As the 2020 presidential election looms into view, like an iceberg on the horizon, some liberals are muttering that if Trump wins again, freedom will crumble and democracy collapse. Which is both an exaggeration and defeatist, twin sins Dems suffer from enough without advertising them, apparently as an attempt to spur ourselves to confront a task that should require no exaggeration to take seriously.
Is not the prospect of four more years of Donald Trump motivation enough? Do we really need to toss in the death of the Republic to keep focused?
Besides, the essential truth — and this can’t be said enough — is Trump is a symptom, not a cause. The United States reached a certain level of dysfunction and then conjured him up. First the rock split, then the demon emerged from the sulfurous crack.
Maybe we must experience the presidency of Ted Cruz to understand that.
Ample evidence can be found in George Packer’s 2013 book, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” where a cast of fellow citizens illustrates our national shattering. Some are ordinary — Dean Price, son of a tobacco farmer, chases the will-o-the-wisp of biofuels. Tammy Thomas, navigates her Rust Belt ruins. Some are famous — Newt Gingrich, whose Dems-are-traitors worldview did so much to poison American political discourse.
And some straddle the two worlds. Jeff Connaughton is a University of Alabama business student when he is first wowed by a young senator named Joseph Biden.
Readers of “The Unwinding” grow disillusioned with Biden along with Connaughton, who works for him. And that is before Biden plagiarizes a speech by a British politician. Connaughton’s moment of grim realization comes when, after his years of loyal service, Biden won’t place a phone call to help him.
“Biden disappoints everyone,” an aide explains. “He’s an equal-opportunity disappointer.”
Will Biden disappoint Democrats? Take a look, not just at the Trump fiasco but at similar disasters all over the world, from Brazil to the Philippines, Britain to Israel. Ordinary citizens seem to have become sick of politicians, embracing demagogues instead. In that sense, Biden represents everything Americans don’t want. A senator for 36 years. Then eight years in that ultimate governmental limbo, the vice presidency.
What Biden has going for him is blandness. If politicians were sold like G.I. Joes, no child would be disappointed to unwrap a Joe Biden Candidate Action Figure, with his silver hair and laughing eyes. Pull the string and the well-practiced bromides burble out.
But kids are different nowadays.
The question is whether those in the Democratic Party ululating over Bernie Sanders will even bother to vote for Biden, or dismiss him with the same shrug that helped sink us into this mess in the first place. That’s the dilemma: Republicans exhibit a jaw-dropping ability to jettison every prior notion of morality and common sense to unify behind Trump. Democrats, meanwhile, are waving some unreturned library book from 1991 and threatening to just stay home.
Or as the headline of an op-ed piece in USA Today last week succinctly put it: “Kamala Harris owns a handgun. That’s disqualifying for a 2020 Democrat in my book.”
“Disqualifying”? I’d feel better if all the Democratic candidates bought handguns, to attract what few wavering Trump dupes might exist.
The assumption is that such carping ends along with the primaries. I’m not so sure. Hillary Clinton was being pecked to death up to Election Day.
Is it Biden’s turn? The way his candidacy began with a debate over his creepily hugging women seems like Hillary’s emails all over again. With 20 candidates, anything can happen. Remember another proven hack, Jeb Bush. The adult who was supposed to be the candidate when the smoke cleared and the GOP field, like a bar fight among toddlers, finished pummeling each other.
Only Jeb stood frozen, a deer in the headlights, as Trump thundered past.
Nightmares are worse the second time around, the horror amplified by familiarity. Biden’s candidacy is like a dream where your house is on fire. You wring your hands, waiting at the curb. You think you hear sirens. What pulls up are not fire engines but a Mr. Softee ice cream truck, driven by clowns. What you took for sirens was “Turkey in the Straw.”
The clowns direct a hose of frozen custard at the blaze. Maybe that works. Maybe that doesn’t.