The euphoria of Donald Trump’s defeat, complicated as it was by the loss of more than a dozen Democratic incumbents in the House, was short-lived — and it’s palpably giving way to terror as we approach the Jan. 5 run-off elections in Georgia. The results of those two quirky races will determine which party controls the Senate and, therefore, whether Democrats will be able to advance any kind of progressive (or event centrist) agenda.
That’s not the whole picture, of course. In the pre-Trump era, conventional wisdom held that an administration’s first 100 days were to be taken as a harbinger of things to come. If they were successful, so too would the next four years be. Well, conventional wisdom was always mostly inane Beltway chatter, and it’s highly unlikely that Joe Biden would enjoy any kind of political honeymoon — or even the deference to appoint a Cabinet of his choosing — even if there weren’t a global pandemic and economic near-collapse for him to contend with. With that, here’s a preview of what we can expect come Jan. 20, 2021 — with apologies, ’cause it ain’t pretty.
Everything is now Biden’s fault
Of all of Trump’s malevolent, factually incorrect, or just plain mystifying quotes, “I don’t take responsibility at all” might embody the last four years better than any other. That “who, me?” utterance, spoken in March three days before Mayor London Breed ordered what was then an unprecedented shutdown of a major U.S. city, encapsulates the outgoing president’s total abdication of duty during the crises that followed.
Then there was the administration’s response to civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, in which they almost succeeded in making the case to the American public that violent clashes under Trump were actually the fault of progressives and not the Proud Boys and other extremist groups who were told to “stand by.”
Republicans may have OK’d their leader’s lack of interest in healing or even governing, but the instant that Biden takes his hand off the Bible on Inauguration Day, look for a retconning of the last few years, with all the blame that Trump evaded falling squarely on his successor. Far-right outlets like Newsmax and OANN will cherrypick statistics to draw flimsy connections to unrelated events from the Obama era, bypassing the Trump years completely in order to pin blame for everything that happens onto Biden, who will seem to have held power uninterrupted this whole time.
Deficits matter again
Bill Clinton balanced the federal budget in the late 1990s, often to the consternation of progressives who wanted to redirect that money to restore slashed social programs. Then George W. Bush brought us record deficits to fund a tax cut and a war with Iraq. Tasked with helping the nation recover from the 2008 financial crisis, Barack Obama was hounded by so-called deficit hawks — many of them libertarian billionaires — and he attempted to do it without a lot of Keynesian intervention, resulting in a sort of limbo where neither side was satisfied.
Having successfully thwarted any legislation that would address income inequality head-on, those deficit hawks vanished as soon as Trump took office. Republicans then passed another tax cut consisting of giveaways to the top 1 percent, creating an economic “sugar high” that has long subsided — and now Biden will take office with the national debt exceeding $22 trillion. This will be a stone around the government’s neck.
The same Republicans who thought $600 should be enough to live on for eight months will immediately conclude that this state of affairs is viscerally intolerable, and hammer home an insincere message of fiscal responsibility every time Democrats propose making life a little easier for working people.
Even though the same man (Mitch McConnell) leads it today, the Republican Party that vowed to make Obama a one-term president 12 years ago is now populated by legislators who are even less interested in compromise or good-faith negotiations.
But again, the Georgia runoffs will determine the fate of another stimulus and any other legislation. In a GOP-controlled Senate, McConnell will ensure that nothing that could benefit Biden gets done. In a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking every tie, Chuck Schumer will become Majority Leader, but every last senator has an incentive to demand concessions to enhance their own standing.
Either way, blame for any resulting gridlock will go to “both sides” no matter how obstructionist one party is, the likeliest consequence of which is voter dissatisfaction leading to nihilist Republicans making gains in the 2022 midterms.
Outrage in bad faith, everywhere
Sen. Marco Rubio, who was fine with all the foul-mouthed vituperation that emanated from the White House for the last four years, is apparently incensed that Biden’s campaign manager used the F word. (Don’t forget the War on Christmas, wherein Starbucks cups are insufficiently pious even though the First Lady was caught on tape saying “F—- Christmas.”) Such trivial episodes are merely a foretaste of the pearl-clutching “concerns” to come.
All eyes still on Trump
What’s he gonna do? Get kicked out of Palm Beach? Immediately declare his campaign for 2024? Get banned from Twitter and become the toast of Parler? Reboot “The Apprentice?” We should probably reconcile ourselves to hearing him fulminate for the rest of our lives.
At the same time, he has done nothing but fail forward all his life, and it would be interesting to watch him destroy a media company. How? First, he could sign a nine-digit, NFL-style contract with OAN or Newsmax. Then he might demand outrageous conditions like total control over any guests, in an attempt to turn it into Trump TV. A strategy of deliberately generating controversy every day could cause deep-pocketed advertisers to flee, and while his hardcore fans might love him, he would hit a viewership ceiling that could hobble the company’s balance sheet and cause open warfare with executives.
The Q-Anon Party?
Perhaps the most fascinating (read: grimly terrifying and unhinged from reality) phenomenon of Trump-era America is the rise of QAnon, an interlocking set of conspiracies that revolve around liberal elites drinking the blood of children and worshiping Satan.
The Atlantic had a fantastic essay assigning most of the blame to Mark Zuckerberg, but now that there are Q fans in the House of Representatives, look for them to become a thorn in Establishment Republicans’ side. They interpret compromise as a moral failure, and there are already stirrings of dissatisfaction with McConnell over his acknowledgment that Biden won the election. Granted, the Tea Party largely remade the Republican Party over in its own image in 2009-10, but QAnon has encountered stiffer resistance.
QAnon’s central tenet — that Trump was battling Deep State pedophiles, and there would be a final, Book of Revelation-esque showdown — turned out not to be true. But cults are malleable, and as new prophecies emerge to sustain the #WWG1WGA crowd’s fervor, we should expect some seriously weird ideas to enter the mainstream.
My guess? Aliens. The Air Force all but admitted the existence of UFOs, and we seem to have found evidence of life in Venus’ atmosphere, so now that the U.S. government has Space Force, it’s not even accurate to say that the sky’s the limit on craziness. Because the insanity will be coming from outer space.
Guest columnist Peter-Astrid Kane is the communications manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor of SF Weekly.