The Times We Are In

So, the question of the day is how concerned we should be about what is happening in our country and our world right now. Certainly, every age has its challenges, its existential moments, and its times of despair. Think of what our parents and grandparents must have experienced during the Great Depression. What if we had not been able to claw our way back? What if communism had become a viable alternative to capitalism? And what about World War II? It was not a foregone conclusion that the Allies would defeat the Nazis. What would the world have looked like if Hitler and the Axis countries had defeated us? What if Germany had developed the atomic bomb before we did? We tend to look at history as if it were a part of a script already written. The way that things turned out was the way they were supposed to. But at the time, for the people who experienced the events when they were happening, the end of the story remained a big question mark.

You can make the case that the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the rise of communism in Russia and China, and the Cold War were part of an era that ultimately yielded positive outcomes for the world, but which were far from certain at the time. Had the chips fallen differently, we could be living in a very different—and probably very dismal– world.

I also think that you can argue that the 60 plus years following World War II ushered in a period of relative peace and prosperity, which when compared to the preceding 50 years was easy sledding. The U.S. became the world’s only true superpower. The European Union stabilized Western Europe. The Korean War came to a stalemate. In the 1990s the Cold War was over, and we won. Communism was officially over in Russia and unofficially over in China. For a period of about 20 years, it looked like both countries would be our friends. Yes, the United States made mistakes in Vietnam and in the second Iraq War, but we also made great strides in civil rights, gender equality, and in helping poorer countries. For a good 50 years it has been our game to lose. Leadership was mixed during this period. We had some great presidents along with some not-so-great but gratefully were spared the crazies. There was a national consensus that the middle road was the path to peace and prosperity.  My generation has had it easy when compared to our parent’s generation.

Fast forward to today. Since the early 2000s, we have witnessed these events:

  • Russia and China are no longer our friends. This change has come gradually. When Embry and I visited both countries in our around-the-world-without-flying adventure in 2015, we were welcomed as friends in both countries. This would not be the case today. Both countries are ruled by ruthless dictators. Russia is engaged in a senseless and devasting war in Ukraine with no end in sight, which could spill into a world war, if mistakes or miscalculations happen. China has its eye on Taiwan and is focused on overtaking the U.S. as the world’s greatest economic power.
  • The World Population Review lists 52 countries as dictatorships in 2020—about a fourth of all countries, and the number is rising–in Hungary, Egypt, Turkey, and some formerly Communist Eastern European countries, with others at risk like India, Israel, and, I would argue, the United States, if Trump were to win in 2024.
  • Climate change looms large. For decades scientists have warned us to reduce our carbon output or risk catastrophe. Progress has been made but nowhere near enough to avert serious consequences. The extreme weather the world is experiencing now is Exhibit A. Some countries, especially those in Africa are being devasted by chronic drought. A food crisis may result in starvation of several hundred thousand people in North Africa this year. California is deluged by flooding.
  • The Covid pandemic has had a huge impact on many millions of people all over the world; and though the crisis has eased, much damage has been done. There have been over a million deaths in the United States and at least eight million worldwide—probably a lot more. Isolation, depression, and loneliness have affected many, and there is no guarantee that it is over. Covid is still around and could morph into a more lethal variant. We continue to be uneasy.
  • The United States has experienced the trauma of the Trump election denial, the January 6 Insurrection, the overturning of abortion rights by the Supreme Court and Red State draconian restrictions, the almost daily mass killings that never seem to stop, the resistance to reasonable gun laws, and the move toward authoritarianism by Trump and his MAGA followers. Except for the Civil War, many scholars say we have never been so divided.
  • AI has just arrived, and nobody knows how that it going to impact our planet.

This brings us to the next Presidential election.  From 2016-2020, we endured four years of the most dangerous President in the history of the United States. Yet Trump is still in the picture for the 2024 Presidential election, like a vicious wild beast lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on its prey. And even though a majority of Americans dislike Trump, he has the Republican Party wrapped around his little finger. Unless something unanticipated happens, he will be the Republican candidate. So, we will have two old codgers duking it out for President when what we need is a Democrat with more youthful energy, vision, and charisma. Now don’t get me wrong. In my view Biden has been a good president. That he has accomplished so much on the legislative front in his first two years is remarkable, given the Republican opposition. The issue for me is his age. It turns out he is only seven months younger than me. I and everybody I know after reaching 80 has slowed down. Ask any octogenarian if they think Biden is too old to go another four years after he finishes his first term. “Are you kidding me?” will likely be the response. Good heavens!   Yet here we are at a time when strong, compassionate, energetic, visionary leadership is desperately needed. That we do not and will not have it unless something changes is concerning. Never have the stakes been higher.

The latest poll came out today, May 7, showing Biden’s approval rating of 36% compared to 56% disapproval due mainly to concerns about his age, health and acuity. He would not stand a chance against a young moderate Republican, who fortunately for us Democrats is an extinct species. But still. Is this really the candidate who can win?  Wake up Democrats!

And there  is another nightmare scenario. Trump will not beat Biden in a head-to-head race if no other serious, third party candidates are on the ballot. A solid majority of Americans dislike Trump. However, a head to head choice might not happen. We learned this week that Joe Manchin is seriously considering running as a moderate, third party, independent candidate. If that happens—or if another credible moderate runs on an alternative ticket—such as someone supported by the “No Labels” initiative–Trump could and probably would win. Biden cannot afford to lose votes from moderate, independent voters. Enthusiasm about Biden is weak.  Trump’s base is rock solid. A viable moderate, third party candidate  could result in a doomsday scenario of four more years of Trump, which  scares the bejesus out of me.

Of course, we do not know the outcome of the various legal investigations underway, the rape lawsuits, or whether Trump will be convicted. Who knows, maybe he will end up taking the oath of office from a jail or penitentiary.  His MAGA base will stick with him regardless.

So think of all the issues that our country is facing—climate change, continuing divisions by race and class, the vast income and wealth disparity between the Big Hitters and just about everybody else, women’s right to choose, the militia movement to overthrow the government, and the need to responsibly reduce the deficit, for starters. The list is long. Leadership has never been more important. If only we had a youngish, popular, progressive leader waiting in the wings.

And finally, we have the self-inflicted debt default crisis looming. The Republicans have sworn there will be no compromising. Cut social safety net spending and climate change initiatives or shut down the government and tumble the world financial order into chaos.  They are essentially engaged in hostage taking, thinking Biden will blink and that they will be victorious allowing them to claim victory by drastically cutting programs designed to help the working poor, killing the climate change initiatives, and hurting Biden.  But they will not win. Their game of chicken will not work. Biden can’t and won’t cave. So what will happen? The optimists believe that a compromise will happen. I hope they are right– if the compromises are reasonable– though I am not hopeful.

So welcome to the 2020s. The five or six decades of relative calm and stability are over. These are the times we now live in. Tighten your seat belts. It is going to be a bumpy ride.




6 thoughts on “The Times We Are In

  1. Joe,

    The compromise between Biden and thr Republican Congress WILL seem unreasonable, to ALL parties. That’s what makes them compromises.

    1. Yes, you are right, but what concerns me are the crazies on the right. I just can’t see them compromising on anything. We will soon see. Just a reminder: I do not want to sound like a perennial pessimist, but all movies do not have happy endings. I say, screw the bastards and pay the bills anyway. But that will put the final outcome in the laps of five MAGA-leaning judges on the Supreme Court and one moderate Republican (Roberts).

  2. Extremely well said Joe!! Fascinating point about rethinking history as a series of probabilities, not certainties. I agree with you that re-electing Trump is electing an autocracy. While i think Trump’s chances are low, the unexpected worries me. What about a health problem for Biden at the wrong moment, not to mention if we enter a recession during the election season. I am not so sure Manchin would hurt Biden – i think Manchin might pull more votes from the not-entirely-crazy Republicans who are holding their nose when they vote for Trump…and Manchin could further energize the liberal base for Biden….but the whole situation is indeed mind bending…that in the midst if such plenty (compared to where we were as a nation 50+ years ago) we are so close to the precipice.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Bronson. Indeed strange and perplexing times. It is great that now Andrew has joined you as a front line warrior to save the planet. On an unrelated matter, if you have not already seen it, check out Adam’s new film, “Black Cases,” streaming on the internet someplace (not Netflix, but I was able to get it somehow. He is the screen writer.) It is brilliant! Certainly a thriller but much more.

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