Just as it seemed the impeachment trial of Donald Trump would drag into this week, the impeachment managers decided that delaying the inevitable acquittal by calling witnesses was a bad idea, and settled for a deposition from a Republican congresswoman stating what she heard from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy what he said he had heard from President Trump. The sigh of relief from Camp David, to which President Biden had removed himself to demonstrate his lack of participation in the trial, was heard 70 miles away in Washington. The President is now free to launch a planned tour to push his policy proposals and divert voters’ gaze from the dis-uniting effect of his party’s attempt to disenfranchise 75 million voters by barring Trump from public office. Biden, having proclaimed, “I am the Democratic Party now,” has to ask Americans to believe one of two things: he was powerless to control his party’s last spasm of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or that he favored it. Neither is very flattering to the new president.
Senators, having served out their jury duty, are now free to attend to the nation’s economic business. Before them is President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, rife with provisions that will further divide Americans. One such will require citizens of well-run states to ship $350 billion to profligate states that cannot finance their bureaucracies, afford the promises they have made to their voters, or the pensions extracted by public sector unions. This is unlikely to increase the fondness of Republican states for their Democratic counterparts.
Nor is the Democrats’ decision to use a procedure called reconciliation to pass the President’s package with no input from Republicans, rather than accept any revisions. The 50-50 senate will vote along strict party lines, and the tie will be broken by the vice president, Kamala Harris. It would be unreasonable to expect Biden to make big changes to his plan. But it would not be unreasonable to expect him, having campaigned as the Great Unifier, to consider whether Barack Obama’s message to Republicans – “I won; you lost; deal with it”- is the message he wishes to convey. Especially since former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, not one to shrink from running large deficits under appropriate conditions, has warned that throwing another $1.9 trillion on the debt pile might unleash an inflationary spiral.
The de-unifying battle over the relief bill is matched in intensity by a war that has parents, students and many local school boards battling the teachers’ unions. Four months of school closures will cost the US economy some $2.5 trillion in future earnings, or 12.7% of annual GDP, says the Brookings Institution. That does not take into account the physical and emotional damage to students, or the lost incomes of home-bound, working-class parents.
Biden has promised to have all schools open in his “first 100 days”, and is pouring in $170 billion on top of the $67 billion that a Georgetown University team estimates has been allotted in previous bills to primary and secondary education. And claims to be keeping his promise. True, but only if you accept
Biden’s definition of all schools as half of them, and “open” as some learning in some schools one day a week, as George Orwell would have been unlikely to do. As the Biden-leaning New York Times puts it, the president has “shown little willingness to criticize union recalcitrance.” Parents are starting to feel the powerlessness that in 2016 drove many to vote for Trump.
Then there is the small matter of federal student debt, some $1.6 trillion of it, with 56% owed by higher earners with masters or professional degrees, and 35% of loan balances owed by individuals in the top 20% of the income distribution, according to Brookings’ Adam Looney. The Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, with a wary eye on his left, trembling in fear of being “primaried” by an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-backed candidate, has called for Biden to erase “the first $50,000 of debt … with the pen as opposed to legislation.” Parents who made sacrifices to pay for their children’s educations, while neighbours booked cruises and borrowed to pay for their college fees, would be outraged. So would students who worked summer jobs while friends chose beaches, beer and borrowing. Democrats’ modern application of their historic devotion to the interests of debtors (often poor farmers) over creditors (those Wall Street bankers) would add to the divisiveness resulting from increasing inequality, a consequence of the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold interest rates to zero, small savers be damned, while the wealthy watch share prices levitate. Fans of Aesop will understand that uniting ants and grasshoppers is beyond Biden’s considerable persuasive powers.
Democracy works to produce unity when all parties, most especially those that lose a policy argument, are satisfied they have been treated fairly and with respect, and their vital interests have at least been considered. Which was not the situation of those later dubbed “deplorables” before Trump emerged.
Biden must decide whether sacrificing the interests of children and their parents to the teachers’ unions because he has mortal longings for the good old days of public-spirited trade union leaders; wiping out jobs of dirty-handed labourers to please elitist greens by cancelling an oil pipeline; and robbing from the poor to give to the rich by cancelling student debt, might recreate a feeling of powerlessness and being unheard among many Americans. That is the meat on which the returning, acquitted Caesar will feed in 2024.