But after four years of a reality television presidency, will Americans — not to mention our news media — pay much attention?

Four weeks into his presidency, Biden is governing exactly as advertised: with competence, humanity and moderation. That’s at times frustrating to those of us who think our country needs to see big, systemic change, especially after a pandemic that has ravaged the nation, but it’s leagues better than the reactionary politics of the Trump administration.

Biden has put his foot on the gas for Covid vaccinations, radically ramping up vaccination rates despite, as he said in the town hall, inheriting a situation where virtually nothing was set up and there really was no plan. He’s pushing for a Covid relief plan that would help the millions of families who have been financially devastated by the pandemic. And he understands the emotional cost of the pandemic, too — during one poignant moment, he comforted a little girl scared of getting sick, telling her, “Don’t be scared, you’re going to be fine, and we’re going to make sure mommy’s fine, too.”
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It was the kind of moment where Biden shines — and a moment that would be unimaginable from Donald Trump.

Biden also actually answers the questions he’s asked and doesn’t get mad when questions are asked of him. People may not always like the answers — when one woman told him that he needs to forgive at least $50,000 of student loan debt, he responded, “I will not make that happen,” instead going back to the $10,000 forgiveness he promised on the campaign trail — but his responses are at least responsive, not to mention substantive. That’s a low bar, but the previous guy didn’t manage to clear it.

And he’s uninterested in even talking about the former president, saying, “I’m tired of talking about Trump. It’s done.”

But is everyone else?

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The problem with radically changing norms of behavior in politics, and especially with making political life crasser and more shocking, is that it’s hard to walk that back and sustain the public’s attention. For so many, the Trump presidency was horrible and horrifying. It also garnered clicks and attention, outrage and fandom. Biden, a normal politician who insists that “the nation is not divided” apart from the “fringes on both ends,” is a relief to watch for those of us who spent the past four years in a state of suspended anxiety, and who find basic decency heartening, even if Biden is not the most inspiring politician of all time.

But Trump turned the presidency into a lewd and shocking display; lots of people tuned in just to see what outrageous thing he would do or say and what beef he would start, as if observing the leader of the most powerful nation in the world was akin to watching an episode of the “Real Housewives.”

Biden has taken on the responsibility of presidential sanity. We need our media outlets to step up and cover this White House not as voyeurs obsessed with scandal and conflict, but as interpreters and checks on power who can hold this president accountable and explain what his policies and decisions actually mean for our day-to-day lives. And the rest of us need to act in kind and take on the responsibility of good citizenship: to engage with politics because politics shape all of our lives and opportunities, not to switch on the news for lurid entertainment.

Joe Biden has made politics boring again. That’s good for the country — and it would be good for us to pay attention.

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