(Political punditry is something I once did for a living. This “futurism” is intended more as a parody and entertainment than the real deal. Though I think there are some salient points here, no idealogical points are intended. It’s just supposed to be fun, folks.)
By Robert Frump
Looking back at it all, the election surprises were two-fold and profound.
First, there was by mid-September a Republican party just as confused by the fall of Donald Trump as by his rise in 2016 – the rise caused by the man’s genius for programming and the fall prompted by an inability to find that critical fifth season magic.
President Trump, who had delivered on most all of his pledges to his base, then beaten back the worst of the impeachment impact, and done a reasonably good job at managing the plague-ridden economy, had had the chance to expand his support via an idea he had toyed with, then abandoned: The War Time Presidency.
In that new programming, Trump would have fought Covid 19 mano a virus – with a firm jaw and firmer hand that put national purpose, unity and pride front and forward with Trump’s border, China-trade and ethnic issues downplayed.
That programming, some would say later, could have saved the campaign by bringing swing and indie voters back as fans – or at least blunted their anti-Trump sentiment – while his base with a wink and a nudge remained loyal.
All it took was a coherent anti-Covid 19 leadership offensive. The President’s pro-economy, quick-opening instincts might have meshed well with a Swedish-type “herd immunity” approach where the young worked and the old were protected – all fueled by subsidies funded by printed money, all avoiding the Swedish mistakes that hurt the elderly.
But in entertainment terms, he faced not just a programming challenge but a casting dilemma. Just as Henry Winkler could for decades not find work outside “Fonz” roles, Donald Trump seemed forever cast as an outsider struggling against critics. Or as a trickster. His trial audition as a war-time president seemed not to fit and ran only from March 18 through March 24. By June, Biden was countering: “The war time president has surrendered” to Covid 19.
Instead of new casting, the President then fell back on and increased what worked before – attacks and an extreme “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality. While he fought the economic fight robustly, the public health program seemed less than anemic.
Those who wanted to wear a mask could but he was uncertain even suspicious of the policies of the federal government. It was if Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, and the president announced the public more or less could not trust his generals but had a variety of choices in how the citizenry personally might respond to the threat, depending on how they felt about the whole thing on one day or the other.
And in a rare error of programming judgment, he rammed this confusion home through daily “briefings” that switched points day-to-day.
This baffled the general public, desperate for a national leadership, and fed confusion among Trump voters over 60 who were vulnerable to the virus and tuning in now to Trump critiques.
Worse, the virus rebounded but the economy did not. It trended to U shape – not the favored steep V.
As the Fall approached, all polls aside, seven of the 13 “Lichtman factors” for the defeat of an incumbent were checked off one after another.
- Poor short term economy.
- Poor long term economy compared to previous administration.
- Lost the House in mid-terms.
- Social unrest.
- Foreign military failures and withdrawal.
- No national hero in office.
The result was that the Republican Senate found itself with one foot on the dock and one on the boat, caught between a commitment to Trump and the newly unpopular manifestation of Trump.
And as the returns came in, one Republican senate candidate after another toppled into the water. In Maine, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and even Kansas, Democratic senators were elected, giving the Dems control with the vice president deciding any tie votes.
Nationally, it was a routing.
No “blue tide” was needed, only a good black turnout in the swing state cities and a low turnout of Trump marginal voters who felt not so much betrayed but depressed by the performance of Trumpism. Republicans turned out in fewer numbers than the Romney election while Democrats equaled the Obama 2008 performance.
The results produced the second big surprise: a potential mandate not seen since the New Deal era and the Lyndon Johnson days of 1964. People wanted robust national action.
But had the election produced the leaders who could go through the door of the mandate?
Voters quickly discovered that they had elected kindly old Uncle Joe – but also had selected a masterful, hard-nosed politician whose knowledge of the inner workings of the Senate and House re-instated working coalitions. Biden had thrived in the senate as someone who delivered deals – for aircraft carriers, women’s right, and police funding. Kamala Harris as vice president also was a vetted wheeler and dealer open for new business. Biden and Harris together were proudly pragmatic pols of the William James school: Truth is that which works. They did not apologize for playing politics – if it worked for overall good.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell won re-election to the senate but his leadership effectiveness was gelded as Republican Senators cast about in this new no-Trump world. They found Biden and Harris ready to help – with plenty of funding for plenty of jobs. In a Covid 19 world, Medicaid in Red States suddenly seemed like common sense and the South sought federal funding at levels rivaled only by the TVA Great Depression era. Bridges, airports, tunnels, solar, wind power. The Biden Team made deal after deal. There were no idealistically unacceptable jobs. The jobs were the ideal.
The mandates for government aid were pushed far more by public opinion than any left-agenda – the bugaboo of the right. The aid was now the norm. The Biden-expanded version of Obama Care verged on and nearly merged with Medicare for All. The public, exposed to the threat of Covid 19, simply was ready finally and forever for a national medical program. Government as the enemy as a concept was birthed by Reagan. It was killed by Covid.
The same held for massive public works infrastructure work programs reminiscent of FDR’s, aimed not just at climate change initiatives but basic structures such as dams, roads, rail and parks.
And the plague?
The new team might not admit it but they were greatly aided by Trump-era initiatives. Vaccines began to come online in late 2020.
But in other ways, the Biden Administration innovated in ways Trump could not. There were public-funded programs that employed “bubble” environment techniques and robust testing to allow the economy to re-open with the least vulnerable workers leading the charge. The same way the NBA “came back” in a minor way, industries bounced back nationwide.
Simultaneously, the retirement age was dropped to 60 and publicly funded programs protected the elderly – in a manner that Sweden did not at first – as the economy revived. This lowered retirement age both stimulated the demand for younger workers to fill the void left by retiring senior citizens while guarding older citizens from the virus. Historians noted that the original Social Security was designed as much to help young men find jobs than give elders a dignified rest.
The “across the aisles” programs meshed some on all these fronts but Biden also made sure the conservatives had their own bragging rights.
One program “re-funded the police” – as the Biden team phrased it – by actually increasing police budgets tied to community policing while providing new, strict engagement guidelines and training in de-escalation and non-lethal intervention. The story in both parties was about creating jobs not “defunding” anything. Many of the new jobs were in inner cities and Black Lives Matter could agree that black jobs mattered too. Thy supported the initiative.
Another program dealt with guaranteed income – an idea popularized by Yang but originated as a “negative income tax” by conservatives under Nixon – and applied it on a massive scale. The program was seen both as a means to fight racist inequality and poverty while also allowing free enterprise and individual choice to flourish.
The challenges for Biden? They were two-fold.
The danger of Inflation was fueled as the fed decided to continue to print money and the government expanded deficits. The policy was accepted by a public experiencing a restored economy and employment – and no hyperinflation in the short term.
But the specter remained. What lay ahead past the first 100 days was still unknown.
Moreover, the jury remained out on Modern Monetary Theory and the wisdom of the “owls” (as opposed to deficient “hawks” and “doves”) who said deficits could be responsibly paid off through printing money and therefore so long as an economy expanded, debt and deficits meant little. Was this a path to a new wonder economy? Or the Weimar Republic Effect?
The second problem — oddly perhaps – still dealt with Donald Trump.
And where was he 100 days into 2021?
He thrived still as an entertainer, and he stayed in the headlines and on cable.
As to his longer term fate? A half dozen state attorneys general began circling Trump Tower once Trump left the White House and could be criminally indicted. Some action seemed certain. On tax shelters. Sexual assault. Non-profit foundation fraud. Illegal campaign contributions.
And this now presented President Biden his very own Gerald Ford moment.
For the good of the nation and precedent, should he pardon Trump? As Ford did Nixon?
Long term, history had been kind to Ford. The idea of criminally removing a president could be said to undermine democracy. The man even received the Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award for that self-sacrificial reasoning and foresight.
But current affairs had been cruel to Ford and lead to his defeat. Voters similarly might well punish Biden and the Democrats in the 2022 midterms or 2024. Moreover, Biden often had condemned Trump not just for his politics but for his existential threat to democracy and the Constitution – near traitorous actions, he implied. Did one pardon traitorous actions?
It was a dilemma for Joe.
It became more complicated as Trump morphed as he often had from one political spectrum to another.
“I’ve been thinking a lot, and Kanye says it’s a good idea, of running with him on a third party ticket in 2024, with black rights as a priority. I was always the best president for blacks in American history after Lincoln anyway,” he said.
Foolish talk perhaps but not his most foolish and he had before parlayed one foolish moment and another into triumph. The Kanye move could upend the new Democrat’s majority if West actually got on the ballot this time.
It is uncertain still. It might happen. It might not.
Donald Trump, as Donald Trump always said, was of course always open to the right deal.