mutual-admiration society with Trump. But the lovefest did not extend to trade; Trump slapped many pointless tariffs on Indian goods. Andy Mukherjee writes Biden might roll those back, possibly in exchange for Modi giving U.S. tech firms more of a foothold in this huge growth market

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will probably be even unhappier with a return to normal U.S. foreign policy. Shannon O'Neil points out Trump basically let AMLO run wild just as long as he stopped migrants at the U.S. border. Biden will pay much closer attention to Mexico's governance, energy policies and more. It's the kind of thing America did back in the boring old mid-2010s, and it's good. 

Further Biden-Administration Reading: Biden can do a lot with executive orders, but these take time to bear fruit. — Cass Sunstein 

Trump Clings to Power, Day Six

Another thing Biden has been almost disturbingly normal about is the post-election fit still being thrown by the current occupant of the White House. He has laughed off Trump's refusal to start the peaceful transition process, which includes Biden getting vital national-security briefings. But such delays can do irreparable harm; the slow transition after the 2000 election may have made the 9/11 attacks more possible. 

One of the weirder features of America's very weird system is that the chief of the obscure General Services Administration gets to decide when the next president can start presidenting. That person,  Emily Murphy, is refusing to do that without an OK from her current boss, which may never come. This is a bug, not a feature, of the system and should be reformed ASAP, Bloomberg's editorial board writes. It's as harmful to the nation's health as the GOP's indulgence of Trump's temper tantrum.

Trump's refusal to accept reality is par for the trap-laden golf course of his mind. Less understandable is why the rest of his party goes along with it. Ramesh Ponnuru explains the GOP is terrified of angering Trump's still-passionate voters, who are now fully convinced the election was stolen. Surrendering to reality might demoralize them too much to vote in Georgia's runoff elections for Senate. So now we know the price of two Senate seats: half the country's confidence in democracy.

The Case for Lockdowns Grows Stronger

Governments around the world are clamping down on our fun again as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks new havoc. Many lockdown-weary people will resist, but Ferdinando Giugliano urges us to remember we may be mere months from ending this nightmare with effective vaccines, as Anthony Fauci suggested today. Why just let people die now, with relief so close at hand? The same logic applies to stimulus for people and businesses: Why let them collapse when we're so near the finish line? Fed Chairman Jay Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should think hard about this before they let lending programs for muni borrowers and small businesses expire on Dec. 31, writes Brian Chappatta

Letting the virus run wild could also defeat the whole purpose of vaccines, warns Sam Fazeli. Every new coronavirus infection leads to mutations that could eventually render our current vaccine candidates useless. A resistant strain evolved in a population of millions of minks in Denmark and then jumped to humans. If we're not more careful, soon this disease won't need minks.  

Telltale Charts

Making it easier to buy and sell weed legally could be the issue that unites left and right in this country, writes Tara Lachapelle.

The smartest market minds agree: U.S. stocks are wildly overvalued and are in for a so-so decade, writes Nir Kaissar.  

Further Reading

Trump's gains with Black voters won't last if the GOP keeps making it hard for Black people to vote. — Robert George 

Democrats may have a secret weapon against gerrymandering: the sprawling Sunbelt exurbs where they're growing in numbers. — Conor Sen 

Republicans will dump a lot about Trumponomics when Trump is gone. — Michael R. Strain 

Ryan Reynolds buying a bottom-tier English football team could work out for everybody, including Netflix. — Alex Webb 

"Shocked but not surprised" is the perfect phrase for the Trump era. — Stephen Carter 


The White House has bailed on stimulus talks.

The world's biggest free-trade zone, anchored by China, is nearly in place.

You may soon live in a 15-minute city.


Another Spanish art restoration goes horribly wrong. (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Now there's facial recognition for bears.

Japanese town uses robot wolves to chase away bears. (h/t Mike Smedley for the previous two kickers)

Happy 50th anniversary to Oregon's Exploding Whale.

Note: Please send robot wolves and complaints to Mark Gongloff at

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