What's Tony Thinking

Careful, We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet


A friend rejoiced in the Biden inauguration, celebrating, “The end of a wretched era.”

I get it. As noted in my previous post, I breathed a very big sigh of relief with Trump’s going and Biden’s coming. But we’re not out of the woods yet — not by a long shot.

I don’t only mean that Trump might rise from the dead to run in 2024, as I’m sure he very much hopes to do. But the forces and impulses that led to Trump’s rise remain with us. And by that I don’t only mean that the extremist right wing and the white supremacists. The populist disappointment with government and longing for a strongman are still there and will be until politics and governance are again effective.

The disgust with and rejection of government is not false news. Consider the flurry of executive orders signed by Biden. “Hallelujah,” many will say. Various interest groups will be heartened. But the reality is that the recourse to “executive orders” is a sign that Congress, the legislative branch of our government, has become ineffective. We have all learned by now, haven’t we, that “executive orders” of one administration can be undone, with the flourish of a pen, by the next?

The Biden administration needs to deliver. Ezra Klein’s column today was apt. Talk of unity, hope and democracy will evaporate like the morning dew if not quickly followed by tangible actions that make an actual difference in people’s lives. Here’s Klein:

“This is the responsibility the Democratic majority must bear: If they fail or falter, they will open the door for Trumpism or something like it to return, and there is every reason to believe it will be far worse next time. To stop it, Democrats need to reimagine their role. They cannot merely defend the political system. They must rebuild it.”

To this end, it is time to end the filibuster rule (which requires a super-majority of 60 votes for anything to pass the Senate). It has allowed Mitch McConnell to keep the Senate twisted in knots. The Democrats are writing the rules now. But — as Klein points out — for a very short time. Two years, and the clock is ticking.

In early December The Christian Century editorialized about the filibuster noting that it has been defended as a way of letting minority voices be heard and fostering bi-partisanship. While this might have been true at one time, they are no longer the case in our hyper-partisan era. Here’s an excerpt from the Century editorial:

“Nor does the filibuster promote bipartisanship. Like other features of the US system, it takes as given that senators are loyal to the Senate and want it to function. But today’s elected officials are loyal mostly to their party, and the filibuster can’t change this—it simply assumes bipartisanship that no longer exists. Indeed, the filibuster likely neutralizes what marginal bipartisanship does persist: two or three senators could cross the aisle and reverse a vote’s outcome, if only a simple majority were enough to win.”

If Biden can make bi-partisanship work — as he has claimed — great. But recall that this was Obama’s aspiration too. If Republicans continue to stall and stonewall, the Democrats need to move ahead, while they can.

Their’s is a fairly narrow window to show that government can work, that it can deliver tangible solutions to problems that many people are facing.

Perhaps you remember that after the 2008 election, and Obama’s win, the GOP was declared done and dead. There was a new Democrat majority that would endure for years, decades, to come — so declared the pundits. Well, that proved a very much shorter time than thought, as the Democrats experienced disastrous losses in the 2010 mid-terms.

Even though Trump was awful, some of the issues and frustrations he tapped into are real: globalism and it’s companion, meritocracy, have not worked for lots of Americans. Many have been left behind. Trump rode that wave. It remains powerful. And Democrats must respond in ways that are more than rhetorical or symbolic.

Celebrate, by all means. But Democrats and the Biden administration need to be focused, disciplined and to produce results. And don’t expect things to snap back to “normal,” just because a conventional politician and decent human being is in the White House.





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