BIDEN FACES THE FACT FREE FUTURE
Back at it: Let us begin by thinking about the recent past. Democracy depends on voting citizens. The assumption is that a majority of them have a sufficient interest in, and an understanding of, their government to hire (through the vote) the most fitting of the available candidates to lead them.
That assumption was always an ideal. If we go back to the beginning, a democratic system worked in this country after a fashion partly because the quickly emerging political parties tended to pick candidates from among local elites who ordinary citizens felt powerless to challenge.
It also worked because there was, in the beginning, very low expectations about what the government would provide. Many people living in what now would seem abject poverty constantly threatened with starvation never assumed that their government would come to their rescue. The truth is that through much of our history even if elected officeholders with the best will in the world wanted to help people there simply was not the technology to allow them to do it.
With time that technology has developed partly because, beginning in the period after the Civil War, the various levels of government began to assume an increased responsibility for public education. The hope was that an educated citizenry would make a functioning democracy more possible. So, if you were Joseph Biden facing political opponents who seem to be winning while spouting absolute nonsense you might reasonably ask yourself what has gone wrong?
Public education at one level seems to have been a success; a very large proportion of the population can read and write. They can deal with technology (Even the least educated and the most poverty stricken seem to have conquered the cell phone.). President Biden certainly thought he could marshal the technology that Donald Trump clearly did not understand to get the population through the pandemic.
Newly elected President Biden had been an active Delaware Senator for thirty six years. He had been Vice-President for eight. He was at the end of his seventies. He reasonably could argue that if he was going to achieve real change it had to be done quickly (It also had the virtue of appealing to the progressive wing of his party.). He would be the new Franklin Roosevelt with a modern New Deal.
What he and his highly educated advisors missed was that the public out there across the country did not want change. They said that they did but they really did not. The irony is that if Biden in office had done nothing, had simply gone quiet and preserved the status-quo, he would now be far more popular than he is.
If there is any doubt about that, think about Donald Trump. During the 2016 campaign he promised to deal with all those closed factories and mines. Ordinary workers had reason to believe that they finally had a presidential advocate. He did manage to sign off on a big tax cut that wealthy contributors to the party wanted. But, other than participating in political theatre at the rallies, and a behind the scenes weakening of workers’ protections by government, he did almost nothing. Certainly he did nothing for the workers who came to those rallies.
And yet among people who think of themselves as Republicans he seems enormously popular. There are two obvious reasons: He gives them permission to be angry. Trump is openly angry with anyone who fails to worship at the feet of the Master. His followers can be angry too. And, he does not ask them to change! They can simply go on doing what they have been doing and in some mysterious way, all will come right.
The followers of Donald Trump were already angry long before he flew onto the political scene and landed in his big plane. He still constantly gives them things to be angry about. President Biden promises a better future to people who need to be angry. It doesn’t work because a better future is not really what they want. What they want is to find targets for their anger, for their discontent. Trump provides that. Biden does not.
Joseph Biden certainly views himself as a hardworking student of government. To him it has to be frustrating that so many voters don’t seem to care. And they don’t. The Trump movement is not really about government. Trump himself demonstrated almost no interest in the details needed to administer an organization with two million employees. He was interested in himself. His followers don’t know or care much about the actual government either.
So the Democrats in Congress and in the White House do face a really difficult year. Their whole reason for being in office is to bring about change. Whatever they say, most people including Democratic voters will resist change, positive or not. Donald Trump has made a career out of satisfying peoples’ need to continue to be angry. He never demands that his followers change.
That need to be angry has been powerful enough to allow some voters in the country to simply leave factual truth behind. Many simply have broken free from actual facts. The truth is simply what they happen to believe. That means that a candidate who freely lies has a real tactical advantage. It is easy to harness anger at political symbols if a political figure can simply make things up.
Democratic candidates face a whole new political world campaigning for the November Congressional elections. Campaigning to people who do not respond to accepted facts will be a revolutionary challenge. Still, whether they know anything or care at all, the voters will decide!
H.J. Rishel 1/18/2022