Thursday, April 27, 2023

Rematch (continued)

During one of the outdoor negotiating scenes in episode 5 of this final season of Succession, Swedish tech billionaire Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard) says about ATN (the Roys' news network, which is the series' obvious analogue to Fox news), "The graph is horrible ... I don't think news for angry old people works." Like the Roy brothers, the Murdochs may resist this analysis. Even so, it is probably the case that the model of "news for angry old people" will work only as long as there are lots of angry old people around. Demographically, "the graph is horrible." However in the short run (and American electoral politics is primarily about the short run) the model has worked and continues to work. It could yet re-elect a twice impeached, already once defeated (twice in the popular vote), and criminally indicted former president, with catastrophic consequences for constitutional government and democracy both at home and abroad.

Coincidentally, a dominant mantra on the political right (and among the right's enablers in the mainstream media) has been the President Biden is old. At 80, he is indeed old, by any conventional measure. Yet that remains an odd complaint coming from a crowd whose voter base is largely also old and whose presumptive standard bearer is only four years younger than President Biden. Highlighting the President's age, however, is an unsubtle way of suggesting he is physically and mentally unfit for office, that he is no longer competent. 

Meanwhile, even while suggesting that the President with the most successful record of accomplishment so far of any president since LBJ is barely able to function, the same anti-Biden noisemakers blame him for every real and imaginary calamity and threaten a veritable apocalypse will befall us if Biden is elected.  Of course, consistency long ago became a casualty of the contemporary post-truth approach to politics, in which cause and effect no longer matter.

Reflecting on the political and cultural significance of a likely Biden-Trump rematch, I recently wrote that the existential importance of the coming electoral contest reflects the unsettled underlying divisions in our society that are reflected in the issues that continue to be contested despite Trump's 2020 defeat. I have long been of the view that, as Matthew Sitman has recently written, "the only verdict on Trump and the MAGA movement that finally matters will be delivered through politics - their defeat, or not, in contests for power." The electoral defeat Trump and the MAGA movement experienced in 2020 has so far proved insufficient for this purpose. A much more decisive defeat will be required. Nothing else really matters as much (including Trump's legal woes). Indeed, that may all be as it should be. In a quasi-democratic constitutional system, delivering a decisive electoral defeat is the desirable political solution to what remains fundamentally a political problem. And the stakes could hardly be higher.


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