Biden, Normalcy, Competence

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President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com poll index.

According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable

Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.

In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.

Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.

They Might Have Been Normies

Living in fear and unemployable: Far-right extremists are finding themselves doxed and out of work
Screensgrabs, Unidentified far right activists

The Washington Post has an interesting and telling story on left-wing doxing of far-right activists such as Edward Jeremy Dawson and his wife Michelle Dawson.

The Story: While at the “Million Maga” March on Nov. 14, 2020, Edward Dawson stepped on the feet of left activist photographer Laura Jedeed. Their ensuing argument attracted a crowd of far right marchers and the incident escalated to the point where Jedeed was in danger of being violent assaulted. Recognizing that the bullying of Jedeed had gone farther then he wanted, Dawson then led her through the crowd to safety. After Jedeed’s video of the incident went viral, Edward Dawson was fired from his job as an iron worker. His wife Michelle also lost her job with Walmart and believes her activism was the reason for being fired as well.

The Undertow: The Washington Post story was primarily about the doxing on the left which led to the Dawsons getting fired from their jobs. Other than anti-fascist activist Christian Exoo working at my old college St. Lawrence University that was not so interesting. There were other themes though.

Montagues and Capulets: The violence between anti-Nazis and right-wing extremists is taking on Shakespearean dimensions in Portland. That’s especially true on the right where the Dawsons were members of Patriot Prayer, a group dedicated primarily to “”trolling” the Pacific Northwest with the intention of provoking a response from far-left antifascists.” Attending gatherings with the Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, and Proud Boys, the Patriot Prayer group seemed more intendant on brawling with antifa activists than anything else. Far from making them less dangerous, the radicalism of Patriot Prayer members like the Dawsons had a violence for its own sake feel to it. As Edward Dawson said of his bullying and harassment of Jedeen, “I mean, I wasn’t harassing anyone. I just wanted to make her feel just a little bit scared.”

The Non-Elite of the Left Behind: In an interview with Salon’s Chauncey Devega, sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls Jan. 6 Insurrectionists the “Elite of the Left Behind.” The Dawsons are more the working class/lumpen proletariat of the Left Behind. Edward and Michelle Dawson both dropped out of high school and Edward had been a drug addict who served six years in prison for felony possession of a controlled substance. Edward Dawson “got clean” in prison and claims to have cut off ties to the drug life before getting married, buying a house, becoming a father, and holding a job as an iron worker. But it does not appear that living as a “normie” working citizen and wasn’t enough and that Edward and Michelle Dawson found a larger purpose in Trump and extreme right-wing activism. She was emphatic about Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson: “He talked a lot about freedom and God . . . I’ve seen his fire and I’ve seen that he had a voice and he wasn’t afraid to use it.” Michelle Dawson can’t bring herself to love a multicultural, socially liberal democracy but loved Trump. “I like everything that Trump stood for . . . I loved how he loved our country.”

Now or Never: Like everyone else, I have no idea of how the present national crisis will work out in the U.S. But there is some anecdotal evidence of the violent extreme right being culturally ephemeral. Jan. 6 insurrectionist Guy Reffitt was reported to the FBI by his own son who not only supported Black Lives Matter but attended at least one BLM rally in the Dallas area. With the Dawson’s, one of their children saw nothing wrong with her father’s bullying and harassment of Laura Jedeed but Michelle Dawson reported that an 18 year old daughter was disgusted with her: “But she’s 18, so she’s all, ‘Orange man is bad. George Floyd shouldn’t have died. Blah, blah, blah.’ She hates what I do.”

If extreme right wingers can’t get their own kids behind them, it may be now or never for them.