Reflections on 2021 and 2022
Well, the New Year’s gone with a bang. After a week of over 70 degrees, we were hit by fierce storms that left me typing in the dark and the promise of snow. Don’t worry, however, the market will take care of it.
I don’t make a lot of predictions since the Trump insurgency changed my understanding of the people of this country. I will, however, offer a few observations on the year we have just been through and the one to come. I thought a lot about what happened and what we need to do.
We started 2021 with Donald Trump and his megaphones on Fox News, OAN and various talk shows declaring the election stolen, despite no evidence of fraud. On January 6, a mob assaulted the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election. In the process, the leaders of both parties condemned the attack and blamed Donald Trump.
Within days, however, GOP leaders withdrew their criticism of Trump and made it clear that they thwart any attempt to hold people accountable or even get to the bottom of what exactly happened. They have been telling us for months that it is time to move on. According to polls in March, 55% of Republicans believed the election was stolen. A recent poll showed 71% of Republicans believe Biden is illegitimate, even though election experts from both parties agree the election was fair. It looks like the GOP is gearing up to justify stealing the upcoming election.
Joe Biden has got off to a great start as president. He embraced the US bailout, putting money in people’s pockets and restarting the economy. As a result, unemployment is falling, the stock market is rising, the economy has grown at a healthy pace, and wages have increased accordingly.
Biden has also reached the other side of the aisle to pass a massive infrastructure bill that eluded his predecessors. The bill will repair our roads and bridges, upgrade public transportation, provide clean water, and bring the internet to underserved areas. The bill was a huge success that never really received the attention or credit it deserved.
However, the pandemic and inflation weighed on the administration and kept optimism low, despite signs of a strong economy. Biden’s initial success in deploying the vaccine was overshadowed by, first, Delta and, now, Omicron. A country ready to get out of the virus is repeatedly asked to be cautious and threats of shutdown are pushing people towards the boiling point.
Inflation concerns are real, whether inflation is transient or lasts for a while. People pay more for basic items like food and building materials. Rising prices have dampened the optimism that should accompany a booming economy.
In Congress, Democrats botched their treatment of the Build Back Better bill and confused their priorities. They don’t know how to win and they don’t know how to fight emotionally. They should have been doing victory dances all over Capitol Hill for weeks after the infrastructure bill. Instead, too many progressives have lamented that the infrastructure bill is not enough without an expansion of the social safety net that is more of a priority for Democratic interest groups than for ordinary citizens who simply want to overcome the pandemic.
Instead of the massive spending bill, Democrats should have focused on voting rights and tied it to the assault on Capitol Hill while the episode was still fresh. By waiting so long, they gave the right-wing propaganda machine time to change the perception of aggression among conservatives who were initially outraged. Now Democrats are catching up as Republican legislatures pass measures for electoral districts, restrict access to polling stations, and even change the rules for how elections are certified. As the new year dawns, Democrats risk ending up with neither a social spending bill nor a voting rights bill. It is a failure to govern.
The pandemic is expected to end now, but instead we are debating whether or not to close schools. Obviously, progressives have learned little about what happened in Virginia. The threat of Omicron is low compared to other strains, especially in vaccinees. Force school staff and students over 12 to vaccinate, but don’t even talk about closing schools. Instead, claim victory. Vaccines and boosters have made the disease little more than a disadvantage for most people of working age or younger. Unless they have underlying conditions, it is very, very unlikely that they will get seriously ill from COVID as long as they are vaccinated.
Democrats continue to push polls showing overwhelming public support for their agenda. From abortion rights to the extension of Medicaid to universal pre-K, Americans are siding with Democrats rather than Republicans. But those progressive groups pushing their agendas seem to understand poll numbers better than the people they poll. While Americans may agree with the Democrats’ positions, they don’t think of politics in those terms. Most don’t think about problems on a daily basis. Their priorities are based on things they face every day, like the pandemic or the cost of groceries.
The gap between a middle-class family of three or four and the politicians and activists who talk about Build Back Better is huge. They don’t know what it is. (Hell, I don’t know what it is and I do this for a living.) They want to know if they can send their kids to school so they don’t end up with distance learning anymore. . They want to know what Joe Biden is doing about rising food prices. They want to hear about the issues they are facing right now, right now, not some empty plan to make things better next year.
So if I was in charge of Democrats by 2022, I would tackle about four or five easily identifiable issues. First, I would take care of the pandemic. I would cry victory, touting the success of vaccines in making disease little more than the flu for most people who get vaccinated. I recognize that the elderly and immunocompromised are at greater risk and are taking steps to protect them, requiring vaccinations for all people working in facilities that house older Americans. I would work with states to identify seniors who live at home and provide them with appropriate protection like N-95 masks and home test kits. I would prescribe vaccines for air travel. And I would assure people that schools would stay open because closing them is a greater threat to our young people than the coronavirus.
Also, push back the media that want to keep the pandemic for clicks. Expose them to fuel the hysteria that keeps people in an irrational fear. This morning I read an article on Daily beast titled âSpooked ER Doc Confronts the Terrifying ‘Tidal Wave’ of Omicron Kids. “ It wasn’t until the eighth paragraph that the author admitted, âHe reports that most children in hospital have underlying conditions such as leukemia that are complicated by COVID. Only a handful of otherwise healthy children he treated have fallen seriously ill solely from the coronavirus. Leading with that headline is downright misinformation.
Second, I would tackle inflation. Whether or not this is transient or endemic is irrelevant. Acknowledge that prices continue to rise and urge the Federal Reserve to take action to address it. A slight increase in interest rates is not going to scare anyone since most people know that we have been receiving money almost for free since the Great Recession.
Third, fight climate change. Most Americans, and especially young people, think of this as an existential threat. Make it a top priority. Speed ââup the production of green energy and invest in energy efficiency measures. Contrary to the Conservatives’ magical thinking, the market is not going to deal with climate change, certainly not in the time we have left to deal with it.
Fourth, make the protection of our democracy an urgent cause. Use the January 6 anniversary to remind people that disinformation and the Big Lie always motivates people to question our democracy. Tie this propaganda to actions taken by Republican legislatures to undermine the democratic process and work to build a movement to protect voting rights. Nothing else on the legislative agenda matters if Republicans continue to downgrade democracy.
Finally, pick a social agenda from the Build Back Better bill and make it the centerpiece. Focus on pre-k universal or paid family leave or whatever has the broadest support. Get what you can of Joe Manchin and declare victory again. Donald Trump understands that people want to feel like they are winning. Democrats ignore their victories and perpetually focus on the issues. It’s the epitome of letting the perfect get in the way of the good, and in politics the good is pretty much all you get.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Prior to starting PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more>