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Joe Biden has broken the Union No one believes he can save democracy from Trump

A nation of indifference. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

A nation of indifference. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)


March 6, 2024   5 mins

As he prepares to deliver the final State of the Union speech of his first presidency, Joe Biden must know it might possibly be the last he ever gives. The President’s approval ratings are at a historic low, but that is only the start of his difficulties. The problem isn’t simply that a large number of Americans — including much of his own base — think that he is simply too old and frail to run again. There are a litany of problems dogging his administration.

Such are the storm clouds, even a strong and dynamic economy can’t help him. As inflation eats into more and more of their earnings, Americans report very high levels of dissatisfaction. Meanwhile the crisis at the southern border grows worse, exacerbating political polarisation. And polarisation within congress is now hampering the funding of core state functions, up to and including the military.

Things aren’t looking better in terms of foreign policy. Though Biden made a point of flagging Donald Trump’s warmongering while on the campaign trail, he himself has locked America into several new wars, quagmires and proxy conflicts. The situation in Ukraine grows bleaker by the day; the Suez Canal has been blocked by the Ansar Allah — or “the houthis” — of Yemen; and the American bombing campaign has utterly failed to improve the situation, while US bases in Syria and Iraq are under constant attack.

Thanks to Biden’s stance on the war in Gaza, America’s diplomatic position in the Middle East has been ruined, hollowing out belief in the “rules-based order” that America has long preached. What neutral observer in Delhi or Kuala Lumpur would now take American concerns about the Uighurs of Xinjiang seriously, given the treatment of the Palestinians? But of course, these questions are not just for foreigners to ask; as many countries are now losing faith in America, a significant and growing share of Biden’s own voters are now turning on him in disgust.

Around half of his own voters now think that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. The state of Michigan, which is critical to Biden’s re-election chances, saw an ominous number of “uncommitted” votes, a very clear form of protest vote given that Joe Biden is the only real candidate on the ballot. Does his campaign have a plan to staunch the bleeding, or have they simply given up?

In truth, the story of Joe Biden’s current misfortunes are inextricably connected to the fortunes of his main antagonist: Donald J. Trump. When Trump first descended that escalator almost a decade ago, nobody took him seriously. He was a joke; his enemies laughed at him; and even his friends didn’t think he had a chance in hell. But Trump’s surprise victory was forged by his willingness to commit heresy in public: to say that the Iraq war was a mistake (a cardinal sin within the Republican establishment at that time); to say that globalisation and Nafta had hurt American workers, and to give voice to other voter worries that were scorned by the political class.

Trump arrived at the White House saying that the system was broken. America was no longer great, but perhaps it could be made great again — if the supposed saboteurs would simply get out of the way. But even as Trump inspired a fanatical loyalty in a slice of the American electorate, he inspired an equally visceral loathing in another slice. He was the reason the system was breaking down. His buffoonery, his disrespect for norms, his lack of grace, his erratic decision-making; these were the things that were threatening America’s place in the world order. For the eight years since 2016, Trump has become a lightning rod for everything that went wrong.

It’s against this backdrop that Joe Biden won in 2020. If Trump was a tornado upending stability in the West, Biden was a return to normalcy. Far from a political firebrand or radical, Biden was meant to be a stable, reliable hand, proving that the Western liberal democratic order was still strong and healthy, regardless of the orange barbarians at the gate. Regardless of the truth of the tale, people believed it, and they voted for Biden because of it. All attempts to put Trump in prison or to ban him from standing for election again flowed from this same story: Trump was the guy who could bring down America’s political system if let loose, and so he had to be stopped to save it.

Now, the entire cosmology that pitted Trump against Biden in 2020 is collapsing. Only this week, the US Supreme Court delivered a unanimous verdict that Trump’s name could appear on the ballot for the forthcoming election. And while there’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth among pundits and members of the US political class, the chances of any large anti-Trump demonstrations at this point are pretty small. He is simply not that big an issue anymore. It’s not that all Americans have suddenly warmed to him — they haven’t — it’s that the Biden administration has made it impossible for them to keep believing that the system can continue like this for much longer. Biden was supposed to save America from Trump; instead, he has revealed the depths of the system’s dysfunction.

The truth is simply becoming impossible to ignore. America now faces a fiscal crisis, as federal deficits grow to unsustainable levels with no end in sight. It faces a military crisis, as the Pentagon can no longer recruit nor retain its soldiers, nor crush threats such as the Houthis in Yemen. It faces a political crisis, as congress bickers and prevaricates, unable to even pass an ordinary budget anymore. It faces a crisis of legitimacy, as a majority of Americans feel the country is heading in the wrong direction and that their votes don’t really matter. It faces a social crisis, as deaths of despair mount and as toothpaste, socks and deodorant are put behind lock and key due to an epidemic of theft and shoplifting. And Biden hasn’t solved any of these crises — everything has just got worse.

“A majority of Americans feel the country is heading in the wrong direction”

But the overarching problem for Biden right isn’t that voters think he is senile and incapable, it’s that people believe that the American political order itself has become senile and incapable of fixing people’s problems. Where it once made sense to rage against Donald Trump out of a genuine belief that he was going to destroy American democracy, in 2024 the pressing problem for many voters is that democracy is busily destroying itself, whether through neglect, malice, incompetence — or a combination of them all.

And so nothing Biden could say tomorrow will halt the growing sense among voters that there’s a pointlessness to all these proceedings. They aren’t angry or disappointed or hopeful. They’ve simply stopped believing in the idea that the American political system still works. Let Joe Biden have his speeches, they think, let him lose the election, let Trump burn the system to the ground if he wants to; what’s even the point of caring anymore? Just as in the last days of the Soviet Union, America is being hollowed out from the inside: where people were once angry and passionate, they are now consumed by indifference. If hatred was the force tearing apart America for the last eight or so years, what comes next might very well prove that some things are, in fact, worse than even hatred. Hatred, after all, means you still care.


Malcom Kyeyune is a freelance writer living in Uppsala, Sweden

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 months ago

Outstanding article that summarizes America’s current malaise. Of course, there is no hint of how to solve America’s problems. Few of Unherd’s contributors are willing to address that subject in a systematic way.
Perhaps Unherd could commission a series of articles on a realistic way forward for America. My sense, though, is there’s an editorial policy not to touch that subject.

Christopher
Christopher
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

How by posing the “ orange man bad” card so overplayed?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It’s starts with baby steps IMO. Two no brainers to start with are eliminating open borders and net zero. Trump will do that on day one. It probably gets more challenging beyond that, but decentralizing the bureaucracy would be another helpful step.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Schedule F is the plan to target the bureaucracy.

0 0
0 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Not just deregulation, decentralization of power within America would also help, give more power and responsibilities to the states. If the states use their power to do stupid things, that’s their problem and they can fix it. If States like California keep going down self-destructive paths, the rest of the country could use them as an example of what not to do and do the exact opposite.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

A series on solutions to the problems facing the western democracies would be excellent. We all have a pretty solid understanding of the problems.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 months ago

Except that people do care about their country, their families and their possessions. Becoming indifferent to the institutions is exactly what the Davos crowd wants. Even a ruin needs to be ruled and there always will be flesh to pick from the carcas.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago

If people didn’t care, they wouldn’t be polarized. I thought this was a good essay, but the author misjudged that IMO.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

It isn’t the people that don’t care.

There was a time when Wall Street had some concern for the welfare of ordinary Americans because they were it’s workforce. Now the workforce is in China. It’s inexhaustible and cheap. So screw Main Street.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 months ago

Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans still stand behind Israel; a pocket of ‘uncommitted’ 100,000 Arabs in Michigan is a blip. The problem with the Democrats is that they rule by division. The party is comprised of various ethnic interests groups all vying for attention and resources. This in and of itself tears the country apart, but it gets especially interesting when Jews, 90% of which vote Democrat, and Arabs who mostly vote Democrat become directly opposed to each when the Muddle East erupts. Republicans choose to see the country as ‘one’, hence the intense repulsion towards illegals streaming over the border. These trespassers are an existential threat to Republicans whereas the Democrats, especially Latinos see these people as future members of the Democrat party. Two world views where there’s no overlap.

Shawn Bydalek
Shawn Bydalek
2 months ago

I think people care about their families, friends, and themselves, as they ever will and simply must to survive. Nothing destroys the tribe. Nations are collections of tribes though, and I think it is true that Americans do not care about the structure(s) that keeps those tribes together, because it is fundamentally rotten and caring about it does not make one feel as though they are helping the collective anymore, let alone doing anything to help themselves. We are in a mess, financially and otherwise. Britain is not too far behind, if not worse off in some regards.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Bydalek

But caring for your family and community, saving for retirement and showing up on time is now seen as a vestige of white, colonial oppressor rule that must be eliminated.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

The problem precisely is liberalism, the idea that “everything is permitted,” and the decadence that rises up in its wake. It is the idea if you “just do it” everything will turn out swimmingly. Yet it keeps not doing that, emphatically not, all while the left keeps knocking its head the wall. They simply can’t accept that virtue matters.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 months ago

Biden, whenever his memory fogs over believes he is still in the 1980’s (he was elected to the Senate in 1972). For him the government is functioning just the way it always did. This was a time before America’s institutions stagnated, its economy slowly deteriorated, and when its might was unquestionable. The people around him however are trapped by what they were taught in Ivy League colleges and “think tanks”. The neoliberal bureaucratic mindset is that all they know how to do. Doubling down and hoping things work out is all they have to work with. Now let’s look at his opponent. Here is the amazing thing about Trump. He somehow causes his enemies to self-destruct. I have no idea exactly how this phenomenon works but it happens reliably over and over again. He is like a clown that points out everything around him is a circus and in the process of denying it everyone performs circus acts. It’s this dichotomy that is playing out between the zombified husk of traditional American politics being run by the less talented kids and a brash and reckless giant orange middle finger to the very same.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago

I thought this was an insightful essay. Biden must be a bitter disappointment for those who actually believed in him – something I don’t have to worry about. Everything gets worse when the adults are in the room I guess.

I don’t think the author was totally honest about Israel. Two thirds of Americans support Israel. Those most opposed are young people and progressives, which is awkward for Biden, because there is overwhelming support by moderates and independents.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good point about Israel.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I don’t believe that this author has ever been to America. Or even outside his basement in Norway.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

You would benefit from he attentions of a lumberjack, Warren.

Simon S
Simon S
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Support in the US for Biden”s allowance of Israel’s genocide in Gaza is diminishing by the day as people witness the images of wholesale destruction, starvation, sniper killings of children, and systematic bombing of civilians now concentrated into camps.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

There is no genocide.
There are over five times as many Palestinians today as there were in 1948. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, moving thousands of Jews to the other side of its eastern borders, and gave Gazans free water and electricity. Gazans received tens of millions of dollars in aid from both the US and Israel every year.
In return, Gazans launched a vicious attack against Israeli civilians that resulted in the deaths of 50 Israeli children, over 1,000 civilians, and dozens of kidnappings and rapes.
Funny how that’s all excused, explained, denied, or waved away, by those who claim themselves to be morally superior. Vicious terror attacks should neither be rewarded, nor denied.
Now, the rest of the world seems to be suggesting that Gazans and their government of savages should be rewarded for psychopathic barbarism.
No. Hamas must be destroyed, root had branch, and Gazans need to be punished severely enough to never again contemplate these sorts of atrocities.
Europeans and American leftists who say otherwise are modern day Quislings, who sounds like nothing so much as Neville Chamberlain or Lord Halifax proclaiming “peace with honor, peace in our time” as the Blitzkrieg rolled into Czechoslovakia and Poland.
There is no honor in appeasing those who want you or your allies eliminated. There’s no peace in it, either.

0 0
0 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Maybe that’s because there were no real adults in the room to begin with, really just teenagers in the bodies of adults They only just pretended to be adults by adhering to a faux morality and decorum whose sole purpose wasn’t really ensure peace, order, and functionality of the system but more as a means to exploit it for their own selfish and hydonistic ends under the guise of respectability and virtue. There are a Basically a bunch of spoiled rich kids who inherited the wealth, power, prestige of previous generations, and once they got it proceeded to piss it all away and stick the bill to a younger generation who will have to unenviable of task shifting through the ruins they left behind and dealing with the shame and dishonor thought they’ll be hard-pressed to shake off, made even worse because the elders made no attempt to properly groom them for the responsibilities of succession by not imparting to them any knowledge or wisdom to carry things on that labeled the previous generations. Trump is a creature of the species despite his non adherence to their secret codes, and many ways is it’s just as bad if not worse than the rest of them, the only thing that made him different from the rest of that he didn’t bother to keep up appearances like rest of them but not bothering to adhere to the the unwritten rules and tact agreements they have between each other, and their attempts to bring him to heal in order to keep up the the falsehood unexpose, they showed themselves for the hypocrites, liars and phonies that they really are. It’s Boomerism 101.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If, as you say, the Americans are for the Gaza destruction – this is only because Mass Media and social media, and Neo- Con government say it is fine, just, fair, and good – –

But it is a war crime and this will come out. It is coming out more and more – and things could change. I think MAGA are not very happy with it – it is the Republican Old School – the ones who gave us Iraq and Afghanistan – the Haley kinds – they love war, but I think MAGA is not happy with it.

0 0
0 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Maybe that’s because there were no real adults in the room to begin with, really just teenagers in the bodies of adults They only just pretended to be adults by adhering to a faux morality and decorum whose sole purpose wasn’t really ensure peace, order, and functionality of the system but more as a means to exploit it for their own selfish and hydonistic ends under the guise of respectability and virtue. There are a Basically a bunch of spoiled rich kids who inherited the wealth, power, prestige of previous generations, and once they got it proceeded to piss it all away and stick the bill to a younger generation who will have to unenviable of task shifting through the ruins they left behind and dealing with the shame and dishonor thought they’ll be hard-pressed to shake off, made even worse because the elders made no attempt to properly groom them for the responsibilities of succession by not imparting to them any knowledge or wisdom to carry on the mantle. Trump is a creature of this species despite his non adherence to their secret codes, and many ways is he’s just as bad if not worse than the rest of them, the only thing that made him different from the rest of that he didn’t bother to keep up appearances like rest of them by not bothering to adhere to the the unwritten rules and tact agreements they have between each other, and their attempts to bring him to heal in order to keep up the the falsehood they expose themselves for the hypocrites, liars and phonies that they really are. This is boomerism 101.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

That doesn’t contradict the essay at all, which discusses Biden’s problem with his own coalition of voters – of which young people and progressives are a vital part.

Cantab Man
Cantab Man
2 months ago

I concede that the author has put forward a very convincing argument that Biden has been a definitively worse President than Trump was.
This fact must be disheartening for even the most hearty of Biden voters. Thus, it’s no surprise that they’re now indifferent.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Cantab Man

“Worse”? You may not like Trump’s personality, but America was prospering in every area during his administration until the seasonal flu was war gamed as a worldwide pandemic and the usual suspects yelled PANIC.
If Election 2020 hadn’t been thoroughly and utterly stolen, there would be no war in Ukraine, the massacre in Israel wouldn’t have been perpetrated, the invasion by illegal aliens into the US would not have occurred, we would be energy independent, and much of the Swamp would be in jail or looking for honest work.
”Worse”. Good grief.

Arthur G
Arthur G
2 months ago

Trump allowed the shambolic response to COVID. You can’t absolve him of blame. He let Fauci run the US response for years. Fauci worked for him. Everything Fauci did is Trump’s fault.
That’s why I laugh at people who say Trump is going to protect us from the globalist Davos crowd. He couldn’t even protect us against ONE civil servant.

Addie Shog
Addie Shog
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I agree in principle that the response to COVID was a big mistake all over the world. However, there are some saving graces for the politicians. If I was a leader and the most eminent scientists and physicians told me that unless I do the internationally recommended policy tens of millions of citizens are going to die I’m not sure I would take the chance of them all being wrong.

Arthur G
Arthur G
2 months ago
Reply to  Addie Shog

By summer 2020 it was crystal clear that only old, sick people were at risk. Florida and Texas and other GOP states opened up in short order. Sweden never closed. Trump could have fired Fauci and used Federal aid to leverage states into reopening schools and businesses. He didn’t.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

He let Fauci run the US response for years.
No, he didn’t. Trump had Fauci and Covid for 2020 alone, at the beginning of the pandemic. There was no “years” plural. And Trump did not order widespread lockdowns; that was left to the states, which took wildly different approaches. Nor did he mandate vaccines. You’re entitled to an opinion, not to manufacturing facts.

Arthur G
Arthur G
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Florida and Texas reversed course a full year before the Feds. That’s Trumps fault.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
2 months ago

If the author is “living in Uppsala, Sweden”, how does he know these things?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

They do probably let you out of Uppsala every now and again to go and look at the outside world.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Most Americans don’t understand that you can actually leave your country now and again

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Well, considering that this author has twice referred to Trump as the 46th president in other articles, I find his musings on America to be less than informed.

Herb Zinn
Herb Zinn
2 months ago

Prescience perhaps.

The Democrats had two chances to field a candidate with a huge groundswell of popular support, and each time they bent the rules to advance a limousine liberal corporatist candidate instead. It’s ironic that, when the Democratic party bent the rules in 2016 to nominate Clinton instead of democratic voters actual choice, Bernie, that they did indeed commit “election fraud” by the common understanding of how an election is supposed to work, even if Debbie Wasserman Schulz thinks otherwise.

And if the huge discrepancies in UN exit polls of the 2020 Democratic primary in Nevada and elsewhere are any indication, the Democrats found a way to defraud both Bernie and their own ostensible base who voted for him yet again in 2020.

Throw in certain members of the US intelligence community leading mainstream media and social media to both suppress the all too real Hunter Biden laptop story and at the same time amplify the now-revealed-to-be entirely fabricated story of Russian election interference and, if nothing else, the last two elections have had the effect of demonstrating to the average American how much our entire federal political system resembles little more than a cheap and fabricated television gameshow, a two party puppet show where the puppets put on a good show of duking it out while behind the stage the same bellicose and wealth extracting agenda advances another 10 steps.

At this point the polarization be country has gotten pretty bad. Don’t think some of the more polarized members of either party wouldn’t at least try to act on the chance to round up members of the opposite party. But putting them in camps is so “Japanese WWII internment camps.” Tacky. These days they’ll opt for more technological ways of criminalizing dissent, made in China, proven in Gaza. Make no mistake, there are many in power who ratchet up the tension between the two puppet parties, one puppetmaster puppet show for no other reason than to try to “make something happen” big enough to allow them to declare martial law and turn American cities into the next Gaza style open air prison complete with UN peacekeeping troops and Chinese social credit scores driven by silicon valley panopticon surveillance.

TL;DR neither party represents anything remotely like working class interests. Each party panders to certain issues to rile up it’s base, but those are merely window dressing. At the core of both parties, we are ruled by wealth extracting globalist tyrants with zero allegiance to the American people. When the walls come tumbling down, working class Americans will be the next to be “colonized”, and “both sides” are cheering it on.

I love that this comment is flagged for “spam”. Tech monopolists will have themselves to blame for the end of freedom of speech!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

It’s called ‘reading’ : )

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

Biden winning the 2020 election did more damage to the Democrat cause than if Trump had won. Without the orange man to blame their own glaring contradictions could no longer be ignored.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The big problem is Biden was elected on his promise of a “return to normalcy”. These last three years have been a special kind of crazy instead. This makes it harder to argue that Trump is the source of the chaos to the extent he has been portrayed.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

This is because Biden was never really in charge. He was the sock puppet.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

You are correct. This is the third term of the Obama administration. His people run the show right down to the words on the index cards Joe tries to read to the camera without much success.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
2 months ago

One can make this unnecessarily complicated. It used to be “It’s the economy, stupid”. Now “It is real wages, stupid”. The two have decoupled. See graph.
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1hUYi

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago

“Hatred, after all, means you still care.”
Very good article, finished with a real punch of a sentence. Bravo.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago

FINALLY, somebody got it right. Finally some journalist actually got past making everything about Donald Trump and some of his more unsavory supporters. Finally somebody sees past the bluster and the personality of Trump himself to try to understand the forces that allowed Trump to succeed and come to power in the first place. The fact of the matter is the US is ripe for a revolution. It doesn’t take a majority to start a revolution. Almost no revolution, peaceful or violent, successful or failed, starts with majority support. They start with a small but committed and doggedly determined core of support, and then they start a cycle that ultimately destabilizes the nation or the empire. Revolutionary movements don’t have to win quickly or immediately to undermine governments or destabilize societies. They just have to keep pressing on, because by simply existing, they apply pressure to the system, which begins weakening, which invites further revolutionary sentiment, which adds to the pressure, which weakens the structure further. Other alternatives with a slightly different flavor of revolutionary change will start to crop up and eat away at people who are dissatisfied with the status quo but dislike the views and policies of the existing revolutionary movement. Support for the existing government will start bleeding from a thousand cuts, and they will keep growing as long as the basic dissatisfaction of the people remains.

A government can’t simply go on the defensive indefinitely. There are a couple of routes governments can take to maintain control. The first is to restore faith in the system through positive actions and real policy change. This is made difficult because there will invariably be entrenched opposition whose power/wealth is based upon existing systems and who would suffer greatly from any significant disruption. The second, of course, is to adopt an authoritarian stance and use police power to actively suppress dissent. The first might be doable if enough of the elites were able to reach the sort of epiphany this author has and convince others to back off their dreams of a borderless, nationless, world and save what can be saved. The second is really not even feasible. The US has a long history of opposing such things and has far too many checks on federal power, plus a military that is largely independent of the the government. This could never be done without the direct consent of the people, and they won’t get enough to avert starting a violent rebellion if they try to force the issue. The US has a third option due to its federalized structure. It can simply do nothing and allow the federal government’s power to slowly decay, while slowly transitioning many functions down to the level of the individual states. This won’t address all the problems of global corporations and oligarchs exerting power over national governments, but it will make their task much more complicated as its always harder to maintain influence in ten places than one. It will also dramatically reduce the resources available to them for international engagement. It’s quite likely in such a scenario the US would retreat from global power and the states would spend as much time sparring with each other as they would dealing with the rest of the world. The US would still be freakishly powerful in military terms, but too unstable and paralyzed to exercise that power effectively or consistently. This would be an acceptable outcome to me. Then again, so would a populist revolution led by someone competent and not named Donald Trump, a new constitutional convention to rewrite the rules and give states more power in a direct and formal way, or even a temporary military takeover that resulted in a period of autocratic rule to break the power of aristocrats and force through needed economic policy changes.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
2 months ago

“…What neutral observer in Delhi or Kuala Lumpur would now take American concerns about the Uighurs of Xinjiang seriously, given the treatment of the Palestinians?” The comparison is absurd. The US has a substantial Muslim population. It has not sent that population to reeducation camps, sterilised it, or used it for slave labour. Though given the apparent lack of interest or concern by Muslim majority countries in what China is doing to the Uighurs, it’s not obvious that if it did that would make any difference to the international standing of the US. One is frequently told that governments in the Global South appreciate that China does not lecture them or meddle in their internal affairs. It might in fact be more damaging to the US if it betrayed yet another ally in a futile attempt to impressive the progressive left.

Addie Shog
Addie Shog
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Correct. The Muslim world and their unhinged allies in the West couldn’t give a 4 X unless Israel is involved.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I don’t think you can lay he blame solely with Biden. Yes he’s old, senile and largely incompetent, but Americas problems predate him by a long, long way. Reagan’s neoliberalism (gleefully continued by Clinton and the rest) caused manufacturing to disappear, threw whole communities on the scrap heap and indirectly led to the resentment and polarisation we see today.
One side tried to force out Clinton, then their opposite number tried to stop Bush via the courts. Obama had to endure a nonsense campaign claiming he was a foreigner and thus illegitimate, and Trumps battles are well documented. American politics is a soap opera, the most powerful country in the world and you’ve a choice between two useless 80 year old sex pests

Tom D
Tom D
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The soap opera goes back to Nixon and Watergate. Even honest Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter couldn’t beat it back. Reagan survived it only because of his personality.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Now, this is where I get confused.
You are implying that we are still being led by politicians with a neo-liberal agenda.
As an amateur political scientist it is my understanding that neoliberalism was a reaffirmation of free market economics that was advocated by the Thatcher and Reagan era.
It is my contention that the Blair Clinton Era and the 21st century has seen the Western Democracies transition to the politics of the Social Liberalism with more state intervention and less respect for the free market.

Herb Zinn
Herb Zinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

The government mandate to regulate commerce is the only thing stopping the “free market” from putting a price tag on your first born son and daughter. We need an economic system that puts the working class first. The neoliberal world order wants a return to the days of slavery and yes milord yes milady and tell you this is “rule of law”. Social liberals want to tax your labor and “distribute” the proceeds to government agencies staffed with hand picked cronies. In reality Thomas Jefferson had it best: “It is not by the consolidation or concentration of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected.” The ruling class will deploy UN peacekeeping troops to the US long before us wee commoners are allowed to wrest the yokes from our necks.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago

When writers make demonstrably false statements like “the Suez Canal has been blocked by the Ansar Allah — or “the houthis” — of Yemen” it makes the rest untrustable. I stopped reading at that point.
Yes traffic through Suez is down and yes it is a significant worry for Europeans but Suez has not be blocked.
https://www.investopedia.com/how-is-this-suez-canal-slowdown-different-from-the-last-businesses-are-better-prepared-8551551

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

You can argue that the USA elite are facing the end of an era (Cliodynamics). The neoliberal bureaucratic governmental form has run its course and people are looking for something new.
Biden advanced the idea that neoliberal government could continue under his guidance but the continuation of that comfortable idea has proven to be impossible.
Trump at least recognised that the American Dream needed to be resuscitated but the old regime resisted during his first term. I rather expect the old regime are turning even more against him winning a second term because this this time he might actually achieve rather more.
Not a great choice for the USA, but ‘more of the same’ is no longer tenable.

Dillon Eliassen
Dillon Eliassen
2 months ago

Wow, this Swede really has the pulse of Americans. It’s true that it seems the most patriotic Americans are legal immigrants and their first generation offspring because they remember the conditions that caused them to want to emigrate, but this supposed widespread indifference and nihilism comes from the two extreme ends of the political spectrum. The vast majority of Americans are not shrugging their shoulders or welcoming the collapse of American government or civil society.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Having joe biden in power is like having a child emperor in charge. We dont know who is making decisions. There is noone who can phone Putin or Netanatu to make a deal. Trump is, I believe, a sort of fake populist. I think the Devos crowd are orienting behind the likes of Melei and Trump to push their technocratic agenda. They channel populist rage but they will either be incompetent or, if competent, will demean the populace even more by gutting the state in a spirit of populist rebellion. I like Kennedy but its probably too soon for a genuine independent but I think he will win in 2028 and America can rebuild from there. The next few years they will just print money and try and kick tje can down the road
I think they might be able to do that for 4/5 years. Inflate the debt away is the name of the game but that just demeans wages, inflates property even more and we will see a real break with this system in 2028 I think

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
2 months ago

“Thanks to Biden’s stance on the war in Gaza, America’s diplomatic position in the Middle East has been ruined, hollowing out belief in the “rules-based order” that America has long preached. What neutral observer in Delhi or Kuala Lumpur would now take American concerns about the Uighurs of Xinjiang seriously, given the treatment of the Palestinians?”

did the Uighurs invade china, gang rape, mutilate, butcher unarmed women and put babies into ovens? did they fire missiles into random civilian targets in Israel? Are they determined on the complete wiping out of every Chinese person and driving them into the sea? Sod the palestinians. they arent even palestinian. they are the Arab settler-colonialist-imperialist-slaver-conquerors. shame on the left for lacking all principle and standards.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Charlie Two

Are the 20,000 dead Gaza children guilty of

”invade china, gang rape, mutilate, butcher unarmed women and put babies into ovens? did they fire missiles into random civilian targets in Israel?”

Because you guys sure taught them a lesson…..Not to mention you blew up their hospitals, houses, schools, water and electric supply and everything else.

William Cameron
William Cameron
2 months ago

As a UK resident observing .
Mr Trump is clearly not the sort of chap you would want your daughter to marry. But – how many conflicts/wars did he start ? Is it none ?
Mr Biden is demonstrably not the level of alertness one wants controlling nuclear missiles- and he has started conflicts- and hasnt won any.
Which of these two is likely to stop Putin ? Trump in my view. He will give away a chunk of Ukraine in the process -but that is the status quo anyway.
So as a betting man – and staying alive is important.
Who is less likely to get me killed ? The answer has to be Trump.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
2 months ago

The author misses the real implication of Biden’s weakness and Trump’s increasing standing in the polls. The most likely outcome in November is a narrow Trump win followed by a constitutional crisis – because the Democrat party will use every means of lawfare to prevent him taking power. There will be riots; the rioters will be arrested and martial law instituted. It will be far, far worse than the author imagines because American democracy is hanging by a thread. Civil war is a very real possibility. It depends on whether the Democrats let Trump win legally.

Terry M
Terry M
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

A frightening, but not impossible, outcome. It is made more likely by the Donkeys completely delusional hatred and rage at Trump’s vulgarity and crassness. They are like children having a national temper tantrum – they do not listen, only shout and make trouble.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

MAGA is portrayed as some radical movement, but the real radicals will appear if Trump wins. Cities across the country will burn like never before.

Tom D
Tom D
2 months ago

“Though Biden made a point of flagging Donald Trump’s warmongering…”
What warmongering? As president Trump had initiated the smallest number of military actions since Jimmy Carter The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was the main outlier.

Nell L
Nell L
2 months ago

Like a lot of the commentators have said, this is a good analysis of how many Americans feel about the state of our country but makes the mistake of concluding that that has resulted in “indifference”. Instead, what has resulted is intense anger. Liberals like myself and my friends will vote for Biden (if he runs) only because he is better than Trump but with anger about how he has failed to confront the problems of immigration, inflation, and crime faced by ordinary people. Others, mainly Republicans, will vote for Trump because of their anger about the indictments he faces and because they think he won the 2020 election, but also because they share the same anger as liberals about immigration, inflation, and crime. We are angry, not indifferent. What America needs is a presidential candidate under 60 who can appreciate how Americans of many different races and incomes and political affiliations are angry about the same problems. But our political system can’t seem to produce such a candidate, and that just makes us angrier!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell L

 Liberals like myself and my friends will vote for Biden (if he runs) only because he is better than Trump
Better how? Biden didn’t “fail to confront” things like the border or crime; he enabled them.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

There is much truth and insight here. The author might have added that resurrecting racism through DEI and Biden’s blanket support for the transing of children have been a big turn off for moderate voters too..

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 months ago

A democratic vote may elect Donald Trump. Saying that Democracy is failing just because someone whose opinions one disagrees with is elected is wrong. The losers (Democrats and Social Liberals) need to look to their values and views to ask themselves why the democratic majority have voted for Trump.
Those values appear to include the view that Israel is perpetrating genocide. If they were a nation intent on the extermination of the Palestinians how is it that 2 million of this ethnic group live and vote in Israel or that they have issued warnings to civilians before military action . Hamas, however, advocate a Palestine of single ethnicity with no place for peoples of other faiths. Now that, to my mind requires genocide. Maybe it is this mixed up support for a group of individuals who raped and murdered innocent civilians and took hostages as human shields that brings into question the value set of the Social Liberal opinion formers and results in people voting for the only electable alternative in a two party system.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Under Biden, the “fundamental transformation” promised by his former boss has taken root. To this day, it is inexplicable how anyone thought that phrase would translate into something beneficial for the US.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
2 months ago

“They’ve simply stopped believing in the idea that the American political system still works.”
Not the MAGA voters. They believe deeply in the American political system and are using it to pierce all the decades-old Progressive fallacies that have put the country in this horrible state. Trump is merely the tip of the spear.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago

Joe Biden, the Joffrey Baratheon of US politics?

Walter Herbst
Walter Herbst
2 months ago

The author does not fully appreciate the tribes that make up America. Most of us simply want a return to what it was. Tragically, the loudest voices are a tiny component of the smallest minorities. What Biden never understood was his belief that the loudest voices represented a majority of voters. Thus the insane BLM movement which allowed communities to burn without addresding the burners and the looters. That component began the nations divide.
Super liberal Democrat DA’s came to their individual decisions which were outside of the law and allowed that level of dissidents to continue and grow.
The liberals then decided the nation was a zero sum game and if those who worjed hard and gained assets could only be attributed to those that made the decision not to work. That allowed open shoplifting with democrat controlled major cities allowing $900 per person per store per day and the breakdown of civilization. For those that believed Biden could be the healer Are finally recognizing the only way to begin the real healing is to recognize the real problem.
Trump is willing to voice that while Biden is not. And even the liberal cities are now recognizing their own short time failings and are once again trying desperately to bring civilization back to the norm by recognizing it does take a police force to do so.

Yes, the US is in a downfall, and it is going to take one big mouth non-politician to start putting it back together.

Fortunately, American laws allow for presidential orders, thus the cry for many to bring back a non-politician whose biggest credential is his love for America

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
2 months ago

“Though Biden made a point of flagging Donald Trump’s warmongering while on the campaign trail,”
Did Trump initiate any wars? I know Biden has, and Killary sure as hell would have if she had won in 2016.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago

“,,,in 2024 the pressing problem for many voters is that democracy is busily destroying itself, whether through neglect, malice, incompetence — or a combination of them all.”
No, it is not destroying itself. The very people who decry the end of democracy are the ones who are earnestly driving the dagger deeper day by day.
(Thanks to this author for FINALLY presenting a balanced article.)

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
2 months ago

Dispirited is the word that best describes the West’s ennui. What feels like overwhelming corruption running rampant over the possibility of any freedom, is the reason. The people feel defeated as their so called democracy had been hijacked by a self appointed ruling elite of oligarchs, media moguls, high tech social engineers, and coercive indoctrinators. There are no “people” in there, and citizens come last.

Donald Trump ran on these facts, perceptions, and their impacts. He dared: he won. Populism is the derisive term for the will of the people. Heresy! They are the sinners of the new enlightenment. The unwashed, uninformed, little people only necessary as labor, in one form or another.

Democracy has been completely redefined; people neither invited nor wanted in this new alignment. It is now a global intention to decide for the people what is best, hmmm, for the people or the elite? Donald Trump gets this, exposes it, calls it out; in short, threatens it.

Without the oppressed, all those oppressing sinners could continue oppressing and the Righteous cannot allow that. Trump is the leader of the sinners; he must be stopped. Ordinary people are unclean oppressors and must be cleansed; their redemption decided by their victims.

Yes, the unwitting, opressing sinners are dispirited, and afraid. Blamed and targeted by incredibly corrupt power will do that. Anger is what they need. Pray for courage and anger, or the enlightenment as it was, is being snuffed out.

Brian Lemon
Brian Lemon
2 months ago

The author is correct about why Biden won the last election. But he has overshot the mark in concluding that the American people are indifferent. What happens next is unpredictable, but it will not be characterized by indifference. And comparing the USA to the USSR prior to its collapse is just ignorant, sorry.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago

What neutral observer in Delhi or Kuala Lumpur would now take American concerns about the Uighurs of Xinjiang seriously, given the treatment of the Palestinians?

Anyone who sums up the plight of the citizens of Gaza with “…given the treatment of Palestinians” should not be writing for a living. The world is awash in facile commentary by people thought be intellectuals but who are really just dudes who spent too much time in academia at the expense of life in the real world. This guy is not insightful. Please stop publishing him.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago

Trump arrived on the scene as the bull in a china shop ready to put paid to a corrupt establishment built around what is in effect a Uniparty. One side mostly won and the other took a grin-and-bear-it attitude so long as it got its smaller share of the pie. Trump only had a dim sense of the power of the deep state and its allies in Silicon Valley, the legacy media and the careerists in government who are the vast majority of the movers and shakers in the federal infrastructure. One of the boasts at that level is nobody ever gets fired. They effectively sabotaged the collection of amateurs that passed as the Trump administration and nullified the mandate voters had given him.. One hopes Trump has reflected on the mistakes he made and hits the ground running.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
2 months ago

The Trump Derangement Syndrome is strong in this one.

J S
J S
2 months ago

Indifference is certainly what I feel. I can’t bear to watch “news” anymore. And yet – at some point the lucky few won’t be able to retreat behind money and walls and gates anymore, the chaos spreads. Then what?

John Lammi
John Lammi
2 months ago

“Trump’s war mongering”. This writer is one of those left wing advocates of totalitarianism. I met them in the 1970s in the USA, Germany, and on US campuses

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
2 months ago

The author is correct on some points but there’s a gap between many of his conclusions and the reasons why. It’s true Americans look at the ‘system’ and are disgusted. The middle class is finding living much harder, the very rich seem to be making decisions but the rich are just getting richer. A growing number of poor live on the street.
The reason for the doldrums is unfairness. Trump led the USA to have an energy surplus. Oil exports were high, he pushed but it was a struggle to get a barrier on the south, enemies were quiet and Europeans were strong armed to pay their agreed share to NATO. He moved the embassy to Jerusalem and declared the Golan was Israel’s.
Christian and Jewish America was thrilled. Business was great. Inflation was low. More ethnic Americans were working and It was a happy time for everyone but Communists and Muslims. Russia was losing money in oil sales because the market was saturated, China was being watched with suspicion and Muslims didn’t like that people liked Israel.
Then some hidden cabal sent out millions of absentee ballots willy nilly, courts unlawfully changed voting rules instead of legislators, voting machine counting had weird connections to the internet and Biden who spent most of his campaign in his basement won.
After Antifa and BLM riots and what happened to Kavinaugh, courts wouldn’t touch the objections to the voting process. A thousand sworn affidavits about election irregularities were ignored. Prices went through the roof, The Steele dossier was debunked and there was no punishment. Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of illegals are crossing the border every month. A very popular Trump was hit with ridiculous law suits, his home raided and even his lawyers were hit with suits. All of the evidence about the Biden crime family is out with no punishment and now Biden’s giving money to despicable Hamas.
It’s not fair. People who are truly suspected of criminal behavior are off the hook (Hunter et al) and Trump is being harassed for no good reason. The Department of Justice is off the rails and the bad guys are in charge. That’s why a majority of Americans feel dejected. That’s why a great many will vote for a return to Trump.