For All Americans
Congress is blue, in both the Upper and Lower chambers. But it's Aruba blue, just barely.
The hard part is done. Or is it?
At noon on January 20th of 2021, as mandated by Section 1 of the 20th Amendment, following the deadly January 6th confirmation of electoral votes by both chambers, which was itself preceded by the December 15th electoral college convention, both mandated by the 12th Amendment, which was determined by the November 3rd general election, provided by the Presidential Election Day Act, Joseph Robinette Biden lost his elect. The 46th President of the United States now sits in a newly refurbished (and cleaned) Oval Office, cleaning through many of the Executive Orders of his Floridian predecessor. After two failed attempts spanning 30 years, the most expensive and longest election season in modern history, a thwarted white nationalist insurrection, and record turn-out, the hard part is done.
Except it isn’t. Four hundred years of compounded institutionalized white supremacy continues to manifest itself in every American city, entire states must pick between being torched or flooded, a pandemic is claiming entire communities—twelve people since I’ve started writing this—and vaccine rollout seems to have been executed by the healthcare.gov czar, unemployment is surging to the worst levels since the Grapes of Wrath, and international diplomacy perverted after dictators have been embraced and allies have been discarded. These things have not changed as of noon on January 20th of 2021. The President alone can remedy some of these ailments, but the powers of the Unitary Executive Theory are not limitless. Yes, at least one other branch will be called upon.
Congress is blue, in both the Upper and Lower chambers. But it’s Aruba blue, just barely. With the smallest House majority in modern history, and a Senate that is literally tied, the hard part is not done at all.
The tightness of this situation will give myopic moderates the most leverage, at least for the next two years. In these purple tones, people like Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic Senator from West Virginia, will wield outlandish power. The “Patriot’s Party” sounds more like an Avengers film than a New Age Tea Party, so assuming the parties remain aligned, minor defects will have major ramifications. For example, Senator Manchin, despite worshipping the same animal as President Biden, has alluded to his opposition to increased stimulus checks. Appeasing to moderates may be Joe Biden’s single biggest responsibility; fortunately (or unfortunately) it happens to be one of his greatest strengths.
At the same time, it will be incredibly tempting (and rightfully so) for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to press the gas pedal. Just twelve years ago, Washington was unified under the Democrats. Two years of rhetorical infighting between Manchin’s and progressives resulted in the largest Republican gain since 1948 (63 seats). One can only hypothesize what the Republican Party will look like in two years, and The Finch Media has attempted to, but irrespective the reality is that Democrats will face a tough midterm. They cannot lose seats in elections which traditionally lose seats for the majority party. Of course, one way to mitigate the wave is to deliver on policy. Beyond the long-term political gain of doing their jobs (how bizarre), the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is undergoing a prison break. After four years of legislative captivity, the unified government provides a slim but existing path to mitigating and venturing onward. Blossoming discourse on racial justice—made evident by President Biden’s mentioning of white supremacy today, the first direct mention in a formal address since Ulysses S. Grant—has energized discussions on substantive national reform. In a very real sense, the country has been pushed so low, that a correctional whiplash is likely to result in a desire for drastic left change. Nevermind the battery of radical, socialist, hold-the-line defamation spewed during the election, these past four years were truthfully quite radical for conservatives. In the appointment of a third of the Court, disturbing enforcement of homeland policies, cruel legislation towards the LGBTQ community and its protections, and a complete denial of climate change on the national scale, conservatives pushed hard right. Many in the Democratic Party will be looking to this past term and asking, “why shouldn’t we do the exact same?”
It’s unlikely that the Democrats see the same level of party unity Republican did while they held Washington. For starters, the Democratic Party has legitimate policy distinctions. The GOP we’ve seen these past few weeks does not. Defection is rare, party over policy is perfected. Inversely, Democrats, much like in 2008, and perhaps by nature of being a more diverse bloc, vary drastically in their positions, particularly on economic matters. Manchin has just as much in common with Representative Omar as he does with the outgoing former President. When Republicans held power just a mere four years ago, they capitalized. Of course, not in healthcare plans or infrastructure packages, but in things that help working people directly, like corporate tax cuts.
At the center of this fight is the man setting the agenda for the nation and his party. President 45 could have cared less if Democrats were assisted or even considered Americans. He made little effort to mask his disregard, even hijacking the other half to serve as talking points for the lack of “law and order” in “Democratic cities and states.” Inversely, President Biden has not only mentioned, but emphasized his interest in working across the aisle. A former Senator himself, the President promised to “fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” This phrase was not just sludged in by Vinay Reddy to pacify “alienated” white supremacists (though I doubt they care). President Biden has been talking about the “elusive unity” since he finished last in the New Hampshire primary nearly a year ago. The tug between Progress and Unity has already played out in cabinet appointments. However, President Biden appears to have dipped in both camps, providing progress through the most diverse cabinet in history, and unity through the most recycled one (nearly every appointment has served in a very similar role, nobody too daring).
President Biden has and will continue to embrace Cesar Chavez’s (whose bust sits behind the Resolute Desk) saying, “You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.” How will this play out down Constitution Avenue NW, where Democrats are barely strong enough?
Asked whether in the “mood for compromise” earlier this week, progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders responded, “I don’t know what being in the middle means when half of the population is working paycheck to paycheck.” Now, virtually every elected official in Congress could start their responses in the same fashion, but about half would pivot to “but.” If Joe Manchin and Mitt Romney’s (Manchin’s antacid) recent Washington Post Op-Ed “How we compromised on Covid-19 relief” is any indication, several members of Congress know what being in the middle means, and much like the states of West Virginia and Utah, they’ll have an outsized influence on the Republic.
The one silver lining behind this tension will be an all but guaranteed return to policies for the Republican Party. In order to salvage their image, bombastic rhetoric just won’t cut it for the Reds. It’s too early to notice any shift, but as time AD (After Donald) increases, a faction of the Romney Republicans will become equally emphatic about policy issues as Democrats currently are. Maybe then, future debates won’t be about Twitter schlongs, but tax systems.
President Biden has vowed to be a “President for all Americans.” Every Congressman serves themselves, their district, and their country (often in that order). Any one of them will tell you they want what is best for America. But what is best depends on what can be, and will be is the hard part.
Cover: Eric Baradat/AFP