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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

One year into his presidency, Joe Biden took questions from reporters for over an hour and a half.

Like his first year in office, it was an uneven performance, but it was also several things at once: it was calm and professional, a bit folksy, a bit in the weeds, even sometimes a bit blunt. He flashed anger at disingenuous questions, cracked jokes and flashed a big grin. He joked if reporters wanted to “go another two hours” and at one point let journalists ask questions by passing the microphone down the row of chairs.

His withdrawal from Afghanistan was a humanitarian, geopolitical and PR nightmare, but he defended the decision in a convincing way that there was never going to be a good time to leave, but leave he must with Americans unwilling to risk more lives and spend indefinite sums.

He made news, saying he would be open to splitting his signature Build Back Better bill into individual packages, prioritizing the half-trillion dollars for climate action, and trying to make progress on early childhood education.

His American Recovery Act was a massive stimulus and public health bill, larger than anyone thought could pass. His bipartisan infrastructure deal also was not only more money than anyone thought would happen, but passed with real bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans – something no one thought could happen.

On COVID-19, he brought reasonableness and a general sense of science guiding decisions, after the chaos of the Trump years. He prioritized vaccines and got them out the door. He failed to anticipate the anti-vaxxer extremists would self-sabotage their own health, and wasn’t prepared for the variants. But, there is a sense that he at least put a lid on the pandemic after a year of Trumpian disaster.

His efforts on voting rights and fair elections came belatedly, but forcefully. He needs to find a way to get something done on this, come hell or high water. Executive action if congress fails to act. Narrow efforts if he can’t get the whole package – but not just about how to count the votes after they’re cast. He also has to ensure the rules of the game are fair. This is about America’s original sin of a racial caste system as much as it is about democracy. It is too big to ignore.

He’s taken the politics largely out of the justice system, though it would be nice to see more forceful prosecution of the January 6th insurrection. Perhaps his Attorney-General is on it, and he as president is removed from it. That’s as it should be, but it’s unsatisfying, I suppose.

He’s also a typical Democratic president when it comes to Canada: friendly, but in it for his country, not for our interests.

He is ultimately stymied by his narrow margins in the Congress, a victim of the big-ten nature of his party, with senators and congressmen who’d be moderate Tories in Canada made to caucus with young socialists. I still don’t understand why he didn’t offer a few Republican senators an ambassadorship to (at least temporarily) boost his margin in the senate, but maybe that’s why I did the comms, not the legislative strategy.

The press conference – both in style and length – was a fitting rebuttal to the notion that he’s lost a step. His forcefulness of late has shown he has the energy to lead – he just needs the wins to prove it.

His consistent refrain, and probably best political point, was to challenge the Republicans for not only being the Truman “do nothing Republican congress”, but taking it even further, repeatedly asking, “What are they even for?” Calling out the performative vacuousness of his opposition has legs. “What would even be the Republican platform right now?” he asked. It’s a line that hits the mark. “I honest to God don’t know what they’re for.” Indeed.

The first year can best be summed up as a decent start, with room to improve. After four years of Trump, that’s pretty reassuring.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s first anniversary in the White House is mere days away. When that moment arrives on Jan. 20, he and his Democratic staffers may opt to toast each other (in a virtual space, one assumes) for a job well done.

In reality, they should keep the champagne on ice for a bit longer. Much longer, in fact.

Biden’s left-leaning support base was obviously thrilled when he took office, and Donald Trump left the White House. They were pleased when he cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, returned the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, withdrew the nation’s military forces from Afghanistan and halted the construction of his Republican predecessor’s border wall with Mexico. They supported his announcement of several stimulus bills and infrastructure projects to help individuals, families and businesses. They cheered when he increased the number of COVID-19 vaccinations across America.

Then, reality began to set in.

The Taliban took control of Kabul, meaning the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan had been done in a rushed, ineffective manner. COVID-19 cases surged this past summer due to the Delta variant, leading some Americans to start doubting the effectiveness of the vaccines and whether herd immunity was achievable.

As for the $3.1 trillion in stimulus spending, it was gradually viewed as expensive and wasteful by conservatives and some progressives. In turn, the Build Back Better Act, which was supposed to cost $3.5 trillion and was lowered to $2.2 trillion last November, may not pass at all. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has refused to sign the bill unless the amount is dropped to $1.75 trillion and Biden’s signature social policy and climate change bill are eliminated. Manchin’s heroic stance in support of some fiscal prudence in these difficult times has been praised by most Republicans, and predictably condemned by his colleagues.

That’s why Biden’s approval ratings have slid from 53-36 percent on the plus side (Jan. 23, 2021) to 43.2-51.5 percent on the negative side (Jan. 12, 2022), according to FiveThirtyEight.com. This has been a fairly consistent pattern since Aug. 30, 2021, and it takes into account polling data from firms like YouGov, Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research, Ipsos and IBD/TIPP.

Gallup has shown a similar trend. Biden’s latest job approval rating is 43 percent, which covers the period of Dec. 1-16, 2021. This drop has been consistent since Sept. 1, 2021, and his first year term average is 49 percent. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Trump’s average was lower at 36 percent, while Reagan (49 percent), Obama (50 percent) and Clinton (53 percent) were about the same. Nevertheless, his dip from a high of 57 percent (Jan 21-Feb 2 and Apr 1-21, 2021) is notable, and he’s only slightly above his lowest recorded job approval rating of 42 percent (Oct 1-19 and Nov 1-16, 2021).

Everything is working against Biden. If the Omicron variant keeps surging this winter, or if his domestic and international agenda continues to tank, so will his numbers.

This partially helps explain why Biden went on an aggressive attack against Trump during his Jan. 6 speech. On the first anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol, he used fiery language against Trump and his supporters, claiming it was a “dagger at the throat of American democracy.” Biden also said, “The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

The political left was euphoric. They seemed ready to celebrate in the streets with COVID-19 masks and proper social distancing. Once again, they should keep that cork in the champagne bottle.

Biden’s speech played right into Trump’s hands. He used the language, tactics and mannerisms the former President worked to his advantage in 2016. It helped create an “us vs. them” environment and “me vs. you” image of a political showdown, which is exactly what Trump was hoping for. It also shifted the image of Biden from political conciliator to a partisan firebrand, which is neither wise nor politically viable for his re-election bid.

Trump is gearing up for 2024. He has a 43 point lead (54-11) over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the choice of Republicans to be the party’s presidential candidate, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. His press releases remain tough-nosed, but his media appearances are significantly different. For instance, he confirmed that he received a COVID-19 booster last month during a tour with Bill O’Reilly. In a One America News interview on Jan. 11, he said that “vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world” and his opponents don’t want to say whether or not they got the booster “because they’re gutless.”

Things can change in politics overnight. We know this. Nevertheless, the more reasonable that Trump sounds, and the more irrational that Biden sounds, will work to the former’s advantage. If the latter maintains his newfound persona, the door to a second Trump presidential term could potentially open up more widely.

Let’s see what Year 2 of the Biden presidency brings.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This past November 18 the presidents of the United States and Mexico and the prime minister of Canada met in Washington for the first time in five years.

In Canada there was some initial hope for a return to enthusiasm about North American free trade. But this was soon followed by an anxious debate in the mainstream media.

The main concern is a Buy American tax incentive in the Build Back Better bill just passed by the House of Representatives — worth up to $12,500 to a buyer of a new electric vehicle (EV).

In the true north there are fears that this kind of US Buy American incentive could “kneecap Canada’s auto industry,” still concentrated in Ontario.

What, for example, would such a US tax incentive mean for current struggles to secure the future of a new electric automobile industry north of the Great Lakes? (And note Premier Ford has just announced “a plan” for Ontario to build 400,000 electric vehicles by 2030!)

Whatever else, there are many caveats in all this. To start with, as President Biden has noted, the Buy American EV tax incentive in the Build Back Better (BBB) bill is not law yet. It must still survive the US Senate.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin  is also said to have problems here. The Senate could send a version of BBB with the current Buy American EV tax incentive removed back to the House.

As President Biden has noted again : “There’s a lot of complicating factors.” .

The production of a North American automobile today, for example, can involve parts crossing the Canada-US border several times (and then there’s Mexico) — to the point where it’s unclear which country the vehicle was made in.

Similarly, even former President Trump did not seriously implement today’s potent political symbolism of Buy America practically, because this flies in the face of so much that has happened to a globalizing corporate America over the past half century.

There also seems some evidence that the Biden administration has no serious interest in actually trying to do what Donald Trump wisely evaded.

Yet the extent to which even the current White House  feels driven to celebrate the symbolism of Buy America is suggested in a November 20 tweet from Vice President Kamala Harris.

It reads : “With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re going to build electric vehicles—and the batteries and parts that go in them—in the United States, instead of relying on other countries … The future will be made in America.” (Note also that, unlike Build Back Better, Bipartisan Infrastructure is already the law of the land!)

The prospect that the Biden administration might somehow find itself unwisely trying to implement the symbolism of Buy America, practically, points to an ultimate observation from Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland.

Economic nationalism of this sort could become “the dominant issue” of the Canada-US relationship over the next few years.

Yet again, even if this happens  — and the latest evolution of corporate America is turned inside out — that could prove healthy for a more self-reliant Canadian economy, already not quite as dependent on US markets as it was once. (Recent Canadian exports to the United States account for about 74% of all Canada’s goods exports outside the country, down from a high of 84% in 2002.)

If push does come to shove for a new nationalistic era of North American trade, what can Canada do?

From the start Hollywood has regarded Canada as part of the US domestic movie market. Some (central?) Canadian voices would like to see something similar for the automobile industry today.

Alternatively, if even Joe Biden’s democracy does implement a Buy American tax incentive worth up to $12,500, Canada could just copy US policy (as it sometimes has in the past).

To indulge in a little crazy talk, the federal Parliament could legislate a “Buy North American” EV tax incentive (for up to 15,000 US$ say) — in a quest to secure a share of North American  automobile manufacturing in the new electric age, roughly equivalent to Canada’s share of the North American automobile consumer market.

The time for quite this kind of crazy talk has not come just yet. Patience with the Biden administration and the US Congress probably remains the best current counsel.

But it is also worth starting to think about the potential longer term prospect that Canada has already entered some more aggressively protectionist era of “North American free trade,” regardless of who is president.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.