Inauguration Day is the culmination of a four-year process. It is both a beginning for President Biden as well as being an end for President Trump. The big question for most of us is, “What do we do now?”
One of the more true-to-life skits that I’ve seen on “Saturday Night Live” in recent years was a satirical ad for the Trump Addicts of America, which featured people who did not like Donald Trump, but whose lives still revolved around him.
“If Donald Trump isn’t president, what will even talk about?” they ask.
That’s really where we are as a country, For almost five years, Donald Trump has dominated the national conversation and we are about to go cold turkey.
Breaking America’s Trump addiction is a good thing. The Founders did not intend for the president to be the focal point of daily life as the country checks its Twitter feed and watches the news to see what he’s done today. National policy was not intended to be set by the chief executive, often by tweet, and then changed on a whim a few days later.
The Founders also did not intend for American public discourse to veer from one outrage du jour to the next. Representative democracy requires a deeper understanding and discussion than heated debates over the latest microaggression. Even though the term “microaggression” is typically a leftist one, both sides are guilty of this nitpicky behavior.
Hopefully, the Biden Administration will mark a return to a more traditional sort of policymaking in which Congress works together for the good of the country to pass laws, the president signs (or vetoes) them, and we move forward together. You know, the “Schoolhouse Rock” model rather than royal decrees.
Where we go from here depends a lot on how both Republicans and Democrats react to the new reality. There are signs that the honeymoon is over between Trump and the GOP and the two may be heading toward an acrimonious divorce. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now on record as saying Trump provoked the Capitol insurrection and, for his part, Trump is talking about forming his own political party.
This Republican civil war is long overdue. A house divided against itself cannot stand and the remaining conservatives and constitutionalists in the party, an apparent minority, should be finding it ever more difficult to condone the antics of Trump’s populist faction. The largest part of the party, the jellyfish caucus, seems to be waiting and watching to see which way the political winds blow and who comes out on top.
Democrats are at a crossroads as well. One possible course is to be magnanimous in their victory and work to form bipartisan coalitions to pass centrist legislation that is popular with a broad cross-section of the country. The other option, which is normally in demand by both sides is to push as hard and as far as possible in passing partisan wish lists and to heck with moderates and independents. Taking the first road may result in Joe Biden being a popular and successful president as the party builds on its gains among moderate voters while the second is likely to be a dead-end that would lead to a rapid Republican resurgence in Congress.
No matter which option the Democrats choose, one of the first items of business will be Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. We may be able to get a sense of which direction the Republican Party is headed by how effectively the GOP senators close ranks around Trump.
In Trump’s first impeachment, only Mitt Romney voted to convict the president. If a large number of Republicans break with Trump this time, it could be an early sign that the party is breaking its own Trump addiction. On the other hand, if Republican senators stand with Trump after two months of false claims that provoked an insurrection that endangered their own lives then it will show that Trump’s grip on the party is still strong.
Regardless of the outcome of impeachment, I don’t think Donald Trump will be going away. Whether he starts a new political party, a new media network, or something else, I expect him to try to maintain the spotlight that he has grown accustomed to. Without access to the bully pulpit of the presidency, that will require ever more outlandish behavior.
There’s also a decent chance that we’ll be treated to a string of Trump trials as fraud investigations in New York and interference with elected officials in Georgia lead to possible indictments. There is also a bevy of lawsuits from sexual harassment to defamation of Dominion to nonpayment of wages and breach of contract that may hit the court dockets now that Trump is once again a private citizen. America’s Trump-addicted will probably be able to get their fix.
Two other things are certain to be ongoing problems. One is the right-wing (not conservative) outrage factory that manufactures fake news and conspiracy theories for the Republican faithful. Trump’s stolen election lie worked because so many Republicans live in a bubble where they only heard the unsupported allegations about the election and not the real news that Trump’s claims were thoroughly debunked and laughed out of court. The websites, radio shows, television networks, and podcasts that echoed Trump’s lie will not be going away, even if some will be more isolated on social media.
The second problem is QAnon. While this conspiracy cult is related to the first problem, it is an even bigger threat. There seems to be a growing amount of evidence that QAnon has infiltrated the military and law enforcement. So far, the Q adherents are still “trusting the plan,” but what happens now that Joe Biden is sworn in and their conspiratorial beliefs collide with cold, hard reality is anyone’s guess. The results could be explosive.
On a more positive note, I do think that 2021 will end better than it started. Vaccine distribution can only get better and the pandemic should start to recede. The resulting economic boom as the world goes back outside and gets to work will be strong enough that even a progressive economic agenda won’t be able to stifle it.
I’m also optimistic about the conciliatory tone that Biden set in his inaugural address. The new president seems to be reaching across the aisle in an effort to unite and heal the nation. While I disagree with almost all of his policy goals, this is a very welcome change from the past four (or eight) years, which were filled with divisiveness and attempts to “own” the opposition. I don’t know how long this rhetorical breath of fresh air will last, but it’s nice while it does.
Inauguration Day is also traditionally the time when the partisans switch sides. Look for Republicans to rediscover their opposition to unlimited executive power while Democrats relearn that “absolute power is really neat.” Republicans will reacquaint themselves with fiscal conservatism and Democrats… well, the Democrats will be consistent in wanting to spend a lot of money.
Wherever the new Administration takes us, you can rest assured that the Racketeers will be here to call balls and strikes without regard to party affiliation. Unlike almost everyone else in the political world, we won’t be sticking our metaphorical fingers into the wind before we decide where we stand on an issue. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss our hot takes and cold analyses.
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