I earnestly and desperately hope that Joe Biden becomes president next January. I hope that he wins the election in November, which currently seems likely, and I hope that Donald Trump agrees to a democratic transfer of power the following year, which seems… well.
But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit more about a different question, which is: then what?
The Biden campaign has been built on a very simple strategy: do the bare minimum and let Trump destroy himself before November. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 with essentially the opposite strategy: be on the news constantly, talk about everything, scream and yell and holler until enough people start hollering along with you and you win, provided your opponent chugs HubrisJuice by the gallon and doesn’t go to Michigan. Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. He has enormous name recognition and the general trust of much of the mainstream public, while carrying little to none of Hillary Clinton’s weird personal and political baggage.
So far, this strategy is working perfectly. Biden is dominating polls in states that were battlegrounds in 2016 and even running neck and neck with Trump in places that should be solid red. This could all collapse before November if for some reason the catastrophic pain that is mounting in the country boils over and does things I personally cannot predict to the political climate, but for right now, Team Biden looks pretty good.
But that just brings me back to my original question: then what? Biden’s pitch is that he will be the steady leader that Donald Trump is not, but as yet, we have virtually no evidence that he is capable of that. Consider this, a substantively useless clip, one of the many examples of idiotic fluff that a president has to deal with at the hands of news anchors trying to keep their viewers interested until the next ad break.
This… doesn’t look great! In live interviews, Biden has made almost zero progress toward coherency or respectability, which is why his campaign has tried their best to limit them (replacing them instead with massive ad buys that they can stick carefully edited and pre-recorded BidenBytes into). I cover and follow politics on a daily basis; this is the first clip of Biden that I’ve actually engaged with for weeks. He is a vacant candidate, the ghost in the empty chair Clint Eastwood yelled at onstage at the 2012 RNC.
The problem with Biden’s strategy is that, even if it works, it immediately becomes useless the day after the election. We are in a historically unprecedented moment of simultaneous social unrest, pandemic disease, and economic freefall. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this year, with the exception of America starting or becoming involved in a major war, and let’s not rule that out. What this country will absolutely need in the coming years is a leader with the rhetorical clarity and talent to use the bully pulpit competently enough that people think he’s doing a good job.
(A great example of this is Andrew Cuomo, who convinced thousands of liberals that he was doing a good job as governor of New York through steady, coherent public appearances that almost completely obscured the fact that he was fucking up basically everything else.)
I don’t doubt that a Biden administration will be incrementally better than a Trump administration. Behind the scenes, he will have the bureaucrats in place to largely right the ship back toward general status quo liberalism; Trump’s more savage policies will be generally tempered until they are palatable for the majority of people. But incremental gains are not accomplishments. Biden may be “the most progressive” presidential candidate in history, but only in the same way that I am technically “the oldest I have ever been” today. I could do nothing and still be older tomorrow. And any material gains his administration makes will be instantly handicapped if they do not have a leader able to articulate them to people, and most importantly, associate their success with his party in the midterm elections in 2022 and in the 2024 presidential campaign.
A large part of Biden’s pitch, too, is his association with Barack Obama, whose legacy has survived the Trump administration largely intact, at least to the extent that mainstream liberals post wistful “remember when” memes about him 5,000 times a day, and that his faction of the Democratic Party remains in the drivers’ seat. Obama was reportedly a quiet force in orchestrating the lightning-fast centrist coalition behind Biden before Super Tuesday, and it’s entirely possible that a Biden administration will be marked by friendly phone calls from whichever one of Richard Branson’s islands the former president is wakeboarding on to the West Wing. The plan, then, appears to be to Weekend at Bernie’s Biden through at least two strong years and as few live appearances as possible, not lose too much ground in the midterms, and hopefully enter the final two years of his first term with a handpicked successor groomed in the public view ready to take over. That’s the best we can hope for.
The worst, of course, is that the country’s woes continue to compound as the unemployment rate stretches higher and a GOP-led Senate castrates any form of meaningful relief from getting through Congress while Joe Biden, 77 years old and incoherent, dodders from the residency to the Oval and back every day hoping and praying to avoid making a gaffe that will be eviscerated on Fox News or Trump TV. In the streets, we will continue to suffer. The eviction crisis will mount, the militias will grow bolder, crime will skyrocket as people struggle to live and eat and work. The Republicans will trot out their familiar false solutions to these problems, take back the House, and install whatever the next version of Trump is in the White House two years later.
Who will lead us then? Who leads us now? The person I will vote for in three months is no one, nowhere, representing nothing other than a tiny atoll in a sea of fascism that is rising faster than the non-metaphorical seas on our coasts. My only hope is that we can stay afloat long enough to elect someone who’s actually capable of driving a boat.
Screenshot via Yahoo News.