The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: 2020 American Elections Page 1 of 3

How Will Biden Rule Now That Democrats Control Congress?

So, Democrats have bare majorities in both the House and Senate, and they have the White House. They don’t have the Supreme Court.

Because the margin is so low, the people who will rule are those willing to cross the aisle to work with Republicans. Pelosi is fairly good at enforcing discipline, but Schumer is not, so we’re back into an era where right-wing Democrats will have a veto on a lot of legislation, as will the Supreme Court.

Because Biden is conservative in the psychological sense, he is unlikely to pack the Supreme Court unless they cross him in a big way, but because of the time-lag between when legislation is passed and when the Supreme Court strikes down the parts it doesn’t like, it’s unlikely he’ll have the emotional impetus to tackle the Supreme Court before the 2022 elections.

There is good news. $2,000 checks have become Democratic consensus, and they’re likely to pass. I do expect Biden to be more competent administratively, since while lazy, he will hire people who are at least capable of getting out of bureaucrats’ way and letting them do their jobs. (We’re not talking actual competence in most cases, remember how the Obama administration couldn’t handle the Obamacare roll-out. But at least they shouldn’t be throwing mail sorting machines into the garbage and so on. Little deliberate sabotage.)

The Biden environmental team is the one group that activists seem actually happy about. I’m still leery on this, given the Obama/Biden record on fracking and Biden’s statements about the issue, but I think if there’s one area that is likely to be better than one would expect given Biden’s record it’s environmental issues.

This is buttressed by the fact that the House rules waive Pay-Go for two areas:  Covid and the environment. AOC and the Squad have claimed credit, but I think the real credit goes to Biden; these are the two areas he seems serious about and Pelosi does usually cooperate with Democratic Presidential agendas.

I would think this won’t mean anything too radical, but we can expect that parks and reserves will be protected and expanded, pollution rules likewise, and endangered species lists taken seriously. Serious subsidies for renewable energy seem likely. It is possible we may get a green rollout across the federal civil service, which is a bigger deal than it seems, as it covers a lot of buildings and vehicles and it helps set up a domestic market for green firms if handled properly.

Biden’s other priority seems to be Covid. I don’t know how serious or competent he will be, but the current rollout of vaccines has been pathetic. A proper mobilization, if necessary using the military and the National Guard, would make a big difference. It’s clear that the US isn’t going to get past Covid without mass vaccination, as US states won’t do proper lockdown, track and trace, or provide proper support to people who stay home.

The issue here is whether Biden and Pelosi will provide enough economic stimulus and support to create a good economy so that Democrats keep the Senate and House in 2022. If they run as much as possible through the Covid and environmental pay-go exception, then the answer may be yes, but the insane opposition from centrist economists and wonks to the $2,000 check shows that means-testing and economic throttling is still Democratic party orthodoxy. They just don’t believe in giving everyone money, bullying the Fed into keeping interest rates low, and letting the economy roar.
If they give into the neoliberal tendencies of these apparatchniks, Biden will lose the House and probably the Senate in 2022, get impeached, and be a lame duck from 2023 on.

There’s reason to believe this is what they’ll do, simply because they still insisted on putting in the pay-go restrictions. Why have them at all, unless you really believe in them and want to use them to throttle spending on anything you don’t want (like Medicare for all)? By attaching that rule, Democrats have indicated that they’re not really interesting large programs which will have a huge economic effect and ensure they retain control of the House and Senate.

I hope Biden is a good President, and better than I expect. Realistically, he’ll be awful in a lot of ways, especially in foreign affairs and civil liberties. We can hope that he’s good on the environment, handles Covid better than Trump, and runs an economy that doesn’t suck.

But I suspect he won’t have the guts to do what is necessary. He won’t forgive 50K in student debt, for example. He’s not a radical, he’s been one of the key implementers of neoliberalism over the last 50 years, and he’s unlikely to go hard against its orthodoxy. He’s willing to act on environmental issues because neoliberalism is finally coming around to realizing they should do something about that. That “something” is won’t be enough, and they plan on making the peons pay for it instead of rich people, but it’s “something.”

Otherwise, Biden is still a means-testing neoliberal who thinks that if someone is poor they deserve to be poor, and that the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich.

So he’s likely to not do enough, and become a lame duck in 2023.

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Plus c’est la même chose


Jeremiads notwithstanding, it appears that Biden’s strategy of appealing to Trump-disgusted suburban voters worked. At the US presidential level, at least, left-populists and Sanders supporters proved to be essentially irrelevant, politically. The Democratic consultant class has had its biases confirmed. What is, haha, left to the left-wing populist is to double down on the jeremiads: to predict that in the future, the inevitable failure of now-successful beige neoliberal centrism to reinstate its heavenly mandate in the USA will result, down the road, in the election of a smart fascist/right-populist Man On Horseback, if we’re luckymerely a Viktor Orbán figure or suchlike for the American context — or worse, possibly much worse.

This reasoning seems very plausible to me. Because it is true that unless the neoliberal establishment has a change of heart, Bidenist/Obamaist US leadership will not be able to turn the ship around from an on-going trajectory of national and global decline. And insofar as that decline is felt in shrinking living standards, and insofar as “beige centrism” manages to suppress left-wing alternatives, the population will likely turn to forceful/violent right-wing populism, and all the inherent divide-and-conquer grifts that right-wing populism brings with it alongside the nationalist emotional highs and the “sugar rush.” As I said, it seems very plausible.

One of the bad habits of neoliberal intellectualism is an excessive reliance on “counter-intuitive” explanations as exemplified by the once-popular book Freakonomics.   We should be rightly suspicious of narratives that tell us that things we view in common-sense terms as bad are actually good. Sometimes counter-intuitive explanations like that are valid, but only sometimes. But we should not fall into the reverse trap and always uncritically accept simpler explanations that happen to match our moral intuitions. A common left-wing moral intuition is what I explained above: A people increasingly deprived of access to the good life and unable to access progressive responses to that deprivation will eventually provide reactionary forces a breakthrough. It has, after all, happened before.

It is the implied determinism that we should view with at least a little bit of suspicion. First of all, although we should heed history’s warning signs, history actually does not truly repeat reliably, and context matters. Trump’s senility and incompetence was, in point of fact, part of the Trump political brand. It was the riposte to a failing elite in a time when elite “competence-signalling” was part of the elite self-image. The specific trajectory to the “competent Trump” is much harder to fathom, when the incompetence was specifically a part of what he was and still is lionized for by his most ardent followers.

If we leave aside the typical and easy materialist determinism that thrives particularly on the more left end of the spectrum and accept a little bit of “counter-intuitive” reasoning, a different picture emerges. One in which the success and failure of Trump was highly dependent on circumstances over and above material discontent, circumstances that are difficult to line up again.  Circumstances in which the very competence of the future feared competent fascistoid is one of the features that prevents his (or her) rise, just to give a possibility. One in which the bad memory of Trump is sufficiently mobilizing for a long enough period of time that the mainstream neoliberal centre is protected from attempts at overcoming it.

In that world, between every election, things just keep getting worse and worse. And yet, the process of coalition building in a complex society given the American political system simply throws up Biden after Biden, Democrat or Republican. Decline centrism, unending. Like Tyler Durden’s vision in Fight Club, with people drying meat on the asphalt of a ruined highway, except they’re still arguing over whether they should choose the chieftain with the red trim or the blue trim as head chieftain, out of fear that one of them might reduce the incentives created by the fear of winter freezing by their proposed “peltfare” program.

Imagine this future: the soft, dirty sole of a comfortable white Reebok runner gently stroking a human cheek — forever.

It’s Essentially Over

Trump’s losing Georgia and he’s going to lose Pennsylvania. His law suits are being tossed.

He’s done.

Update: A good piece on why Trump actually has a case in PA. Doesn’t look like it will matter, Biden will have enough electoral college votes without, but worth reading. (h/t commenter S. Brennan.)

We Do All Understand The Trump Play To Win The Election Even If He Loses?

Trump’s election plan (in addition to standard voter suppression, like having almost no machines in poor ridings.):

  1. Tell Republicans not to vote by mail, and claim there is a lot of fraud.
  2. Have DeJoy, his man in the Post Office slow down and damage mail delivery, slowing down ballot delivery and losing ballots.
  3. Have Republican legislatures in important states forbid counting mail in and early vote ballots before election day.
  4. If the election is close, go to court to stop the counting of votes after election day.

This isn’t obscure, this is obvious and if you don’t know this is the case you either don’t pay much attention (fair enough) or you don’t want to know it.

The most basic principle of democracy is that you count votes fairly. The Democrats are not faultless here, they went out of their way to keep Greens off the ballot and suppressed voters and slow-counted votes for Bernie Sanders. They simply aren’t doing this much against Republicans (despite various claims) because in general, higher turnouts in battleground States are good for Democrats, and voter suppression (almost always in poor and minority areas, hits Democratic voters hard.)

Trump is in the wrong right now. I don’t think it’s going to matter, because the Republican establishment isn’t lining up for him. Still, one shouldn’t entirely count out the Supremes (if it gets that far, which it may not, as I’m not sure the suits are large enough to change the end result), where it will probably come down to who owns Kavanaugh and what they want.

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Why Is The Election So Close?

It’s a little after 2 am, and the election still isn’t called. It could go either way. It looks fairly sure that Dems won’t retake the Senate (and if they do it’ll be by one Senator.)

Let’s put this in perspective, Donald Trump is clearly mentally defective, and he fumbled Covid-19, the result of which was to kill over 200K Americans and throw millions into poverty.

In other words, like 2016, this was an election Democrats should have won easily.

Trump out-campaigned Biden (ten rallies in the last two days of the election.) It’s going to come out that Democrats fumbled battleground states again, not putting enough resources into them, as Clinton did.

But the bottom line is that Democrats keep choosing bad candidates. Biden has no virtues other than a sort of sleazy but OK Uncle vibe. He’s carrying all the baggage of being a shitty neoliberal all his life, who voted for every war in sight and fucked the poor and middle class every chance he got. He’s senile (though no worse than Trump) and he doesn’t have Trump’s stamina.

Two men made this happen. Sanders was moving towards victory when Clyburn gave Biden the southern Black vote with his endorsement, and Obama leaned on all the other candidates to drop out. Boom! Biden wins the nomination.

Sanders is not in senile decline, polled better against Trump (yeah, the polls all underestimated Trump but he had more of a margin), and was able to pack arenas while maintaining a campaigning pace to equal Trump. Nor was he saddled with neoliberal baggage. He has crossover appeal to independents and even Republicans, the people you need to come out to win (Democrats alone cannot carry an election.)

Biden has done worse among everyone but white men than Clinton did. He’s just a bad candidate.

But this is the iron rule of oligarchy in motion. It is better for Democratic power-holders to lose with Biden than win with Sanders. We saw this in England, where we have emails proving that Labour operatives went so far as to actively work against Corbyn in 2017 (and where MPs sandbagged him all through his tenure.)

Biden, like Clinton, ran on “Trump sucks.” Trump ran on a lot of fear of Democrats, a lot of paranoia, but he also ran with MAGA—”I”m going to make things great!”

Although Biden had a relatively progressive platform, that was not the message everyone was hearing. It was “Trump is bad, let’s go back to the good old days.” The problem is that the good old days weren’t great for a lot of people, and pre-Covid polls showed that a majority of Americans felt they were better off than 3 year prior.

Worse, in a lot of states Trump has won the Covid debate: the belief is that it wasn’t fumbling Covid that was the problem, but that Covid is no big deal and if there had just been no closures at all, everything would have been fine. People believe that.

In short, Dems keep running people with bad track records who are responsible for the worse parts of America’s economy and history. Clinton was unlikable, Biden is senile, neither ran an energetic, aggressive campaign of hope.

Biden may still get in (by the time you read this, perhaps he will have) but he won’t have a huge mandate, and he’s unlikely to have a Senate he can work with. None of that need cripple his Presidency, IF he is willing to use executive power aggressively and coordinate with the House, but this is not a wave election.

Finally, if you believe this is all about racism (despite Obama winning handily twice) remember that “racism” is not a plan unless you know how to deactivate it enough to win. If the US is irredeemably racist, well, that doesn’t leave a lot of room.

On the other hand, perhaps running on popular policies like Medicare4All and a $15 (or higher) minimum wage (which passed in Florida even as Biden lost the state); offering a message of hope, not fear, with a candidate who is energetic, can command huge crowds and is not senile or unlikeable, might win it despite American’s racism. Worked for Obama (even if he lied about the hope part), and he was actually black.

So I’d suggest that while racism matters, it isn’t determinative. Having a good candidate with a good message is.

This election shouldn’t be this close. It is because of the Democratic party chose a terrible candidate and ran a bad campaign.

Update (10:26 Eastern): Looking like Biden, unless Trump gets the Supremes to overturn it.

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“Will The System Work” & Open Thread

In this excerpt I answer a question about what happens if Trump disputes a marginal Biden victory. This may seem ludicrous, but remember that something like this happened in 2000, just not with an incumbent.

Again, I redirect to what you personally can do.

Feel free to use comments as an open thread as well.

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The 6-3, 5-4 Supreme Court

So, Amy Coney Barret has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. We knew this would happen, since the idea of the Democrats fighting the right is ludicrous.

There is now a 6-3 moderate conservative majority on the Court, and a 5-4 reactionary majority on the Court.

I do not expect Roe vs. Wade to survive, and I do expect the Court to be used to change laws in an attempt to give Republicans a permanent advantage, to enshrine further rights for the rich, and so on. One can expect civil liberties to be further gutted.

Citizen’s United was the red line “this is now an oligarchy” moment. This is the “rights? You have no rights” moment.

This is what the US conservative movement has been working towards for over 50 years. They have relentlessly had their eye on the prize. The court cases will now go forward, and precedents will fall like dominoes: do not be deceived, they have prepared for this moment and will use it.

If the election is close, the Court will also be used, as in 2000, to award the Presidency to the Republicans. Those who squeal about a possible coup forget that the US already had one in 2000, and that one mattered more: it set the precedent for many things, including that Democrats would just roll over.

Trump’s allies have spent the past year purging the civil service. They haven’t gotten very far, but if they have another four years, they will. By the time a Trump second term is done, the Republicans will have a permanent advantage. (Obama, when he took power, did not replace most of the Republican operatives that Bush had put in place.)

If Biden wins, on the other hand, unless he and the Senate attack the base of Republican power, he will only be an interregnum. If he rules as Obama term three, then all that happens is that the next Republican President is a more disciplined version of Trump. Back in February of 2010, I noted that Obama’s handling of the economy, his choice for plutocracy meant that the next Republican President would be a right wing populist. While one can argue Trump isn’t, and be right, it is what he ran as. A Biden plutocratic administration will ensure the same thing.

What is important about all this is not what happens, but as I noted in a recent interview, what you, the reader, will do. If Biden is elected, does that change what you do? If Trump is elected does that change what you do? If your answer is no to both, then the election doesn’t really matter, it’s weather.

If, on the other hand, you are looking at what amounts to political and economic climate change and you are making plans to avoid the bad things and take advantage of what you can, then you are preparing for the future.

There’s an old saying: “the race is not always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that’s how you bet.”

It may be that America will turn around from its path of plutocracy, and, in fact, the next 10 to 12 years will determine if it does. But you are betting a great deal for yourself and your family if you do not plan and draw red lines: at what point will you leave, if you can? At what point will you start preparing, however you can, to live in a plutocratic theocratic America, knowing it may not happen but that the cost of not preparing is higher than the cost of preparations?

Everyone has to draw a line. You fight to save the ship from going down, but know when the emphasis of the fight turns from saving everyone, to saving those few you can.

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Election Scenarios

I recently sat down for an interview and one of the questions was about election scenarios. (The question didn’t excite me so I talked instead about planning for election outcomes.)

You can listen here. (It’s only about 5 minutes.)


Update: link changed to one that shouldn’t be region locked (though embed still will be.) If you couldn’t listen before, try the new link.

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