The Conservaliberaltarian Case For Abidin’ With Biden
I don’t think my vote in this election will surprise many people. After all, if I could talk myself into voting for … ugh … Clinton back in 2016, I can certainly talk myself into voting for Biden in 2020. But as we close in on the finale to this election, which began an ice age ago, I thought I’d talk a bit1 about the thinking that went into this.
Of Deplorables, Antifa and the Worst of Politics
The reason I want to write about this is because I am not unaware of the concerns raised by Eric and Kristin about a potential Biden Administration. I don’t think that Biden is a panacea who will cure all that ails us. I do worry about the Progressive Wing working themselves into a lather over new states and court-packing. And I am well aware of the appalling behavior exhibited by some of Biden’s supporters and the failure of politicians to respond to these incursions with the urgency the situation requires. Indeed, I have written about it. I have not written specifically about wokist identity politics nonsense, but I’m pretty sure you can guess my opinion on it.
But here’s the thing: the Antifa thugs and Woke clowns are not where the bulk of Biden’s support is coming from. Had that been the case, he would not have been the nominee. Biden explicitly rejected identity politics in the primary and has repeatedly condemned the violence hitting the inner cities. And yet he won the primary overwhelmingly, based heavily on support in the black community.2
Moreover, vile behavior by supporters is not confined to the Far Left. Some of those supporting Trump have engaged in equally appalling behavior, from the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally to the shooting incident in Kenosha to an incident this weekend in which Trump supporters tried to run a Biden-Harris bus off the road. The Right might decry “identity politics” but their far fringe is engaging in it just as voraciously, only with white identity politics: anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and mindlessly supportive of the police. And that’s excluding the really bad White Supremacists who shot up El Paso and Pittsburgh.
But here’s the thing: one of the more dangerous realities of the modern era is that we can always find bad people doing bad things and claim that it is what “they” are really like. And seeing that bad behavior encourages bad behavior in us. I know people — on both sides — who are reasonable, generous, kind, intelligent and open-minded — who have embraced insane political extremism and openly called for the ostracization of those who support the other side because “they” are so awful.3
If you support Trump, it doesn’t matter what your actual life is like; you are now in bed with his worst supporters. And if you support Biden, it doesn’t matter what your actual life is like; you are now in bed with his worst supporters. You are either a racist shitmonkey or a molotov-hurling radical; someone who thinks kids belong in cages or someone who thinks conservatives belong in re-education camps.
Fie to all that. I will not judge candidates by the behavior of his worst supporters. Because every politician has awful people supporting them. If you look hard enough (and sometimes you don’t have to look too hard), you will find your deplorables.4 But it you look closer, you will find that most of the candidates’ supporters are decent people, even if they do occasionally act like coke-binging spider monkeys.5
I will affix some blame to a candidate for the behavior of his supporters if he actively encourages their worst instincts. And, in this case, Donald Trump is far worse than Joe Biden. The worst you can say about Biden is that he was slow to condemn rioting. He really wasn’t, but we’ll go with that. By contrast, Trump encourages the worst in both sides. From the “Mexico is sending rapists” to repeatedly bashing the “squad” of liberal Democratic women with racist dog whistles (or sometimes racist tubas), he constantly agitates his supporters to indulge their worst instincts, rather than their best. He’s encouraged rally attendees to beat protesters. He’s encouraged cops to beat suspects. In the post linked above, I pointed out that the police were acting badly too, attacking passersby and journalists on a regular basis. This rotten behavior has been embraced and cheered by the President. He whines like a baby any time something untoward happens to him or his supporters. But that doesn’t discourage him from, say, demonizing a governor who was just the subject of a kidnapping plot. Or hesitating to condemn the violence in Charlottesville.6 And he’s getting worse. He has encouraged his supporters to “watch the polls”, which has led to charges of voter intimidation.7 And last night, he praised the Texas supporters who surrounded the Biden bus.
And, frankly, I think Trump shares at least some the blame for the Left’s bad behavior. He has taken great delight in enraging his opponents. Indeed, this is what many of his supporters claim to like most about him. You can’t praise a president for “triggering” the Left and then act all surprised when the Left is … triggered.
This past summer of violence and mayhem is a perfect illustration of his failings in this regard. It could have gone very differently. When the Rodney King verdict was announced, LA exploded in flames. President Bush went on TV and made it absolutely clear that the rioting was unacceptable while still acknowledging that the underlying beef was legitimate. But that required a degree of empathy which came easily to President Bush but is alien to President Trump. There is plenty of blame to go around, mostly on the Democratic leaders of these cities who have responded to the riots with spectacular incompetence. But Trump is not innocent in this.8
As I said, I will not judge who to vote for based on the worst behavior of their supporters. I’ve been blogging a long time and gotten abuse and threats from the worst elements of both sides9. But if I did, that argument goes against Trump, not in favor of him.
We are all a mix of good and bad impulses. One of the duties of a politician is to encourage our better impulses — to encourage us to aspire, to be kind, to be generous, to work hard, to dream. That sentence may get be kicked out of the Third Tier Libertarian Pundits Club10 but it’s true. Our better Presidents have appealed to the better angels of our nature. Donald Trump … has not done that. He is incapable of doing that.
But the real decision for me is the two men’s records. The record of Joseph Biden is … well, mixed would be generous. He has been a strong supporter of law enforcement, with all the excesses that has entailed. His party has a poor record on regulation, a tendency to cave in to labor unions and a foreign policy philosophy that is best described as “Republican, only more so.” Trump does have a point that Biden has been in Washington a long time and has made some poor decisions.
But Joe Biden is also a decent human being. The mistakes he has made — and they have been many — have been born of legitimate concerns. He made friends with segregationists in the 70s but the Dem coalition up until then was forged on a weird alliance between progressives and segregationists. And some of the achievements of which Democrats are most proud — Social Security, for example — were a result of that unholy alliance. Yes, he supported the Crime Bill. But that was a response to an actual, massive surge in crime. By the late-80s and early-90s, our inner cities were coming apart in a wave of unparalleled violence and bloodshed. It’s easy to look back now and say it went too far. And it did. But, at the time, people were suffering and dying in numbers that make 2020’s surge of crime look like a day at the beach. And Biden has at least admitted that the crime bill might have been a mistake, something Trump has never done about, say, the Central Park Five.
I’m not giving him a pass on any of this, by the way. A politician owns his record, no matter how much he may try to flee it. But Biden is classic example of someone with whom I disagree on policy but not motives.
And when it comes to character, there is simply no comparison. There was a serious accusation of assault the emerged this summer. And Biden’s tendency to get handsy with women standing nearby is notorious and unacceptable. Hunter’s behavior in the Ukraine and China was poor. But Biden himself is not corrupt. You don’t have to go far to find people talking about his good character. We’ve seen him show empathy for people that is unimaginable in someone like Trump.
Biden also knows what it is like to endure pain. He raised two sons as a single dad after the horrific loss of his wife and daughter. He had to endure the early death of his beloved son Beau and watch his other son Hunter descend into the hell of substance abuse. And he has handled those challenges — enough for two lifetimes — with decency.
I know that sounds like I’m praising Biden. But it only sounds like praise because basic human decency has been in short supply for the last few years. It’s not that Biden is a great man; it’s that he’s normal. He has good tendencies and bad ones, features and flaws, strengths and weaknesses.
Trump, by contrast, is a malignant narcissist, a man who sees the universe as revolving entirely around him. Loyalty in his administration is oriented toward him personally, not toward the country. He rages and thunders against anyone who disputes him. He fawns all over anyone who praises him. He is consumed with his own ego and besotted with his own vanity. He heaps praise upon bloodthirsty despots like Putin, Kim and Duterte because they know how to flatter his ego. And he derides leaders like Macron, Trudeau and Merkel because they won’t. He goes out every day to rage tweet, spread falsehoods and rile both opponents and supporters into a frenzy. And his personal history is littered with infidelities, sexual assaults, ripping off business partners, abusing eminent domain and racial discrimination. Of the Seven Deadly Sins, Trump is guilty of about twelve.
And, yes, this matters. For the last four years, defenders of Trump have been saying, “Oh, you just don’t like him because he’s crude and obnoxious. Pay attention to what he’s actually doing!” And I’ve been pointing out that what he’s doing — abusing his power, turning the DOJ into his personal hit squad, running up the debt, igniting trade wars, abandoning our allies, letting the world slide into chaos, punishing immigrants — is bad enough.
But I’m going to shift gears here for just moment. Because having an obnoxious, boorish, syphilitic, pussy-grabbing lout as President is not OK. Even putting aside that some of his worst behavior and biggest policy failures have flowed directly from his awful character, I’m tired of pretending that policy — as important as that is — subsumes everything else. Character matters. Behavior matters. Decency matters. A president without even the most basic of these things is a cancer upon our government, our nation and our society.
No, we shouldn’t look to the president to model our behavior. But the reality is that millions of people do. Millions of Republicans now act as though open racism and demeaning of opponents is acceptable, even if they are not themselves racist or mean-spirited. Because that is the example is being set.
On the Record
Now maybe if Trump’s record were great, you could stomach that. I can’t, but let’s play that game. Trump’s record is not and never has been great. His great economy, which was mostly a continuation of the Obama economy, was propped up by deficit spending and easy Federal Reserve money. It was going to crash just like the supposedly good economy of the 1970s –propped up by inflation — was going to crash. The COVID crisis simply hastened the demise.
And the more you look at it, the more his “great record” crumbles to ash. He has “stood up to China”; but China’s power is waxing and our trade deficit just set a record. He has “made our NATO allies pay”; but that process started under Obama and Trump’s boorishness has only caused the alliance — one of the most important elements of the Pax Americana we have enjoyed for 75 years — to fray. He has “confronted Iran”; but they have resumed their nuclear program after he stupidly backed out of a treaty they were compliant with. He has “rolled back regulations”; but only ones keeping our air and water clean or our workers safe. When it came to one of the most important regulations — the one keeping private industry from developing their own COVID tests — he floundered.
And that brings me to the ultimate failure. When Donald Trump was elected, my greatest fear was the he would be faced with a crisis — a war, an economic collapse or a pandemic — and he would fail. As I said in my post on why Bush was a better President Trump
Things are going pretty well right now. But the pieces of a disaster — trade wars, diplomatic chaos, swelling deficit — are already in place. What happens when things stop going so well? I can easily see, in 2020 or 2024, the United States being in a far worse position than we were in 2008: a second Great Depression, a potential default on the debt, another war or three.
Well, we’ve seen what happened. He threw out our safeguards. He panicked. He lied about the seriousness of it. He couldn’t stay on message. He pressured federal agencies to lie. He demonstrated a shocking lack of empathy for people getting sick or watching loved ones perish. And now he’s out there — when we are well into a third wave and COVID is hitting record levels of infections — holding big political rallies and encouraging people not to fear the virus.
Trump’s signature success is the judges he has appointed (and, notably, the part of his presidency he completely farmed out to outsiders). But I don’t consider this to be a huge mark of triumph. While I favor a conservative judiciary, I do not favor a partisan one and a number of the judges he has appointed are unqualified and issuing opinions that read more like Fox News screeds than legal writings. And this may come to a head in the next few days. One of the reasons for the undue haste with which Barrett was approved — stated openly — was the hope that a conservative SCOTUS would rule for Trump on any election disputes (and he’s already raging about a few instances where they haven’t).
There is a tremendous danger in this. Andrew Jackson once said, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it”. He then proceeded, in defiance of a Court decision, to carry out one of the worst ethnic cleansings in American history. Judges don’t actually have any power. Their ability to decide cases rests on their legitimacy and the willingness of people to submit to their authority. If the judiciary begins to be seen as partisan, if they issue a series of rulings that throws the election to Donald Trump, their legitimacy will be shot. The signature feat of Trump’s reign will not be a conservative judiciary but one that is ignored and derided by much of the country for being nothing more than a vehicle of the politicians. That is incredibly dangerous.
We can speculate on what a Biden administration might do. And I think they will do a lot of dumb stuff. I expect to oppose them 70% of the time. And I worry that the press will go to sleep on him (although Fox News will still exist). But we don’t have to speculate about a what a Trump Administration will do. We’ve already seen it. And it has been a generational disaster.
It will get worse. Trump has purged his Administration of all the decent people — Kelly, Mattis, Haley — who were holding him back. He has kept the awful people — Miller, Barr, Kushner — who encourage him to indulge his worst instincts. If Trump is re-elected, he will see it as a vindication of every way he has abused power for the last four years and an enticement to do worse. He has already made his priorities for the next four years clear: a DOJ that goes after his political enemies while ignoring blatant corruption by his allies; an open attack on legal immigration; a continued floundering response to COVID-19; more trade wars; more rallies; more power and less accountability for police.
You’re going to have to go a long way to convince me that Law and Order Biden — part of an Administration that pushed a Republican healthcare plan through and cut the budget deficit in half — is worse than that. From the very beginning, we said that Biden was the mainstream alternative to radicals like Sanders and Warren. You can’t turn around now and proclaim that, oops, Biden was the true radical all along.
“But!” you say, “OK, Biden has been pretty mainstream, I’ll grant you. But he’s 78. Kamala Harris may become president and she’s so radical!” Is she, though? Kamala Harris was a prosecutor in California and one that was anything but progressive. She draws her strongest support from law enforcement and Silicon Valley. Yes, she initially embraced Medicare for All, but she quickly dropped it like a hot potato. That’s because she is who she is — high on flash, low on substance, ignorant of policy and ultimately beholden to fairly normal business interests. A Kamala Harris presidency would be “radical” in the same sense that putting pepperjack cheese on your burger is radical.
Moreover, the Democrats are a bag of cats. The idea that this party can unite behind a radical agenda, or indeed any agenda, is laughable. The last time they had the House, a filibuster-proof Senate majority and a fairly liberal president, their big achievement that radically remade the country was … Obamacare. That is, a big gift to insurance companies that, coincidentally, expanded insurance to millions of people. They haven’t changed, no matter how much anyone tries to convince you otherwise. Their agenda, such as it is, is far more likely to be set by Joe Manchin than AOC.
In the End
What really jumps out at me as I write these words is how much this all goes back to character, the thing we’ve pretended doesn’t matter in politics. It’s easy to see why we would think so. After, all, Bill Clinton was a successful president and had the sexual ethics of a Delta Tau Chi party combined with the subtle discretion of a whoopee cushion. But there’s character and there’s character. Most politicians are bad. Power corrupts. But some are far worse than others.
I believe that power and money place stress on a person. Any vessel will crack under that pressure. Haven’t seen a president yet who couldn’t be petty and venal at times. But a flawed vessel will not just crack; it will shatter. Trump has always been a flawed vessel. And the result has been an absolute moral inversion inflicted upon this country. Under Donald Trump, down is up, left is right, right is wrong and wrong is right. Consider what we are told every day by this president and his vast media support machine:
- Massive open corruption is “draining the swamp”. Going after said corruption is deep state treason.
- As long as you’re loyal to Donald Trump, selling your country out to another country is no burden to being a “true patriot”. But you can literally carry shrapnel in your body and be called a traitor because you’ve tried to blow the whistle on corruption.
- Barack Obama, who never had a whiff of personal scandal, was a moral plague on the nation. Donald Trump — who has five children by three wives; boasted about sexually assaulting women and bursting in on teenage beauty contestants; a corrupt venal man who has abused his wealth to silence critics and used government power to enrich himself — is the moral and spiritual leader of the nation.
- Making stories up out of whole cloth is real news. Reporting on abuses of power is fake news.
- A man who gets COVID-19 because of irresponsible behavior but survives it thanks to a team of elite doctors and medicines unavailable to the public is praised for his strength. Those who die of it — say this man, a heroic doctor who caught it trying to desperately save a patient’s life — are “the weak”.
I don’t know how the election will go on Tuesday. Even if you believe the polls, the volume of mail-in and absentee ballots may mean we don’t know who won for a week or more. And even then, I expect massive legal challenges. God help us if SCOTUS decides the election by throwing out thousands of votes.
But Donald Trump can not be elected to a second term. I say this not from that tiny liberal flare in my heart. I don’t say it from the libertarian streak down my back. I say it from my conservative mind and spirit. The damage he has done to this nation — to our institutions, to our dialogue, to our politics, to our media and to actual people — is enough. The craziness that has now engulfed our political world is something he has actively encouraged and amplified. Maybe Biden isn’t the cure to what ails our body politic. But at least he won’t be gnawing on the bones.
- Ok, a lot.
- It turns out, black people don’t want their cities burned down either.
- The first place I heard this was Limbaugh’s show, when he told a caller that her Obama-supporting friends weren’t really her friends and had never been her friends.
- I would like to say I learned this lesson by being smart, open-minded and generous of spirit. But I didn’t. I learned it because I spent years defending Ron Paul from accusations of racism. Paul had his flaws and did allow a number of racist morons into his orbit. But the attention he got from the likes of Stormfront was not his doing. The really real Nazi types are the barnacles of the political world, attaching themselves to any ship that bears the flag “outsider”. They attached themselves to Paul — that is, a man who wanted to expand immigration, end the War on Drugs and free thousands of mostly black people from prison. Once he faded, they glommed onto Trump. The failing of both men is that they didn’t brush the barnacles off their ships.
- A perfect illustration of the difference between how people perceive their political opponents and how they actually are: I work at a university and one that is well known for having a student body that leans a bit left in the same sense that the Titanic leaned a bit forward. I am frequently asked if my campus has “erupted” or if I am in fear of my life. And the question strikes me as bizarre since campus is fairly quiet. There have been BLM protests, but there has not been looting or smashing windows at all. The students have been engaged but mostly focused on their studies, especially in the Semester of COVID.
- Some of Trump’s supporters note that after his “very fine people” comment, he condemned the White Supremacists. Which would be fine, except that the rally was explicitly and openly White Supremacist. So there were no very fine people there to distinguish.
- In 2008, the Right Wing flipped out — rightfully so — about two jokers from the New Black Panthers intimidating voters. How times have changed.
- I would also argue that Trump bears some responsibility for the underlying problem or police brutality, given that he has encouraged cops to be violent, has revoked consent decrees that were agreed to by police departments with problems and has now proposed a “reform” that would make cops less accountable. Months before George Floyd died, the head of the police union praised Trump for “taking the handcuffs off” police.
- The worst was from Michael Moore supporters while Bush was President.
- Motto: mottos are fascist.