October 1, 2021
For those of you exhausted by this week’s news, you can take a break tonight. Lots of moving pieces are in play, but nothing that would hold a historian to her desk a hundred years from now, so skip this letter with a clean conscience.
For those of you who do want some reflections, I am struck today by the media’s breathless recounting of how the ongoing negotiations over the two infrastructure bills shows that the Democrats are in disarray and President Joe Biden’s agenda is crashing and burning. The New York Times called a delay in the vote on the measures “a humiliating blow to Mr. Biden and Democrats” and wondered if “Biden’s economic agenda could be revived.”
Exactly a year ago, the news reported that Trump adviser Hope Hicks had coronavirus and that she had recently traveled with White House personnel on Air Force One. The stock market dropped 400 points on the news. The previous day had been the infamous presidential debate when Trump yelled and snarled at Biden, while his entourage, including Hicks, refused to wear masks despite a mandate that they must do so. We did not know who else might be infected.
Hours later, we learned that the president and First Lady were both sick, and within hours the president would be hospitalized.
The rest of the news provided a snapshot of the Trump presidency:
•A study of more than 38 million English-language articles about the pandemic between January 1 and May 26 showed that Trump was “likely the largest driver of…Covid-19 misinformation.”
•Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster, told MSNBC that Trump was “aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts” to disrupt the November election.
•We learned that Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, had not disclosed that in 2006, she signed an anti-abortion ad in the South Bend Tribune. It appeared near another ad from the same organization that called for putting “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children.”
•A tape leaked of Melania Trump complaining about having to decorate the White House for Christmas—“I’m working… my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations?”—and then said of criticism that she was not involved with the children separated from their parents at the southern border: “Give me a f****** break.”
•News broke that Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, had left the Fox News Channel after an employee complained of sexual harassment, saying she required the employee to work at her apartment, where she would sometimes be naked, and where she would share inappropriate photos of men and discuss her sexual activities with them. She denied any misconduct, but FNC settled the case against her for $4 million.
•The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief measure. No Republicans voted for it.
•Right-wing conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged with four felonies in Michigan for intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election laws, and using a computer to commit a crime.
•Claiming he wanted to prevent “voter fraud,” Republican governor Greg Abbott of Texas limited the number of locations for dropping off mail-in ballots to one site per county. While Republican counties tended to have just one location already, Democratic Harris County, the third largest county in the country, with a population of more than 4.7 million and an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, had previously used 12. Democratic Travis County, which includes Austin, previously had four.
That was one single day in the Trump presidency.
In contrast, today, the Democrats are trying to pass an extremely complicated package, consisting of two major infrastructure bills, backed by different constituencies, that will alter the direction of our country by investing in ordinary Americans and revising the tax code to claw back some of the 2017 tax cuts the Republican Congress gave to corporations and the very wealthy. Although there is no guarantee they will pass, the bills are currently still on track, and all the relevant parties are still at work discussing them, exactly as one would expect.
What is the unusual piece in this process is that the other major American political party—the Republicans—is refusing to participate in the crafting of a major bill that is extremely popular.
This infrastructure package is huge, but it is hardly the only item in Biden’s agenda. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package that has helped the administration produce more jobs in its first six months than any other administration in American history.
Not a single Republican voted for that bill; it passed while they were focusing on the ungendered Potato Head kin and the decision of the Dr. Seuss estate to stop the publication of some of Theodor Geisel’s less popular books.
The economy has recovered in large part because of the Biden administration’s enormous success at distributing the coronavirus vaccines to every American who wanted one.
Republican lawmakers have worked against this process, and today we crossed the unthinkable line of 700,000 officially counted deaths from Covid-19.
Now, the administration has begun to put vaccine mandates into effect, and they are working. Those who insisted they would never get vaccines changed their minds when employers and public venues required them. Today, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state will require coronavirus vaccines for school children, along with the ten others it already requires, as soon as the Food and Drug Administration fully approves them for use in children.
Meanwhile, Republican-dominated state legislatures are following through on the voter suppression noted a year ago, passing measures to cut down Democratic voting and install Republican operatives in key election posts before the 2022 election.
As political scientist and foreign relations expert David Rothkopf tweeted: “Are the Dems the ones in disarray when they are crafting specific programs while the GOP offers up only cynical Tweets & obstruction? The only GOP agenda items are voter suppression, defending the worst president in history & when they have power, pushing tax cuts for the rich.”
For my part, I’m not sure what is driving the stories that seem to paint Biden’s work as a lost cause: The recent position that Democrats are hapless? That it’s safer to be negative than positive? That our news cycle demands drama?
Whatever it is, I continue to maintain that the issue right now is not Democrats’ negotiations over the infrastructure bills—regardless of how they turn out—but that Republican lawmakers are actively working to undermine our democracy.