Nothing At All

Hamlet ends with everyone of any significance at all quite dead. It’s a tragedy. Tragedies almost always end like that. Comedies, and fairy tales, and romantic comedies, and tales of heroes overcoming the impossible and somehow winning what had seemed impossible, end with some variation of the usual – And they all lived happily ever after.

High drama demands an appropriate ending, but after a week of complex and at times incomprehensible but quite intense political high drama in Washington, with almost every Democrat in House and Senate on CNN and MSNBC – but not on Fox New of course – saying intense profound things about the future of the nation and the kind of nation this should be, the week seemed to close with these words – And then nothing happened at all.

That’s no way to end a story, but that is a way to say sorry, the ending, the resolution everyone expect, as was promised, will just have to wait:

President Biden, facing an intraparty battle over his domestic agenda, put his own $1 trillion infrastructure bill on hold on Friday, telling Democrats that a vote on the popular measure must wait until Democrats pass his far more ambitious social policy and climate change package.

That’s where this started. That one-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, for roads and bridges and whatnot, that even Republicans supported, is still paired with the other far bigger package – the even more important stuff. Biden won’t let the Republicans stop at roads and bridges and refuse to do anything else, saying they’d done enough. He won’t give them that off-ramp. And he won’t give up on something that he and his party, except for two oddballs, actually believe has to be done do save the nation.

So forget the happy ending, or the tragic one. Any ending has been postponed:

In a closed-door meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden told Democrats for the first time that keeping his two top legislative priorities together had become “just reality.” And he conceded that reaching a deal between the divided factions on his domestic agenda could take weeks.

“I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” Mr. Biden told reporters Friday afternoon, appearing hand-in-hand with Speaker Nancy Pelosi after he left the closed-door gathering with Democrats. He added: “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.”

And he did choose sides:

The decision was a blow to his party’s moderate wing, the driver behind efforts to separate the measures and score a quick victory on the traditional roads-and-bridges bill its members badly wanted to begin campaigning on. It was a win for the liberal flank, which has blocked any action on that bill until Senate Democrats unite around an expansive bill to confront climate change, expand the frayed social safety net and raise taxes on the rich.

The idea is to make things better, and to tax the right people appropriately. And to deal with the oddballs:

Continuing talks between the White House and two holdout moderate senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, centered on getting them to around $2 trillion in spending on climate change and social policies such as universal prekindergarten and paid family leave. But Ms. Sinema left Washington for a medical appointment and fund-raising retreat in Phoenix – complete with a morning donor hike and an evening cocktail hour and dinner – without a resolution.

She’s the mystery here – she likes the climate change stuff – she’s opposed to lowering drug prices at all for anyone at all – but she says little else. Is this too much money? Too little money? She won’t say. No one knows here position on anything. She just says she’ll provide the one vote that may be necessary to ruin everything for Biden. She’ll vote down whatever Biden proposes. Perhaps she’s hoping Donald Trump will choose her as his running mate in 2024. Her constituency back in Arizona, those Arizona Democrats, and furious with her. She’s been practicing her enigmatic smile. This is her first term as senator. It may be her last.

Joe Manchin is a different story. He came to politics from the coal industry. Trump won West Virginia in a landslide, twice. Manchin votes with the Republicans on many issues. He wants the nation to burn more coal. He says that’s simply necessary. There’s a lot of coal in West Virginia, and a lot of poor angry white people. He represents them. He won’t betray them.

Biden has a problem, but the New York Times’ David Brooks, their resident “pleasant conservative” – there are some of those left here and there – points to the bigger problem:

Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and others are trying to pass arguably the most consequential legislative package in a generation, and what did I sense in my recent travels across five states? The same thing I sense in my social media feed and on the various media most-viewed lists.

Indifference.

And that infuriates him:

Have we given up on the idea that policy can change history? Have we lost faith in our ability to reverse, or even be alarmed by, national decline? More and more I hear people accepting the idea that America is not as energetic and youthful as it used to be.

I can practically hear the spirits of our ancestors crying out – the ones who had a core faith that this would forever be the greatest nation on the planet, the New Jerusalem, the last best hope of earth.

My ancestors were aspiring immigrants and understood where the beating heart of the nation resided: with the working class and the middle class, the ones depicted by Willa Cather, James Agee and Ralph Ellison or in “The Honeymooners,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “On the Waterfront.” There was a time when the phrase “the common man” was a source of pride and a high compliment.

Well, conservatives like the good stuff from the past that worked so well, and they’re forever wishing the world hadn’t changed:

Over the past few decades there has been a redistribution of dignity – upward. From Reagan through Romney, the Republicans valorized entrepreneurs, C.E.O.s and Wall Street. The Democratic Party became dominated by people in the creative class, who attended competitive colleges, moved to affluent metro areas, married each other and ladled advantages onto their kids so they could leap even farther ahead.

There was a bipartisan embrace of a culture of individualism, which opens up a lot of space for people with resources and social support but means loneliness and abandonment for people without. Four years of college became the definition of the good life, which left roughly two-thirds of the country out.

And so came the crisis that Biden was elected to address – the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment.

Brooks then points to Robert Kagan’s frightening Washington Post assessment how close we are to the end of our democracy (discussed last week here) and adds this:

.He’s talking about a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them.

But that’s actually what Joe Biden addresses:

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity that millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.

This is aimed at the Trump base:

Look at the list of states that, according to a recent analysis of White House estimates by CNBC, could be among those getting the most money per capita from the infrastructure bill. A lot of them are places where Trumpian resentment is burning hot: Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota.

Biden had it exactly right when he told a La Crosse, Wis., audience, “The jobs that are going to be created here – largely, it’s going to be those for blue-collar workers, the majority of whom will not have to have a college degree to have those jobs.”

In short, Trump offered these people bullshit. Biden is offering them help:

In normal times I’d argue that many of the programs in these packages may be ineffective. I’m a lot more worried about debt than progressives seem to be. But we’re a nation enduring a national rupture, and the most violent parts of it may still be yet to come.

These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision.

This is how you fortify a compelling moral identity, which is what all of us need if we’re going to be able to look in the mirror with self-respect. This is the cultural transformation that good policy can sometimes achieve.

And that is real populism:

These measures would not solve our problems, obviously. In many large Western nations, there are vast tectonic forces concentrating wealth in the affluent metro areas and leaving vast swaths of the countryside behind. We don’t yet know how to do the sort of regional development that reverses this trend.

But we can make it clear that we value people’s choices. For years, there was almost an officially approved life: Get a B.A., move to those places where capital and jobs are congregating, even if it means leaving your community, roots and extended family.

Those were not desired or realistic options for millions of people. These packages, on the other hand, say: We support the choices you have made, in the places where you have chosen to live.

That fundamental respect is the key scarcity in America right now.

And that may be slipping away. Kevin Drum adds this:

It kills me to see the opportunity that we’re passing up. With Trumpism taking over the entire conservative movement, this is an ideal time for Democrats to present themselves as the only sane alternative and build an unbeatable coalition of centrists and progressives. But the only way to do that is to appeal to purple districts and states, and that means moving toward the center. Not a lot, but at least a little bit. Enough to seem non-scary to middle-of-the-road voters in places like Iowa and Ohio, anyway.

Instead we’re doing just the opposite, insisting that these voters will love us if we adopt the Bernie agenda lock, stock, and barrel. I don’t understand why even delusional progressives would believe this, but I can only assume it’s because they live in a bubble and have never actually met a moderate voter from Iowa or Ohio.

But maybe I’m wrong. I sure hope so. Because if I’m right we’re blowing the chance of a generation.

Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s already too late for that:

A majority of people who voted for former President Donald Trump are in favor of breaking up the country, a new poll from the University of Virginia Center for Politics has found.

UVA surveyed 2,012 voters – half of whom voted for Trump, the other half for President Joe Biden – in late July in order to better understand the growing split between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

The results show a country at ideological war with itself: More than half of the surveyed Trump voters – approximately 52% – said the “situation is such that I would favor [Blue/Red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Approximately 41% of Biden-voting respondents answered similarly.

Okay then, it’s over:

The survey shows Republicans and Democrats heavily distrust one another, with 80% or more of respondents from each party saying the opposing side presents “a clear and present danger to American democracy.” In addition, 80% or more of survey respondents said they’re worried they or someone close to them will experience “personal loss or suffering due to the effects” of the opposing party’s policies.

An overwhelming number Trump voters in the survey – about 83% – said that society needs to stop the many “radical” and “immoral people trying to ruin things” in the country, further noting that the US needs a “powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents” prevalent in society.

That sounds a bit dangerous, but this is even more dangerous:

Biden voters were less supportive of the same sentiments. For example, 62% of Biden voters at least somewhat agreed that the country needs a “powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents” in the country, compared to 82% of Republicans who said the same.

Biden voters are turning into Trump voters:

“The divide between Trump and Biden voters is deep, wide, and dangerous,” Larry Sabato, the director of UVA’s Center for Politics, wrote. “The scope is unprecedented, and it will not be easily fixed.”

But then there’s this:

Even if they can’t agree with each other on policy or the direction of the country, around 80% of voters from each side said they preferred democracy over any other style of government.

While it wasn’t captured in the survey, both parties also seem to agree on major priorities like modernizing and improving infrastructure, as evidenced by a bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August with 19 GOP votes.

Sure, democracy is fine, if the “right people” get to vote and no one else does. And modernizing and improving the nation’s infrastructure is fine too, depending on who defines that term. There’s no silver lining here.

The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen adds this:

The most frightening findings show that supermajorities of voters in each camp believe the other side is bent on destroying the country. More than 80 percent of Biden and Trump voters agree that elected officials of the other party “present a clear and present danger to American democracy.” More than 70 percent of both sets of voters believe that some extreme media voices on the other side should be censored “despite the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.” More than 75 percent of Biden and Trump voters believe that Americans who strongly support the opposite party also threaten the American way of life…

It should be no surprise, then, that voters on both sides of the partisan divide are embracing views that are inconsistent with democracy. More than 60 percent of Biden voters and roughly 80 percent of Trump voters believe things like “true citizen[s]” should “help eliminate the evil that poisons our country from within” and America “needs a powerful leader to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.” Nearly identical shares of both sets of partisans – about 45 percent – say America would be better off if the president could take “needed actions without being constrained by the Congress or the courts.”

There’s a word for a strong leader whose word is law: dictator.

Would that solve anything? This story isn’t over yet. But don’t expect a happy ending. Nothing happened this week. But something will happen. And who will live happily ever after?

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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