2024 Is Democracy's Moonshot
Like it or not, a crisis is coming. But we are facing it on good ground.
1. The Good News
After yesterday’s darkness, let’s channel Gene Kranz again.
Early in Apollo 13, as the mission is going to hell, the various systems managers are giving Kranz a list of everything that’s failing. Kranz pauses. He takes a drag on his cigarette. And then he asks, “What have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”
And you know what? America will face a crisis next year. It could manifest in a few different forms, but we all see it coming.
But we’re not moving into this crisis in disarray. Just objectively speaking, the forces of stability are actually in a strong position.
The pandemic is over. I don’t think we appreciate this enough. COVID was so traumatic that we’ve memory-holed how unstable and deadly a place America was in four years ago.
The economy is strong. Forget the attitude surveys. If you were handed reams of economic data you would come to two rock-solid conclusions:
(1) The American economy is in a good place: Low unemployment, bottom-led wage growth, increasing household wealth, solid GDP growth.
(2) Relative to the rest of the world, the American economy has performed marvelously. Every advanced economy would trade places with us in a heartbeat.
We are not involved in any wars. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are over and our troops are no longer in harm’s way. This gives America extra freedom of maneuver in dealing with our adversaries because we no longer have active conflicts leaching away our political will on a daily basis.
The Democratic party is a healthy political institution. I’m not saying that the Democratic party is perfect at politics or correct on every matter of policy. And I’m not saying that every Democratic voter or activist or officeholder is good.
But the institution of the Democratic party—taken as a whole—is healthy. It is committed to liberal democracy and the rule of law. It is in favor of legal processes and opposed to extra-legal processes, especially political violence.
The institutional Democratic party is even opposed to extra-legal acts and political violence when these modes are taken up by supposed members of its coalition: See the reaction of the Biden administration to the riots of 2020 and the anti-Semitism of 2023.
You can argue with any and all of the Democratic party’s policy preferences: Maybe their tax policy is suboptimal, or their immigration policy would lead to bad outcomes. But on the most bedrock questions of liberalism—the rule of law and the democratic process—the party is solid.
See the party’s reaction to Bob Menendez’s (alleged) crimes and the administration’s handling of the investigations of Hunter Biden.
No serious person can look at the Democratic party and worry that if Joe Biden is reelected there might not be a free and fair election in 2028.
Joe Biden has been a good president with good political instincts. From the moment he took office, Biden has pursued a consistent strategy of trying to return American politics to a place of normalcy.
Some people wanted Biden to govern as if the political system was in crisis: Making DC a state; adding seats to the Supreme Court; passing transformative voting reforms, even if it meant doing away with the filibuster. In short: Working to Trump-proof our system of government, even if it meant short-term political disadvantage for Democrats.1
Biden’s strategy was the opposite: Avoid radical change. Pass lots of bipartisan legislation—some of it incremental (like gun reform) and some of it ambitious but also hugely popular (like the infrastructure bill). Work with Republicans. Negotiate. Marginalize the more radical elements of the Democratic coalition so as to deny oxygen to the more radical elements of the Republican coalition.
And on the issue of Trump, Biden has done everything possible to avoid pushing Republican voters into Trump’s arms. Biden rarely speaks of Trump. He has behaved properly regarding all of the investigations and criminal charges against Trump. At nearly every turn, Biden has declined to participate in elevating Trump or adding to Trump’s grievances.
I’d go so far as to say that you could view Biden’s shadow agenda as giving the Republican party room to rehabilitate itself. If it had been so inclined.
Non-Republican voters have behaved responsibly. While Republican voters have nominated cranks, bigots, and insurrectionists as their standard-bearers, the main body of American voters have continually rejected them.
In 2016 the majority of American voters rejected Trump. In 2018, they chose Democrats. In 2020 they gave Joe Biden more votes than any candidate in American history. In 2022, they turned out to reject Republican extremists.
Am I leaving bad stuff out of this picture? Yeah. The world is big and complicated and bad stuff is always part of the story.
But you could see an alternate timeline in which we met the crisis of 2024 on dangerous terrain. Maybe unemployment was at 7 percent. Maybe we were mired in recession. Maybe Afghanistan was still a bleeding wound and Putin had overrun Kyiv. Maybe the most radical elements of the Democratic party were running around starting fires over defunding the police. Maybe Biden was a bumbling incompetent who couldn’t close deals and didn’t get any business done. Maybe Biden himself was corrupt and mired in scandal.
Take any one of those and 2024 becomes much darker. Take two or three of them and we’re on a rocket-sled to facism.
But instead, we will meet the challenge of 2024 on the best possible terrain. The most defensible ground. With a winning coalition of voters, a responsible version of the Democratic party, and a restrained and successful incumbent president.
I don’t like that we’re in this position at all. I wish we weren’t. I wish that 2024 would pit Biden against Nikki Haley or Brian Kemp or whoever and we could all go back to arguing about marginal tax rates.
But we are where we are. And as Joshua Chamberlain said at Little Round Top, this is good ground to fight on.
So let’s meet the challenge of 2024 confidently. And together.
Merry Christmas, my friends. I’ll see you in the new year and we’ll get to work.
2. Santa. Quantum Entanglement. Bedtime.
Two outstanding pieces of video on Santa, reaffirming the truism that any technology which is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.
And this, from the DoD:
3. The Finals
It has come to this: The King vs. The Boss.
I would have preferred “Christmas Wrapping” facing off against “Christmas in Hollis” in the finals, but really, can you argue with Elvis and Bruce Springsteen? Forget those diaper dandies, baby, here come the blue chippers!
And the clash of styles on these tunes couldn’t be bigger. “Blue Christmas” is melancholy and minor and the arrangement isn’t spare, exactly, but it is restrained. You could see it being performed on The Lawrence Welk Show.
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” isn’t just up-tempo—it’s rowdy. The arrangement feels like there’s so much going on that the wheels might come off at any minute. This is a song that was meant to be performed live, in front of the biggest possible audience, with everyone jumping and shouting along.
Before you vote, one Easter Egg: On tomorrow’s weekend edition of The Next Level, Tim and I interviewed Springsteen’s consigliere, Steven Van Zandt. It’s a fantastic conversation. Be on the lookout for it.
Merry Christmas, friend. And a happy New Year, too.
I’ll talk to you in 2024.
I was very much open to this radical agenda.