Biden’s First Report Card
Former teacher gives mixed marks to President on safety, education, environment, more
Editor’s Note: At the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, in January 2021, writer Tim Munkeby evaluated his four years in office. In the interest of equal time, he’s doing the same for Joe Biden, as the 46th President of the United States enters his 15th full month in office.
BY TIM MUNKEBY
As a retired teacher, I have this compulsion to grade things. Did they bring their A game? Would that movie even rate a C? Last summer was a total D (for drought). Was that last toss in the hay only a B+?
We all should always strive for the A. It means we’re doing our job well, playing our role satisfactorily, reaching our goal effectively. So, why not grade our leaders? Especially our top leader. What do we expect of our government and how is the president performing? It’s the most important job in the U.S. That person should be striving for that A, right?
I don’t believe in labels. I’m both liberal and conservative depending on the issue. For example, I don’t believe in abortion as birth control, but I’d never have the audacity to tell someone what to do with his or her body. I lean to the right on human rights issues—I was considered to be a rather liberal teacher—but I raised my children rather conservatively. After retiring from teaching, I also ran my financial company very conservatively (no bankruptcies or compliance issues, like some so-called conservative former president claims).
I’m not a politician, not an economist, don’t belong to any specific party—though I admit, at this point in time, I’m sounding more like a Democrat. This is primarily due to so many Republicans backing Trump and his (obvious) “Big Lie” about the 2020 election results. I’m just a father of six and grandfather of a dozen. Just like most of us, my biggest concern is my family. So, how the president and his government affects and protects my family is my number one criteria for “grading.”
When I evaluated Trump’s presidency at the conclusion of his first and (thank God) only term, he didn’t fare well. In fact, I couldn’t wait to say farewell. He flunked, big time. I sent him to the proverbial principal’s office. Advocated for his expulsion. His overall grade from me was a resounding F.
If you’re a Republican and defensively want to quit reading now because what I say may not reinforce what your pre-conceived notions are, you get an F as well. I taught my students to be open-minded and to think critically, so as to make good decisions. I showed them the importance of considering alternative points of view (not “alternative facts”). Think and consider: only the narrow minded are certain.
So, please read on and when you’re done, then you can ascertain if you think my grading system is fair.
Here is my criteria:
• Safety. Is the President keeping my family and me safe? (And your family and you, too.)
• Education. Is the President supporting our children’s and grandchildren’s education?
• Our Earth. Is the President protecting the environment for us, and for generations to come? And is this President effectively facing and confronting the challenges of the climate crisis? (Note: If you don’t believe there’s a climate crisis, you have my permission to quit reading right now, because you’re—sorry for being so harsh—so ignorant or blinded by propaganda that I don’t want to talk to you. You’re a lost cause.)
• The economy. Is the President sincerely interested in protecting and enhancing my (and your) financial security?
So, here goes:
I had to give Trump an F- in this category, primarily because we can’t trust someone who lies compulsively and only cares about himself. Also, because he caused hundreds of thousands of deaths by initially denying that the pandemic existed. And, because he damaged our global alliances—with his obnoxious “America (a.k.a. Trump) First!” thing. Also, because his juvenile bully-bravado could have potentially caused a war (i.e., when he threatened to obliterate North Korea with nuclear weapons because he had a bigger “button”). U.S. citizens should have “gone nuclear” and protested en masse, in the streets, over such a dangerous threat and its potential risks (even if proffered by a blowhard).
Oh, and let’s not forget when Trump stood in front of an American flag, praising Putin. How smart he is! What a genius! This being the Putin who is, right now, attacking a peaceful and free country, trying to destroy it. The same “genius” who is killing thousands of civilians, including women and children. And then, silence from supposed conservatives and spineless Republicans, proclaiming that they’re “patriots,” yet refusing to ever admit that this orange asshole is morally void. These “leaders” who support autocrats like Putin and Trump should be so ashamed.
Today, any Republican who acts in disagreement or defiance is silenced, sanctioned and forced from the party—while QAnoners and other disturbed conspiracy theorists keep spewing lies and disinformation without recourse. Sounds more like how Putin runs things. Patriots, my arse!
But I digress.
I believe President Biden’s heart is in the right place. He cares about our people and our democracy. He’s a diplomat and a statesman.
• He got the bulk of the infrastructure bill passed, attempting to keep us all safe and sound.
• He got us out of the never-ending war in Afghanistan. Yes, awkwardly, but the war is over, finally!
• He has, so far, kept us out of a war with Russia. Of course, no matter what he does, he can’t win: he’ll get attacked from both sides, with claims that he’s either too weak or too aggressive. But trying to defeat Putin economically and diplomatically rather than tossing missiles and bombs at each other is safer for me and my family, and for you and yours. And for the world. We’ve already seen the potential of a war with countries who have nuclear armaments. It must be avoided at ALL costs.
• Biden has strengthened our alliances around the globe. As we’re seeing right now: we can’t go it alone. He’s showing strength as a leader dealing with NATO’s response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
• He’s done much for our indigenous and other under-privileged citizens. Our young folks seem to be coming around to fairness, compassion and kindness under Uncle Joe.
• He seems sincere about reducing poverty and the accompanied ills, as well as re-building trust between our police and communities, and NOT by de-funding police departments.
• He has other programs on the table that should make our lives safer as well, such as the “Build Back Better” bill. Whether he’s strong enough and able to get past the “obstruct and blame” strategy of his opponents, time will tell.
Personally, I think the obstruct and blame strategy is totally chicken-shit and a huge waste of time and resources (of our tax dollars). Example: The Republican party has obstructed Biden in his attempt to get people vaccinated, masked, and tested. Then they accuse him of not adequately dealing with the pandemic. What bullshit!
U.S. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is as much to blame as anybody for this. Flashback to President Obama when McConnell stated that his sole purpose in government was to keep Obama a one-term president. If you didn’t notice, he failed. Then, jump ahead to his claim before the 2020 election that we could call him the “Grim Reaper” if a Democrat won the election because he would again obstruct as much as possible. Since the Repubs move in lockstep, following the lead of McConnell, this effort to obstruct is ridiculously harmful to Biden and our government’s attempts to get anything done legislatively—it’s harmful to a functioning country and to the American people. Let’s hope McConnell fails, again, goes home to Kentucky, and stays there for good.
Biden’s Grade on Safety:
• Effort: B+
• Performance: C+
He has at least three more years to see if his effort produces improved results.
I’m a firm believer that early childhood education is the answer to closing the achievement gap, and to eradicating poverty and the accompanying social ills, including violence and crime. In addition to the statistics that show this, it’s only logical that a child who arrives at school unprepared and feels he doesn’t belong is very likely to do poorly, fall behind, and drop out.
It’s common knowledge that a large percentage of people who commit crimes and become incarcerated are school dropouts; they’re raised in poverty, inequality, and dysfunction. Besides the simple fairness factor, the societal value of education, of nurturing and helping and keeping kids in school to combat those external factors is vitally important.
I had to give Trump an F in this category. First, he bequeathed the Secretary of Education to a large donor, Betsy DeVos, who had no experience with education and, apparently, no interest. Secondly, Trump (and his party, I must point out) recommended immediately cutting education funding by over $7 billion dollars, eliminating 29 education programs, cutting $21 billion from teacher development programs, and suggesting many more cuts, all of which, fortunately, weren’t passed by Congress. When we cut education funding, a system already stressed worsens: classes get larger, teachers quit, it’s harder for students to remain in higher education, the economy suffers, and crime increases. Like I said, Trump earned a resounding F.
Good education also happens when we have good teachers, not just classroom monitors and babysitters. The former results when educators are paid fairly; the latter when poor pay forces schools to hire untrained aides and assistants. President Biden is, with my admiration and esteem, pushing (and I say pushing because of the Republicans’ resistance) for universal Pre-K education, as well as improvements at all levels of education.
If you heard or read any of Biden’s State of Union Address this year, you know he has a litany of proposals to improve our educational system in the U.S.—far too many to list here, but, significantly, to fill the Secretary of Education position with a teacher! He made it obvious that education is a priority of his. First off, with schools stretched beyond capacity by the pandemic, Biden revitalized the Federal Department of Education to undo much of the harm DeVos had caused, ensuring that teachers are respected and compensated appropriately, while simply making education more equitable and easier to attain for all students. These are efforts any parent should support for their children.
Personally, I support free, two-year community college and, ideally, technical college. This would help all students get a higher degree and lessen the need to go into insurmountable debt to gain that degree. Many of the President’s desires are included in both the Build Back Better proposal and The American Rescue Plan Act. Thus the differentiation between my “Effort” vs. “Performance” grades again. Getting anything actually passed and accomplished is far different from proposals that never go anywhere in Congress. We, both citizens and political leaders, must realize that for our society and economy to function adequately, education is the priority. It must be funded appropriately.
Biden’s Grade on Education:
• Effort: A
• Performance: D
Once again, it’s still too early to determine if the President’s efforts will survive conservative opposition. But note: right now teachers are striking and schools are closing. If we don’t want chaos, some of the president’s proposals need to become reality.
In this category, at this point in time, Trump will surely go down as the lowest-graded president in history; his tenure was the most harmful to our planet. By far. I gave him a resounding F-. He tried to destroy our trust in science and scientists, refused to acknowledge climate change, and rescinded more than 80 environmental protections, among other transgressions against the earth, air, water, etc. I suppose anyone who perches on a solid-gold crapper would see the environment solely as a source of money, even if it requires raping it for profit.
Biden is quickly trying to reverse the harm that Trump and the Republican party has caused, with new or restored measures that:
• Protect endangered animals and their habitats
• Limit the destruction of land for drilling
• Strengthen rules on air quality and carbon emissions
• Strengthen the EPA on eliminating toxic chemicals
• Protect waterways and drinking water
• Enforce environmental regulations and aggressively pursue polluters
• Rescind rules that benefit industry at the cost of the environment
If you believe in science and have read history, you may know that we’ve had, throughout Earth’s millions of years, four mass extinctions. The one you’re probably most familiar with is the last one: a massive meteor that hit the planet, caused the Ice Age, and ended the era of dinosaurs—and almost ALL life on Earth.
And now, WE are the meteor. How we’re living and abusing Earth today is not sustainable. I believe most of us realize this. For those who don’t, let me be clear: “not sustainable” means we can’t continue. We must change, or our future generations—our children and grandchildren—will also likely go the way of the dinosaurs.
Many of our species are now extinct, like the Passenger Pigeon, the Black Rhino, and more than 22 species of birds, fish, mussels, and bats. They’re gone. Forever. And yet WE are a species ourselves! Without urgent and immediate change, those of us alive today will be responsible for the extinction of, not only animal species, but OUR species: Humankind.
I applaud Biden for having the wisdom to realize this, and for trying to prevent our own demise. This isn’t a political issue, but an existential one.
Biden’s Grade on the Environment:
• Effort: A
• Performance: D
After Trump removed us from The Paris Agreement (a.k.a. Paris Climate Accords), Biden had the country rejoin. Good effort, but we need results. There are 195 countries in the Agreement. Some, like the UK and the U.S., now have the greatest commitment. Most countries are at least on board acknowledging we need to save our planet. But others, like Iran and Iraq, are floating around in life rafts, hoping the rest of the world prevents the whole ship and kaboodle from sinking. The Earth needs everyone, even small polluters, on board. The question is: how long will it take for us to pull our heads out and live up to our commitments? And, at the rate we’re going, will it be too late?
After leaving education, I started my own financial planning company. (Although I loved teaching, I was laid off from my high school teaching job due to declining enrollment and, with a wife and five kids at home, decided that major change was in order. Plus, we were already living paycheck to paycheck on my teacher’s salary.) My company was, and is, quite successful. I say that to make it clear that I do have first-hand experience with the economy and financial markets.
I’m sure you’ve heard how the rich got richer and the poor poorer during the pandemic. The reasons are varied but a big one is that those who had investments found them appreciating, with their bottom lines improving proportionately as to where and how much money they had invested.
The economy was not fair or balanced during the pandemic. If you had no investments—and no income—during this time, your bottom line likely didn’t improve, to say the least. The pandemic forced businesses to close, and many workers were laid off. Some sectors of the economy did more poorly than others, such as hospitality, entertainment, and the arts. Many of our “essential” workers were underpaid and unappreciated while keeping us afloat. Many people suffered, unemployment was high, and jobs, initially, were scarce. People even lost their homes if they had no reserves.
But, if you had a good paying job, especially one where you could work remotely, owned stock in the right companies, you likely did well financially. The ability to succeed has much to do with educational equity—equity involving things like pre-K preparation, keeping students in school, and equity in affordable higher education. We’d all like to make life choices that aren’t limited by lack of education and preparation.
(Of course, I realize that success means different things to different people. Everyone’s vision of success doesn’t need to include wealth or a high paying job. On the contrary, having the time to do what you want with your life is invaluable. Time = Rich–for wise people.)
An important aspect of education, financial literacy, is often overlooked in schools and not taught. We need to learn to take care of ourselves. As someone who once wrote a book about that subject, we need to be more aware of our own behavior (saving) and to educate ourselves (about investing). Decent paying job or not, if we spend all our money on assets that depreciate, eventually we have nothing, including no cushion, no reserves. And that’s bad news when something unexpected happens—like a pandemic!
Sorry, I’m beginning to sound like a financial advisor. But, let’s face it, our personal actions or inactions are extremely important. If we live within our means and learn how to save and invest, most of us can and will attain financial security (unless an unstable president like Trump or an obstructionist Congress blocks the way). I know, some of you were unable to save during the pandemic. Well, now that unemployment is down again, under Biden, and job availability and options are increasing, it’s time to straighten ourselves out and get on the right track.
With that said, it’s difficult to grade Presidents on financial security because they inherit an existing state of affairs, and there’s not much, initially, that they can do about changing things. Let’s take the current villain, inflation. Although Trump left office with the largest annual deficit ever recorded (this after bragging that he would eliminate the deficit), of course the Republicans are blaming Biden, because it’s to their advantage.
Yet Biden isn’t responsible, and the criticism is unwarranted. Inflation was inherited, caused mostly by the pandemic and simmering supply chain malfunctions that exploded with time—that were exacerbated by poor leadership under Trump. And now, of course, with our obligation to punish Russia for attacking a peaceful, free country, prices are going to rise. Whose fault?
Biden will get some credit for low unemployment returning and good job reports. This was going to happen with the waning (hopefully) effects of the pandemic anyway. Some additional back-slapping is warranted because the President has tried hard to encourage vaccinations, testing, masking and other precautions to end the pandemic, and its resulting financial fallout for so many. But it’s still too early in his presidency to determine how well the economy and the markets will ultimately respond to Biden’s and his advisors’ efforts. It really bothers me to say this but how successful the efforts are or will be, to a great extent, are contingent on how obstructionist the Republican party is.
I gave Trump an F+ in this category. His response to Covid was, overall, catastrophic. Had he acted quickly, listened to the experts, and believed the science, much of the pandemic’s economic collapse could have been avoided. Some say he should be credited for pushing hard for quick, effective vaccines, but the pharmaceutical industry was motivated before and without him. I considered a higher mark, seeing as he didn’t impede the market gains he inherited from Obama (even though his tariff collision with China threatened to derail them). But he pissed me off trying to take credit for those gains. We can’t function properly with leaders who cheat and lie. Screw ‘em. And screw Trump.
Biden’s grade on Financial Security:
• Effort: B+
• Performance: B
Whether Biden’s grades improve or not depends on how resilient he is to adversity, and how competently he contends with the impediments dealt by his Republican adversaries (who seem to have no interest in him succeeding—in office, or at helping improve the country and the lives of its citizens.) As I said, I believe Biden is a seasoned statesman, and his heart is in the right place. He puts the interests and needs of everyday Americans first. The effort is there.
But as far as results go, I’ll have to check his progress again next year. In the meantime, good luck to you, Mr. President, as well as to all Americans. Stay healthy. Stay strong. (The majority of) the country wishes you the best.
Biden’s Overall Grade after 14 full months in Office:
• Effort: A
• Performance: C
(Or, as my former students now call me, Munk)
You can read more about Tim Munkeby on our Team page. He can be reached via his website at www.timmunkeby.com.
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