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The Democrats are more dangerous than ever Their impotence could descend into anarchy

They have never been so radicalised (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)


December 22, 2021   4 mins

The most striking thing about the collapse of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda is how unsurprising it is. It was always a distinct possibility that Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from a conservative state, would reject the President’s flagship Build Back Better bill: Congress has already approved more than $6 trillion in additional spending since the start of the pandemic, inflation is at a 40-year high and the spending package was unpopular in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, not least because it threatened the energy industries on which many West Virginians’ livelihoods depend.

But even those who disapprove of BBB’s fate must surely see that this is America’s political system functioning as it is supposed to function. Biden’s legislation can’t even get the support of half of the Senate — and so it won’t become law. This is standard Washington fare. It is politics as it always has been.

However, to listen to Democrats in the days since Manchin delivered his fatal blow is to be left with a very different impression. According to their version of events, the senator’s decision is tantamount to a crisis for American democracy. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said that “our entire democracy is on the line”; to fix this, she wants to “crack down” on the “very privileged, very entitled and very protected” Senate. Chuck Schumer, notionally in charge of Senate Democrats, responded to Manchin’s decision with a promise that the upper chamber will vote on a bill that would overhaul US voting laws as soon as it is back from a Christmas recess.

Even before Manchin doomed Biden’s agenda, calls for changes to the rules governing America’s system of government — some small, others profound — had grown louder as the prospects of Build Back Better faded. Last week, Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices. “The current court,” she argued, “threatens the democratic foundations of our nation.”

In Democratic-supporting parts of the media, the tone is no less alarmist. Jennifer Rubin, the West Wing’s favourite columnist, argued in the Washington Post that the failure of Build Back Better puts “democracy itself in a precarious position”. She emphasised: “the Democrats’ hopes for 2022 and the fate of our democracy depend on the President’s ability to reconstruct an agenda he can actually deliver.”

In one sense, she’s right. Their legislative disappointment is a chance for Democrats to face a banal, if frustrating, reality: that Biden was not elected with a mandate for transformative legislation, that the party has only the loosest grip on the legislative branch, and that America simply isn’t crying out for the progressive reforms that most of the party favours.

But facing unpleasant facts isn’t fun. Hence why Democrats appear to be slipping further into their own delusions, processing Manchin’s obstinance as a crisis that imperils not just their own electoral fortunes but the future of the republic. And hence why what should be a moderating moment looks likely to have a radicalising effect: their own legislative impotence persuading a party already comfortable with an apocalyptic register to dial up the doom and gloom to eleven.

Such a response can, of course, be understood on an emotional level: you’re more likely to complain about the quality of the refereeing when you’re losing. But it is also worth appreciating on a political level. The Democrats’ 2020 victory was built on the unpopularity of Donald Trump. Without that, it is far from clear they can put together a coalition of voters broad enough to hold on to both chambers of Congress and the White House. And so, with a legislative agenda foundering, it’s time to return to something they can all agree on: the wickedness of the other side.

None of this is to say there aren’t threats to American democracy from the Trumpist Right. The last President spent the months between the election and Biden’s inauguration doing everything he could to stay in power. Any sensible reforms to the rules governing Washington would safeguard against something similar happening again.

But that danger to America’s electoral system only makes the Democrats’ focus on the largely unrelated question of voting rights — and their overblown rhetoric of voter suppression and “Jim Crow 2.0” — more baffling, and less excusable. Instead of tailoring their pro-democracy agenda to the dangers that surround post-election certification, the party is ploughing ahead with a bill that would federalise voting rules in response to some mostly inane changes at a state level.

Elsewhere, Democrats want to overturn the rules that govern the Senate and, if Warren is anything to go by, take the extraordinary step of rebalancing the Supreme Court simply because progressives aren’t satisfied by its current composition. As the centre-left commentator Matthew Yglesias has observed, Democrats certainly aren’t acting as though they believe that the future of democracy is in peril. If they did, they’d surely shelve party-political concerns and build as broad a coalition as possible to combat the Trumpist threat.

The dark irony of the Democrats’ predicament is that they could end up being right for the wrong reasons. There’s a chance, after all, that the failure of Build Back Better really is bad news for American democracy — but only because it radicalises their own side.

A universe in which Biden and other Democratic lawmakers listen to Manchin’s complaints about the legislation, attempt to understand the concerns of the voters he represents (without whom the Senate would be in Republican hands), and steer themselves back towards the centre feels a long way away. Biden, for his part, has taken a tough line all along: according to the Washington Post, the White House rejected an offer from Manchin that included the vast majority of the bill’s provisions.

Now the West Virginian has walked away, they appear to be pursuing a vindictive, scorched-earth strategy. Faced with Manchin’s exasperation, Democrats cry foul, accusing him of being a corrupt coal boss and choosing to ignore the obvious fact that the legislation would have been very unpopular in his home state. Again, the clear, normal, predictable explanation is spurned in favour of a more alarmist narrative.

Biden himself is certainly capable of overblown rhetoric about the future of American democracy. But so far he has mostly resisted calls from Democrats to go nuclear and change the rules that govern Washington to favour his own party. That refusal grows harder by the day.

Many in his party are rightly concerned that their country is stuck in a downward spiral, but they cannot see their own part in the process. Increasingly, both sides view anything other than victory for themselves as illegitimate. A party that responds to its own perfectly normal legislative woes by doubling down on an all-out battle to rewrite the rules of the system in its favour is not serious about ending that descent into anarchy. And so, the more impotent the Democrats feel, the more dangerous they become.


Oliver Wiseman is the deputy editor of The Spectator World and author of the DC Diary, a daily email from Washington. He is a 2021-22 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

The left in its platonic form. “I’m not getting what I want. Democracy is under threat”. Moral and intellectual bankruptcy to the point of downright, wilful evil.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

strange use of the word platonic

William Hickey
William Hickey
2 years ago

Conflating their ideological preferences for the essence of the thing itself is a long time liberal trick, now being practiced on themselves.

“We lost; democracy is in peril.”

“You’re against affirmative action; you must be anti-black.”

“Anti-abortion? Anti-woman.”

Joe Biden himself gave the best illustration of this extreme self-centeredness when he told a black interviewer during the campaign that if the interviewer didn’t support him, “You ain’t black.”

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
2 years ago

Platonic ? Planktonic, rather.

Bashar Mardini
Bashar Mardini
2 years ago

I can faintly recall, up until 2012 or 2014 or so, where I was blue as can be. The Iraq war mess was still fresh, the financial crisis, and I was a reliable consumer of all things NYT, WaPo, The Atlantic and so on. Trump’s election in 2016 practically knocked me off my seat when I learned of it
Fast forward 5 years later. I literally thank the stars for governors like Ron DeSantis. I think the US Left has gone completely off the deep end, and is in a death spiral of its own insanity.
The pandemic seems to have only magnified the fault lines. How utterly insane is it that Donald Trump says “I got the booster, no no don’t boo, its good, you should too, but it should totally be your choice and mandates are wrong” and THIS is now considered a right wing position

Last edited 2 years ago by Bashar Mardini
Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

Probably because it IS a right wing position. As is ANY position nowadays that’s not completely off the radar.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

Welcome to the sane side of the aisle.

Lindsay G
Lindsay G
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

I find myself in the same place as do so many others.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay G

Yep and we are going to be a ferocious political force because neither mad-Dems nor the Trump-Faragists know we even exist yet, blinded as they both are by their own wilful hubris and complacency 


Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Excuse my cementedness in reality, but exactly which party is this ferocity going to honor by plighting its troth with? I’m with you: they both reek, for different reasons, but they’re united in one overwhelming thing, support of the corporaticrats.

We need a third party which will focus on one primary thing, destroying the Establishment. Wipe out the oligarchs, use antitrust laws to break them up, especially Amazon. ( I commend Michael Warren Davis’ article about the evil of Amazon, from June, which is at The American Conservative’s site, to everyone. ) Destroy surveillance capitalism. Restructure taxes to their levels between the postwar period and the 1980s. America had a large middle class until Reaganomics made our maintaining it impossible.

Tariffs. A moratorium on all immigration for at least forty years, granting occasional exceptions which are in our national interests. Stay the f*ck away from provoking other nations. Destroy the crime wave.

Destroy Wokeness. The American people hate it. Yesterday, I passed a woman whose tight jeans and bare midriff revealed a lovely female figure. She had a short but full beard and mustache. Fine, she’s an adult. The American people don’t want the radical spiritual/mental pathology of transgenderism inflicted on their children.

And colormania, back from its supposed death sometime in the 60s, needs to be throttled once and for all.

Sound like the sort of thing you’re looking for? It’s probably fantasy that it could happen, because the American people really are closer not to civil war, I think, but mass civic breakdown, ad hoc, irrational, the violence of the summer of 2020 our routine, Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” our daily lives, this week, my area of town shooting at the one on the other side of the thoroughfare, next week, our neighborhoods allying to take the one whose housewives shop at the Gucci supermarket our bunch can’t afford, times thousands.

But my cheerier vision could prevail. People want it. Nothing ever happens.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

This is pretty much my position, but my significant event was Brexit instead of the Trump election, and my disillusionment was with FT and The Economist (and The Atlantic on the rarer occasion) beginning with the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre Emre
nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

As it was famoulsy said of The Atlantic: a magazine that allows its readers to feel intelligent without requiring them to think.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

The Atlantic’s owner is a female billionaire who knows better than you. Follow her guidance for happiness.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

Same here. Brexit truly opened my eyes to so many things

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Aleksandra Kovacevic
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

Same here, as someone else put it, ‘a refugee from the left’.

I’m so lost in fact, that I found myself the other day wondering at how reasonable and conciliatory Tomi Lahren seems compared to AOC (Fox news was a laughing stock in my house up until eighteen months ago).

Sanja Sulić
Sanja Sulić
2 years ago

Exactly

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

Welcome into the light.

James Rix
James Rix
2 years ago

This feels like a child taking their ball home because they lost a game of football.
Biden (and/or those around him) has completely misread the mandate he was given by the America people.
He beat Bernie in the primaries because he was not crazy and promised to bring the adults back into the room – he was elected president to bring calm to a febrile political climate and reunite the country.
However, he seems to think he was elected as a radical change LBJ or FDR type reformer.
He doesn’t have the charisma, pedigree or more importantly the timing and balance of power to do this.
N.B. in a weird way Republicans losing the Georgia senate race has really worked well for them on this issue. If the balance of power had been 51-49 the Democrats could have simply blamed the bill not passing on the Republicans and kept their fragile coalition of radical progressives, centre-left’s and moderates together. This way – we can all see the fissures widening and the coalition starting to tear itself apart.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago
Reply to  James Rix

I’m not sure it’s Biden who thinks “he was elected as a radical change .. reformer”, I reckon it’s his staff who are all in on dramatic reform – along with the rest of the activist wing of the Democratic Party.

Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
2 years ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

After Biden won, I predicted that he would not be able to say no to the (many) women on the left of him …

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Biden has always been go along, get along. He has arrived, magically it seems, but is simply a vessel for unelectable others. Jill knows this, of course, but has her own agenda. The party barely survived Obama and his personality cult. Now the party has been hijacked by excessive progressive voices. The opposition is weaning itself away from Trump hoping for a soft landing.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

Amen. The personality cult of Obama was the first episode in a long national hysteria that ails us still.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
2 years ago

It’s not so different in the UK. When left-wing parties keep losing, it’s not long before they complain about the electoral system. If you lose, change the rules.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
2 years ago

Morally bankrupt.
It’s frightening.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

“Cracking down” on the Senate. “Packing the Supreme Court”. Sounds like very undemocratic language to me, so the best strategy is to accuse the other side of threatening democracy.
If that blatant hypocrisy doesn’t flip the entire congress to bright red in ‘22, the U.S. is surely doomed.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

AOC and her ilk completely ignore the fact that the senate is comprised of exactly 100 elected members and 50 of them are firmly against BBB in its current form. There is nothing more democratic than that.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago

“The Democrats’ 2020 victory was built on the unpopularity of Donald Trump”. No. The Democrat’s blatant theft of the 2020 election was necessary due to the popularity of Donald Trump, who won in a landslide.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

Evidence please. Trump’s team couldn’t find enough to present in court.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Some judges refused to even listen to some of Trump’s team let alone hear their evidence.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

The effort to prove irregularities tipped the election are ongoing, but close observations will make future elections less susceptible to some of those irregularities.

Tony Lee
Tony Lee
2 years ago

Obama was alleged to have observed that Biden wasn’t up to the job, during the nominations process. And he would know.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Lee

Many suspect he remains behind the curtain directing much that happens. Not clear what Mr Obama’s objectives really are, but his socialist tendencies harm his party.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
2 years ago

The western world has drifted to the political left over the last few decades of peace after the war. Infiltrating institutions and indoctrinating the younger generations with collective propaganda and promises that the older generations know to be unattainable. These older generations are disappearing and so the drift left may continue apace. A reaction to the rise of China may yet lead us to a pendulum swing back to the right.

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
2 years ago

Hoist. Petard. You know the rest.
Great article. Frightening, but great.

Morry Rotenberg
Morry Rotenberg
2 years ago

“The last President spent the months between the election and Biden’s inauguration doing everything he could to stay in power.” You mean by presenting evidence of fraud to the courts? Just like Clinton did after her defeat. And just like Al Gore did after his defeat by GWB?

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

Actually Trump never presented any evidence in Court merely made allegations which the courts, correctly would not act on until evidence was presented, it never was. Clinton accepted the 2016 election on election night. She may have questioned some of the levels of propaganda and where it had come from but she never called for the result to be overturned. Gore had a specific issue to do with the way some votes had been removed in Florida on seemingly trivial grounds (the hanging chad), when the Supreme Court decided against him he accepted it and refused to back a move at the meeting where the electoral college reports to disallow the Florida electors.
Neither fired up a mob to storm the Capitol and try physically to prevent the electoral college report from going ahead.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Point of fact: Clinton conceded on November 9th, which was the day after the election. She didn’t need to question the results because she knew she “had an insurance policy” in the form of the Steele dossier and Paige/Strzok fable.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

Much of this is sound and fury signifying nothing but the proposal to pack the Supreme Court is a real and present danger to the constitution.

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
2 years ago

The author is exactly right. With Biden they lost all the hope for winning elections. Even if people were initially fooled by the far let using the 100 old brain in 80 old body used as a decoy for transforming the US into feudal state where the elites will will have free reign and keep the rest on guaranteed income and under tight control. Like California. They know that they cannot allow the 2022 elections to happen. If they loose House and Senate their ability to orchestrate a coup will be gone. IMO the coup will come as a federally mandated lockdowns for the COVID variant that ….will magically emerge around Sept next year.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrzej Wasniewski
Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

We have to admit, however, that the US system of democracy is broken.
I an attempt to make sure their system would not allow a King George to have complete power, the founding fathers created the President, House and Senate so no part would have full power.
For most of my life the US system has been in deadlock. There have been brief moments when all three parts worked together (from one party), but, most of the time, as soon as a working government is elected, the electorate destroy it with mid-terms, Senate etc elections.
The result is the creation of ‘executive orders’. In other works, King George by another name. However, in 4 years time another King George just changes them. Bonkers.
Readers may not like the motives behind the call for reform, but reform is needed for sure. China is laughing.
Why do we hold up the US as a pinnacle of ‘democracy’? Why not our own UK system? At least we elect functioning government.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

“functioning” ? Which bit, exactly?

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Many states function very well. It is the federal government that is dysfunctional because too much power resides in its hands and political ideologues see it as a path to prosecuting their ideology not serving the people.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Deadlock is not inherently a bad thing. If elected officials are coming from such widely differing viewpoints that it is hard to push policy through, then that means that the nation as a whole doesn’t have a strong consensus view on many matters (assuming people pay attention to who they vote for). In that case it is best not to handle those issues at the federal level. It really wasn’t designed to do all that much. Defense, foreign relations, preventing the states from clashing with each other (a real problem under the first constitution). It is currently doing far more than it was designed to. A few of those things are inevitable as the world has changed, but far too much has been simple power grabs or temporarily expedient measures that never quite got around to going away.
Pushing more authority back down to the states is the best way. Let California be crazy if they want, but don’t let them force it on everyone else. Let Texas not be crazy, but don’t give them the power to prevent California from acting the fool. Then everyone can be happy. The more issues are pushed to national level, the more people will be unhappy because they have less voice at that level.
Executive orders, as they have been used so much the past few administrations (with Trump being an admirable outlier) have gone beyond their intent. They were supposed to be, as the name suggests, orders from the executive to the executive agencies on how to carry out laws, specific guidance and priorities. Although both Clinton and George W. did this to some degree, it was Obama who turned them into ‘legislation by other means.’ Congress and/or the Courts could roll that power back if they cared to. I do think the media is heavily to blame on this due to how they creatively edit (read: lie) about the issues. Remember how Obama made an executive order for federal agencies not to enforce certain immigration laws? Not a peep from the media. When Trump made an executive order directing them to enforce the laws passed by Congress on immigration, it was an assault on democracy for the executive branch to obey the law. The best thing would be for more politicians to listen to the advice of the president so famous for trashing the media. Yes, you all know who I’m talking about: Thomas Jefferson.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago

Why are US politicians ignoring Biden’s interfering in Northern Island-EU problems?

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Ann Ceely

Because it’s better for him to interfere there than at home. I mean really, how could he make the EU worse? And do they care at all what he thinks? So no chance of him causing real harm there.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

This article misses the point. The likes of AOC are shouting about anything that distracts their supporters from the facts that the ‘progressives’ are voting for higher military expenditure while the Democrats have done nothing to introduce universal healthcare.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago

It is strange the author didn’t mention the triggering event of this crisis, the left’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s election and the four-year war it and the deep state waged against his administration. Has Russiagate faded from memory so quickly?

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
2 years ago

Voting reform is not inane. Some of the rule changes may not be effective, but we need reform.

Will Cummings
Will Cummings
2 years ago

Well I guess if you’re gonna be pretty much all wrong about almost everything then it’s nice to be able to share the experience with lots of other people. This collective team oriented bungling allows the group to do and say all sorts of foolish things under the aegis of herd impunity.

Last edited 2 years ago by Will Cummings
Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

No one doubts that Manchin can cast his votes in the Senate according to the throbbings of his conscience but frankly he is grandstanding. The BBB bill has already been much amended largely to calm the prickings of his conscience but when one concession is made up pops the request for more. The bill probably should be brought to the Senate for a vote and let him put his vote where his mouth is. After which perhaps he could state what exactly it is that he will support.
Bipartisanship is a fine thing but you can’t be bipartisan on your own. The GOP is more partisan now than at any time for a while. In 2010 when the GOP got a majority in the Senate Mitch McConnell stated that his only political goal was to make Obama a one-term President. He failed there but under his leadership during Trump’s Presidency the Senate passed one Bill to give tax breaks largely to the better off then hardly met. Business from the House simply didn’t make it to the floor. It is not tolerable for processes to be blocked in that way.
American politics is becoming lop-sided. There has only been one Presidential Election since 1988 when the GOP won a majority of the popular vote and it is quite possible in 2022 that the Democrats will win more votes in both houses but lose control of both.
The principle of bipartisanship on the Supreme Court died the death when McConnell refused to allow Obama’s nomination months before his term of office was due to end while racing Trump’s last one though with barely days to go.
There are problems but they are not of the Left’s making.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Please, spare me…
“In 2010 when the GOP got a majority in the Senate Mitch McConnell stated that his only political goal was to make Obama a one-term President.” And the Dems outdid even that: they had decided to pursue impeachment of Trump before he had even been inaugurated.
“during Trump’s Presidency the Senate passed one Bill to give tax breaks largely to the better off” — Yeah, right… like limiting the SALT deduction to $10,000 which the Dems’ billionaire donors in California and New York are still squealing about???
“There has only been one Presidential Election since 1988 when the GOP won a majority of the popular vote.” Irrelevant. The president is not elected by the people he is elected by the states. See Article II, section 1 of the Constitution.
“The principle of bipartisanship on the Supreme Court died the death when McConnell refused to allow Obama’s nomination months before his term of office was due to end.” You mean when McConnell employed “the Biden rule”?
Talk about none so blind as those who refuse to see.

Last edited 2 years ago by nigel roberts