America is in the grip of a strange love affair with doomerism despite the good news about the economy and President Biden’s many legislative successes. Even my German relatives visiting from Cologne this summer appear to share in this doomerist view. My beloved niece, a cheerful, moderate, well-informed woman, holds dual citizenship and keeps up with American politics. “You don’t think Biden should run again, do you,” she asked me the other day, “not when he is so old and weak?”
How on earth had she come to that conclusion? Although it is possible that the German right wing has been sowing disinformation, she probably absorbed this disenchantment not only from her progressive friends but also from moderate European media.
While the Europeans value his powerful response to the war in Ukraine and his strengthening of the NATO alliance (achievements ignored in the United States) there has been a steady drone of Biden bashing all summer long among America’s moderate-to-liberal media.
Here are some sample headlines:
July 3. FROM ONE FOURTH OF JULY TO THE NEXT, A STEEP SLIDE FOR BIDEN APnews.com
July 8. BIDEN ISN’T RUNNING OUT OF IDEAS, DEMS FEAR. HE’S RUNNING OUT OF TIME. Politico.com
July 11. MOST DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT BIDEN IN 2024, NEW POLL SHOWS: “With the country gripped by a pervasive sense of pessimism, the president is hemorrhaging support” according to Sienna College Poll. New York Times
These headlines reflect a dismal feedback loop between Biden’s approval numbers (only 13% feeling he was on the right track; only 26% supporting him for renomination in 2024) and stories about his political decline. It is not clear whether the polls are influencing the predictions or the predictions influencing the polls.
There is general agreement, however, that the principal cause of his “hemorrhaging” support (note adherence to the “if it bleeds, it leads” journalistic norm) is a personal economic insecurity widely felt in America.
Given President Biden’s significant economic accomplishments during his first two years in office, why do so many people feel that way?
Part of the problem is that it is summer, when Americans like to drive a lot and gas has been punitively expensive; too, having to pay significantly more for our groceries is more vivid to us than the details of legislative successes.
Quick roundup of Biden’s many legislative successes
There have been several of them, all notable. Consider them:
In 2021 President Biden signed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law. It included:
- Small business support.
- $1,400 per person checks.
- Increases to the Child Tax Credit, Earned-Income Tax Credit, and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits.
- $300 extended unemployment insurance.
- Lower health insurance premiums for lower- and middle-income families enrolled in health insurance marketplaces.
Also in 2021, President Biden negotiated and signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. It includes:
- $110 billion for roads, bridges, major projects
- $73 billion for power infrastructure
- $66 billion for passenger and freight rail
- $65 billion for broadband
- $55 billion for clean drinking water
- $50 billion for water resilience and Western water storage
- $39 billion for public transit
- $25 billion for airports
- $21 billion for removal of pollution from water and soil
- $17 billion for port infrastructure
- $7.5 billion for electric vehicles
- $7.5 billion for zero/low emission busses and ferries
- $1 billion for the revitalization of communities
And then, at the beginning of August this year, with President Biden’s approval numbers still low, things began hopping.
On August 5 Brian Tyler Cohen (whose following is over 500k on Twitter) tweeted how it had been “a hell of a week for Biden:
Hell of a week for Biden:
-528k July jobs added
-Unemployment at 3.5% (50-year low)
-CHIPS Act passes
-PACT Act passes
-Inflation Reduction Act deal
-Gas hits 50+ day low (median US price below $4/gal)
-Kansas protects abortion
And he oversaw it all with COVID.
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) August 5, 2022
As Associated Press Economics writer Paul Weisman put it in the August 6 edition of The Oakland Press (Michigan):
“Hiring surged in July as American employers added 943,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.4%, another sign that the U.S. economy continues to bounce back with surprising vigor from last year’s shutdown.
The July numbers exceeded economists’ forecast for more than 860,000 new jobs. The Labor Department also revised its jobs numbers for May and June, adding another 119,000 jobs.”
He noted that wages went up “as businesses scramble to find workers as customers come back. Average hourly earnings were up 4% last month from a year earlier, especially impressive because so many of the new jobs came in the low-wage leisure and hospitality sector.”
Most striking was the fact that the number of people who reported they had jobs “surged by 1 million, most since October, pushing the jobless rate down from 5.9% in June.” And this had a snowball effect: “Encouraged by their prospects, 261,000 people returned to the job market in July.”
And then, after all hope seemed lost, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was suddenly resurrected, full of good things not only for our beloved planet but also for our health and our economy (see previous Impakter article).
The bill went through the system at top speed: It passed the Senate on August 5, the House of Representatives on August 9, and, on August 16 was signed into law by President Biden.
Yet here is the August 17 headline and subhead in one of America’s major news outlets:
BIDEN SIGNS BILL ON TAXES AND CLIMATE: New Law Falls Short of Uplifting Workers. New York Times
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, House Democrats chose to build a future where everybody has a shot, not just the already-powerful. pic.twitter.com/q83y98FMeu
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 12, 2022
The doomerists are still carrying on in the media, reminding us that Biden is unpopular within his own party, his policies failing, and his political accomplishments minimal.
Robert Hubbell, who publishes Today’s Edition Newsletter, has been worried about this pessimistic attitude for some time. On July 27, perceiving that Biden’s agenda is beginning to move along, Hubbell finds Military Historian Max Boot’s op-ed, ominously titled Opinion: I used to be optimistic about America’s future. Not anymore. worrisomely downbeat: “At some point, it feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Hubbell disagrees with Boot’s views “mightily.” But before he criticizes Boot, he warns his readers: “I must first defend myself against the inevitable emails from his friends who tell me that if I don’t agree with Max Boot, “You don’t get it.” Somehow in their view, not agreeing to Boot’s dark vision of the future means you don’t understand the gravity of the threat we face as a nation.”
Having said that he does “get it” – Trump’s lawlessness, Republican moves against Democracy, etc – Hubbell continues:
“What I don’t get is declaring defeat before we have engaged in the first battle of the next presidential election. What I don’t get is a pre-eminent historian and writer who believes that declaring democracy is already (or nearly) dead is the best way to rally Americans to its defense. I get that for some people, obsessive contemplation of catastrophe is their way to mediate personal anxiety about the future. …In short, Max Boot believes he is saving America by predicting its demise. I disagree.”
Boot’s attitude is shared by liberal/ moderate newspapers in the United States like the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as progressive– to moderate TV networks like MSNBC and CNN, leaving readers mired in a dismal, Eeyorish pessimism.
“This new political and social doomerism,” writes Jane Coason, “has become mainstream….doomerism luxuriates in the awful, and people seem unable to get enough of it – the equivalent of rubbernecking at a terrible car accident. That horrible news story you saw? That’s what’s going to happen everywhere, probably soon, definitely to you, and here’s a 22-tweet thread about it.”
Journalistic doomerism fosters what Economist Paul Krugman calls “America’s Very Peculiar Economic Funk” in which “negative views of the economy don’t match people’s experience.”
The public, writes Krugman, simply doesn’t believe heartening realities like “the 6.5 million jobs added last year” or that the U.S. gross domestic product grew at 5.7 % in 2021, the strongest economic growth in 37 years.
Krugman places principal blame on journalistic biases:
“My experience is that many people in the news media go ballistic when you talk about the disconnect between economic perceptions and actual performance, either because they imagine it shows contempt for ordinary Americans or because they take it as an assertion that they aren’t doing their jobs.”
Krugman concludes, that “what voters believe does not always reflect reality,” leaving us the question of “where the disconnect is coming from.”
Why Americans are in love with doomerism
In my analysis, the disjunction between the good things actually going on in American politics and people’s dismal take on American democracy derives from two principal sources: On the one hand, standard journalistic practices; and, on the other hand, moral harm.
This is the moral harm inflicted by the fact that Trump’s multiple crimes, piling up for six long years, are still unpunished.
The solution to Democrats’ political doldrums, pundits tell us, is for them to find a better “narrative.” My problem with this lies in the difference between truth, based on facts, and narrative, which is a story.
In other words, stories are “made up” or crafted for certain purposes, while facts represent unfiltered realities.
Without the facts, the democratic public loses agency: investigative reporting is valuable in informing the citizenry about what is going on. A narrative, on the other hand, puts a “spin” on facts based on some “angle.”
Present-day reportage has become editorialized by opinions getting intermingled with facts: Hence, on the (front page!) of the New York Times, you find the Headline – BIDEN SIGNS BILL ON TAXES AND CLIMATE – which is a fact that is undermined by the subhead, “Law Falls Short of Uplifting Workers,” which is an (unproven) opinion.
In the world of journalism, “narrative” is more market-based than theoretical: facts are manipulated to draw the attention of the most viewers possible.
For some (rather disrespectful) reason, television viewers are considered unable to hold more than one narrative in their minds at once: Just this last week, the “narrative” of the FBI serving a warrant on Trump’s residence suddenly “replaced” the “narrative” of Biden’s political successes, drawing our attention to a news item more likely to “engage” (i.e. dismay) us than good news about major wins for Democracy.
This brings me to the second major factor I hold responsible for turning my liberal and progressive friends into disgruntled and politically helpless Eeyores: the factor of Moral Harm.
Day after day, Trump spouts white supremacy, violates every election law on the books, punishes every Republican who stands up to him, and calls upon the Proud Boys and their ilk to attack dissenters and witnesses, while fraudulently insisting that he is still President.
After six years of his crimes against humanity, democracy, and every single standard of decency most Americans hold dear going unpunished, a hopelessness that the rule of law will ever be applied to him has lodged in our hearts and depleted our will to political action.
Moral Harm is defined as:
“desensitising to the effects of violence, diminished empathy, encouraging a dehumanised view of others, suppressing pro-social attitudes, encouraging anti-social attitudes, reinforcing unhealthy fantasies, or eroding a sense of moral responsibility, retarding social and moral development in children, distorting a child’s sense of right and wrong, and limiting a child’s capacity to compassion.”
Solutions journalist David Bornstein, taking note of the deleterious impact of “Bad News” on our psyches, proposes a “reality-based journalism that can activate people to be powerful in a participatory democracy.”
Today’s “deficit-fraught” journalism undercuts us by constantly giving us information about what is going wrong; what we need are the facts of the situation, and examples of what can go right.
Take just one example. We hear a lot of “deficit-fraught” news about how Republicans who adhere to Trump’s Big Lie that he won the 2020 election are winning primaries to run for State offices that put the administration of elections in their power.
The latest is Liz Cheney losing the Wyoming primary to a Trump-backed candidate. The general view is that her leadership role on the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack (she had vowed to impeach Trump) cost her the re-election and consequently, her seat in Congress.
This chilling threat to Democracy diverts our attention from quite a bit of reality-based reporting also coming out about the court cases against his lawyers, cohorts, and the fake electors who carried out his plot.
We have a propensity to fixate more upon catastrophe rather than upon possibility. We need to reset our brains.
Or, to put it another way, we need to replace our paralyzing horror about how the Proud Boys’ violent threats against everyone from the FBI to a Georgia election worker and her mother seem a reenactment of Hitler’s Brown Shirts. We need to construct frameworks of possibility for ourselves by absorbing the news that American Justice is moving, slowly but steadily, to carry forward our cherished Rule of Law.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com Featured image: “Ridin’ with Biden”: Union printed Warhol-style t-shirts made for MadDogPac.com Source: Twitter account