On the menu today: good news for everyone who wanted this newsletter to go back to covering politics and end the all-coronavirus-all-the-time coverage of the past few months. Also, would you believe we actually got some good news regarding the unemployment rate today?
We’ve Got Big Problems, and Joe Biden Isn’t Much of a Solution
Right now, things are looking pretty good for Joe Biden in November. With one exception, the polls in Pennsylvania look solid, and it is a similar story in Wisconsin. Trump has not led a poll in Michigan this cycle. President Trump’s campaign is spending money in Ohio and Iowa, states he won by a wide margin last cycle.
If Biden wins, lots of people will believe, “Finally, we’ve gotten rid of that erratic wealthy white male septuagenarian who just blurts out the first thing that pops into his mind, who walks around in a foggy haze of excessive self-regard, convinced African Americans have always loved him, that he had the right answers on the coronavirus pandemic all along, who makes sweeping pronouncements that indicate he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, who writes off significant swaths of the American people as irredeemable and hopeless, and who can be so thin-skinned and temperamental when criticized. Boy, thank goodness all of that is over!”
If you’ve read this newsletter the past few days, you’ve read my criticisms of and disagreements with the president, and the world of social media has expressed its disputes with my assessments — with all of the characteristic wise insight, keen attention to detail, and appreciation of nuance we have to expect from that realm.
Electing Joe Biden in November would not solve our problems. A Biden victory would trade one set of problems for another.
In 2016, the Democratic Party witnessed its own defeat to a man they deemed spectacularly unqualified for the office, a man they saw as a bumbling, flailing laughingstock, and the distilled essence of everything they see as wrong about America. They could not imagine anyone voting for him, much less sufficient Americans in sufficient states to reward him with the presidency. Some corners of the Democratic Party became quite radicalized by this defeat. It is not hard to find Democrats who openly state Trump’s election changed the way they see their country, and their countrymen.
The end result is a political party that wants a sweeping overhaul of American society and the status quo, and that cannot bring itself to criticize any other faction that claims to act in the name of progress, regardless of what the consequences of their actions are. We now see it in some progressives’ response to the violence that followed George Floyd protests. The hosts of the Slate podcast What Next argued that “non-violence is an important tool for protests, but so is violence.” As even Vox writer Matthew Yglesias concedes, some circles on the Left cannot bring themselves to denounce vandalism, looting, or theft as unacceptable. Some on the Left cannot or will not conceive that unacceptable and unjust actions could taint a cause they support. They cannot draw distinctions and seek to lead society to enact a worldview in which there are no distinctions.
The Democratic nominee’s recommendation for reforming the police is to train them to “shoot them in the leg instead of the heart.” His previous advice on home security in the face of threats was “Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.” If Joe Biden were not Joe Biden, he would be widely denounced in Democratic circles as just another privileged, out-of-touch older white male who has no idea what he’s talking about, and whose ill-considered advice could get someone killed. But because so many Democrats want to see Biden as a wise oracle — or they hope other people can be fooled into believing he’s a wise oracle — they look at the ceiling or floor and pretend they didn’t hear it. (They’re not alone in this habit; keep reading.)
The Democratic Party believes in the need for higher taxes, except the recent reduction in the state and local tax deduction that hits upper-middle-class and wealthy Americans who live in blue states, which they are determined to repeal. Joe Biden pledges he won’t raise taxes on any middle-class families or individuals making up to $400,000 per year.
The Democratic Party believes in multilateralism or “international cooperation,” but tries not to think much about the absolute dearth of international consensus. They oppose defunding the World Health Organization but have no real plan to make the organization refocus on its core mission or stand up to an uncooperative China. They see the Iraq War as a disastrous failure because of the enormous loss of civilian life and the Syrian Civil War as a success because of the lack of loss of U.S. military lives. (In March, the death toll in Syria was estimated at 581,000 people.) In 2012, they completely believed that worrying about Vladimir Putin was a matter of Republican nostalgia for the 1980s. Democrats believe they are more attentive and engaged in world affairs, but until February, they spent more time at their debates discussing Mike Bloomberg’s soda ban than the coronavirus. Biden’s proposal for dealing with the pandemic at the late February debate was, “I would be on the phone with China making it clear we are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what’s going on. We have to be there with you and insist on it and insist, insist, insist.”
Joe Biden has great faith that if he calls up Xi Jinping and insists upon something, Jinping will grant him his wishes. Remember, Joe Biden is described as a foreign policy “realist.”
The Democratic Party believes in vague, nice-sounding values but has little idea how to put those values into practice. Democrats believe in forms of “tolerance” and “understanding” that are best enabled by the government forcing people to do things that they contend violates their own conscience and religious beliefs. They largely believe companies should fire employees who make controversial remarks. They believe that statements like “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman” and or being “unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage,” represent intolerable bigotry — even through Barack Obama said those words in 2008 and 2011.
They would vehemently object to any older white man who publicly contended he could judge who was authentically black and who wasn’t, even in jest — unless it’s Joe Biden, and then they will grumble for a bit and then drop the issue. Some Democrats believe that Virginia governor Ralph Northam can earn forgiveness, but that Michael Jordan still deserves scorn for not appearing in a television ad for Harvey Gantt.
The Democratic Party’s leadership has a symbiotic relationship with the structures of America’s largest media institutions, a relationship that only became stronger in the era of “#Resistance.” (Think of our recent frequent spectacle of one Cuomo interviewing another.) This means the media cannot play a useful role in correcting the party when it is wrong and steering it away from bad decisions. This means Beto O’Rourke is hailed as an inspiring and accomplished leader, Kirsten Gillbrand is a sensible centrist, and Elizabeth Warren is a strategic planning genius brimming with foresight. Questioning the carefully crafted image of a rising star in Democratic circles must feel like religious apostasy.
Perhaps most significantly, this perpetually reinforcing symbiotic connection means public attention will not be allowed to focus on something like the decisions of Andrew Cuomo, Phil Murphy, and Gretchen Whitmer regarding recovering coronavirus patients and nursing homes. Matters of life and death must take a backseat to the all-consuming narrative of Democratic superiority.
Recent years illuminated the fact that many powerful men who claimed to be feminist also felt free to seek out sexually exploitative relationships with their employees. A pro-life belief was sufficient justification for someone to be accused of being part of a “war on women,” sometimes by politicians or media voices who themselves were reprehensibly predatory towards their subordinates.
The end result is a Democratic Party brimming with self-regard, convinced it is honorably fighting the good fight for lofty ideals, when in practice, it is the Praetorian Guard of a socially cocooned nepotistic aristocracy. A Biden presidency might benefit certain segments of America, but the way the party currently operates, a return to Democratic control of Washington would not benefit America.
But there’s another side to the coin, of course. It can be fairly argued that the modern Republican Party doesn’t stand for much, or perhaps really anything, beyond a nebulous, childish urge to “own the libs.” The GOP sure doesn’t worry about the debt, deficits, or runaway spending anymore. The relentless blanket excuse-making for Trump’s treatment of people — and in particular, women — indicate that many Christian conservatives no longer mean what they say about “family values.” Republicans who claimed they stood for a strong defense have largely nodded as this administration abandoned longtime battlefield allies, praised authoritarian rulers, and discussed withdrawing from NATO entirely. Even on the administration’s signature issue of border security, progress has been small and slow, but few in the GOP ranks would ever publicly criticize the president over it. Most rank-and-file Republicans begin with the conclusion that the president is right about whatever is being discussed at that moment and work backwards from there.
Republican officeholders may have strong beliefs, but if the president blurts out something that is completely contradictory to those professed beliefs, most in the GOP either nod along or look at the floor and pretend they didn’t hear it.
We have two parties who say they believe in particular policies, philosophies, and values, but they abandon any of those at the slightest inconvenience. We are left with two warring tribes that are now mostly cults of personality.
On that happy thought . . . have a good weekend, everybody!
ADDENDUM: Boy, who ever figured that the May unemployment report might include a bit of somewhat good news? “Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate declined to 13.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it. In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade.”