Hi friends. This will be the last Triad of 2021 and instead of the usual three things to read, I want to give you some thoughts about next year. Spoiler: It won’t be good.
If you prefer the sunny-side up view of this past year, Tim Miller has it for you.
(1) Nearly 1 million COVID deaths by mid-April.
We’re at 821,000 dead already. Unless we get very lucky, in another 100 days, we’ll be somewhere between 920,000 and 1,000,000.
We’ve been doing more than 1,000 deaths a day since August 21. For most of this stretch, the daily average has been in excess of 1,500 deaths per day. Just do the math. Unless the daily deaths change, we’re headed to a million dead by spring.
Republicans are going to use this fact to attack the Biden administration, saying that Biden handled COVID worse than Trump, because there were more deaths on his watch.
This is an obscene argument.1 Republicans have done everything possible to prolong COVID and prevent the implementation of measures that would have saved lives. It’s like an arsonist pouring gasoline, throwing matches, and then complaining about the fire department not putting out fires fast enough.
But as a political matter? I suspect the Republican argument will be effective with voters.
(2) The fate of Roe impacts the midterms less than we think.
We’ll get a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson this summer and there are three possible outcomes:
Roe and Casey are cleanly upheld.
Roe and Casey are cleanly overturned.
Roe and Casey are modified in such as way as to make it not immediately clear to the general public what the result means.
None of these possibilities will lead to harmony. But the third one—a dirty finish in which both sides feel victimized—is probably the worst outcome for the country in the long term. So I suspect that’s what we’ll get.
Could the Dobbs decision impact the midterms? I used to think the answer was yes: That a clean overturning of Roe would be bad for Republicans and good for Democrats. But I’m beginning to suspect that even overturning Roe would be a week of headlines and then the politics of the election would snap back as the abortion fights splintered into 50 different state-level wars.
(3) Republicans pick up > 50 seats in the House and take the Senate.
Democrats lost a 54-seat swing in 1994 when things were going great in America, but the Clinton administration botched healthcare.
Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010 when Obama was ramming a disastrously unpopular ACA through Congress, despite clear voter antipathy.
Republicans lost 40 seats in 2018 when the economy was great, but voters just hated Trump.
Where does that leave House Democrats today?
Joe Biden is a transitional figure who does not have the deep reservoirs of personal popularity that Clinton and Obama had with both Democrats and independents and Trump had with Republicans.
In his favor, Biden came to power while Democrats were losing ground in the House. Meaning: Democrats could only lose 63 seats in 2010 because Obama had swept up so many marginal seats with him in 2008. So Democrats will be defending fewer marginal seats.
My guess is that Dems will lose at least 50 seats in the House. And then the Senate tips over, too. Though that’s less of a sure thing.
(4) Kevin McCarthy becomes speaker of the House.
If you told me that the Republicans would capture the House and then Kevin McCarthy would lose the speakership race to Jim Jordan or MTG or some other loon, it would almost be worth it. Sure—it would be terrible for the country. But at least we’d have McCarthy’s failure and humiliation to keep us warm.
But while McCarthy is certainly vulnerable, I ultimately think his weakness is what wins him the gavel.
Kevin McCarthy has no power within the caucus. But that may ultimately work in his favor, because everyone legitimately believes that they own him. Why bother overthrowing someone you can control? Especially if that means installing as speaker someone with their own independent power base, who might lord their power over you at some point in the future?
Better to just let Kevin have his moment and then ease him into retirement in January 2025 in favor of Trump’s hand-picked successor after Trump is sworn in again.
(5) Good things happen, I guess.
I’m sure many nice things will happen in 2022. That’s the thing about regime collapses: Even while the government is falling, people still get married and have kids and go out to bars and watch TV.
I keep coming back to this essay by Indi Samarajiva:
I lived through the end of a civil war — I moved back to Sri Lanka in my twenties, just as the ceasefire fell apart. Do you know what it was like for me? Quite normal. I went to work, I went out, I dated. This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.
This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. . . .
As someone who’s already experienced societal breakdown, here’s the truth: America has already collapsed. What you’re feeling is exactly how it feels. It’s Saturday and you’re thinking about food while the world is on fire. This is normal. This is life during collapse. . . .
As Colombo kids we used to go out, worry about money, fall in love — life went on. We’d pop the trunk for a bomb check. Turn off our lights for the air raids. I’m not saying that we were untouched. My friend’s dad was killed, suddenly, by a landmine. RIP Uncle Nihal. I know people who were beaten, arrested, and went into exile. But that’s not what my photostream looks like. It was mostly food and parties and normal stuff for a dumb twenty-something. . . .
If you’re waiting for a moment where you’re like “this is it,” I’m telling you, it never comes. Nobody comes on TV and says “things are officially bad.” . . .
Perhaps you’re waiting for some moment when the adrenaline kicks in and you’re fighting the virus or fascism all the time, but it’s not like that. Life is not a movie, and if it were, you’re certainly not the star. You’re just an extra. If something good or bad happens to you it’ll be random and no one will care. If you’re unlucky you’re a statistic. If you’re lucky, no one notices you at all.
Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.
So yes, lots of good, normal things will happen in 2022. But none of that will change the basic trajectory this country is on.
We have a major political party which is now explicitly anti-democratic. In 2024, this party will have the support of at least 44 percent of voters. This level of support might be enough to win a legitimate victory via the Electoral College. But if not, this party is openly preparing a series of novel legal maneuvers to seize the executive branch through alternative means.
This is the backdrop of 2022: A period of procession on the way to a showdown which will either uphold or overturn America’s democratic order.
Happy New Year.
I know that this isn’t a nice message. But it’s the truth. And truth is what we do here.
So don’t get tired. Don’t get discouraged. And don’t get overwhelmed.
What should you do?
Which is not to say that the Biden administration has handled COVID perfectly. They didn’t push boosters aggressively enough early. They have not fixed the FDA’s broken process on testing. Two big failures.