Some Good News! But, Wait…

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Buried under the avalanche of bad and scary news — such as Republican refusal to investigate the January 6 insurrection and Republican attacks on voting rights — some good news: The efforts to help people in crisis are working.

A study from the University of Michigan reveals that the COVID relief bill of late December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan of March 2021 — both of which put money in the hands of Americans — dramatically improved lives, particularly for those living in low-income households. Food insufficiency fell by over 40 percent, financial instability decreased by 45 percent, and reports of adverse mental health symptoms declined by 20 percent. In their summary of key findings, the study’s authors concluded that “the success of the federal government’s relief measures may be due to the speed, breadth, and flexibility of its broad-based approach, primarily relying on cash transfers.”

The December relief measure passed before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but passage of the March relief package combined with the administration’s success in distributing and getting into peoples’ arms the coronavirus vaccine help explain the president’s remarkable favorability numbers in recent polls: Consistently over 50 percent and topping 60 percent from time to time. Clearly, people respond to the kinds of positive results reflected in the Michigan study. Biden’s numbers may even go up in coming months as the nation reopens over the summer and people start going to picnics, ballgames, and restaurants and doing all the things they took for granted before the pandemic.

But — and this is a big but — as robust as the recovery from both economic devastation and the pandemic has been, there are danger signs lurking. Republican intransigence and obstructionism, as I indicated earlier this week, remain an ongoing threat to the longevity of American democracy. The nation is afflicted by a major political party that refuses to investigate treason and is trying to steal elections. Make no mistake about it, contained in the voter suppression and nullification laws wending their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures is a plot to insure that a party with no ideology, a declining voter base, and a lack of commitment to constitutionalism can seize power by flagrantly denying the will of the majority. Republicans intend to deny Democrats electoral success by any and all means.

Republicans remain in thrall to their cult leader — the autocratically inclined former president, Donald Trump — despite signs that Trump’s popularity is declining. A NBC News poll taken in April — 100 days after Trump left the White House — showed his favorability rating at just 32 percent, down eight points from his rating on January 20. In another bit of good news and a sign that out-of-office leads to out-of-mind, a frustrated Trump this week removed himself entirely from the Internet. Still banned on Twitter and Facebook, Trump decided to shut down his month-old blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” According to associates, the former president became angry when he learned the site attracted little traffic. Others reportedly told Trump the little-read blog made him look irrelevant. Last month, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s website attracted fewer visitors that the pet-adoption service “Petfinder” and the recipe site “Delish.”

Trump’s inability to dominate the news to the extent he could as president and his lack of an Internet presence suggest a growing irrelevancy. But, no one should underestimate his potential for mayhem. He remains popular among a sizable number of Republicans, and the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is his for the taking. A diminished Donald Trump is like a wounded wild animal — dangerous and lashing out at one and all.

While Trump is not a media presence as such, he still dominates public discourse. The right-wing media is full of stories about him, and even on centrist and progressive news outlets, discussion of Trump’s political future, his past failures, and his growing legal woes tends to crowd out coverage of the Biden administration. The successes of the new administration do not receive, perhaps, as much attention as they deserve, which is one reason why Biden and others in his administration have taken to the road to convince Americans of the efficacy of their policies. Biden would not be the first president to appeal directly to the public to convince a recalcitrant Congress to act.

As popular as Biden is, his policies are even more popular. But, the window of opportunity for Biden and Democrats is narrow. The Senate passed the stimulus package by using budget reconciliation to circumvent a Republican filibuster, but other major Biden initiatives are stalled in Congress. The infrastructure proposal, two measures to insure free and fair elections, and the American Family Act are subject to Republican obstruction through the filibuster in the Senate. The unwillingness of Republicans to even negotiate in good faith on these measures makes eliminating or, at least, amending the filibuster imperative.

I suspect Biden has a strategy aimed at convincing reluctant conservative Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona — that nothing will get done as long as Republicans can wield the filibuster. Hence, Biden’s continuing discussions with West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito on infrastructure legislation. Biden probably suspects the negotiations will go nowhere, but he wants to play them out as long as possible so he can say, “See, I tried, but Republicans won’t even meet me halfway.” Infrastructure, after all, is the kind of legislation that used to attract bipartisan support. What lawmaker would not want to go home and tell voters, “I got you that new bridge?”

A failure to attract Republican support for infrastructure legislation combined with Republican defeat of the measure to investigate the January 6 insurrection — after Democrats yielded to every Republican demand on the makeup of the commission — might lead even reluctant Democrats to vote for the filibuster’s end. If not, Democrats will have little but their initial successes to run on in 2022 and 2024. Worse yet, the inability to secure federal legislation protecting free and fair elections will give Republicans a huge opportunity to prevent Democratic-leaning voters from exercising their franchise and allow Trump and his Republican cohorts to undermine further American democracy.

Despite the good news about vaccines and economic recovery, the situation is critical, and Democrats must not let up. It is time to end the filibuster and legislate in the interests of the American people.

Posted June 4, 2021

Comments are closed.