Joe Biden, Donald Trump
Governing elites have always loathed and feared outbreaks of democracy. Occasionally, everyday people take it into our heads to force our version of policy on the state, an event that unnerves those used to exercising power unresisted. One such outbreak stopped U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam War that in turn limited U.S. military adventurism for 30 years. More recently, U.S. voters elected Donald Trump and British voters forced their country’s withdrawal from the European Union. None of that came with elite approval and all of it has been assailed as the sort of irresponsibility about which monarchists have warned for centuries.
Needless to say, while criticizing the rest of us for our mostly-imagined irresponsibility, power elites never get around to justifying their own policy choices. So, for example, governing elites, in 1914, could think of no better way to sort out their political differences than the slaughter of 20 million soldiers and civilians and the maiming, disfigurement and disabling of about 23 million more. That’s not my idea of responsible behavior, but, because they exercise considerable control over public discourse, elites are rarely, if ever, called on to defend their indefensible conduct.
Then along came the Internet and independent media and that control, almost overnight, began to totter on its always-shaky foundation. Now, voices unapproved by elites find themselves with followings that exceed those of CNN and the New York Times. When the likes of Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and Tucker Carlson voice ideas unsanctioned by their “betters” and millions of people not only listen, but agree and spread the word, elite control of public discourse is in trouble. As Martin Gurri makes clear in his book, The Revolt of the Public, they’re losing control, they know it and can do nothing but fall back on responses that may have worked for the Tsars, but no longer do.
Which explains the Biden Administration’s ongoing spate of censorship of social media. It’s a frank effort to regain control of public discourse by simply removing dissonant voices.
The problems with that are many. Most important is the fact that, the more they try to assert control, the more we realize how little we can trust them with it. How often do they need to get matters obviously and self-servingly wrong before sensible people go elsewhere – like to independent media – for our information and cast a distrusting eye on “accepted facts?”
There’s a war going on for control over public information and discourse and it’s not going to end any time soon.
Which brings me to presidential politics. Job One for most governing elites in the U.S. is to prevent Donald Trump from ever again becoming president. That’s been clear from even before Election Day, 2016. When cries that Trump was Hitler, a tool of Vladimir Putin and the end of democracy failed to prevent his election, we were told that he should be judged insane and therefore unfit for office. Electors were encouraged to simply vote for Hillary Clinton regardless of the vote totals in their state. Again and again we were told that the electoral results had been procured by fraud. Three months into Trump’s presidency, Robert Mueller and 14 virulently anti-Trump lawyers were engaged to find something – anything – that would justify his removal from office. They didn’t, so it was on to impeachments 1.0 and 2.0. Now the resort is to criminal law and, most recently, the 14th Amendment.
Who knows what’s next? No one, but two things are certain. First, the virulence of elite response to Trump stems from his challenge to them and their policies. Trump’s astonishing popularity threatens the powers that be and encourages the masses to believe in our own power. Second, Donald Trump’s greatest asset for regaining the White House is Joe Biden. The president’s unfavorable ratings are nearing 60%. The most recent Wall Street Journal poll finds overwhelming rejection of Biden’s performance in six categories – the economy, inflation, immigration, China, the war in Ukraine and domestic infrastructure – of seven asked about. An amazing 73% of Americans don’t want Biden to run again.
His only hope is Trump; Trump’s only hope is Biden. At present, the two are in a dead heat with about equal numbers of respondents saying they’d vote for either one in a Biden-Trump contest.
That brings me to the first of my predictions: someday soon, someone in the Democratic hierarchy will have a “come to Jesus” conversation with Biden. That will likely consist of explaining to him that, if he wants to go out on a high as the guy who defeated Trump, squelch the possibility of impeachment proceedings, remove his son from the headlines, avoid the rigors of campaigning and deliver a lethal blow to Trump’s 2024 chances, he’ll step aside and let a younger Democrat with less baggage attract the independent voters who are praying for an alternative to both presumptive nominees and usher in four more years of Democratic rule.
Easing Biden out to pasture would be Democrats’ most sensible way to reassert elite power. Nothing would give the middle-finger to that power more than the election of Donald J. Trump, particularly after eight years of nonstop attacks against him by pearl-clutching elites that have left him, if anything, more popular than ever. Joe Biden is a chance Democrats can’t afford to take.
And that in turn leads me to my second prediction: at some point after Election Day, Republicans will reassert elite power by changing how they choose their presidential candidates.
While Democrats still retain super delegates with some power to thwart the will of the voters, the GOP’s primary system allows the voters to decide the nominee. That’s called representative democracy and, as such, threatens the power of Republican elites. After all, Donald Trump isn’t exactly their ideal candidate. In fact, he’s the guy who motivates the opposition as no one else can. Biden’s never been popular with Democrats, but got 81 million votes in 2020, more than any presidential candidate in history. They can thank one person for that.
In short, Trump is the one person who could return Biden to the White House, a fact that’s not good for the GOP. As things stand, they can’t get rid of him and, if the Democrats prove smart enough to jettison Biden, he can’t be elected either.
So my second prediction is this: expect the Republicans to alter their primary rules to allow elite decision-makers in the party greater power to overrule voters’ choices deemed inimical to elite authority.
We’ll see. The battle between elites and the rest of us is heating up.
This article originally appeared at The Word of Damocles.