January 18, 2022
The commentariat’s hair is on fire over the seeming failure of President Biden, his administration, and his Democratic party, with polls showing dismal approval ratings.
What we’re really seeing is the worsening systemic failure of America’s body politic and civic culture, long in the making, but accelerating since 2016.
A former Republican, I strongly supported Biden in 2020, to save the country from Trumpian catastrophe. That by itself was a considerable achievement. Nevertheless, I harshly criticized Biden’s Afghanistan debacle, and not fully unwinding Trump’s reprehensible immigration and refugee policies. But the reality remains that if Trump and Republicans are the alternative, Biden and Democrats are saviors.
We’re told he hasn’t fulfilled his campaign promises; mainly to unite the nation. As if any president actually could. Jesus returning could not. Republicans are so far gone there’s no bringing them back into some kind of common fold. Have you seen the ubiquitous Trumposphere’s deranged demonization of Biden?
But we imagine a president waving some magic wand to make our troubles go away, and sulk if it doesn’t happen. Take inflation. I remember Nixon thinking he could master it, with wage and price controls. What a (predictable) disaster. And Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons. Didn’t work either. Inflation results from deep economic forces generally beyond a president’s powers.
And yes, we’re fed up with Covid. But blaming Biden? It would be much less bad now if we’d had halfway sane competent leadership when it began. Trump’s fecklessness made things so much worse. Biden did yeoman work in overcoming that ghastly legacy. Maybe one can imagine doing even better. In some perfect world. And the main problem now is the idiocy of vaccine refusal — mostly by Republican Trumpers — and their governors like Abbott and DeSantis actually working to undermine vaccination and masking. Yet Biden is blamed?
(While on Saturday, Trump declared whites are being discriminated againstfor Covid vaccines and treatment. “If you’re white, you go right to the back of the line.” Another vile lie — as if that needs stating.)
Then there’s Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda — more promises deemed unkept. In fact he did get the infrastructure bill passed — a very very big deal. And a huge Covid economic stimulus, greatly reducing U.S. poverty. Both virtually miraculous achievements given the wall of obstructionism by Republicans dead set on making Biden a failure. (They call themselves “patriotic.”)
The “Build Back Better” and voting rights bills are blocked by two nominally Democratic senators whose votes are needed. (Remember that Democrats have the barest Senate majority only thanks to unexpectedly winning both Georgia runoffs last January.) On BBB, why not just tell Manchin: “Okay, YOUwrite the bill. Whatever you’ll support. Then we’ll all vote for it.” (I doubt Sinema would still refuse.)
Meantime, why must everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, be in one giant bill? Might have been good political theater — had it passed. But it can’t. So why not break it apart and mount separate legislative efforts for the climate, family leave, child care, college, immigration, health care, and tax proposals, et cetera? Some should be individually popular and achievable. This is a classic case of the perfect as the enemy of the good.
The Republican war on voting rights makes legislation on that front critical, so I share the frustration of many others at the inaction. But the intransigent Republican blockage means nothing can pass without filibuster reform, and Democrats just don’t have the votes for that. End of story.
All these legislative roadblocks make Biden look weak. There’s an idea that a president can overcome them just by pushing really really hard. It isn’t so.
I started out speaking of the body politic and civic culture. We’re losing concepts of ethics, character, community, and responsibility in civic life. The whole system then unsurprisingly undermined by a collapse of trust. American voters are behaving politically like spoiled children, having tantrums; not grown-ups. Making facile superficial judgements, with no understanding of what’s really going on and what’s at stake. Many crippled in their grasp of reality.
And if Biden and Democrats are failing, it’s because of Republicans. The Gordian knot can be slashed only by electing more Democrats to the Senate in particular. Making filibuster reform — and thus all else — possible. But America seems set instead on returning Congress to Republican control.
That’s simply insane, and not just because it will guarantee government paralysis for two years. Republicans are no longer even a legitimate political party (as we used to understand it). They’re a cult gaga for an evil psycho and his highly pernicious big lie that the 2020 election was a fraud. Responsible for the attempted coup of January 6. Making them enemies of democracy and the fundamental ideals that have guided America’s trajectory since its founding. And Republicans controlling Congress will mean their reinstalling that monster as president, regardless of citizen votes.
Biden is imperfect. But the alternative is the abyss.