how I misjudged our moment

Early in 2021, I thought …

  • Jan. 6 would cause a significant proportion of elected Republicans to turn against Trump and to support at least modest investigations and reforms.

I now think that a combination of partisan self-interest and genuine support for Trump among some GOP politicians has prevented any serious reckoning. Also, for most Americans, this whole issue is not salient; only strong partisans on either side follow it. For instance, right now, the broadcast networks are barely covering the breaking news about Trump’s behavior after the election. In the absence of public attention, there is no incentive for Republican politicians to antagonize Trump, nor even for most Democrats to try to fix the problem.

That would be good for Democrats and for the general idea that the government can be helpful. However, there is no sign that the funds were popular. It is possible that a core assumption of left-of-center politics is wrong: people don’t want this kind of help. But I suspect inflation simply ate it up, and voters blame the Biden administration for higher prices. The median household will spend about $4,500 more this year than last year to buy the same basket of goods, while the stimulus offered $1,400 per individual.

Speaking of inflation, I have no expertise on such matters, but I presumed the commentators were correct who blamed COVID-19 for temporarily disrupting supply and causing price spikes. Now it seems at least plausible that inflation is a major problem that will not abate without a recession.

  • Relatively strict public health measures, including remote schooling, would effectively counter the pandemic.

Most importantly, such measures would save lives while allowing the economy to reopen safely. Meanwhile, they would pay dividends for the blue-state governors (including moderate Republicans) who closed schools and required masks, while embarrassing the most science-skeptical governors. However, Texas has had 2.9 cumulative deaths per thousand people from COVID-19 (basically at the national average); Florida has had 3.2; New York, 3.5; and New Jersey, 3.7. It is not clear which policies “worked” or how to weigh the significant costs against the possible benefits of policies like school closures. There is certainly no reason to think that governors like DeSantis will pay a political price (regardless of whether they should).

I never counted on a major social reform bill like Build Back Better to pass, since I doubted the Democrats had enough votes. I did harbor some hopes for the bill, based on the idea that the Trump fiasco, the COVID stimulus, and success in containing the pandemic would give Democrats momentum. Clearly, the opposite has happened. Although I strongly disagree with Democrats like Sen. Mark Kelly who are now running away from the bill, the psychology is clear enough. Recent events have undermined morale.

We have also experienced the exogenous shocks of Delta and Omicron plus Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and Western sanctions). Selected experts predicted each of these events, but none was widely anticipated. Now the elections in Hungary and Serbia and the polling trend in France (where Le Pen is within the margin of error of Macron) add grounds for alarm.

There is plenty of work for all of us to do–assisting people affected by current crises and preventing future ones by educating and organizing. But I am not sure there is much anyone can do to change the immediate trajectory of global events. I can only hope that I will prove as mistakenly pessimistic in 2022 as I was naively optimistic a year ago.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.