How Trump, then Biden double failures propel savvy, non-stop reformers
America, so it goes, rarely votes FOR a president: nearly all recent national elections are rejections of the unthinkable, the unbearable or the repulsive. Even in ‘16, in enough key states the played-out Hilary was more disliked (thus immense party no shows) than Trump was admired or trusted (thus his dire rangebound support). Never once holding majority support tells the default Trump tale. Obama was the rare exception as he was liked and Romney not hated.
2020 perfectly sets up vast multitudes rushing to rout Trump, to make clear to ourselves and the world the deviant, minority impulse for an unqualified, untested fraud was a catastrophic mistake – one that demands both concession and correction. This is a pulverize-Trump election, not a Biden-the-savior play. Disgusted believers in America, who can’t stand Trump, his know-nothing suckers, billionaire backers, or slavish, criminal lackeys, will make their votes count this time. Compared to Obama, this election is not about youth or energy, even inspiring new vision – simply embracing Biden as the right comfort food at the right time – a relief after stomach-churning vileness. And that is what it is – no more, no less. Dump Trump for a known, cautious centrist who won’t thrill progressive reformers but won’t directly offend them – without sticking fingers in screaming rightwing faces.
Because the pro-Biden surge is more about routing Trump, this likely new winner enters with mercifully low expectations, thus toning down disappointment. Between Biden’s centrism, and the residual Trump yahoos out to torpedo any Democrat, restoring the battered (still defective) status quo will take time. Progressives know we need a New New Deal, the start of a new Progressive Era, but Biden is no FDR and the national coherence of the 1930’s is a hard dream away, at least four years off. To expect systemic reform from Biden is naive but to envision him as a stepping stone is good strategy.
The available 1-2 punch
When two different kinds of insufficiency are transparently visible (the brutality of Trump followed by the half-a-loaf Biden), is it not reasonable for the majority to ask: “what other historic venues are there?” How can we reconcile bloated military and police budgets with bad taxation, gross inequality of income and assets, if not institutionalized discrimination at play? Can four years of a softer inadequacy begin to convince the majority, “this failed, and this failed, why not try what redeemed America after the similar Great Depression?”
Trump and Biden, mercifully, won’t let down in the same ways—and after the Yahoo-in-chief, the average joes will rise like giants. The pandemic and great jobs depression won’t vanish, taking a good year just to dig out from massive Trump garbage heaps. But with incremental improvements, buoyed by a stable Biden interregnum, today’s savvy protest-reformers could in four years enjoy a once-a-generation opening to make substantial, longterm changes. In short, my admittedly optimistic lurch from infamy to stability to opportunity.
Though promising major climate initiatives, rational environmental rules, wider education and health care options, Biden won’t have the clout to more than re-set the direction. Monumental broken systems are too vast, spanning the health delivery system, bloated, out of sync militarism, institutionalized racism and the worst class/income inequality since the 1920’s. Even a Democratic Senate will forever battle rightwing dinosaurs with prehistoric obsessions. No president, especially lacking charisma, high persuasive skills, the inspirational force of an Obama—and without an historic vote of national confidence—can do more than get the ball rolling.
Four years of healing
And yet, another four years of hard, opportunistic, progressive organizing—alongside red flashing lights from scientific experts on disease, pollution, food supplies and climate—could work to unify the country so that systemic change is possible. If not, then we will have squandered eight years—four of despicably self-inflicted wounds and four of time-wasting mediocity. You don’t have to love Biden to see him as a bridge from nowhere good to the horizon of positive chances.
In their own ways, Trump and Biden represent the core of each national party’s outdated governance mindset. Trump, the ultimate Republican, executing the criminal, calculated sabotage of state and federal government so that big, old money —from miners, ranchers, oil drillers and real estate developers to hedge fund financiers, Wall St. investors, top CEOs and international corporations/monopolies—can muck about without annoying intervention, regulation, or fair redistribution of ill-gained wealth. In short, government not as protecting rights or leveling the playing field but shielding inequality and mass exploitation, with loopholes, bailouts, subsidies and refusals to indict lawless, anti-social behavior.
With Bidenism, we’ll have incremental, ever-cautious Democratic-style modifications (except perhaps on climate if pushed hard by a vocal majority)—Obama centrism without the charm, oratory or quick intelligence. Biden will rail against racism and the oppressed bottom half, mouthing more genuine populism than Trump’s demagogic scams. Biden will advance immigration policies, certainly restoration of DACA; save the post office, even curb woeful militarism in unwinnable conflicts; Biden won’t roll over to rightwing Israeli politics. Tax the rich: sure, but not too much; tax stock transactions, hell, the rich can afford that much. Talk about internet privacy and octopus-like dominance, even break up the worst offenders for old times sake. Biden will renew historic foreign alliances, even mend the Chinese linkage; he will restore crudely exiled international agreements, try to claw back into the Asia trade talks and instantly rejoin the Paris climate accords and standards.
Not quite down and out, not yet
Believe it or not, America will survive both the Trump circus mayhem and all too calm Biden waters. Trumpism, a belligerently nasty sludge of the Tea Party, will be hard to kill. By the beginning of President Biden’s first term, we could have some vaccine with better treatments, so a marginal economic recovery is plausible. Already in play with Bernie in the lead, Biden will face inexorable, constant pressure to honor high-sounding progressive promises. Neither Sanders nor Warren, plus current and new progressive faces, will relent, working hard to dominate a new party that must change or fade as Rethuglicans are doing.
A Biden term offers the left prime time to up pressure tactics. No one thought the Green New Deal wouldn’t take decades, just like any New New Deal. Would anyone be amazed if old Biden only served a single term? That fosters a functional hand off to younger, more energetic, more visionary, even more politically agile national leaders. So, let’s assume the polls hold firm and Biden the left-sounding centrist takes over just in time so that for four years only zealots will doubt how Democrats differ from Trumpists.
Though not without shock and awe, to survive the Trump rampage is to overcome the worst—and somehow crawl out the back. Not that intact survival is assured, but a steady interim allows us to move away from nightmare (or worse, another four years). No, Biden is no messiah, but simply the current lever that repudiates Trump and forces a re-set. Biden stability may just be adequate enough to show that America is capable of redirecting towards “a more perfect union.” No guarantees and I know fearful cynics are breathing down my neck. But so is a positive five year plan that resurrects the key worth of government so that a truly brilliant leader in four years begins to redeem this wobbly, but not quite terminated experiment in the politics of democratic chaos.