This video is long, but if you really want to get a sense of where President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are in terms of their approach to America’s place in the world–and the interrelationship between foreign policy and our nation’s families–it’s well-worth watching.
I’m thinking not only of American readers of my blog who may not have seen this presentation, but also our many friends around the world who have been fearful and flabbergasted as they’ve watched the current administration over the past four years.
The individuals in the above video are the choices to handle foreign affairs and national security, although some critical positions, such as Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA, haven’t yet been filled.
The emphasis is on diplomacy, and I view the inclusion of John Kerry in a newly created Cabinet-level post as US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate as a very welcome, important addition, showing the Biden administration’s seriousness on this most critical issue that must be addressed yesterday!
These people show that Biden prizes knowledge, governmental experience, and independent thinking. Keeping in mind the huge dilemmas that face him and us, I am not at all put off that Biden has selected people whom he knows well, who have solid relationships worldwide, and have previously received security clearance, meaning they’ll be ready on Day One (which means they’ve already begun working).
I expect some fresh new faces will be included when subsequent appointments are announced–though perhaps not on the Cabinet level.
Add to these appointees the previous announcements of Ron Klain as Chief of Staff, which gained nearly universal acclaim, and Janet Yellen, former Chair of the Federal Reserve, as Secretary of the Treasury, a choice that excited both Senator Elizabeth Warren and the stock market, and I think we’re starting off very well.
If you watch the video, you’ll hear some extraordinary personal stories from Antony Blinken, appointed Secretary of State, Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations, a position that now has Cabinet level status.
And you’ll meet Avril Haines, the first woman to be appointed Director of National Intelligence, as she tells the President-elect that she will deliver hard truths that he won’t always want to hear, and that she knows from working with him that he welcomes her doing so and will depend upon it. (Haines is such a fascinating person, a sort of Leonardo da Vinci in terms of her interests and capabilities, that I’m including this article about her.)
Now we just have to hope that the Senate, ideally with a Democratic majority, will act like a fair, truly deliberative body that defers to the President on his choices and confirm these highly qualified public servants. (Klain, Kerry, and Jake Sullivan, who will serve as National Security Advisor, do not need Senate approval.)
“America is back!” the President-elect told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview. He’s certainly doing his best to make that happen–while consistently and wisely stressing that we’re not going back to what was, that we need new thinking for the problems we face.
And I, watching these masked and socially distanced individuals, and continuing to hear each speaker greet “Madam Vice President-elect,” am filled with hope and gratitude right now.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, and cheers to those of you elsewhere in the world.
I began this post hoping to find some information to help me fathom these election results—and then present what I’ve learned to you in the hope that you’ll respond with your insights.
How can we explain Donald Trump’s vote total in the midst of the pandemic—among other things?
But along the way, the picture got considerably murkier. So I’m going to present some of what I’ve seen to date, along with my tentative sense that maybe it’s too soon for this exploration—or maybe the topic is way more complex than a blog post can bear (which admittedly hasn’t stopped me before)—or some variation of an old joke: how many economists does it take to interpret which data to help us figure out what’s really going on? I don’t even quote all the ones I’ve just come across.
Thomas Frank published “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” in 2004. He was grappling with the reasons that his native state, which toward the end of the 19th century had been a “hotbed” of left-wing populism, had become so conservative.
Frank saw the shift from an emphasis on economic equality to a focus on abortion, gay marriage, and the demonization of those termed the “liberal elites.” Not incidentally, fiscal conservatism had won the day. The result, Frank concluded, was that Kansans voted for politicians whose support of economic policies was against their own interests.
“What’s the Matter With America?”
When Frank’s book was published in England and Australia, it bore the title: “What’s the Matter With America?”
I thought of all this when I read a Washington Post article bearing the headline: “Biden won places that are thriving. Trump won ones that are hurting.”
The sub headline reads: “In a trend that’s been unfolding since 2000, Democrats continue to gain votes in prosperous, highly educated urban areas. Republicans are gaining in small cities and rural communities.”
I remain enormously grateful for the Biden-Harris win, which was substantial. I’m especially grateful to the Black women and other people of color who made it possible—and it’s well past time that we finally and fully address their legitimate grievances, which should at last be viewed as America’s grievances. Of course those voters ranged widely in their socioeconomic status: they don’t neatly fit into the picture the Post has described.
But I also think we need to examine the divergent voting trends closely if we have any hope of forging enough of a governing coalition to last us for years and allow us to accomplish the critical work of economic and social justice—even after the pandemic is at last under control.
The Post article points out that the election results flipped the usual assumption:
“Are you better off than you were four years ago? That question has been at the heart of presidential campaigns since President Ronald Reagan first asked it in 1980. The general thinking has been that voters who are doing well would vote to reelect a sitting president.
“That’s not what happened in 2020.
“This time around, those who were better off voted for a change in the White House.
“The parts of America that have seen strong job, population and economic growth in the past four years voted for Joe Biden, economic researchers found. In contrast, President Trump garnered his highest vote shares in counties that had some of the most sluggish job, population and economic growth during his term.”
We knew that Trump would attract more of the rural vote and those who were less educated. It’s still hard for many of us, myself included, to comprehend how anyone other than his most rabid cultists could vote for a man whom we see as a racist, corrupt, inept demagogue who came close to destroying our democracy—and bears considerable responsibility for the deaths of several hundred thousand people.
Exit polls did indicate that education and race were the strongest indicators of how people voted, but closely behind was a county’s economic status. Those findings were also offered by economist James Chung of StratoDem Analytics. Based on these data, the Post asserts that those votes didn’t follow good economic performance.
Sure looks like folks were voting against their own self-interest. And the fact that many are hurting economically and are less well-educated probably makes them more likely to be bitter and angry. These are the people who depend upon manufacturing, construction, and energy, the Post points out.
A Quickening National Trend
The Post observes that these results are the continuation of a trend since the turn of the century (which, I note, fits in with Thomas Frank’s findings about Kansas).
Since 2000, Democrats have made election gains in densely populated and affluent urban areas, while Republicans prevailed in rural areas and smaller cities.
But the pace seems to be quickening. George Bush in 2000 won 2,417 counties, amounting to 45% of the US economy; Al Gore won 666 counties comprising 55%—not a vast split.
In contrast, according to a Brookings Institution analysis this year, Biden won 490 counties holding 70% of the US economy, while Trump won 2,534 counties—slightly less than 30% of the entire economy. (By comparison, Hillary Clinton won counties accounting for about 64% of the US economy.)
Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution told the Post:“This is not a scenario for economic consensus.”
According to the Post,
“The United States is transforming into a knowledge and digital economy, and the political map appears to be shifting with it. Some call it the urban versus rural divide, but it is also a digital versus blue-collar split.”
“After the worst of the downturn in April, many of the most affected red counties recovered far more swiftly than blue counties did. By September, as unemployment fell nearly everywhere, blue counties were more likely to have higher unemployment rates.”
This article seems intuitively right, as we know that Black, brown, and indigenous people have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic in terms of both their personal and economic health. And service jobs in blue areas have suffered greatly, some to extinction.
As the pandemic spreads, in a few months we may see those red state areas that haven’t yet been badly affected economically find themselves in more dire conditions.
I’m not tempted to conclude that Democrats voted against their economic interests. They seem to have had concerns other than the economy on their minds—say, the pandemic and racial justice. (I say that with full awareness of my biases…)
A Few More Brush Strokes to Add to the Picture
Here are two more interesting ideas to add to the mix. Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times columnist, offered “A Simple Theory of Why Trump Did Well.”
He says, “It’s the Money, Stupid.”
Trump signed the Cares Act and, in a clever marketing ploy befitting an egomaniac (my description, not Bouie’s), had his Sharpie signature writ large on those checks.
Lost on those voters was the fact that the legislation originated with the House Democrats, who fought for it against Republican opposition, including Trump’s.
The voters just knew they’d gotten real money in their pockets. (Bouie’s piece is also worth reading for his assessments of other “perceived wisdoms” about the election.)
Another interesting fact is found in a Politico article by Jack Herrera that explains how carefully Trump targeted certain groups of Latino voters, which helped him win Florida and hold Texas.
Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate in 100 years to win Zapata County, Texas—and that county is more than 90% Latino or Hispanic.
Reading my mind, Herrera states:
“To many outsiders, these results were confounding: How could Trump, one of the most virulently anti-immigrant leaders, make inroads with so many Latinos, and along the Mexican border, no less?”
The answer: the Latino vote is not monolithic. As the chair of the Starr County Republican Party in Texas says, “Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.”
They see themselves as red blooded Americans whose concerns include the oil and gas industry, gun rights, and even abortion. Thus, attempts by Democrats to woo Latino or Hispanic voters without recognizing the particular concerns of the specific community are doomed to failure.
How Do We Proceed?
I recognize that these articles simplify the voters and circumstances on both sides. In addition to the hard core Trump idolators who are probably lost to the Democrats forever (fine!), those 71+ million include the very wealthy who don’t want taxes/regulation, the fence-sitters who were frightened by the disinformation about Biden’s alleged socialism, etc.
I think it’s important that we continue to try to peel away the parts of that 71+ million who are “gettable.” And a big chunk of them are in rural America.
“Democrats need to figure out what their positive and inclusive vision is that speaks to rural America,” said Kenan Fikri, research director of the Economic Innovation Group. “Democrats really didn’t make inroads into rural America this time around.”
Biden is doing the right thing, I believe, by stressing jobs in rural communities and among laborers who are hurting. Concerns about the closings of rural hospitals and lack of access to broadband are also the kind of issues with appeal.
All this will be possible with a Democratic Senatorial majority, so we must continue to hope for that (and donate, write postcards, make phone calls, do whatever we can to help Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia.) Otherwise, it becomes much more difficult.
I’m not suggesting that we slack off one whit in engaging more young people, Black and brown people, and others who’ve voted rarely or not at all. We must do both–and continue fighting against voter suppression and gerrymandering.
I’m going to defer to Biden’s oft-stated conviction that he gets along with people because though he questions their positions, he never questions their motives. (Before you start yelling at me, I’m simply saying I think it’s good he can do that!)
The numbers in the articles I’ve cited may present a confusing picture, but regardless, they suggest to me that if the Biden administration is to succeed—and grow its mandate in 2022—it must find ways to win over more of those who voted for Trump and the Republicans.
I don’t think we can have a secure democracy if we don’t.
Well, it’s all over but the pouting, louting, shouting, and lying. Despite the chaos and continuing norm-smashing, President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. I assume there’ll be some continuing, even progressing awfulness between now and then, but we’ll get through it.
Then the focus will zero in on the contentiousness between the moderate Democrats who blame the left for the loss of House and Senate seats—and the left who refute those claims and point to the energized young voters casting ballots for the first time.
I’m going to let this important matter sit for a while except to stress that I think both sides have to realize they/we need each other and must find some modus operandi to face the larger forces readying to bring down the entire party, the President-elect’s opportunity to govern, and our democracy.
How We Can Actually Get Things Done Together
My inspiration comes from writer Anand Giridharadas (his name is so difficult to pronounce that there’s actually a video of people introducing him as a guide), whose very long and interesting piece appeared in The New York Times Sunday Review.
He is best known for his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. It’s a provocative work that awaits me on my Kindle.
The Times article was written just before the election had been called for Biden and the Senate losses had been reported. The Times editors replaced the title “Joe Biden’s Magic” with an interesting, if more prosaic, update: “Biden Can’t Be F.D.R. He Could Still Be L.B.J.” I prefer the original, and the final quotation below explains why.
After citing a fury-inducing summary of Trumpian chaos, Giridharadas issues a call to action to us all.
“Given the collective frenzy of these years, President-elect Joe Biden intuited that legions of Americans wanted a return to normal — a restoration, a reversion. The earnest hope in his promise ‘to restore the soul of America’ was that the same country that uplifted Donald Trump and let itself be consumed by internet-fueled culture wars could heed its better angels again, as it did when it elected the nation’s first Black president on a hope-and-change mandate not so long ago.
“But if this election is to have lasting meaning, we cannot see a Biden campaign victory as license to cast away politics as a presence in our daily lives. We cannot succumb to the liberal temptation parodied by the comedian Kylie Brakeman to ‘vote for Biden so we can all get back to brunch.’
“However effective it might have been at closing this race, this restorationist fantasy would be a terrible governing philosophy. Because the pre-Trump world — in which voting rights were being gutted and 40 percent of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency bill — is no kind of place to go back to.
“Mr. Biden himself seemed to concede this point by tempering his restoration message with the slogan ‘Build Back Better.’”
Giridharadas observes that he’d spoken to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who—though a devotee like Biden of the institutions of government—negated the idea that the new administration should strive for “restoration versus transformation.”
Schumer emphatically came down on the side of “bold change,” stressing his concern that otherwise, we might end up with someone even worse than Trump in four years.
Changing the Way People View the Government
At heart, the difficulty the Democrats face is that since the Reagan years, Republicans have persuaded lots of Americans that the federal government is a force for evil, rather than a force for good.
There’s a serious disconnect between the way many people view government—and the reality of what good governance can do for them. Remember during the fight over Obamacare, which now is highly popular despite the need for substantial fixes, one man cried out: “Take your government hands off my Medicare”?
Giridharadas’s main point is that it’s essential for Biden to show Americans that government can, indeed, be an invaluable force for good. This is something I’ve felt even more strongly since we’ve been hit by the COVID pandemic and its associated economic devastation. If ever there was a time for a vast government effort, organizing in partnership with local governance to improve people’s lives, it’s now.
To my mind, the Republicans’ blocking the Democrats’ Heroes Act–which would provide much-needed support to individuals, small businesses, Coronavirus relief, and to state and local governments overwhelmed by the pandemic’s impact–borders on the criminal. (I view their refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win the same way…)
Scenario One: The Democrats Have a Senate Majority
A huge issue is whether the Democrats can win the two Senate races in Georgia. With a 50-50 split, Vice President Harris breaks the tie vote. Chuck Schumer then becomes the Majority Leader.
That could mean the Democrats get rid of the filibuster, which many believe is an essential act if anything significant is to be accomplished with Mitch McConnell still controlling the Republicans.
Giridharadas’s key question is whether Biden, a center-left persona with a penchant for compromise, will take that critical step. It would be hard for him, essentially foreclosing any chance for the collaborative efforts that he ran on and deeply believes in.
But ending the filibuster, says Giridharadas,
“could still be a risk worth taking. If Democrats win the two presumed Georgia runoffs, Senate Democrats will represent roughly 41 million more people than the Republican half of the chamber. If Mr. Biden is to meet this moment, he can’t let his cautious temperament and deep hankering for civic comity stop him from making the policy changes families need.”
Will he see himself as a Dream Big, consequential President who will do what’s needed to accomplish major things for Americans right now–when there are so many whose plight is desperate?
Biden doesn’t hold grudges, but he also knows how destructive McConnell was to the Obama presidency. And now that his old friend Mitch has refused to recognize his electoral win, he may be willing to see—or be convinced by others to acknowledge—that his entire administration can be stymied by McConnell.
“…if Democrats do win the Senate? Senator Schumer told me he envisions a first 100 days filled with a raft of measures on the virus and economic relief, mixed in with policies that address inequality, climate change, student debt, immigration and more. A Biden administration’s early days ‘ought to look like F.D.R.’s,’ he said. ‘We need big, bold change. America demands it, and we’re going to fight for it.’”
So maybe there’s far more that the moderates and progressives can agree upon—in sync with most Americans—than the rhetoric to date suggests.
One question is whether Biden will be deterred by the cries for fiscal conservatism and the calls from the Republicans who sided with him, who seem only to worry about the deficit when Democrats are in control. “Who will have more of a voice in Washington?,” Giridharadas asks.
If the Georgia races go to the Republicans (who both have lots of shady stuff in their pasts) and McConnell remains the Senate Majority leader, Giridharadas still thinks Biden could make substantial changes in people’s lives by bypassing Congress.
“The growing sense, among both the party’s technocrats and its populists, is that their midterm fate lies in whether voters give Democrats credit for improving their lives — not on the processes used or norms violated to do so.”
He quotes Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington:
“A public health and economic crisis is not the time for incremental steps, small ideas or meekness…Joe Biden can deliver on this from Day 1 with executive orders and administrative actions that cancel student debt, lower drug prices, strengthen workers’ rights and cut emissions.”
I can see a Democratic Congressional consensus around such issues.
Newly appointed Chief of Staff Ron Klain (who receives rave reviews for his previous work in government) has already said there will be a raft of executive orders awaiting President Biden on January 20. They’ll include securing the status of the DACA recipients, reentering the Paris Climate Accords, and rolling back a number of anti-environmental regulations.
Giridharadas notes that The American Prospect recently published “277 Policies for Which Biden Need Not Ask Permission,” based on the results of the Biden-Sanders unity task force.
In a Twitter talk linked to his article (worth watching if you have access to Twitter), Giridharadas said he’d interviewed American historian Jill Lepore, who observed that FDR used small things that bought him space for bigger things.
Giridharadas says Biden could “bring people together to build locally powered community projects with local problem-solving.”
But he also points out that there are now policies that appeal to both parties “thanks to the heterodoxy of Trumpism.” (Interesting to find something positive linked to that guy, isn’t it?) One of them is a wealth tax a la Elizabeth Warren, which polls well with Republican voters, though not with their elected officials.
A tax on those with $400,000 income may not resonate with people making $100,000, who like to think they may reach that threshold.
But a tax on billionaires? Well, since most people see such status beyond their reach, they could go along with that—especially if it were called “The Patriot’s Tax,” or something similar.
Giridharadas suggests, quite wisely, that a lot has to do with using appropriate verbiage in naming such initiatives.
Other possible efforts:
“Using the Department of Justice to crack down on monopolies and threats from China has some bipartisan support. As does actual infrastructure investment and, to a limited extent, raising the minimum wage.”
Another critically important move is to “build a down-ballot pipeline” through a 50-state strategy. Lack of attention to this party-building necessity is something for which Obama has been faulted. It must be done starting now.
“To the extent that, for the next two years, divided government severely limits the sort of public action that progressives dreamed about in their 2020 primaries, Mr. Biden could use his office to create task forces that normalize and build a public consensus for more significant small-d democratic changes to American politics achievable only down the road.”
How Will the President Employ His Skills?
“Despite our divisions, Mr. Biden could use the bully pulpit to bring the country together. He could promote local projects of dialogue and reconciliation, and continue to hold genuinely bipartisan town halls throughout his term.”
Giridharadas then talks of what he calls Biden’s tendency to “elevate personal kindness over systemic justice” and asks what will matter to him more: “the radiation of personal decency or the pursuit of structural fairness?”
He believes the President-elect has shown his adaptability to the circumstances he’s facing. He compares Biden to Lyndon Johnson, “a longtime senator and a vice president less charismatic than the president he served and succeeded who, nevertheless, became more consequential…,” stressing Biden’s personal “folksy, median-voter-friendly patois, that ‘C’mon, man’ Americana vibe.”
Giridharadas gives the last word to former Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and because I think it’s both astute and encouraging, I will too.
“Joe Biden’s magic is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable. He has shown the ability to move the mainstream of the Democratic Party on issues before. As president, whatever he does, he will bring the whole center with him.”
PS: We must do everything we can to win those two Senate seats. If you can donate even a small amount to Jon Ossoff (electjon.com) and Raphael Warnock (warnockforgeorgia.com), please do. And if you can do work such as phone calls (and donate), contact fairfight.com, the organization the amazing Stacey Abrams formed that has powered the changes that enabled Joe Biden to win Georgia in this election.
IT’S OFFICIAL: JOSEPH ROBINETTE BIDEN, JR., IS NOW THE 46TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
There will be much discussion about the meaning, trends, and implications of this election, and the results were not without disappointments. But it’s too soon for all those debates. At this point, I’m simply offering my top-of-mind list of what I perceive to be the positives for our country.
WE NOW HAVE AN EXPERIENCED, STEADY, CALM, COMPASSIONATE, HONEST LEADER WHO BELIEVES IN SCIENCE, IS DETERMINED TO TACKLE OUR MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGES, IS PREPARED TO HELP US REENTER THE WORLD WITH DIGNITY, AND HAS VIEWED THIS ELECTION AS THE BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF THE NATION AND THE URGENT NEED TO BRING OUR PEOPLE TOGETHER.
WE HAVE RID OURSELVES OF DONALD TRUMP AND ALL HIS BAGGAGE. (Determined to emphasize the positive here, I’ll refrain from enumerating the damage he’s done–and is likely to continue trying to do.)
WE HAVE A BRILLIANT, CHARISMATIC, HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED, HARD-WORKING, WARM BLACK WOMAN OF INDIAN HERITAGE AS OUR VICE PRESIDENT. Thus, we have finally joined many countries worldwide in electing a woman to high office.
WE CAN BREATHE A SIGH OF RELIEF THAT OUR DEMOCRACY, THOUGH BATTERED, REMAINS INTACT.
WE CAN EXPECT APPOINTEES TO TOP POSITIONS WHO ARE WELL-QUALIFIED AND DEDICATED TO THE PUBLIC GOOD.
WE CAN ASSUME THE GOOD CAREER PEOPLE WHO ARE SO IMPORTANT TO OUR GOVERNMENT’S FUNCTIONING WILL BE REVITALIZED, RATHER THAN DEMORALIZED.
WE CAN ONCE AGAIN HOLD OUR HEADS UP HIGH ON THE WORLD STAGE, NO LONGER NEEDING OR RECEIVING THE EMPATHY, SYMPATHY, BEWILDERMENT OF OUR FRIENDS, RELATIVES, AND BLOGGING COLLEAGUES FROM OTHER COUNTRIES.
The noted historian John Meacham said this week: “Close elections produce consequential Presidencies.” This is a hopeful time for renewing our quest to become the country of our ideals.
The “Election Protection Briefing” below should calm jangled nerves–whether or not you choose to watch the returns. Make sure to click on the center arrow (and also, if one appears in the lower left corner,) to start the presentation.
Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the campaign manager, and Bob Bauer, a noted election law expert who heads the Biden-Harris legal team, provide an overview of where things stand in terms of early voting, expectations, and the current and anticipated legal challenges. A brief Q and A with members of the press follows.
Bottom line: Things look very good, lots of paths for Biden to reach the magic 270 electoral votes, but if you have not yet voted, please do so pronto! And make sure your family and friends do the same.