New year predictions are often general and most unmeasurable. A technology prediction, for example, is advanced—it happens some years later. Prediction or musing?
So I will stick to 2021 and will avoid miraculous technologies and not opine on how the Pandemic will change America as we know it. Except to say—never discount the force of decades-long patterns of living.
Along with the Pandemic, politics was the big story of 2020. In an attempt to be re-elected, President Trump put his “social movement” on steroids and then abused his supporters with his manic need to command the spotlight. And yes, I said social movement.
Trump conceived, with Steve Bannon and others, a social movement orbiting around the notion of the “forgotten man” and “yesterday’s glory”and used a political party that was mired in yesterday’s dogma to gain power. Shrewd.
Social movements are often led by one person who is charismatic, idiosyncratic and sees means as just tools. Ethical boundaries are of no real importance. Movement heads don’t play well with others—except for servants. Ultimately, in America, social movements and political parties cannot co-exist as political parties must be comfortable with distribution of power. When Republican Governors and Secretaries of State and even his Vice-President exercised their rightful power Trump attacked. And then the Capitol, the symbol of institutional strength, was attacked. Absent Trump, there would have been no attack.
The Republican Party is now coming face-to-face one more time with the Trump social movement. Even though he is leaving office, so-called Party leaders cower and retreat. Liz Cheney, an unquestioned stalwart Republican who is in the Congressional leadership, finally had enough, voted for Impeachment and was rebuked by her lessers. To them the movement was first, not the Party.
Equally telling in the movement’s formation was the capitulation of significant elements of the evangelical movement. Trump found transcendence useful and seduced Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas and other minor evangelical gods with the limelight. They entered some kind of contorting inner sanctum and came out full of personal glory and a pungent substance that is found in pastures. I believe that support will wane.
This strange fusion of institutions with Trump as savior will get sorted out, but on the political front it will probably take multiple election cycles and perhaps Trump’s death (social movements often are monarchical so maybe next up Don Jr. or Ivanka). But for now, the Republican Party’s largest stockholder is the Trump social movement.
The real power in the body politic belongs to Centrists. The problem: where does the Centrist politician go if he/she wants to be elected President? Is there another Joe Biden on the horizon? At this moment the bases of both political parties are wrenched Left or Right. So my prediction is that “Gangs” of legislators will emerge and their members will be willing to forfeit the long odds of sleeping in the White House for actually making legislative history.
Centrists worked together to shape much of the virus package. They were known as the Gang of Eight and contained some able legislators led by Senators Joe Manchin and Mitt Romney.
But, and this is a very big “but”, polarization and entrenched interests are powerful foes. The Gangs, regardless of how big, will need President Biden to use the powers of the Presidency to persuade and when necessary, punish. President Biden’s opportunity will be to lead the shaping of legislation that will work as he can tell the Left that in an evenly divided Senate, its the only political formula that will work.
Trump’s four years set the table for Biden. He will take advantage of this fact. Biden’s critical mass of support is tired of MAGA parades and the poisoned tweet. Biden will use the tools of moderation. If he uses identity politics in an effort to divide and conquer, he will fail.
So where might he succeed? Job one: an effectual vaccination operation. Ultimately Trump’s erratic response to the challenge of managing a national response to a virus resulted in his defeat. Again, Trump set the table for Biden.
Joe Biden will get off to a good start. But, I predict trouble ahead in 2022. If Biden gains political good will in 2021, it will be very hard to maneuver around the Left of his Party who will want his popularity translated into a Woke Agenda.
And the Republican Party? Turmoil will persist in 2021. Republicans, not the soon to be sworn in President, will be the biggest allies of the Woke—stridency on one side tends to enable stridency on the other. President Biden will need to keep a firm hand on the tiller.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.