As I gaze into my crystal ball, I see dark clouds approaching on the horizon. Is it hopeless? No, but we will clearly have to change the direction of the political winds to avert the approaching storm.
Of all that I see in those clouds, the most worrisome thing is a Trump victory in 2024. Why? Because the next four years are likely to be stagnant rather than progressive. At the end of that period, disillusionment is likely to reign again as it did in 2016 and there won’t be a COVID-19 to save us as it did this year.1 Why is the picture so bleak? There are three primary reasons: 1) lack of resources for positive change, 2) regressive “centrist” policies2 opposing positive change, and 3) Biden doesn’t inspire.
Let’s look at the resource issue first. To rebuild our economy, we have to create well-paying jobs and restore the middle class. That requires money (either from the civilian sector, the government sector or both) and/or the recovery of jobs outsourced to other countries. As for money from the civilian sector, without a growing customer base, there is no incentive for businesses to create more jobs (much less jobs with good salaries and benefits); and growing inequality is eroding the middle class which provides the necessary customer base. So how likely will well-paying jobs be created with money from the civilian sector alone?
As for the government creating new jobs, it has no spare money. In fact, our government is in debt up to its ears.3 On top of that, Republicans decry deficit spending (only when Democrats are in office4) and that bodes ill for the Biden administration borrowing more money to create non-defense jobs. Cutting defense spending would free up money for jobs, but would result in job losses, so that’s a zero sum game.5 So where will the government get the money?
As for recovering outsourced jobs, that will require major revisions to trade policies, corporate tax policies and laws governing the actions of corporations. That amounts to major policy surgery and we have to ask, how likely is that to happen in a Biden administration with Republicans in control of the Senate?
Democratic “centrist” policies over the last 40 years have been largely collusive in enabling Republican conservatives to dictate economic and regulatory policies. Tax cuts that decimated the Treasury’s revenues and led to runaway deficit spending have not been reversed by Democrats even when they had the opportunity. Republican arguments citing increased deficits to justify cuts to domestic spending (while ever increasing defense spending) are seldom vigorously opposed. Free trade policies advocated by Republicans that shipped well-paying manufacturing jobs overseas have largely been supported by “centrist” Democrats. Laws gutting the power of labor unions have not been vigorously opposed by “centrist” Democrats. Even egregious financial crimes committed by those leading to the 2008 economic meltdown went unpunished by “centrist” Democrats. In summary, “centrist” Democrats have enabled, if not actively supported, the privileged class in exploiting the rank and file, making themselves more rich and powerful, increasing inequality and decimating the middle class. This brings us to the final issue. Biden does not inspire.
To take our nation out of the doldrums will require true leadership, the kind of leadership we haven’t seen since Roosevelt. Such leadership requires vision, inspiration, and authority.6 Biden has none of those qualities. He claims to be a “centrist”. His modus operandi has always been to “go with the flow”. The Democratic Party is presently governed by “centrists” and change is not on their agenda. Biden will do as he always has – he will follow the leader. As a result, we can expect to see much the same as we have seen from Democratic administrations over the past 40 years. What that means is that we will be in a holding pattern for the next four years.7
At the end of the next four years with little or no progress, disillusionment will prevail and the stage will be set for another demagogue to take over. Given the closeness of this year’s election, the popularity of Trump, lack of progress, and Biden’s lack of appeal, my crystal ball warns me that we could see another 4 years of a Trump presidency beginning in 2024.
What can we do to change this picture? We must change the direction of our government, but that’s more easily said than done. Individually, we have little power. Our only real power lies in the vote. But for that to be effective, we must carefully vet those we vote for and ensure that they will represent the majority and not just the privileged class.8 The bottom line is that we have to change our economic policies in order to acquire the money to create well paying jobs, we have to change our trade policies to recover the jobs lost to foreign countries and we need to change our policies toward organized labor to re-empower employees.9 Our next opportunity will come in two years. Hopefully, with much work, we can seat more progressives in the Congress and turn the tide away from Trumpism.
In the meantime, we need to spend less time amusing ourselves and spend more time thinking. We must not shy away from political discourse, but must engage even with those who oppose us using only facts and sound logic. And last, but not least, we need to ensure that our children are not just educated in the three R’s, but are taught the lessons of history, to think critically, to be skeptical of promises and to sort out truth from fiction. All of this will take a lot of time and a lot of work, but the welfare of our nation is at stake.
1 It’s ironic that it took the disastrous, year long plus COVID-19 pandemic to save us from 4 years of an even more disastrous Trump presidency.
2 which makes Richard Nixon look like a bleeding heart liberal
3 Already the Treasury is $27 trillion in debt, $7 trillion of which has been borrowed during Trump’s administration alone. The current debt to GDP ratio, according to the Federal Reserve, is 135.64%, surpassing the previous high of 118.9% in 1946.
4 See table at https://www.thebalance.com/us-deficit-by-year-3306306. Note tax cuts during Reagan, Bush and Trump administrations, all leading to large deficit increases.
5 It would, however divert spending from reckless, wasteful war activities to more productive activities such as infrastructure rebuilding, etc.
6 Not just the authority of office, but the ability to bend people’s will, especially those who oppose him.
7 This is infinitely better than another four years of another Trump administration which conceivably could spell the end of our experiment in Democracy. But it will not result in the rebuilding needed to restore our economy and our faith and pride in our nation.
8 That takes time and effort and cannot be done listening to campaign speeches.
9 While not mentioned earlier, we also need to carefully examine the impact of automation (including artificial intelligence) on the job market and ensure that the benefits thereof are equitably distributed.