The U.S.-Mexico border fence as seen from Mexicali, Mexico, in...

The U.S.-Mexico border fence as seen from Mexicali, Mexico, in 2019. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Guillermo Arias

Changes so far under the new administration may sound striking: earnestness on climate change and the coronavirus; an end of hostility toward refugees and people in the country illegally; a stronger posture toward Russia and right-wing extremists; and an altered official tone toward Palestinians.

But President Joe Biden’s easy reversals of dozens of executive orders by predecessor Donald Trump might not loom too large in the months ahead. Much of what Trump carried out, or at least announced, over his term didn't matter as much as he advertised to the daily lives of Americans.

Inertia is always a strong force in Washington. So when the test comes for Biden's biggest priorities, such as stronger measures against pollution, friction is expected. Oil, gas and coal businesses will be working the halls of Congress, virtually or otherwise.

Not all of their allies will be Republicans.

Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences expert, acknowledged the executive branch has a "wide scope" to reinstate and even surpass President Barack Obama's climate policies. But Oppenheimer told The New York Times: "If you want something to stick, you have to go through Congress."

Recent complications in federal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines show how new programs take time to implement even without political resistance.

Biden's rejection of policies such as Trump's infamous family separations won't necessarily lead to sweeping changes to immigration law, which have eluded Congress and presidents from both parties for decades. If Trump’s vision of a "beautiful wall" turned out to be a low-impact boondoggle, canceling funds for it won’t change facts on the ground.

Biden's distancing from Vladimir Putin creates a dramatic contrast to Trump's strange deference to the Russian president. It's tough to say what difference a "back-to-normal" American posture makes — particularly because some State Department policies seemed more belligerent than Trump's chatter.

Biden is resuming U.S. contact with Palestinian leaders and restoring aid to refugees in the region. But he does not plan to reverse Trump’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, or to intervene in Israel’s new American-endorsed agreements with Persian Gulf states.

No fast shift in the regional status quo seems imminent.

Biden's reversal of the transgender ban in the military nullifies a Trump measure meant to pander to his cultural base. But it isn’t expected to alter the makeup of the military in any major way. But will Biden and Congress alter defense budgets?

The new president's top appointees appear better credentialed and more careful than many of Trump's, but nobody knows whether someone will succeed based on their record on the day they start a job.

Democrats might well see the White House as returning to the main road after veering off on a four-year tangent under Trump. But the most sensible conservatives will watch and wait before despairing. The most sensible progressives will watch and wait before celebrating. In this first week, we have seen only opening moves.