Unhappy Americans: The unrealistic expectations of how fast President Joe Biden can clean up Trump’s mess
America is overflowing with good news. Unemployment is down, wages are up, consumer confidence is rebounding, and consumers are spending more. COVID seems to be in retreat, at least among those who have been vaccinated. And two big parts of Biden’s legislative agenda, last spring’s $1.9tn American Rescue Plan and his recent $1.2tn infrastructure plan, have been enacted.
So what’s not to be happy about? Apparently, plenty. Biden’s job approval rating is 12 points lower than when he took office – now just 41% (around where Trump’s was for most of his presidency). Most registered voters say that if the midterm elections were today, they would support the Republican candidate. Even Trump beats Biden in hypothetical matchups. More than 60% of Americans say the Democrats are out of touch with the concerns of most Americans. And Republican congressional candidates now hold their largest lead in midterm election vote preferences dating back 40 years.
How can the economic and pandemic news be so good, and so much of Biden’s agenda already enacted – yet the public be so sour on Biden and the Democrats? Some blame Biden’s and the Democrat’s poor messaging. Yes, it is awful. Even now most Americans have no idea what the “Build Back Better” package is. It sounds like infrastructure, but that bill has been enacted. “Human infrastructure” makes no sense to most people.
Yet this cannot be the major reason for the paradox because the Democrats’ failure at messaging goes back at least a half century. I remember in 1968 after Nixon beat Humphrey hearing that the Democrats’ problem is they talk policy while Americans want to hear values – the same criticism we’re hearing today.
Some blame the media – not just despicable Fox News but also the corporate mainstream. But here, too, the problem predates the current paradox. Before Fox News, Rush Limbaugh was poisoning countless minds. And for at least four decades, the mainstream media has focused on conflict, controversy and scandal. Good news doesn’t attract eyeballs.
Some suggest Democrats represent the college-educated suburban middle class that doesn’t really want major social change anyway. Yet this isn’t new, either. Clinton and Obama abandoned the working class by embracing trade, rejecting unions, subsidizing Wall Street and big business and embracing deregulation and privatization.
So what explains the wide gap now between how well the country is doing and how badly Biden and the Democrats are doing politically?
In two words: dashed hopes. After four years of Trump and a year and a half of deathly pandemic, most of the country was eager to put all the horror behind – to start over, wipe the slate clean, heal the wounds, reboot America. Biden in his own calm way seemed just the person to do it. And when Democrats retook the Senate, expectations of Democrats and independents soared.
But those expectations could not possibly be met when all the underlying structural problems were still with us – a nation deeply split, Trumpers still threatening democracy, racism rampant, corporate money still dominating much of politics, inequality still widening, inflation undermining wage gains, and the Delta variant of COVID still claiming lives. Dashed hopes make people angry. Mass disappointment is politically poisonous. Social psychologists have long understood that losing something of value generates more anguish than obtaining it generated happiness in the first place.
Biden and Democrats can take solace from this. Hopefully, a year from now the fruits of Biden’s initiatives will be felt, COVID will be behind us, bottlenecks behind the current inflation will be overcome, and the horrors of the Trump years will become more visible through Congress’s investigations and the midterm campaigns of Trumpers.
Most importantly, America’s irrational expectations for quick deliverance from all our structural problems will have settled into a more sober understanding that resolving them will require a huge amount of work, from all of us. Then, I suspect, the nation will be better able to appreciate how far we have come in just two years from where we were.
Аdаm Schultz / The White House
Originally published on Robertreich.org
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