Tag Archives: normalcy

After The Donald, The Deluge?

French Revolution Series Ordered at Netflix - ComingSoon.net

           Joe Biden enjoys a double-digit lead over the incumbent president because he promises a return to normalcy—not the platonic ideal of objective normalcy in a country that doesn’t torture or spy on its citizens or let them starve because their coding chops are a few years out of date. Americans desperately want to resume “normal” political life as Americans knew it before the last four years of manic presidential tweetstorms, authoritarian strongman antics and pandemic pandemonium. As Michigan voter Katybeth Davis told The Guardian, “I just want it [the Trump presidency] to be over with. I really do.”

            Be careful what you wish for. Things could get even crazier under Biden.

            Even though it’s only a few weeks away, I am hesitant to call the election. Biden has a huge lead in the polls but Trump has an ace in the hole: an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots due to the COVID pandemic, which will run predominantly Democratic and provide attractive targets for Republican attorneys to drag out state vote counts past the December 14th electoral college certification deadline, which would trigger the obscure 12th Amendment scenario in which 50 states each get one vote for president in the next House of Representatives, in which case Trump wins even if Biden wins the popular vote by a lot.

            But let’s assume Biden prevails. Let’s say it’s a blue wave election and the Democrats expand their majority in the House and take control of the Senate. What happens next? Revolution, maybe.

            Revolution would certainly be likelier under Biden than under Trump.

            One of history’s least-discussed ironies is a counterintuitive pattern: it is not the vicious tyrants who are overthrown by angry mobs, but well-meaning liberal reformers who promise to fix a broken system and fall short of expectations.

            A Biden Administration will face several daunting existential challenges. Unlike Obama, whose high approval rating at inauguration prolonged his political honeymoon into his second year, Biden will enjoy little to no support from Republican voters or elected representatives. Progressives will pressure him from the left. Worse, Biden will inherit problems that have been neglected or exacerbated for so long that no solution will be able to come fast enough.

A president who will have achieved victory by campaigning against his predecessor’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic will be expected to quickly turn around the ongoing medical and economic disasters with lightning quick results. Like Obama, Biden has promised to add a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act; he’ll need to do that right away. That’s only the beginning: the ACA will collapse unless Congress vastly increases premium subsidies to middle-class patients and orders Medicaid expansion nationally.

The $600-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits that both parties allowed to expire during the summer will have to be replaced in some form. There will need to be meaningful broad-based relief for distressed renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure; without an infusion of cash millions of people who formerly belonged to the middle and working classes will become homeless, adding to social and political instability. Billions will have to be pumped into the economy in the form of direct stimulus checks to every man, woman and child. The alternative is economic collapse.

The presidency, of course, is about more than policy. Many Americans who believed in exceptionalism a few years ago are wondering aloud whether the U.S. is literally over and done. During times of crisis, leaders are called upon to reassure citizens that a wise and steady hand is at the helm and that a team of intelligent and innovative advisors is running the show behind the scenes.

Can Biden deliver? On most fronts, probably not.

The Democratic Party is too beholden to its corporate donors to enact the FDR-style stimulus and social programs that are required to dig out of an economic hole filled with tens of millions of newly unemployed workers and where one out of five businesses have gone broke. Biden comes out of the Clinton/Obama/Democratic Leadership Council austerity wing of his party. His instinct will be to spend as little as possible in order to try to balance the budget.

“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” says Ted Kaufman, who will run the transition office that will select Biden’s top personnel. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about COVID-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.” Kaufman, a former Delaware senator, promises that Biden won’t significantly increase federal spending.

The streets are already seething. Austerity will bring things to a boil.

Political suicide by fiscal means.

The Soviet Union didn’t collapse under Josef Stalin. It couldn’t have. He would have ruthlessly crushed any meaningful opposition. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev presided over graduated liberalization but it was under Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of perestroika, that the USSR went out of business. Gorbachev, arguably the best, brightest and most decent premier the Soviet system could allow to come to power and the best the Russian people could hope for, failed to deliver the improvements in living standards and personal freedoms people wanted and needed. It was precisely the fact that he was so excellent, yet couldn’t deliver, that exposed the corruption and incompetence inherent to the system.

Neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev nor Gorbachev were the problem. The system itself was. It had to go.

Similarly, the French Revolution couldn’t have succeeded under Louis XIV; the Sun King was too brutal and autocratic. Louis XVI attempted numerous reforms to make life better for the French, including the free distribution of grain, slashing the royal budget and the abolition of torture and servitude. He granted equal rights to Jews and Protestants, tried to tax the nobility (they refused) and began a transition toward parliamentary monarchy as in Great Britain. But the reforms were insufficient, internal forces were intransigent and resentments had built up for too long. The French were hungry and angry so Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine.

So it went in Russia. Although Czar Nicholas II was a bit of a clueless dolt, he recognized the crisis and desperately tried to save a collapsing system. He introduced civil liberties, worked to increase literacy, granted representation to local districts throughout the country and modernized the empire’s infrastructure. Again, it wasn’t enough. He destroyed the economy by squandering the treasury on wars of choice, refused to consider democratization and ultimately succumbed to the resistance of shortsighted Russian aristocrats. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had long argued that the Russian government was corrupt and unwilling to provide for the needs of the people. Only when Nicholas II’s reforms proved to be too little too late did they agree and rise up.

Like Gorbachev, Louis XVI and Nicholas II, President Biden will disappoint at the worst possible time.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

Don’t Worry, Everything Will Get Back to “Normal”

           When will things get back to normal? Everyone is asking.

            The economic lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mass unemployment shock, forced countless businesses into bankruptcy and is driving many Americans crazy. But this shall pass.

            The good old days will be back.

The coronavirus worried city officials. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers were sleeping “head-to-toe in dormitory-style shelters” for homeless people that were “vectors for widespread COVID-19 infection.” So New York’s mayor invited some of the homeless to move out of shelters and off the streets into some of the city’s 100,000 vacant hotel rooms at city expense. New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco have followed suit.

Do not worry! Tourism will resume, hotels will full up and those rooms will be needed for capitalism’s winner class. The homeless will resume their rightful place on the streets and/or crowded into squalid shelters. With an average life expectancy of 50, they will die bereft and alone, their bodies unclaimed before being dumped into mass graves. No more fear that their vulnerability to virus imperils us, no more there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sympathy, no recognition of coexistence. It will be as it was in February 2020.

COVID-19 replaced the post-9/11 pantheon of heroic workers—cops, firefighters and soldiers—with employees who earn far less while taking much bigger risks. Now we thank workers in hospitals and nursing homes, those who prepare food, deliver mail and drive trucks “for their service.” Grocers are offering hazardous duty pay.

Not for long.

After it’s deemed safe, furloughed bank analysts and efficiency experts will return to their climate-controlled corporate suites to resume their job: maximizing the short-term returns of equity investors. They will pore over Excel spreadsheets displaying payroll records, draw the capitalist conclusion and issue their usual recommendations that salaries be reduced, hours lengthened and benefits curtailed in service of company bottom lines. With the hazard of coronavirus gone, the extra $2 an hour will vanish as well. Those who care for the infirm and make our dinners will return to their previous state of diminished socioeconomic status, a role reinforced by orders to wear ugly frocks adorned by ID badges. No longer heroes, zeroes once more to be ground up by the gears of the machine—certainly no thank-yous or scheduled shouts of gratitude from open windows.

Desperate to avoid a Soviet-style economic collapse, politicians of both parties graced the unemployed with an extra $600 a week for a national average total weekly jobless benefit of $947. That’s roughly the same as the national median income.

Here too, we will return to normal.

Once the ruling elites have determined that the danger of collapse and with it the loss of their real estate and securities assets has passed, they will order their pet Congressmen to allow expanded unemployment benefits to lapse. Those who are out of work will again try to make do with $347 a week, taxable. When they fail, which is inevitable, the jobless will be slammed with months of back rent and mortgages, plus interest and late fees, plus all the other bills that had been deferred yet unforgiven by landlords, telecoms and other owner-class types during the COVID-19 lockdown. Homelessness and poverty will skyrocket.

Like before.

Fear not. Factories will go back to cranking out Yobama action figures, mint-flavored condoms and Mercedes SUVs that retail for $220,000 while getting 12 miles a gallon. Choked highways will slow to a crawl. Skylines will plunge back under a sea of haze.

Coyotes and mountain lions will scamper back into the mountains. The birds will fly away again.

No one will check on grandma or grandpa.

There won’t be any need.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)