Those Now Left Behind

Joe Biden seems to be the president. Even those who say the election was stolen, and claim that he’s not really the president at all, know he’s the president. Yes, they’re angry, but they’re not stupid. They just want to fire up their base. Angry people vote. Resigned people, who have shrugged and moved on, don’t. Anger is useful. That’s also all they have to work with here. Keep those people angry.

Biden, however, has moved on. The angry people have been left behind. Biden is going to change everything. The New York Times’ Jim Tankersley has the latest:

President Biden will seek new taxes on the rich, including a near doubling of the capital gains tax for people earning more than $1 million a year, to pay for the next phase in his $4 trillion plan to reshape the American economy.

Mr. Biden will also propose raising the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 37 percent, the level it was cut to by President Donald J. Trump’s tax overhaul in 2017. The proposals are in line with Mr. Biden’s campaign promises to raise taxes on the wealthy but not on households earning less than $400,000.

And of course the stock market tanked – helping the little guy is fine, but not if they have to chip in – there goes a bit more of their profits – but that’s the deal:

The president will lay out the full proposal, which he calls the American Family Plan, next week. It will include about $1.5 trillion in new spending and tax credits meant to fight poverty, reduce child care costs for families, make prekindergarten and community college free to all, and establish a national paid leave program, according to people familiar with the proposal. It is not yet final and could change before next week.

But that was more than enough to ruin everything:

The plan will set up a clash with Republicans and test how far Democrats in Congress want to go to rebalance an economy that has disproportionately benefited high-income Americans.

Mr. Biden’s advisers are eyeing a wide range of possibilities for how to move the president’s economic agenda through Congress. They are holding out hope of reaching bipartisan agreement on at least some provisions, while preparing to bypass a Republican filibuster and pass much of the tax and spending agenda on a party-line vote using the parliamentary process known as budget reconciliation.

One way or another, the little guy will win this one:

The president has broken his economic plan into two parts. The first centers on physical infrastructure, like bridges and airports, along with other provisions such as home care for older and disabled Americans. The second part, details of which emerged on Thursday, focuses on what administration officials call “human infrastructure” – helping Americans gain skills and the flexibility to contribute more at work.

But corporate America gets nothing. And they have to pay for this. Obviously, that’s not fair:

Conservative groups criticized Mr. Biden’s plans to raise taxes on high-earning individuals, and Senate Republicans unveiled their own infrastructure proposal to spend $568 billion over five years.

That contrasts with the president’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which Mr. Biden outlined last month. Republicans cast Mr. Biden’s proposed increases as an attack on their party’s signature economic achievement under Mr. Trump, a sweeping collection of tax cuts passed at the end of 2017.

Lawmakers should work together to improve the nation’s infrastructure “without damaging the tax reform that gave us the best economy of my lifetime,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the banking committee.

The best economy of his lifetime, but for whom? This will even things up:

The president’s latest proposals call for hundreds of billions of dollars for universal prekindergarten, expanded subsidies for child care, a national paid leave program for workers and free community college tuition for all.

The economy will boom, at the expense of the rich for a time, but a booming economy benefits everyone:

The plan also seeks to extend through 2025 an expanded tax credit for parents – which is essentially a monthly payment for most families – that Mr. Biden signed into law last month.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have urged Mr. Biden to make that credit permanent. Analysts say the credit would drastically cut child poverty this year. Those pushing Mr. Biden include Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, along with Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Suzan DelBene of Washington and Ritchie Torres of New York.

“Expansion of the child tax credit is the most significant policy to come out of Washington in generations, and Congress has an historic opportunity to provide a lifeline to the middle class and to cut child poverty in half on a permanent basis,” the lawmakers said this week in a joint statement. “No recovery will be complete unless our tax code provides a sustained pathway to economic prosperity for working families and children.”

Other families, however, will not long be able to hide:

The president will also propose eliminating a provision of the tax code that reduces taxes for wealthy heirs when they sell assets they inherit, like art or property, that have gained value over time. And he would raise revenue by increasing enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service to bring in more money from wealthy Americans who evade taxes.

Administration officials this week were debating other possible tax increases that could be included in the plan, like capping deductions for wealthy taxpayers or increasing the estate tax on wealthy heirs.

This will either save the nation or ruin it. But this has been the debate all along. The Washington Post’s David Lynch covers that:

Throughout last year’s campaign, President Donald Trump issued a series of increasingly dark predictions about what would happen if Joe Biden were elected.

“If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell and it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country,” Trump said in the Oct. 22 candidate debate.

Instead, the rebounding economy is headed for its best year since 1984, according to the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. economy likely expanded in the first quarter at an annual rate of 6 percent and should accelerate in the months ahead, economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics told clients this week. More than 1.3 million jobs have been added since the election.

Trump was just making up stuff:

By Trump’s preferred metric – the stock market – Biden is outperforming his predecessor at this stage of his presidency. Last summer, the Republican said stock values would “collapse” under Biden. But through Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average was up nearly 16 percent since Nov. 7, when the Democrat was declared the apparent election winner, compared with a 10.5 percent gain over a similar period following Trump’s election.

“There wasn’t much behind President Trump’s predictions other than aspirations that he’d be reelected,” said economist Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute.

But now that’s a real problem:

Trump’s wild campaign claims of an imminent depression have complicated Republican efforts to develop an economic message that can dent Biden’s popular support. In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox on Monday, Trump repeated his familiar boast of having built “the strongest economy in the history of the world” before the pandemic, while leveling only scattered charges against Biden.

Republicans have lashed Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as unnecessary given the economy’s emerging strength and as being poorly designed, because some of the direct payments will go to households earning as much as $150,000 annually.

But so far, none of the attacks have drawn much support beyond the GOP base. A Gallup poll last month found that 63 percent of Americans backed the Biden plan.

“They’re struggling to put together their message,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the American Action Forum, a self-described center-right policy institute.

They may never put any message together. They can’t be against widespread prosperity for all. That would actually help the rich when the little guys start buying lots and lots of stuff, for a change. Corporations would thrive. The rich would get richer. But no one is thinking about that:

Trump could rightly boast of having presided over the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, along with 12 consecutive quarters of growth.

But his flawed forecasting – including predictions of a stock market decline of up to 50 percent – reflected his habitual hyperbole. In December 2017, for example, he told reporters the economy could grow by up to “6 percent” a year. Instead, growth peaked at an annual rate of 3.9 percent in the final three months of that year.

And during an appearance earlier this month before the Republican National Committee at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump devoted most of a nearly hour-long talk to his complaints about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans he said have not provided him sufficient backing.

“He makes everything personal,” said Holtz-Eakin, the chief economic adviser to senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He won’t provide a policy critique. He’ll criticize Joe Biden, and Joe Biden’s popular, so that won’t work.”

And no good will come of that:

The death this week of former vice president Walter Mondale, who lost the 1984 election to President Ronald Reagan, was a reminder that the opposition party often flails when times are good.

The economy grew that year at an annual rate of 7.2 percent, its best performance since the Korean War. Republican advertising boasted of “morning again in America,” and Democrats responded with an unpopular prescription for a tax increase to address the federal budget deficit that Reagan had used to fuel his boom.

“It is very difficult to campaign against a growing economy,” said William Galston of the Brookings Institution, who was Mondale’s policy director.

The Democrat lost 49 states that year.

And it might be the Republicans this next time. Biden is onto something. Nick Bryant, the BBC’s New York correspondent, the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present – no American would write that – puts Biden in context:

Soon after presidents take office, commentators tend to start drawing historical parallels, even with outliers like Barack Obama and Donald Trump. During Obama’s telegenic presidency, it sometimes felt like we were watching a Black Camelot – a remake of the Kennedy years without the personal recklessness. With Trump, commentators reached further back in history, to the tenure of Andrew Jackson, a populist vulgarian frowned upon by the East Coast elite.

It is almost as if we cannot make sense of the present White House incumbent without identifying a phantom soul mate from the past.

But with Biden, that’s hard:

Now that the president is once more someone the United States can have on in the background, it is tempting to compare him with George H. W. Bush, another one-time understudy who proved adept at the back-office aspects of the job.

Biden is also being likened to Lyndon B. Johnson. In protecting voting rights and tackling poverty, LBJ easily outstripped his predecessor, partly because he was a more formidable legislator than JFK had been. So maybe Biden can do the same, as he seeks to upgrade the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of Johnson’s legislative landmarks, and to carry out the most significant expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society reforms of the 1960s.

Then, of course, there are the well-worn parallels between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Biden, such as the president being cast as the putative architect of a new New Deal. Like his Democratic forebear, he views the federal government as the main driver of U.S. recovery. And unsurprisingly, this is the semblance Biden seems to find most agreeable. Recently, at a White House symposium bringing together some of the United States’ most distinguished historians, he reportedly observed to the Roosevelt biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin: “I’m no FDR, but…”

But that’s not it:

There is another way, however, of thinking about the Biden presidency: not as a revival of Roosevelt, but rather as a repudiation of Reagan. Arguably, Biden has become the first Democratic president in 40 years to mount a major counteroffensive against the legacy of the country’s 40th leader.

The other two were quite useless there:

To restore the Democratic Party’s viability in presidential politics, Bill Clinton made significant ideological concessions to Reaganism. Indeed, the young president almost ventriloquized Reagan in his 1996 State of the Union address when he declared, “The era of big government is over.” Two years earlier, after another Clinton State of the Union, Reagan joked, “I’m reminded of the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Only in this case, it’s not flattery, but grand larceny.”

More surprising was how enthusiastically Obama saluted Reagan. During the 2008 campaign, Obama openly praised what was then the most conservative presidency of the previous four decades. At one of his own White House seminars for historians, Obama was eager to glean from them what lessons he could about The Gipper.

That’s not Biden:

Biden is signaling that the era of big Reaganism is over by rejecting the central proposition of the Reagan presidency: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” the most ringing line from the 1981 inaugural. Biden is trying to engineer not only a revival of government, but also a reconsideration of its essential role. For this president, restoring the soul of America requires reviving faith in government.

In making his case, Biden has already been at pains to point out that the federal government was the builder of world-beating infrastructure in the 1950s, and the victor of the space race at the end of the 1960s. Now government has been mobilized to combat the planetary pandemic.

And then there are those new taxes:

By seeking to levy more corporate tax, Biden is also trying to revive the nobler instincts of U.S. boardrooms, a rejection of the greed-is-good ethos prioritizing the maximization of shareholder value that took hold in the 1980s. Regulatory robustness, of that type that went out of fashion during and after the Reagan years, will be a central feature of the Biden era.

And then, to top it all off, Biden was never a movie star or a reality television star. He’s just a guy doing his job:

This 78-year-old is also departing from the model of the modern presidency that Reagan essentially invented, with its emphasis on the theatrical aspects of the job. For him, the presidency is neither performative nor omnipresent.

Joe Biden is not so much Roosevelt revisited. Instead, his presidency is more a case of Reaganism rejected.

But where does that leave Republicans? What are they supposed to do with a guy doing widely popular things without all the masterful self-promoting theatrics? They seem to be left with what David Brooks describes here:

Those of us who had hoped America would calm down when we no longer had Donald Trump spewing poison from the Oval Office have been sadly disabused. There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Biden wants to fix things. These folks are on a different planet in some other solar system:

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

And there’s this:

“The decent know that they must become ruthless. They must become the stuff of nightmares,” Jack Kerwick writes in the Trumpian magazine American Greatness. “The good man must spare not a moment to train, in both body and mind, to become the monster that he may need to become in order to slay the monsters that prey upon the vulnerable.”

With this view, the Jan. 6 insurrection was not a shocking descent into lawlessness but practice for the war ahead. A week after the siege, nearly a quarter of Republicans polled said violence can be acceptable to achieve political goals.

These are the people left behind when Biden was elected and the glorious many became more important than the spiteful few. But, as Brooks sees it, the spiteful few could still ruin everything:

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

Philosophic liberals – whether on the right side of the political spectrum or the left – understand people have selfish interests, but believe in democracy and open conversation because they have confidence in the capacities of people to define their own lives, to care for people unlike themselves, to keep society progressing.

With their deep pessimism, the hyper-populist wing of the G.O.P. seems to be crashing through the floor of philosophic liberalism into an abyss of authoritarian impulsiveness. Many of these folks are no longer even operating in the political realm… between those who think speech is a mutual exploration to seek truth and those who think speech is a structure of domination to perpetuate systems of privilege.

No good will come of this:

This is no longer just about Trump the man, it’s about how you are going to look at reality – as the muddle it has always been, or as an apocalyptic hellscape. It’s about how you pursue change – through the conversation and compromise of politics, or through intimidations of macho display.

I can tell a story in which the Trumpians self-marginalize or exhaust themselves. Permanent catastrophism is hard. But apocalyptic pessimism has a tendency to deteriorate into nihilism, and people eventually turn to the strong man to salve the darkness and chaos inside themselves.

Yes, those left behind may ruin everything. But they were left behind. Everyone else can work on making things better now. It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, right?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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