Sunday, November 22, 2020

Relying on Reality

The 2020 election in the United States is over, but not really. President Trump and his Republican allies have created a monstrous – if also somewhat comical – process to disrupt the post-electoral vote tabulation, certification, and Electoral College voting. So far, every significant step taken in the Great Disruption has been stopped, and the whole thing looks headed for failure. But it is the response of President-Elect Joe Biden and his team that is the focus in this piece. This response can perhaps be captured best in the term “calm confidence.” Asked at a November 20 press conference about the fact that almost all the Republicans in the House and Senate have yet to acknowledge him as President-Elect, Biden just smiled and said, “They will. They will.” Given his almost five decades of national political experience, it is hard to dismiss Joe Biden’s judgment of the situation, but it is still interesting to analyze it.

In an adversarial situation such as the country faces today, strategy often simplifies down to an assertion of contrasts. The Biden camp has clearly decided to oppose Trump’s frantic rousing of base passions with an attitude of calm confidence in institutions and the law. The bet is that, in the end, people will see that the latter is the better basis for governance – especially in these troubled times. It is a wise choice, and has a good chance of working. But all wisdom is dynamic and contextual. In the battle of contrasts, Biden is pitting dignity against shamelessness; substance against frivolity; principle against opportunism; norms against corruption; high-mindedness against venality; and fact against fiction. But these are not the only oppositions in play. Increasingly, those who were Joe Biden’s most active supporters, those who brought him where he is today, will also begin to focus on the contrast between action and inaction, offense and defense. As the Trump campaign works actively to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of mainly African-American votes in Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta, those being disenfranchised will begin to ask who is fighting for them. Why, they may ask, is the Biden campaign sitting back and relying on the system to work rather than raising holy hell at the open racism of Trump’s gambit. Again, Biden’s strategy is sound in rational terms and promises to produce results with the least amount of acrimony, but it is also infuriating to those who are being asked to endure a direct assault with patience. While people like confident leaders, they also like fighters – especially when fundamental principles are at stake. Trump is pushing a false narrative of voter fraud and an illegitimate election, and he is doing so actively. Biden is relying on reality to overcome this fiction with the sheer weight of fact and law. That is probably enough to make him President, but may not nearly be enough to make him the leader his most ardent supporters want. And there will be a price to pay for that.


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