When Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, his supporters anticipated a triumphal march. On Nov 19 2020, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times: “Joe Biden will eventually preside over a soaring, ‘morning in America’-type recovery …There’s a pretty good chance that they’ll be able to run in the 2022 midterms as the party that brought the nation and the economy back from the depths of Covid despond.”
But, in a stunning reversal of fortune, none those anticipated triumphs happened. Sometimes it seems the 2020 presidential elections was history’s equivalent of a bait car, a trap for those who thought it was a prize. “Over the last 18 months, as we have confronted a range of unanticipated global challenges — from Covid variants to Putin’s war”, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNN. “Give us a plan or give us someone to blame,” one exasperated House Democrat said. The administration is jinxed and it would be nicer for the Democrats if the whole catastrophe had befallen Donald Trump instead; but it’s too late now. The polling doors has locked, the engine has quit and the 2022 election is coming up fast in the rear view mirror.
The problem facing the Democratic Party is that it based its plans on a future that never materialized without adequate provision for a failover. Its economic managers overestimated the fault tolerance of the American system and are now searching for a way out of the crisis they find themselves in. Their chief short term hopes of distraction lie in two directions: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: civil war or second cold war.
Of these two rallying points, only the second cold war is likely to have real potential for the Democrats. The impetus of the January 6 insurrection hearings is played out, partly because conservative politics has moved on beyond Trump — and controversies concerning him — so that while he is still important, in relative terms he is no longer as important as he formerly was. This was underscored by the June 24, 2022 US Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and even more recently limiting the EPA’s power to regulate ‘greenhouse gases’, which suggests that the conservative political has now broadened. In fact the Democratic trepidation of a wipeout in the midterms is testament to how strong conservative issues have become without Trump and illustrates the progressive belief it would actually be weaker with him. Thus the potential of Jan 6 is capped and bound to decline with time.
The second cold war on the other hand is all too real. In the first place it is rooted in forces beyond Washington’s control. Foreign Affairs pinpoints the 2022 Winter Olympics as the exact date the Legion of Doom was reconstituted. “Here they were, meeting in Beijing on February 4: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly before the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the two leaders released a remarkable 5,300-word joint statement about how the partnership between China and Russia would have ‘no limits.'” Twenty days later Russian armies crossed into Ukraine to open the second cold war.
“I’m afraid that we need to steel ourselves for a long war, as Putin resorts to a campaign of attrition, trying to grind down Ukraine by sheer brutality,” said British PM Boris Johnson on a visit to Kyiv. “The UK and our friends must respond by ensuring that Ukraine has the strategic endurance to survive and eventually prevail.”
That strategic endurance was given institutional form by the expansion of NATO, even as Putin rallied his allies for the bitter struggle ahead. Now indeed the war will be long; but it will also be wrenching. Because China is Putin’s ally and the de facto arsenal of autocracy the West must decouple itself from dependence on not only Russian gas but Chinese rare earths and manufactured solar panels. “In the past few weeks, the European Commission has introduced an ambitious suite of policies to distance itself economically from China.”
Furthermore the war in Ukraine emphatically showed the importance of a growing population, especially among military age males, in effectively defending a country. Both China and Russia are strenously trying to increase their birthrates and it seems inevitable their Western rivals must follow suit.
In short, the second cold war offers are perilous shelter for the Biden administrations’ weather tossed ship. It has the advantage of being real, but has the disadvantage of requiring the abandonment of many of the Democratic party’s Woke shibboleths. To successfully recalibrate for the new conditions, Joe Biden must encourage much that he formerly discouraged: more domestic energy production, re-shored manufacture, freedom and masculine values.
You can win the second cold war or build a Woke world, but you can’t do both at the same time. That is the dilemma Western progressives face.
For Joe himself it is probably too late to fundamentally change course. He grew old in the afterglow of America’s first cold war victory, when the only problems left to solve were how to distribute the cornucopia of goods that world produced to as many potential progressive voters as possible. That was the plan. All his life was a preparation for dotting someone else’s i’s and crossing someone else’s t’s. Even as late as 2020, that view persisted. After the pandemic had ebbed, after the last remaining Ultra-MAGA had been chased into the political hills, he could pick up where the second Obama term had left off. There was going to be a Biden Boom, he was going to Build Back Better.
The job of charting a new course is the task of a new generation of politicians, not the gerontocracy in Washington. “War,” someone said, “is the unfolding of miscalculations.” So, someone should have added, is politics. What seemed like a free ride turned out to be deceptively fraught. After November 2020 the West must settle down to recalibrating for a harsh new future. The one they had counted on didn’t turn up.
Books: Against the Great Reset: Eighteen Theses Contra the New World Order by Richard Fernandez and 17 others. In this timely and necessary book, Michael Walsh has gathered trenchant critical perspectives on the Great Reset from eighteen eminent writers and journalists from around the world. Victor Davis Hanson places the WEF’s prescriptions and goals in historical context and shows how American politicians justify destructive policies. Michael Anton explains the socialist history of woke capitalism. James Poulos looks at how Big Tech acts as informal government censors. John Tierney lays out the lack of accountability for the unjustified panic over the virus. David Goldman confronts the WEF’s ideas for a fourth industrial revolution with China’s commitment to being the leader of a post-western world. And there are many more.