What the Fate of Joe Biden’s Presidency Hinges On

Jan. 20, 2022

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By Matthew Yglesias

“. . . The fate of Mr. Biden’s presidency — and if you believe the dire warnings of many Democrats and academics, of the republic itself — hinges less on the fate of legacy items like Build Back Better or a renewed voting rights act than it does on the normal procession of macroeconomic events. Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, no president has control over them entirely — but pushing for a final version of the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which contains provisions to strengthen the semiconductor supply chain, could be helpful.

It means more attention to classic Biden themes of patriotism, bipartisanship and normalcy, and fewer headlines dominated by high-profile squeeze plays against moderate senators.”

Jonathan Rauch and Peter Wehner | What’s Happening on the Left Is No Excuse for What’s Happening on the Right – The New York Times

“American democracy has often confronted hostile forces from outside the United States; rarely has it been under as much of a threat from forces within the nation. The danger arises from illiberalism on the left and the right. Both sides are chipping away at the foundations of the American Republic; each side seems oblivious to its own defects.

Again and again, we have heard conservatives argue that even if you believe that Donald Trump is flawed and the MAGA movement is worrisome, the left is much more dangerous. We disagree. Fears about the left’s increasingly authoritarian, radical tendencies are well grounded; but they have blinded many conservatives to the greater danger posed by the right, which we believe is a threat to our constitutional order and therefore to conservatism itself.”

Gail and Bret | Welcome to the ‘Well, Now What?’ Stage of the Story – The New York Times

Gail Collins: Bret, I suspect that even some diligent readers roll their eyes and turn the proverbial page when the subject of the filibuster comes up.

Bret Stephens: In the thrills department it ranks somewhere between budget reconciliation and a continuing resolution.

Gail: Yet here we are. Looks like Joe Biden’s voting rights package is doomed because he can’t get 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster. I’m inclined to sigh deeply and then change the subject, but duty prevails.

Bret: It’s another depressing sign of Team Biden’s political incompetence. How did they think it was a good idea for the president to go to Georgia to give his blistering speech on voting rights without first checking with Kyrsten Sinema that she’d be willing to modify the filibuster in order to have a chance of passing the bill? And then there was the speech itself, which struck me as … misjudged. Your thoughts?

Gail: If you mean, was it poorly delivered — well, after all these years we know that’s the Biden Way. He can rise above, as he did with the speech about the Jan. 6 uprising, but it’s not gonna happen a whole lot.

Bret: I meant Biden’s suggestion that anyone who disagreed with him was on the side of Jefferson Davis, George Wallace and Bull Connor. The increasingly casual habit of calling people racist when they disagree with a policy position is the stuff I’ve come to expect from Twitter, not a president who bills himself as a unifier. And again, it’s political malpractice, at least if the aim is to do more than just sound off to impress the progressive base.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT commentd:
Great conversation, thank you Gail and Bret. For me, the zenith was: Gail: Have to admit Harris has never knocked me over as a potential president. And as veep she’s stuck between assignments that nobody could possibly do, like solving the Mexican border crisis, and things she’s just bad at, like some of the inside-the-administration jobs her staff doesn’t seem capable of mastering. A group that is roiled by consistent turnover, by the way. Tell me your thoughts. Bret: Someone told me — it might have been you — that Harris is warm and funny in person. But she’s a lousy politician, and it showed when she flamed out of the Democratic primary before the Iowa caucus. Fixing the border is not mission impossible. It requires a mix of tough-minded security provisions of the sort past Democratic administrations were willing to put into place; ambitious legislative proposals to create broader avenues for legal immigration; a willingness to accept “Remain in Mexico” as an interim policy provided we help the Mexican government ensure humane conditions for migrants; and long-term security and economic assistance for troubled Latin American states.” Gail pitched the ball, and Bret hit the home run. I disagree with Brit that Biden is dead for re-election. He has elder chops. He just has to stay centered, pun intended.
David blogs at InconvientNews.Net.

Jonathan Stevenson and Steven Simon | We Need to Think the Unthinkable About Our Country – The New York Times

“A right-wing minority — including many elected politicians — is now practicing a form of brinkmanship by threatening to unilaterally destroy American democracy, daring what they hope is a timid and somnolent majority to resist them. But that majority has the benefit of warning ahead of 2024.

It behooves us to prepare our defenses for the worst. Understandably, the policy focus is now on pre-empting a right-wing steal in the next national election. But success will depend crucially on factors that are beyond control — the midterm elections this year and the identity of the Republican candidate in 2024 — which suggest that focus is misplaced. And even if a steal is thwarted, success might not preclude a coercive challenge of the election results; quite to the contrary, it would provoke one.

War games, tabletop exercises, operations research, campaign analyses, conferences and seminars on the prospect of American political conflagration — including insurrection, secession, insurgency and civil war — should be proceeding at a higher tempo and intensity. Scholars of American politics need to pick up the torch from experts on the democratic decline in Europe, who first raised the alarm about growing dangers to American politics. The very process of intellectual interaction and collaboration among influential analysts of different political stripes could reconcile many of them to the undesirability of political upheaval, and thus decrease its likelihood.

The overarching idea is, publicly and thoroughly, to probe just how bad things could get precisely to ensure that they never do, and that America’s abject political decay is averted.” -30-

Ezra Klein | Steve Bannon Is On to Something – The New York Times

“. . .  There are people working on a Plan B. This week, I half-jokingly asked Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, what it felt like to be on the front lines of protecting American democracy. He replied, dead serious, by telling me what it was like. He spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers.

I’ll say this for the right: They pay attention to where the power lies in the American system, in ways the left sometimes doesn’t. Bannon calls this “the precinct strategy,” and it’s working. “Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local G.O.P. headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers,” ProPublica reports. “They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.”

The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding — myself included — reminds me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics.”

Merrick Garland Vows to Pursue Jan. 6 Inquiry ‘at Any Level’ – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Facing criticism from Democrats and a few Republicans to hold former President Donald J. Trump accountable for his role in inspiring the riot at the Capitol, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland vowed on Wednesday that the Justice Department would pursue wrongdoing “at any level,” saying he would defend democratic institutions from attack and threats of violence.

“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” Mr. Garland said in a speech to commemorate the anniversary of the riot, when Mr. Trump’s supporters ransacked the Capitol in a bid to stop the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election victory.”

 Republicans for Democracy – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

Republicans for Democracy

Liz Cheney opposes most abortions and most gun control. She favors tax cuts for the wealthy and expanded drilling for oil. The right-wing Family Research Council has given her voting record a perfect score. Her political hero is her hawkish father, who was the architect of the second Iraq War.

This description may remind you why you loathe Cheney or have long admired her. Either way, it helps explain why she has become such an important figure for the future of American democracy.

Today is the first anniversary of the violent attack on the Capitol, by a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters who were trying to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election. The mob smashed windows and threatened the vice president and members of Congress. Seven people died as a result of the attack, including three police officers.

The Jan. 6 attack was part of a larger anti-democracy movement in the U.S. In the year since, the movement — which is closely aligned with the Republican Party — has changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. The movement’s supporters justify these actions with lies about voter fraud

Encouraged by Trump, other Republican politicians and conservative media stars, the anti-democratic movement is following a playbook used by authoritarians in other countries, both recently and historically. The movement is trying to use existing democratic laws — on vote counting and election certification, for example — to unravel democracy.

“We are in a terrible situation in which one of two major parties is no longer committed to playing by democratic rules,” Steven Levitsky — a political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die” with his Harvard colleague Daniel Ziblatt — told me. “No other established Western democracy faces such a threat today, not this acutely anyway.”

(Related: “I fear for our democracy,” former President Jimmy Carter writes in Times Opinion.)

The experience of other countries does offer some lessons about how to defeat anti-democratic movements. The most successful approach involves building coalitions of people who disagree, often vehemently, on many issues but who all believe in democracy.”

Rebecca Solnit | Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies – The New York Times

Ms. Solnit is a political essayist.

“When called upon to believe that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya, millions got in line. When encouraged to believe that the 2012 Sandy Hook murder of twenty children and six adults was a hoax, too many stepped up. When urged to believe that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor with no basement, they bought it, and one of them showed up in the pizza place with a rifle to protect the kids. The fictions fed the frenzies, and the frenzies shaped the crises of 2020 and 2021. The delusions are legion: Secret Democratic cabals of child abusers, millions of undocumented voters, falsehoods about the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine.

While much has been said about the moral and political stance of people who support right-wing conspiracy theories, their gullibility is itself alarming. Gullibility means malleability and manipulability. We don’t know if the people who believed the prevailing 2012 conspiracy theories believed the 2016 or 2020 versions, but we do know that a swath of the conservative population is available for the next delusion and the one after that. And on Jan. 6, 2021, we saw that a lot of them were willing to act on those beliefs.

The adjective gullible comes from the verb to gull, which used to mean to cram yourself with something as well as to cheat or dupe, to cram someone else full of fictions. “Not doubting I could gull the Government,” wrote Daniel Defoe in 1701, and Hannah Arendt used the word gullible repeatedly in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published in 1951. “A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility,” she wrote. That is, among those gulling the public, cynicism is a stronger force; among those being gulled, gullibility is, but the two are not so separate as they might seem.”

America’s Anti-Democratic Movement – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“American politics these days can often seem fairly normal. President Biden has had both big accomplishments and big setbacks in his first year, as is typical. In Congress, members are haggling over bills and passing some of them. At the Supreme Court, justices are hearing cases. Daily media coverage tends to reflect this apparent sense of political normalcy.

But American politics today is not really normal. It may instead be in the midst of a radical shift away from the democratic rules and traditions that have guided the country for a very long time.

An anti-democratic movement, inspired by Donald Trump but much larger than him, is making significant progress, as my colleague Charles Homans has reported. In the states that decide modern presidential elections, this movement has already changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. It has justified the changes with blatantly false statements claiming that Biden did not really win the 2020 election.

The movement has encountered surprisingly little opposition. Most leading Republican politicians have either looked the other way or supported the anti-democratic movement. In the House, Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from a leadership position because she called out Trump’s lies.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you David Leonhardt. You wrote: “This is a five-alarm fire,” Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, who presided over the 2020 vote count there, told The Times. “If people in general, leaders and citizens, aren’t taking this as the most important issue of our time and acting accordingly, then we may not be able to ensure democracy prevails again in ’24.” It sounds like a five-alarm fire to me. We will all have to interrupt our other agendas, and deal with this.

Greg Weiner | There Is Another Democrat A.O.C. Should Be Mad At – The New York Times

Mr. Weiner is a political scientist who was a senior Senate aide to Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska.

“Progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives can be forgiven their anxiety about whether Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will support the more than $1.8 trillion Build Back Better plan. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, for example, rues the two senators’ outsize influence, while her colleague Rashida Tlaib of Michigan worries that Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema are “corporate Dems” led astray by special interests.

But if disappointed progressives are looking for a Democrat to blame, they should consider directing their ire toward one of their party’s founders: James Madison. Madison’s Constitution was built to thwart exactly what Democrats have been attempting: a race against time to impose vast policies with narrow majorities. Madison believed that one important function of the Constitution was to ensure sustained consensus before popular majorities could prevail.

Democrats do represent a popular majority now. But for Madison, that “now” is the problem: He was less interested in a snapshot of a moment in constitutional time than in a time-lapse photograph showing that a majority had cohered. The more significant its desires, Madison thought, the longer that interval of coherence should be. The monumental scale of the Build Back Better plan consequently raises a difficult Madisonian question: Is a fleeting and narrow majority enough for making history?”