“Our long national nightmare is over.” Gerald Ford’s farewell to the Nixon era seems equally appropriate today. At the moment the vote turned against Hillary Clinton in 2016, a chasm opened under the feet of liberal activists. The descent was vertiginous, seemingly without a handhold. The dream of Hope and Change flashed past, joining post-racial America and transgender equality in the rear-view mirror. It was a deep, dark pit, illuminated at the bottom only by klieg lights fixed on the new Incumbent. And there, thanks to the media’s obsession and the country’s appetite for entertainment, our gaze has remained focused for four long years.
Now, it appears, the tables have been turned. And this happened, in a figurative sense, almost without displacing a single item of silverware, since almost every contested state’s vote count was split 50-48. Indeed, without the national campaign of the Libertarian Party, the outcome might have been rather different. We are left in a jubilant mood, because the face of our nation is no longer that of a petulant bully, but celebrating a sea change in American life would be extremely premature. Not only does Congress remain divided, but no new significant political leadership has emerged.
There may not be violence in the streets, but there is also no reason to expect the renewed unity that Biden calls for to break out. The most encouraging development of his caretaker presidency would be a thoughtful response to the threat posed by China. Almost any domestic initiative besides a genuine infrastructure program will re-ignite partisan warfare. But the most urgent, salutary, and unlikely course correction would be a moratorium on punditry. The mainstream media have narrowly redeemed themselves from the embarrassment of the previous Trump victory, although polarizing pronouncements issued from the likes of Jake Tapper and John King(!). But the months of cataloguing the President’s “mis-statements” have fed a bad habit of condescension. One reporter understood the danger from the outset–apologies for being unable to attribute–when she warned that what Trump said should be “taken seriously but not literally.” His critics proceeded to do the opposite, as if Americans needed the difference explained. Meanwhile, liberal academics, instancing the Cold War or even WWII, forecast the rise of Fascism on these shores when the White House press corps was chastised. They also suddenly ‘woke’ to the peril of “white supremacy,” although they were certainly old enough to recall Oklahoma City.
This Boomer for one remembers sincere bipartisan efforts to address immigration and tax reform during the 1980s. Turning our attention to those two problems would go further toward restoring confidence in democracy than any amount of inveighing against the “racism” that brought Trump to public office (his first ever, let us recall). The spirit of compromise could not survive the Democrat elitism and Republican obstructionism of the Obama years. Now the excesses of Trumpism have made humility in victory even harder. For many, recent history has become a nightmare from which, like Stephen Daedelus, we have been trying desperately to awake. But the best thing that history teaches, as someone else has written, is that things don’t have to stay the way they are.