Sunday, December 10, 2023

IS IT 1979?

I know most of you believe that all the bad polls for President Biden are either pseudoscientifically generated sets of random numbers (that all seem to be pointing in the same direction, for reasons unknown) or are deliberate disinformation ordered up by billionaire owners of media companies who'd rather lose a reputation for journalistic integrity than published a positive poll for a Democrat (which doesn't explain why the same media outlets published so many positive polls for Democrats in 2016 and 2020). I, of course, believe that the polls, while still imprecise, are a sign that signals are flashing red for Biden, and I wonder how bad it's going to get.

I'm old enough to remember the late 1970s, and it's beginning to seem as if the public mood is similar to what it was then. Inflation isn't nearly as high as it was then and is falling now, but in a country that became accustomed to extremely low inflation, the recent uptick might really seem like the double-digit inflation of the 1970s. Also, people in the economic middle and below were probably living paycheck to paycheck when inflation hit (and, for a while, wages weren't keeping up); I think a lot of these Americans took on more debt than usual, and while their wages might now be rising faster than the price of goods and services, those wages are not likely to be rising fast enough to help them get ahead of their new debt.

Crime today is not nearly as bad as it was in the late 1970s, but compared to the level of crime we had earlier in this century, what's happening now might seem like a massive crime wave.

And while the wars in Ukraine and Gaza might not seem like the Iran hostage crisis, the president continues to get low marks in the polls for foreign policy.

One problem is that Biden is a soft-spoken man with a nice-guy demeanor who's incapable of delivering a fist-pumping stemwinder of a speech, just like Jimmy Carter. People don't think he can meet the moment because he doesn't sound like someone who can meet the moment.

When I think back to the late 1970s, I remember right-wing and reactionary forces gradually seizing control of the zeitgeist, the same people who'd define the zeitgeist in the 1980s (and, to a great extent, beyond): racially angry working-class whites in the Boston anti-busing movement, suburban property owners who felt they were overtaxed and who responded by voting for Proposition 13 in California, the anti-feminists who rallied around Phyllis Schlafly's campaign to prevent ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, even the white rock fans who cheered on Disco Demolition Night at that Chicago ballpark in 1978 (disco was, of course, a form of music rooted in black R&B that was popularized in gay dance clubs years before the Bee Gees took notice of it).

The right-wing backlash seems similarly zeitgeisty now. It might not be showing up at the polls as much in state and local elections because the right overreached on abortion, but in elections where abortion seems irrelevant, either because Democratic control ensures continued state access or because local officials are powerless to reverse GOP restrictions, crime seems to be the #1 issue with voters, and that plays to Republicans' advantage, as we just saw in the Houston mayor's race, and as we saw in 2022 in New York State, where Republicans flipped four congressional seats.

Republican governors who bused immigrants to Democratic cities were engaging in a cheap stunt, but it was a cheap stunt that worked; residents of those cities now see immigration as a serious problem. Republicans in the House who attacked college professors as soft on Jewish genocide this past week were grandstanding, but that worked, too. They got one kill with the resignation of the University of Pennsylvania's president and they might get more, and many New York Times op-ed columnists largely agree with them.

And I worry that "red-pilled" young men who embrace the "traditionalist" and often pro-rape misogyny of incel culture and Andrew Tate-ism are the Alex Keatons and Patrick Batemans of this era. There are many reasons the young are telling pollsters they don't like Joe Biden -- mostly it's economics, along with anger at Biden's support for Israel -- but I think this is an important and underrecognized social current.

You all know that I think Donald Trump will win next year's presidential election. I'm begining to worry that he could win a 1980-style landslide. Joe Biden is an unimposing left-centrist Democrat running against a big, brash, extreme Republican whom many people regard as a dangerous madman, but many others will vote for just because they're disgusted with the status quo. Like Reagan, Trump advocates for the richest and most powerful people in America, but he's persuaded millions that he's a champion of the little guy. And he doesn't have to win a large percentage of the popular vote to win a landslide because of the third-party presence in the race (John Anderson then, many candidates in this election).

I know you'll all tell me why this can't possibly happen. Of course, we didn't think it could happen in 1980 either.

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