It's Done. What Comes Next?
Plus: an interview with Megyn Kelly.
It’s done. Hallelujah! Time to list those pussy hats on Poshmark.
If I were still at a newspaper, I’d be compelled to write something about the inauguration — a riff about how it’s morning again (again) in America; the powerful symbolism of Eugene Goodman, the heroic police officer who faced down the rioters, escorting the vice president; Lil Wayne’s pardon.
But I am no longer at a newspaper. That’s because my politics — center-left on some issues, center-right on others, a centrism that most Americans still occupy — were unwelcome. I see the ideological capture and institutional transformation that occurred at The Times as a sign of what’s to come these next four years. Which leads me to the purpose of my newsletter and what I hope to cover in the Biden era.
I voted for Joe Biden. I think that he is past his prime. I also think he is an eminently decent and kind man. That fact that his decency seems positively refreshing is a tragic sign of where we are. But it does. And I welcome it.
I’ve said it many times, but I will say it here again: Trump was a malignant narcissist. Seeing that did not require a psychology degree. He coarsened everything and everyone he touched. He trashed all of our guardrails. He hastened our undoing.
But he was not the sole author of it. He was elected because we had already come undone. I guess that’s why I don’t feel the same kind of elation — even liberation — that so many on my Instagram feed seem to feel, donning aviators in honor of the 46th president or Converse for Kamala.
Yes, we have the first African-American, first Asian-American, and first woman as vice president of the United States, as MSNBC is keen to point out every hour. Yes, we have a happy first couple. “They are a love match. Like the Obamas,” Joy Reid told us Wednesday afternoon. CNN’s political director, David Chalian, said the lights in the reflecting pool were “extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.” Oof.
The truth is that Joe Biden is a fig leaf. He is a fig leaf for the deep problems that roil our country, for the totalizing ideologies spreading through the nation like wildfire, and for the dramatic political realignment that we are living through.
I understand people breathing a sigh of relief. I did. But the Joe Biden presidency will require a different kind of attentiveness. The maladies of the Trump era were painfully obvious, sometimes dangerous, and often clownish. QAnon is not exactly subtle. Leaving aside Majorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, Trumpian forces don’t hold much power in American life. But the fringe ideologues on the left are savvy, smart, and organized, with purchase at every level of American culture and politics.
Consider the fact that Hillary Clinton recorded a podcast with Nancy Pelosi this week in which she said of Trump: “I would love to see his phone records to see whether he was talking to Putin the day that the insurgents invaded our Capitol.” And the speaker of the House responded: “All roads lead to Putin.”
Really? That’s still the play after four years?
The group that fell for Russiagate has long owned the culture. Now it’s won the presidency and controls Congress. What will happen?
I’ll leave it to the rest of the press to compete over who can signal the most outrage over a Vogue cover of Kamala Harris:
Or how to properly praise the Biden administration’s pyrotechnic aesthetic:
I’ll be focusing on topics where the mainstream media gets . . . confused. Remember this summer, when it decided that anyone who did not want to defund the police was considered a right-winger? Or that to use national guardsmen to keep the peace was considered unthinkable on June 6, but by January 6 was bipartisan national policy? Or that Big Tech’s power was terrifying and evil, until it was used to put down Parler? Or that anyone who violated the lockdowns denied science, unless they were marching for the right political cause?
I hope at Common Sense you’ll find some.
Herewith, five litmus tests for the Biden era:
Will the Biden administration make the case that America is good?
That’s not sarcastic or rhetorical. And it’s not a question about what’s in Joseph R. Biden’s heart.
I mean: Will his administration embrace the new re-understanding of America that shot through the streets this summer and issues forth daily from the mouths of our elites? That view goes like this: America was born for the purpose of upholding white supremacy and it remains irredeemably racist. Our founders were not primarily political geniuses but slaveholders who wanted to find a way to hoard their property. And while the rioters may have gotten a little out of hand, they weren’t wrong to target statues of men like Lincoln.
To take a stand against the teardown; to insist that, America, for all its flaws, remains a source of hope on Earth; to suggest that our founding date is 1776 and not 1619; was to out yourself as some bigoted troglodyte.
Will the forces that insist that America is unexceptional control the bounds of discourse and policy in the Biden administration? Or will the White House stand up for the basic tenets of liberalism, like the free exchange of ideas, even — especially — the ones they don’t favor?
Will neo-racism be normalized?
A few months ago I spoke to a Trump administration official who confirmed that the president wouldn’t know what Critical Race Theory was if it smacked him in the face. Nevertheless, in September of 2020, Trump passed an executive order banning training for federal agencies and federal contractors that relies on this ideology.
Time Magazine was far from alone in spinning Critical Race Theory as “an indispensable and widely accepted tool for properly understanding the state of the nation.”
That’s not true.
Critical Race Theory is a threat to the most basic foundations of American life, including, but not limited to, equality under the law. It asks us to define ourselves by our immutable characteristics. It pits us against one another in an endless power struggle. It rejects Enlightenment tools of reason and scientific discovery as tainted. And it undermines our common humanity.
On his first day in office, President Biden rescinded Trump’s executive order. That’s not a good sign.
Do we still believe in Dr. King’s dream, in which we are all judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin? Or do enough of us now believe in a kind of collective guilt, that skin color determines our place in a new caste system?
For the past few weeks I’ve been talking to teachers and parents across the country about the takeover of American schools by this illiberal ideology, which disguises itself as “social justice” and “anti-racism” but indoctrinates children as young as kindergarten to see everything and everyone through the lens of race.
It’s an important story that’s been largely overlooked, and I’m eager to report it out.
Will cancel culture become the culture?
Cancelling has become a normal part of American life. We are no longer surprised when someone is fired for a bad tweet, or when a publisher drops an author for an unpopular view, or when teenagers spy on one another like little Stasi and adults applaud.
But all of that could be child’s play compared to what will come from the strong alliance between the Democratic Party and the press, which are advocating that major tech companies crack down on “hate,” or “disinformation,” which has quickly become a synonym for “information I don’t like.”
Marc Andreessen, David Sacks and others in Silicon Valley have been sounding the alarm on this. They do not think it’s at all far-fetched to imagine this kind of censoriousness coming to your email. Or the browser on which you are reading this essay. Or your bank.
Can you make a living in the wealthiest country in the world?
We live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet the three jobs with the most projected growth all earn less than $28,000 a year. They are home health and personal care aides at $25,280; fast-food and counter workers at $22,740; and restaurant cooks at $27,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is untenable, and, as Michael Lind has brilliantly argued in Tablet, the heart of everything that ails us.
Is there a way to end our ongoing uncivil war?
When the 46th president said at the inauguration that “disagreement must not lead to disunion,” and that “we must end this uncivil war,” I nodded along. Then I thought about the fact that serious people are calling for enemies’ lists and the banning of Fox News, and I wondered how, really, we could put an end to our current uncivil war.
Half of Americans say that other Americans — not poverty; not China — pose the biggest threat to the country.
During one of the presidential debates, Marianne Williamson set off a thousand memes when she said: “If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in the country, then I’m afraid Democrats are going to see some very dark days.” People laughed. But she got it mostly right.
If you think stability and normalcy are about to return to America, ask yourself if you said that there was no way in hell that Donald Trump could win the White House.
What happened to The New York Times? It’s a question I get a lot. This piece, by Martin Gurri in City Journal, just about nails it.
If you missed this magnificent essay by Alana Newhouse about why everything is broken — and how to fix it — make time for it over the weekend.
Megyn Kelly was a big fan of Alana’s piece. I know because we talked about it on this podcast I recorded with her on Thursday. She’s a pro. Give it a listen here.
I’m going to aim to publish once a week. For now, all of my columns will be free. So what’s the value of kicking in $5 a month, besides supporting the project?
First, being part of the conversation. Substack appears to have solved the problem of trolls in the comment section. Only paying subscribers are able to comment on posts, and I’m eager to hear from you and talk with you.
Second, I’ll eventually introduce subscriber-only content, discussion threads, and special events, like Zoom conversations with people much smarter than me. If you have particular people or topics in mind for those conversations, I’m all ears.