Belmont Club

The Third Obama Term in a COVID-Battered World

AP Photo

Although it is nowhere stated on the official platform, the main goal of Joe Biden’s domestic policy — and perhaps the prime directive of his administration — seems to be to ensure that the populist rebellion of 2016 is truly buried. The admission of the District of Columbia as the 51st state, the opening of the southern border, limitations on gun ownership, the addition of seats to the U.S. Supreme Court — all are so many stakes to be driven through its heart to make certain it never rises again. A former director of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism Finance and Designations likened the potential threat to al-Qaeda:

The interaction between U.S. and global far-right figures and entities goes beyond propaganda and training-related activities. It also includes operational encouragement and financing. …

The international community’s efforts to curb al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s actions provide an important guide as policymakers, the private sector and civil society actors consider steps to counter this ascendant far-right challenge.

The Washington Post even accused Senator Ted Cruz of stooging for “the True Texas Project, even as its nativist rhetoric and divisive tactics have alienated some other conservative elected officials.” Everything boils down to:

What happens after the rebellion is turned back depends on who you talk to. But the Great Reset, a big, broad-stroke vision of the progressive coalition, is often taken as its common goal.

COVID-19 lockdowns may be gradually easing, but anxiety about the world’s social and economic prospects is only intensifying. … To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism.

However Wikipedia says, “according to the New York Times, the BBC, The Guardian, Le Devoir and Radio Canada” it is a “‘baseless’ conspiracy [theory] spread by American far-right groups linked to QAnon [because] newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau incorporated ideas based on a ‘reset’ in their speeches.”

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For many in the elite, 2016 felt like a near-death experience (as the 2020 election might feel to the rebels) and there is nothing either would like better than to beat back the other. However, the ultimate result of this contest depends on two things not completely within Washington’s control: the state of the economy and foreign tranquility. Whoever gets the upper hand may depend on contingent events.

Bill Clinton was fond of saying that when it came to elections it was the economy, stupid.

Judging by his unusually large budget stimulus package so early in his Administration, it would seem that Joe Biden does not subscribe to Clinton’s view. While, to be sure, Biden’s budget stimulus promises to deliver this year the U.S. economy’s best growth performance in the past fifty years, it also risks being followed by a nasty economic hangover in the run-up to next year’s November midterm congressional elections. [grammatical error fixed]

Whom will fortune favor? One analysis of the 2020 election concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic doomed Donald Trump’s re-election. “Our study examining the effect of COVID-19 cases on county-level voting in the United States shows that the pandemic led to Trump’s defeat.” The explosive spread of Covid in India and a mutant viral threat in other poor countries or a slow recovery may be constitute an equivalent Black Swan threat to the Democrats.

“The Joe Biden administration has come under intense pressure from various quarters to ship AstraZeneca, other Covid-19 vaccines and several life-saving medical supplies to India, which is witnessing a deadly surge in coronavirus cases,” writes India Today.

The New York Times writes:

India’s coronavirus second wave is rapidly sliding into a devastating crisis, with hospitals unbearably full, oxygen supplies running low, desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors — and mounting evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported.

Each day, the government reports more than 300,000 new infections, a world record, and India is now seeing more new infections than any other country by far, almost half of all new cases in a global surge.

Joe Biden is caught between the need to crush populism and unexpected challenges like India’s. It’s a daunting problem and indeed it is hard to see how the Great Reset with its expensive vision of green energy, welfare, and global rules can shortly rise from the economically-devastated, Great Power-conflicted, disease-haunted, every-man-for-himself world of 2021.

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Rather than being anachronisms, the populist stirrings of 2016 may have in fact been prophetic; in the world of Hillary’s lost victory, Obama’s third term may be gone forever like that of crowned kings and princes. At the very least, it will take some years to rebuild. The Restoration as I wrote in December 2020 “has nowhere to go” in a lockdown-starved age.

 The main problem with returning to the way things used to be is that institutions have been too badly damaged by the pandemic and its likely aftermath to afford former practices.

Yet Washington is partying like it’s October 2016. “Biden’s Intelligence Director Vows to Put Climate at ‘Center’ of Foreign Policy,” writes the New York Times. “President Biden committed the United States to cutting emissions by half by the end of the decade at a virtual Earth Day summit.” Climate Change. Earth Day. Really?

The hubris recalls Barbara Tuchman’s famous cavalcade of doomed royalty in her book The Guns of August. “Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

No plan survives contact with the future. Will the plan to beat down the populist rebellion be upborne by the tide of coming events or hit it head on like a freight train?

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BooksInconvenient Facts. You have been inundated with reports from media, governments, think tanks and “experts” saying that our climate is changing for the worse and it is our fault. Increases in droughts, heatwaves, tornadoes, and poison ivy—to name a few—are all blamed on our “sins of emissions” from burning fossil fuels and increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.