July 23, 2024

and democracy on the block

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Incumbency and democracy on the block
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — It’s not just President Joe Biden, incumbents around the world are running against a surge of voter sentiment that rejects conventional politics. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is running behind the far right in polling. British Prime Minister Sunak just announced he is calling a snap election for July 4th, Independence Day in America, for the British public to render its decision on his conservative government.
          While the economy is generally good under their leadership and inflation is coming down from a much higher level than in the United States, Sunak is unpopular. Unless he has a surprise in store over the next month, he and his party could fall after 14 years of conservative governance.
          In another part of the world, Israeli leader Netanyahu maintains his hold on power despite internal dissension over his conduct of the war in Gaza. The minute the war is over, Netanyahu will be gone, an outcome critics say is part of the longtime leader’s determination to continue to prosecute the war despite U.S. opposition and worldwide condemnation.
          Finally, here at home in the U.S., we have two leaders whom a majority of voters do not want. Both are incumbents in their own way. Donald Trump served one term as president, then refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. He built a reelection campaign on a lie that he won the 2020 election, and the Democrats stole it from him.
          Biden is the legitimate incumbent, and he has a remarkable record of bipartisan legislative success despite the partisan gridlock that has become a feature of congressional politics. New York Times journalist David Leonhardt identifies neo-populism to explain how Biden has managed to get legislation across the finish line to address climate change, boost infrastructure, and even tougher gun laws with enough crossover votes from Republicans. Even so, he is an incumbent, and he is in trouble.
          Meanwhile, a new center is rising. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a leading progressive, has found common ground working with Republican senators J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., prototypes of the new Trumpian Right.
          This new center arises in part from changing attitudes about key issues. Take tariffs for example. Biden is now outdoing Trump on tariffs, a controversial move for a Democrat who used to advocate free trade. Biden wants to protect the U.S. auto industry (and his votes from autoworkers) from being overwhelmed by cheap Chinese-made electric vehicles.
          Democrats are now leading the fight in Congress to revive an immigration reform bill that cracks down on immigration in a way that Republicans have long advocated. The images of undocumented migrants streaming across the border altered the politics. Both parties now support tougher immigration control.
          Which party captures these voters in November is up for grabs. They don’t like anyone right now. They don’t like the status quo. They are looking for a leader who will shake things up. Trump certainly fits that bill, but they are not enamored of his leadership style or his anti-democracy rhetoric.
          Biden was supposed to restore normalcy to the presidency, but he has chaos at the border and two wars that he is actively aiding and abetting with limited success.
          Social issues play a role in this emerging center with voters firmly behind abortion rights. Former Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who is running for the Senate in Maryland, announced he is pro-choice despite having vetoed legislation that would have made access to abortion easier after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
          Higher education and corporate America are picking up on the anti-woke sentiment that also characterizes our changing politics. DEI initiatives (diversity, equity and inclusion) have lost ground in what appears to be a backlash in the age-old fight in this country over race.
          Listening to the people and delivering a fair shake for all in a government that values democracy and the rule of law is a challenge for any politician in the best of times. And these are not the best of times. What are voters worldwide telling us? Is neo-populism in America and Britain or neo-fascism in France ascendant? It is beginning to look like the 1930s without the Great Depression, a time when New Deal democracy was under assault, left and right, by communists and fascists.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2024 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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