The pandemic has a way of putting a spotlight on things that otherwise are sufficiently in the background that we don’t have occasion to think about them.
Given the recent accounts of various entities trying to create operational rules for distributing vaccines, I started thinking about the nature of rules themselves. Not exactly the question of how to distribute vaccines—although that is of course interesting—but more the underlying nature of rules. I was struck by the fact that whatever the choice, it would be imperfect. Not just because there are arguments for alternative choices. There is also the reality that the very nature of making rules for vaccine distribution will no doubt create some individual situations that, from other perspectives, seem patently nuts.
This has been a hard blog to actually get posted. It is the fourth one I have started in the new year. Reality has simply moved too fast. It is also the case that some things on my mind were well stated by others. Two articles of particular merit are Timothy Synder’s piece in the New York Times and Dahleen Glanton’s column in the Chicago Tribune, which was like she had bugged my brain. While these are both behind paywalls, I suspect those of you who want to chase them down will find a way.
But today I want to reflect on one particular fallout from the craziness at the Capitol—the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. I am not sure this is a good idea.
Today’s post had two inspirations—the “In the Weeds” podcast interview of economist Karl Smith and a YouTube video of a discussion between Van Jones and S.E. Culp hosted by David Axelrod at the University of Chicago Institute for Politics. The first was done just after the recent election and the latter is from early 2017.
In both discussions the issue of jobs was front and center. This isn’t surprising. In the broader human vista, how people work not only defines “the economy” but it defines the nature of the entire society. While it is possible to think about “non-work” activities in a society, we all realize that the economic realm so heavily dictates the terms of the rest of life that the difference is reflective rather than fundamental. What seems to be most fundamental is having—or not having—a job.
This is why discussions about “the economy” quickly become discussions about jobs. Jobs are deemed crucial because, in an instrumental sense, a job is a gateway to the sharing of society’s resources. But that’s tied to an overwhelming moral element. A job is how we decide who is contributing and who’s a slacker, who’s worthy and who isn’t. At some primordial level we still believe that doing the work of society is the most important part of participating in that society.
The bitter fight over the ACA was never a fight about healthcare policy. The healthcare plan that Obama proposed was based on the plan developed by the American Heritage Foundation for Bob Dole to offer as the Republican alternative to the Clinton plan. It was actually implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts and universally considered a success. The issue was always whether the Republicans were going to let the Democrats implement it.
On the one hand, there was the absolute relief of Bidden winning the election. That was a very happy moment.
But, at the same time, it was necessary to deal with the fact that more people voted for Donald Trump this time than last time.
This did more than confound my imagination. It brought me to near emotional paralysis. I had expected to see a measurable decline in support. I needn’t reiterate all the things he did wrong or all the people who thought he was a menace to democracy. Never in my life has there been such an array of the other party’s officials—including many who actually worked in his administration—warning against their candidate’s re-election. Or a president whose brazen incompetence caused so much tangible damage. But it didn’t seem to make much difference.
Even before the onslaught of Trump’s hallucinatory complaints about the election, and the shocking unwillingness of Republic leaders to clarify the status of the emperor’s clothing, I was sunk into depression. It is incontrovertible that the county is split in two.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but maybe we do need to start taking the possibility of a Biden victory seriously. I am not saying we shouldn’t continue worrying—like we could stop worrying even if we wanted to?—but the polling is solid and there are lots of signs of various Republicans trying to put some distance between themselves and Trump.
So, what should we do if we win?
The whole answer is long and has many facets. I smell grist for upcoming posts. But there is one thing that may require a more or less immediate direction, a stimulus package.
Like most of America, I can’t wait for the election to be over. I am accustomed to thinking a lot about politics, but this is crazy. It feels like every waking minute. And the cognitive dissonance is psychically exhausting. Everything tangible suggests a substantial Democratic victory. As I write FiveThirtyEight says Democrats flip the Senate 3 out of 4 times and Biden wins 5 out of 6 times, the latter I can’t help but notice, being the same odds you get in Russian roulette. The likelihood of a Biden win corresponds with my own sense of the world. I have never seen an election where so many high-ranking Republicans, including several ex-cabinet members of the sitting president, are refusing to endorse their candidate, or actually endorsing his opponent. Truth is, from my perspective, this president is so conspicuously unfit for the office and so utterly indifferent to democratic norms that the fact he’s even competitive is beyond my imagination. Surely enough people see this.
But I still can’t shed the fear, the anxiety. What if there are really enough people in the country who hate whatever I stand for so much that they would still vote for Trump? What if there are large pockets of Trump voters in swing states unwilling to tell pollsters who they are really going to vote for? What if enough voters in Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Philly don’t want to wade through all the obstacles the Republicans have created? It isn’t just the uncertainty of how the election will turn out. It is the continual nagging questions of how could people have such different perceptions and is there any way of having real conversations about the direction of the country.
I wrote the first draft of this post about three weeks ago. I was surprised at the number of friends who were at least flirting with the idea that, no matter what was the underlying will of the people, Donald Trump would simply refuse to recognize the results and chaos would ensue. I acknowledged there was concern, but I thought they were overstating the problem.
Things have happened since then. I still believe we will not fall into this tar pit, although my confidence ebbs and flows depending on the day. However, as much as the specific risks, I am alarmed at the broader consequences of the deterioration of public trust. At least one survey reports that half of the country believes Trump would refuse to accept a narrow defeat.
This is the third of three posts on why I think the Republican Party must be electorally annihilated.
The first two posts made the argument that the Republican Party no longer had moral claim to be one of the parties in America’s two-party system. These arguments did not mention Donald Trump. I believe Trump is a symptom—a particularly toxic symptom to be sure—but not the fundamental reason for the Republicans’ loss of legitimacy in the American system.
I don’t want to downplay the outrageous excesses of Donald Trump. In private, even Republican legislators shake their heads and roll their eyes at Trump. But however awful Trump is—and he is a real threat to democracy–the more important point for this argument is that he is in fact the logical end point of today’s Republican Party.