Joe Biden’s Less Than “Triumphant” Victory

Joe Biden was little more than the name the Democrats put on the ballot to get past a failing and flailing Trump.
Peter Isackson, Biden victory, Biden and the Democratic Party, Joe Biden news, The New York Times election coverage, Donald Trump news, Democratic Party news, Biden campaign, Biden future challenges, Biden popularity

New York City, New York, 11/7/2020 © James Andrews1 / Shutterstock

A team of three New York Times reporters provided its verdict on the surreal election in which, after days of tabulation, the Democrat Joe Biden eventually emerged as the official winner. Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Katie Glueck described the outcome in these terms: “Mr. Biden stands triumphant in a campaign he waged on just those terms: as a patriotic crusade to reclaim the American government from a president he considered a poisonous figure.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Triumphant:

An adjective usually reserved for the authors of exceptional, definitive victories that have a lasting impact on history, but which, in contemporary US culture, can be applied by a winner’s supporters to any candidate they approve of who ekes out any kind of victory by hook or by crook or by sheer luck.

Contextual Note

Given its well-known allegiance to the Democratic Party establishment, The New York Times has every reason to invent the mythology they want their public to subscribe to. If people believe that Biden has triumphed, there is a good chance the enemies of The New York Times and the Democratic Party will accept defeat. Those enemies basically consist of Donald Trump and the progressive left.

The article’s subtitle reads: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. campaigned as a sober and conventional presence, concerned about the ‘soul of the country.’” That is a fair enough description of his colorless campaign. It insidiously suggests that sticking to the middle, not making waves and avoiding radical programs is the recipe for triumph. But it is followed by a further, more dubious claim: “He correctly judged the character of the country, and benefited from President Trump’s missteps.”

The second half of that sentence is unquestionably true. Trump effectively shot himself in both feet during the campaign, paving the way for a Biden victory. Most people were surprised that Biden didn’t win by a landslide. Had he done so, there might have been grounds for asserting that he “correctly judged the character of the country.” Whatever Biden did, it had the not very triumphal effect of motivating nearly 72 million people to vote against him and in favor of the incumbent. The authors’ belief in Biden’s insight into the mood of the nation looks like a case of wish fulfillment rather than serious political reporting. But The Times has heavily invested in wish fulfillment over the past four years.

A more accurate account would note that Biden judged nothing at all, correctly or incorrectly. After former President Barack Obama ordered all the other prominent moderate candidates to back Biden, the former vice president mechanically followed a program that had already been laid out for him in the 2016 election. At that time, after some hesitation, due probably to his judgment that Hillary Clinton had a prior claim, he deferred to the Clinton machine and let the former first lady lead the party to the forecast glorious victory that never was.

This time around, with Clinton relegated to an embarrassing footnote in future US history books, Biden stumbled into the Democratic nomination only after the primary voters rejected the party’s hoped for “moderate” savior, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, an outrageous oligarch who, during his short and expensive run, demonstrated how easy it was to buy the party’s — but not the voters’ —loyalty.

At no point in that process did Biden demonstrate an ability to judge the character of the country. What better proof of that than the ambiguous finish to the election itself that required days of laborious counting of absentee ballots in six states for him to get past the finish line and cap off his suspense-ridden contest against a pathologically flawed opponent?

If Biden had been capable of judging the character of the country, he would have realized that 2020 may prove to be the last election built around the binary logic of a “liberal” Democratic Party opposed to a “conservative” Republican Party. His party stopped being liberal long ago, as he himself clearly realized when he recruited Republicans John Kasich, Colin Powell and Meg Whitman to be headliners at the convention that would nominate him.

Joe Biden was little more than the name the Democrats put on the ballot to get past a failing and flailing Trump. His defeat of Donald Trump was great news for the nation and the world, but it clearly wasn’t a triumph and reflected nothing significant about the character of the country other than the fact that it remains radically polarized.

It could have been a triumph, but two things were missing. The first was enthusiasm for Biden’s candidacy. He represented nothing voters could get excited about. Also lacking was even a vague sense of mission in the face of multiple monumental challenges. The only visible enthusiasm for his candidacy came from big donors on Wall Street who felt more comfortable with a traditional Democrat than a non-traditional Republican, even though they spontaneously endorse Republicans. They expressed their enthusiasm for Biden by generously financing his campaign.

Historical Note

Later in the article, the authors appear to admit that Biden’s campaign was not the triumph they initially hinted at: “It was not the most inspirational campaign in recent times, nor the most daring, nor the most agile.” They concede that he was not “an uplifting herald of change.” Instead, they give him credit for “discipline and restraint.” Shakespeare’s John Falstaff called that “discretion” when he played dead on the battlefield to avoid being assaulted by the enemy: “The better part of valor is discretion.”

The authors claim that Biden’s electoral success could be attributed to “how fully Mr. Biden’s campaign flowed from his own worldview and political intuition.” They even cite some of the features of his worldview: “the antiquated vocabulary and penchant for embellishment, his nostalgic yarns about segregationist senators and a defensiveness that led him, in one case, to challenge a voter to a push-up contest.” 

The Biden they present is a mid-20th-century macho white man whose personal culture paradoxically embodies the very idea Trump promoted with his slogan “Make America Great Again.” Biden is a relic of the good ol’ days, the fulfillment of Trump’s ideological mission. If this were a Hollywood screenplay, Biden would be the good cop partnered with Trump, the bad cop.

The authors dodge the question of the historical origins of Biden’s worldview, inherited from another epoch and clearly ill-adapted to a world of pandemics, planetary destruction, a financialized economy, rudderless nationalism and endless military quagmires created and sustained by Biden’s generation. One might think addressing these dire issues could be the prelude to a triumph. Instead, the authors applaud Biden for focusing on maligning Trump’s character while “shunning countless other issues as needless distractions.” The health of the people, the planet and the economy are written off as “needless distractions.”

Biden is likely to be the most isolated president in US history. By definition, he has the entire Republican Party opposed to him and, more particularly, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell — despite Biden’s touted ability to reach across the aisle and his personal friendship with McConnell. The populist Trump movement, which will most likely persist and possibly grow in force, will continue maligning him for stealing The Donald’s reelection. He will have the entire progressive wing of his own party — which possibly represents a majority of Democrats and certainly the majority of young voters — ready to strike back at him as soon they discover his likely refusal to take on board their agenda.

Even if he does open up toward the progressive left under the pressure of uncontrollable events, he will have not just his anti-Trump Republican friends revolting against him but also the far more significant Wall Street donors. In other words, after a few months in office, Biden may well lose the trust of 80% of the voting population across the political spectrum. The party stalwarts will remain with him, but the credibility of people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff has taken a serious hit after four years of Russiagate and Trump’s bungled impeachment.

Biden will most likely also fail to merit the attention of the late-night comedians who for four years have thrived on the comic material Donald Trump dropped in their lap on a daily basis. That’s what inevitably comes of preferring discretion over valor.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

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