As most of us find out at some point, one of the biggest life lessons involves admitting when you don’t have all the answers. Or admitting you may be mistaken about something, and that maybe, just possibly, someone knows more than you do. This is true even for someone placed at the pinnacle of American power, entrusted by the American people with the grave responsibilities of being president. Not learning this lesson, in fact, can be fatal to your performance in office. President Biden apparently realizes this simple fact. Donald Trump never did.
As reported by Jeff Stein, writing for The Washington Post:
After White House legal advisers found he could not extend a national eviction moratorium, President Biden told Chief of Staff Ron Klain to seek the advice of Harvard law professor emeritus Laurence Tribe about whether an alternative legal basis could be devised for protecting struggling renters across the country, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The private phone call between Klain and Tribe — held Sunday amid a national outcry over the expiring moratorium — set in motion a rapid reversal of the administration’s legal position that it could not extend the eviction ban. Tribe suggested to Klain and White House Counsel Dana Remus that the administration could impose a new and different moratorium, rather than try to extend the existing ban in potential defiance of a warning from Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, the person said. ...
By Tuesday, government attorneys in the White House, Department of Health and Human Services, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced a 19-page document to protect the overwhelming majority of renters from eviction until Oct. 3. It was released that afternoon in a remarkable reversal by the White House, which a day earlier had said it did not think it had the authority to extend the ban.
The Biden administration’s abrupt about-face on the eviction moratorium may cause it some momentary pain, as opportunistic, pro-eviction conservatives gleefully jump on the reversal as a sign of “weakness." They’re wrong. It’s actually a sign of leadership in action, one that the right seems to have lost the ability to recognize. But that’s understandable, because actual leadership was sorely lacking in this country for the span of about four years.
After Trump’s defeat in November 2020, his former senior campaign adviser Brad Parscale made a remarkable observation that mostly flew under the radar at the time. Parscale simply observed that had Trump made even a modest effort to empathize with Americans' suffering, or the families of those hundreds of thousands of people who died due to his catastrophic and malevolent bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic, enough people might have been swayed into reelecting him.
As reported by The Hill in December 2020:
Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale says that President Trump’s biggest policy error ahead of his 2020 election loss was showing a lack of public empathy about the novel coronavirus.
“People were scared,” Parscale said in an interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum that aired Tuesday evening. “I think if he would have been publicly empathetic, he would have won by a landslide then. He could have leaned into it instead of run away from it.”
Of course, Trump, with his nasty personality carefully honed by the likes of his mentor, Roy Cohn (one of the most despicable people ever to have drawn breath in this country), was wholly incapable of such empathy. Worse for him, he lacked the ability to even fake it. That's why he never contacted any grieving families during the entire pandemic to express his sympathies or even to offer condolences. He had no condolences to offer, and he obviously didn’t trust his ability to even mimic them. Instead, Trump often repeated what Cohn had taught him: never admit error, never apologize, always punch back harder, and never acknowledge weakness. As a result, Americans knew they could never expect anything from him but raw callousness.
Those tactics worked well for him as he blustered through his mediocre career as a businessman, even if they led him to blithely file for bankruptcy after bankruptcy. They served him well on The Apprentice, where he could project an uncompromising “tough guy” image without particularly revealing too much (except, apparently to the network moguls who hired him) about what an obviously flawed and defective human being he was. But when the time came to express genuine emotion and empathy for the American people—a necessary quality in a president—Trump proved himself to be wholly devoid. Perhaps his dismal performance while visiting graves of soldiers who died during World War I was most telling of all: to Trump, they were simply “losers and suckers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic provided Trump with every conceivable chance to grow as a human being, affording him opportunity after opportunity to revisit his positions with the assistance of people who knew more than he did. He ignored all of those opportunities, chose to double down over and over again, and very likely sealed his own fate as a result.
True, President Biden’s reversal of his initial decision to allow the eviction moratorium to expire may have been motivated by his need to keep his caucus together, to assuage the progressive wing in anticipation of possible intra-party storms ahead in passing his infrastructure plan. But regardless of his reasons, he knew he was going to take some heat for it: No president wants to be seen as backtracking. And he could have simply held fast, relying on the conventional interpretation of lifting the moratorium as expressed by the Supreme Court. That’s certainly what he intended to do, at least at the outset, even though he doubtlessly knew that trying anything legally possible to extend it was the morally right thing to do.
Regardless of his reasoning, the bottom line is that he found an argument to extend the moratorium, one that contradicted his prior view and one provided by Larry Tribe, who actually knows more about constitutional law than President Biden. Whether it succeeds or fails (Biden himself acknowledges it may fail, despite his efforts) remains to be seen, but the important thing from a political standpoint is that Biden showed flexibility and a willingness to acknowledge he may not always be right.
That is leadership.