The United States Of Exhaustion


Oct 30, 2020

Newsletter by Mary Buffett

As we enter the final stretch of the 2020 election, we are living in The United States of Exhaustion. Our American fabric—every national norm—has been ripped up in the name of political expediency. Even now, President Trump is claiming victory over a pandemic that continues to spike upward. We live in a reality where our allies are slandered and our adversaries are coddled. 

If a young screenwriter sat down in 2010 to write a movie treatment about what might take place in 2020, they would be thrown off of the lot. Permanently. 

We started the year with a presidential impeachment. Meanwhile in Iowa and New Hampshire, the question was which Democrat would take the helm from a sinking Biden campaign. In January, China recorded its first COVID-19 death. Then Kobe Bryant died in a tragic helicopter crash. Parasite swept the Oscars. Prince Charles threw shade at Mike Pence and would not shake his hand. Iowa Caucus was a mess.

Joe Biden, left for dead, made a stunning comeback in three whole days between the South Carolina Primary and Super Tuesday to become the front runner and nominee. Then COVID-19 became a true American pandemic. The Dow Jones tanked in April. Europe simply stopped. The fringe element was attracted to conspiracy sites like QAnon. Political conventions were cancelled and became virtual in nature.

Over the summer, rioting broke out over the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and others. Sadly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Amy Coney Barrett was quickly nominated and rushed through the confirmation process. The president hosted a rollout party for Judge Barrett, which turned into a super-spreader event, leading to a quarantine of most of his senior staff. The President himself was airlifted to Walter Reed with COVID-19.

The Post Office was in the middle of a voter suppression effort. Right wing militia members were arrested in a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. In a taped conversation, Trump admitted that he downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic to Bob Woodward. The first debate was like a bad Thanksgiving dinner where the police are called before the first course hits the table. The second debate was cancelled. A fly became the unintended star of the Vice Presidential debate. In the final days of his campaign, President Trump stranded hundreds of his supporters in a Nebraska airport parking lot after a speech. Sadly, some were hospitalized due to exposure.

This country—our nation—needs a break from this. We need to be able to go to sleep at night and not wake up to the latest presidential outrage on Twitter. We need to have a leader that does not claim victory over a pandemic that continues to infect millions.

We are simply exhausted, and we need a break. We need peace and quiet.

Presidential leadership must contain a sense of empathy. Any tinhorn dictator can be cruel and heartless but during any American tragedy, we expect our leader to bind our wounds. We expect our presidents to lead from in front, not humiliate federal workers with his 93 million Twitter followers. This is good old fashioned American kindness and fair play.

We want better.

What we want is a return to our national norms. However, this may be harder to accomplish than many realize. Once the dogs of chaos are let loose among our citizens, options once thought as unthinkable have sadly become realistic. The President built an internal military force to patrol American streets—and we all watched it take place with complete astonishment. We still don’t know the true organizational make-up of the armed federal police officers that plucked protesters out of the streets and threw them into unmarked vans this summer.

This is not something that you can simply “wish away” with a wand.

It takes time for a nation to heal. It takes patience for the national fabric to reweave and repair its broken places. It takes leadership to remind Americans that the blessings of democracy are available to all. It takes empathy to remind everybody that we’re all in this together.

However, there is one good thing that can be reported after four years of Donald Trump: While the pillars of democracy have been damaged and darkened, they are not broken.

Unlike other countries where emerging democratic ideals are subverted by a strongman who builds a “Cult of Personality” for him and his family, the United States has done its level best to push back against Trump and Trumpism. In Eastern Europe, some countries like Hungary have embraced the role of a singular leader instead of a democracy, essentially backsliding into their authoritarian past.

Assuming that the current polling trends hold over the next few days, Joe Biden should earn a solid win. Hopefully, the Senate will flip and the next Administration will be able to enact its legislative plan to right a damaged ship.

Assuming Biden wins, it’s an interesting intersection between the man and the moment. In 1987 when Biden withdrew from his first Presidential run, he was seen as a shallow and hot-tempered guy. Twenty years later, his second presidential campaign failed to catch fire in Iowa and he quickly withdrew after the first caucus was completed. However, after two successful terms as Vice President, Biden entered into the public consciousness as a seasoned and solid Washington operator, somebody who could talk to members on either side because he had relationships that Obama lacked; he was an older and wiser “Uncle Joe.”

Biden’s comeback in the primaries will be studied by political observers for years to come. How did someone with little organization and remaining money boomerang himself to the top of the heap and vanquish his competition? At the end of the day, we knew Joe Biden and his story better than anybody else from the Democratic stable. We knew his pain of loss. We could relate to his son’s challenges with addiction. We could relate to the Biden family because their struggles were ours.

So, as we stand near the end of the most difficult year of the past century, should it be any surprise that our nation turns to someone familiar? Nearly 50 years after his surprising upset in his race for the Senate, perhaps Joe Biden was the guy we needed all along. 

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