More on US Election – Challenge to Democracy

I’ve continued to think and worry about the challenges that we face in the United States as we move toward the election of our next president. I admitted yesterday that I wish that Biden had decided not to run for re-election. This is definitely not to say that I don’t appreciate the accomplishments of his administration. I supported and voted for him in 2020, when I was convinced that he offered our best hope of defeating Trump, and he defeated Trump. His administration has done some very good things, even in the face of opposition and obfuscation from many in the Republican party. But his age generally and his performance in the debate last week have given too much to the Republican party.

But he decided to run, and that decision is baked into the challenge that we face as a nation pretending to be a democracy.

I’m very dissatisfied with what I’m seeing in the main stream media. It seems that virtually all of the press coverage following the debate has focused primarily on Biden’s performance. There have been references to Trump’s brash lying and boasting – and I’ve seen at least one article fact-checking what he said during the debate – but most of these references have been made in passing in articles focusing on Biden’s performance. I can imagine several reasons for this:

  • Many (most) of the people enthusiastically supporting Trump either live in a world in which his lies are understood to be powerful truths standing in opposition to some sort of “deep state” conspiracy focused on hiding the truth from them. So news organizations see little point in attempting to counter these views.
  • Others who support Trump in public are privately against him, but they fear going against him, because they think either that they would lose political standing or office or that they would face physical harm to themselves or their families. These people don’t need to be convinced that Trump is a lying criminal. They already know that. But the press sees little to gain by attempting to convince them to go public with this knowledge.
  • The major media companies themselves fear being seen as overly critical of Trump for much the same reasons, though in their case the fear of losing office is replaced by the fear of losing income.
  • Finally, a more general reason that underlies all of these – news media is for the most part an capitalist buisiness like others, concerned much more about share value and customer retention than about delivering the news. (I emphasize that this observation is about the corporate side of the media and not about journalists in general.)

I’m sure there are other reasons either in addition to or instead of at least some of these. I’m on the outside looking in here, and I don’t claim to be an expert in the media. But I do agree with Dan Gillmor, who makes the case much better than I can, that we must demand more from the press.

Once again, though, the message we’re getting from main stream media is now baked into the challenge that we face as a nation pretending to be a democracy.

I really don’t need Heather Cox Richardson to persuade me that we have a problem, but she certainly frames the general challenge we face much more eloquently and articulately than I can.

With this challenge in mind, yesterday I entertained the question about Biden’s candidacy. I didn’t reach a firm conclusion, but I realize now I highlighted my concerns about his staying in the race a bit more than the serious concerns I have about his dropping out of the race. So I should emphasize now that I think that his dropping out of the race would have the Democratic party facing significant challenges. The analysis by Stephanie Jones offers a good, succinct summary of those challenges. However, there are other points of view on some of the points she makes. I see some discussion [for example, here] that raising money for an alternate candidate might not be quite the challenge she thinks it is. Definitely a challenge, but perhaps not as great. And Jerusalem Demsas suggests that there are ways to overcome the sorts of problems that Jones discusses. Even so, there are many people around the United States who voted for Biden and see him as their candidate. Yes, polls indicate that many voters have for months been concerned about his age, but he still won the votes of millions.

So, here we are. Biden and his aides have granted that he needs to move quickly to (re-)establish the credibility of his candidacy. His interview with WURD radio in Philadelphia, recorded on Wednesday and broadcast yesterday, is a good though small first step. He has other signal events coming up this weekend, including a campaign event as I write the sentence and an interview later this evening, that might make or break his case. I’m hoping for a staying of the course.

So, in my mind, our best hope for defeating Trump is Joe Biden as a viable candidate, forcefully making the case to the American people that even at his age his leadership is much more supportive of democracy than Trump could possibly be. But making that case and persuading the American people of it require that Biden show himself to be much more cogent than he was in the debate. And the burden is on him to make the case, and to make it soon.

At the same time, the media need to add to the stories about Biden’s age a more detailed account of what Trump promises to bring to the office if he becomes president again. This means moving beyond dismissing the latest Trumpism as “just Trump being Trump.” It means realizing that offering an objective look at an controversy requires more – much more – than giving voice to both sides, as if each position is equally valid.

In the end, I’m much more concerned about the frailty of our democracy than I am about how agile Biden appears in a debate. So, again, I’ll be voting for the Democratic candidate in November.