2020: The Guardrails Hold

President Trump threw terror into the hearts of millions of Americans by refusing to sign the Covid relief bill, a refusal which if maintained would have brought their benefits to an end. Satisfied that he had proved he retains some relevance, he then agreed late last night to sign it, extracting an agreement from congress to consider (1) increasing the sum to $2,000; (2) review and either terminate or substantially reform section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that provides a liability shield for high tech companies, and (3) “focus strongly” on his claims of election fraud. As with so much else in the past four years, Trump is probably right on the merits, at least as to the need for more generous reform and the elimination of section 230. As for voter fraud, any senator who wants to climb down that rabbit hole was free to do so before the latest Trump move.

Trump fails to get credit for being right because he is so wrong about procedure. The time to press for $2,000 was during the arduous negotiations over the relief bill; he chose instead to spend his time concocting ever-more ludicrous ways of reversing Joe Biden’s victory, and drafting a lengthening list of presidential pardons.

That deal enabled the man who hates nothing more than being and being known as a loser to claim he had won his battle with congress, the shattered nerves of those desperately in need of relief checks being the collateral damage of his sulky stunt. Checks should be in the mail as you read this, including to badly shaken voters in Georgia who are deciding which party they want to entrust with control of the senate. And Republican candidates for the two seats being contested wondering just how to vote if the $2,000 sum comes up for a vote – against the President whose support they have been courting, or against their constituents, who do know that $2,000 is a lot more than $600.

Trump simply cannot see that instead of being remembered as the man who defrocked the clerisy and unseated the coastal elites, made progress towards peace in the Middle East, whose project Warp Speed brought us vaccine jabs months ahead of what experts deemed possible, and who was the first to make China pay a price for its outrageous trade practices, he will be remembered for his tantrums and the self-indulgent behavior of a sore loser.

Do not mistake the latest act of Trumpian self-indulgence for the more important developments of the year now ending. 2020 has seen the institutions erected by our Founding Fathers survive an attempt by our President to bring them down. Trump huffed and puffed, but he could not blow the institutions of democracy down. The electoral college met in all 50 states, without incident, and announced that Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States come noon, Washington D.C. time, on January 20. All as the Constitution prescribes, all after the Supreme Court rejected the woebegone Trump legal team’s efforts to upset the election results. As the much-missed Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer put it, the constitutional guard rails held.

This year also saw America conquer a deadly virus in record time. Thanks to Trump, who cut red tape and risked criticism by laying out cash for products that did not yet exist, the private sector developed several vaccines that are now being administered to put an end to the pandemic. Capitalist private enterprise, including the often-reviled pharmaceutical companies, came to the rescue of virus-ridden Americans. Scientists slept in their labs, gigantic companies reordered their priorities, mundane package deliverers diverted resources to the distribution of vaccines under difficult conditions, all working in harmony with the US military.

2020 has also been the year in which America became aware of three problems that urgently need attending: the possibility that the earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions (a subject I will separately address at a later date); the inequality with which the fruits of economic growth have been distributed; and the need to level the educational and economic playing fields for persons of color.

The private and public sectors have “the great fire hose of money pointed at Black Lives Matter groups and sympathizers,” as The Economist puts it. That flow of cash, along with a promise by genial, self-styled moderate Joe Biden to address those problems has lowered the political temperature in the country, with only Trump and his supporters, and those suffering from the lingering effects of Trump Derangement Syndrome, still running on hot.

It would be foolish to suggest that the Biden administration will come up with answers to today’s problems by digging into its Obama-era bag of tricks – Biden has appointed so many veterans of that administration that wags refer to him as Jobama. But they will try, using the institutions of government rather than a twitchy Twitter finger. Political battles will be fought, but along lines more familiar to those who remember America before Trump descended that famous escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy.