Column: Biden’s first year is a chronicle of Republican obstruction and Trump’s shadow

Former President Donald Trump in front of a flag image at a Jan. 15 rally in Arizona
This guy again.
(Mario Tama / Getty Images)

For days the assessments of President Biden’s first year have been rolling out. Some write him off already as a failed president, though more judge his record as mixed, and still showing promise.

I’d been preparing my own take. Yet by midweek, this long-standard Year One exercise just seemed to be missing the bigger issue at this fraught moment.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

As I considered the pros for Biden (record employment and growth, $1.9 trillion of pandemic relief, a $1.2-trillion investment in outdated infrastructure, a record number of federal judges confirmed, 209 million people fully vaccinated, an end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan) against the cons (the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, the failure of his Build Back Better and voting rights bills, border turmoil, coronavirus testing shortfalls, inflation), I was buffeted daily by news that had me looking at the past year from another vantage — not from Biden’s inaugural but from Jan. 6, 2021.
More important than the question “How has Biden done?” is “How has the nation responded to the unprecedented attack on democracy?” The answer — “not well” — implicates Biden’s predecessor and the Republican Party, save for a few brave figures who are being purged for their patriotism.


Republican lawmakers texted the Trump White House in panic on Jan. 6 as they were under siege, a scene the party has played down ever since.

Dec. 17, 2021

Nonetheless, the Republican Party’s popularity is up in recent polls, while Biden’s job approval is lower than any recent president’s at this point except Donald Trump’s. Republicans could be rewarded in the November elections with control of Congress, thanks to Republicans’ gerrymandering and the traditional midterm backlash against a president’s party.

Yet consider recent news underscoring how fully Republicans have set aside their initial horror at Jan. 6 and followed Trump off the rails, threatening to drag our democracy along.

Unless Donald Trump is held accountable for the Capitol insurrection, he will continue his anti-democratic offensive. Democrats cannot do it alone.

Jan. 6, 2022

Trump’s rally Saturday night in Arizona, broadcast almost exclusively by right-wing outlets, showcased his continued grip on his party but not the truth, and his sense of impunity about his efforts to subvert the 2020 election. “We had a rigged election, and the proof is all over the place,” he lied in the first minutes, and he kept that up throughout.

While Republicans elsewhere were slamming Biden for what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called a “deliberately divisive” speech days earlier on voting rights, here was Trump leveling a baseless, racist claim about the government’s response to COVID-19: “If you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine, or if you’re white, you don’t get the therapeutics.” Talk about divisive. This from the white guy who’s boasted that he’s boosted.

Republicans redraw existing districts to make them safer for Republicans and group Democratic-leaning voters into as few districts as possible.

Nov. 19, 2021

He damned the House committee investigating Jan. 6 as “Stalinist,” incited lusty boos against Republican members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and chortled about the retirement of yet another Republican who’d voted for his impeachment. Trump defended the rioters, called the Capitol policeman who killed a woman breaking into the House chamber “a disgrace,” falsely claimed Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked his (nonexistent) order for 10,000 National Guard troops at the Capitol, and suggested the FBI incited the violence.


This went on for more than 90 minutes. And people complain about Biden’s news conference?

As Arizona shows, Republican state parties have gone full Trump. The Wyoming party chair, who’s working to oust Cheney, is an Oath Keeper who was in Washington on Jan. 6. In Idaho, the Trump-endorsed lieutenant governor who’s challenging the Republican governor openly consorts with far-right militia groups.

Prominent at Trump’s rally was Kari Lake, his choice to dump Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who certified Arizona’s votes for Biden. She told the crowd, “Anybody who was involved in that corrupt, shady, shoddy election of 2020 — lock ‘em up.”

House Republicans this week delayed a move to expel Cheney and Kinzinger from their party conference, only because their “leader,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, didn’t want to distract from Republicans’ attacks on Biden at the one-year anniversary.

Meanwhile, McCarthy and two other House Republicans with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 continued to resist providing information to the House committee. Think of that: Trump’s “My Kevin,” who could be speaker after this year — the highest-ranking officer in the legislative branch — is sabotaging its investigation of an attack incited by the leader of the executive branch.

This parliamentary trick has mostly been used to thwart anti-slavery, anti-lynching and civil rights bills. Why are some Democrats defending this tradition?

Jan. 14, 2022

Even as Senate Republicans were successfully filibustering Democrats’ voting-rights bill, which would override some voting restrictions red states have mandated, the Texas Tribune reported on problems in that state. Groups including the League of Women Voters are unable to get enough new voter-registration forms — needed because Texas is one of the few states that doesn’t allow online registration. And local officials are rejecting “an alarming number of mail-in applications” because of confusion over voter-identification requirements.

In an interview published this week, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a popular mainstream Republican, said he rejected party leaders’ pleas to run for the Senate because every senator he consulted told him the party would do little through 2024 but obstruct Biden’s agenda. “It bothered me that they were OK with that,” Sununu said.


Biden quoted Sununu’s remarks at his news conference. “Think about this,” he said incredulously. “What are Republicans for?”

Apparently, whatever Trump wants. Looking back, it’s a wonder that Biden has achieved as much as he has. Alas, 2021 was most likely his high-water mark.