Well, the New Year is off with a bang. After a week of 70+ degree weather, we’ve been hit by ferocious storms that have left me typing in the dark and the promise of snow. Don’t worry, though, the market will take care of it. 

I’m not into making predictions much anymore since the Trump insurrection has turned my understanding of the people in this country upside down. I will, though, offer some observations about the year we just weathered and the one to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened and what we need to do. 

We began 2021 with Donald Trump and his megaphones on Fox News, OAN, and various talk radio shows declaring the election was stolen, despite no evidence of fraud. On January 6, a mob assaulted the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election. In the aftermath, leaders of both parties condemned the attack and placed the blame on Donald Trump. 

Within days, though, GOP leaders backed off their criticism of Trump and made clear that they would thwart any attempt to hold people accountable or even get to the bottom of exactly what happened. They’ve told us for months that it’s time to move on. According to polls, in March, 55% of Republicans believed that the election was stolen. A recent poll showed that 71% of Republicans think Biden is illegitimate even though election experts from both parties agree the election was fair. It seems the GOP is preparing to justify stealing the next election.

Joe Biden got off to a very good start as president. He passed the American Rescue Plan, putting money into people’s pockets and jump starting the economy. As a result, unemployment is down, the stock market is up, and the economy grew at a healthy pace and wages grew accordingly. 

Biden also reached across the aisle to pass a massive infrastructure bill that has eluded his predecessors. The bill will fix our roads and bridges, update public transportation, provide clean water, and bring internet to underserved areas. The bill was a massive success that has never really gotten the attention or credit it deserved.

However, the pandemic and inflation have dogged the administration and kept optimism low, despite signs pointing to a strong economy. Biden’s initial success in rolling out the vaccine was overshadowed by, first, Delta and, now, Omicron. A country ready to move on from the virus is repeatedly urged to use caution and threats of closures push people toward the boiling point. 

Inflation worries are real, regardless of whether the inflation is transitory or here to stay for a while. People are paying more for staples like food and building supplies. The increased prices have diminished the optimism that should accompany a booming economy. 

In Congress, Democrats have botched their handling of the Build Back Better bill and have their priorities mixed up. They don’t know how to take a win and they don’t know how to fight on an emotional level. They should have been doing victory dances all over Capitol Hill for weeks after the infrastructure bill. Instead, too many progressive bemoaned that the infrastructure bill was not enough without an expansion of the social safety net that is a more of a priority for Democratic interest groups than regular citizens who just want to get past the pandemic. 

Instead of the massive spending bill, Democrats should have kept the focus on voting rights and tied it to the assault on the Capitol while the episode was still fresh. By waiting so long, they’ve given the right-wing propaganda machine time to change the perception of the assault among conservatives who were initially outraged. Now, Democrats are playing catch up while Republican legislatures are passing measures to gerrymander districts, restrict access to the polls, and even change the rules about how elections are certified. As the new year dawns, Democrats are at risk of ending up with neither a social spending bill nor a voting rights bill. That’s a failure to govern. 

The pandemic should be winding down now, but instead, we’re debating about whether or not to close schools again. Clearly, progressives learned little about what happened in Virginia. The threat of Omicron is small compared to other strains, especially among the vaccinated. Mandate vaccines for school personnel and students over 12, but don’t even talk about closing schools. Instead, claim victory. The vaccines and boosters have made the disease little more than an inconvenience for most people working age or younger.  Unless they have underlying conditions, they are very, very unlikely to get seriously ill from COVID as long as they’re vaccinated. 

Democrats keep pushing polls showing that the public overwhelmingly supports their agenda. From abortion rights to expanding Medicaid to universal pre-k, Americans side with Democrats over Republicans. But those progressive groups pushing their agendas seem to understand poll numbers better than the people they’re polling. While Americans may agree with Democrats’ positions, they don’t think about politics in those terms. Most don’t think about issues on a daily basis. Their priorities lie with the things that confront them every day, like the pandemic or the cost of groceries. 

The disconnect between a middle class family of three or four and the politicians and activists talking about Build Back Better is huge. They don’t know what it is. (Hell, I don’t know what it is and I do this for a living.) They want to hear about making sure they can send their kids to schools so they don’t end up with remote learning again. They want to know what Joe Biden is doing about the rising cost of food. They want to hear about the problems that are confronting them right now, at this moment, not some pie-in-the-sky plan to make things better next year. 

So, if I were in charge of the Democrats heading into 2022, I would take on about four or five issues that are easily identifiable. First, I’d deal with the pandemic. I would declare victory, touting the success of the vaccines in making the disease little more than the flu for most people who are vaccinated. I would acknowledge that the elderly and immunocompromised are at more risk and take action to protect them, requiring vaccinations for all people working at facilities that house older Americans. I would work with states to identify older people who live at home and supply them with proper protection like N-95 masks and home testing kits. I would mandate vaccines for air travel. And I would assure people that schools would stay open because closing them is a greater threat to our young people than the coronavirus.

Also, push back on the media that wants to keep the pandemic going for the clicks. Expose them for fueling the hysteria that is keeping people irrationally afraid. This morning, I read an article the Daily Beast titled, “Spooked ER Doc Faces Terrifying ‘Tidal Wave’ of Omicron Kids.”  Not until the eighth paragraph does the author admit, “He reports that most of the hospitalized kids have underlying conditions such as leukemia that are complicated by COVID. Only a handful of otherwise healthy kids he’s treated have become seriously ill solely due to the coronavirus.” Leading with that headline is flat out disinformation. 

Second, I would take on inflation. Whether it’s transitory or endemic is not relevant. Acknowledge that prices are continuing to increase and urge the federal reserve to do what’s necessary to address it. A slight increase in interest rates is not going to spook anyone since most people know that we’ve been getting almost free money since the Great Recession. 

Third, take on climate change. Most Americans, and especially young ones, believe that it’s an existential threat. Make it a top priority. Speed up the production of green energy and invest in energy efficiency measures. Contrary to the magical thinking of conservatives, the market is not going to take care of climate change, certainly not in the amount of time we have left to deal with it. 

Fourth, make protecting our democracy an urgent cause. Use the anniversary of January 6 to remind people that disinformation and the Big Lie are still motivating people to question our democracy. Link that propaganda to the moves by Republican legislatures to undermine the democratic process and work to build a movement to protect voting rights. None of the rest of the legislative agenda matters if Republicans continue to whittle down democracy.

Finally, pick one social program from the Build Back Better bill and make it the centerpiece. Focus on universal pre-k or paid family leave or whatever has the broadest support. Get what you can out of Joe Manchin and declare victory again. Donald Trump understood that people want to feel like they are winning. Democrats ignore their victories and perpetually focus on the problems. It’s the epitome of letting perfect get in the way of the good and, in politics, good is about all you ever get. 

Happy 2022.

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