Congressman Matt Gaetz was salivating recently at the prospect of his Republicans running against the “Venezuela wing of the Democratic Party.” He predicted “the death of the political left.” Out with all the nanny-state nonsense.
He could scarcely have imagined that his Grand Old Party would now be aligning with the Democrats in one of the most mammoth state interventions the United States has ever seen: a sweeping trillion-dollar package of direct cash handouts and economic stimulus to save the country from the ravages of a coronavirus invasion moving at warp speed.
Andrew Yang, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination, went nowhere with his proposal to have Washington send out a $1,000 cheque to every American. He suspended his campaign last month. Now a gobsmacked Mr. Yang looks on as the government, a Republican government, is set to do just that, only to the tune of $1,200.
The coronavirus tsunami has brought down the curtain on the searing tribal partisanship that has marked the American political dynamic for so long. A collective threat demands collective action. By necessity, clashing political philosophies are merging. By necessity, lawmakers have been turned into central planners.
Americans, not just those of right-side persuasion, had come to loathe the bloated administrative state. It was a prime reason Donald Trump was elected. Now they are suddenly beholden to it.
Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has there been anything like this. That era saw Franklin Roosevelt greatly expand the role of the state in the lives of Americans. The country moved left.
If today’s calamity is not brought to heel quickly, another such shift could take place with an enlarged governing apparatus becoming more and more entrenched. The fall election campaign, Mr. Yang told Politico, could see each party vying for favour by promising bigger handouts, perhaps even endorsing his idea of a universal basic income.
In a remarkable irony, Bernie Sanders, the country’s primetime socialist, went down in defeat this week, getting pummelled by moderate Joe Biden in primaries on Tuesday, which essentially ended his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. The message from Democrat voters was that they did not want to move that far left. Mr. Sanders then watched as Democrats and Republicans pressed ahead with unprecedented state interventions.
Americans are at the mercy of the state. They realize that as in Canada, as in Britain and elsewhere, they have to yield their freedoms to try to thwart this threat. The fight against the virus is war, and the government needs to take on war powers.
Post-1930s, another time something similar happened, though to a smaller degree, was in response to the global financial meltdown of 2008. Then, bailouts from George W. Bush and Barack Obama went to greedy bankers. Mr. Obama rolled out great wads of stimulus spending, which brought on a rebellion by free-market Republicans in the form of the Tea Party, which in turn helped the GOP crush the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. This time, the giant stimulus is coming from Republicans themselves.
A war of this nature has the potential to bring the country together. Suddenly a president who was impeached in a partisan proceeding – and who has been called the divider-in-chief – faces the challenge of leading that unity effort.
Mr. Trump has spent much of his term warring against Washington’s institutions. They were the swamp, the deep state. Now he has to rely on them. Eradicating an epidemic demands a public service that can do things such as organize quick virus-testing for millions. The disempowered bureaucracies have not been up to the task.
Emergency powers give Mr. Trump, who has sometimes embraced right-wing authoritarian leaders, even more leeway to do as he pleases than before. His America-first nationalist pulse will be strengthened by the coronavirus pandemic. Globalization will be a victim.
In addition to the pandemic, issues such as cyberwarfare, the climate crisis and automation will require the state to take on a larger role. The Democrats are intent on doing so. Presumptive nominee Biden is adopting parts of the Sanders agenda, such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and making public college and university tuition free.
Trump Republicans, aghast at the turn of events, hope the virus pandemic can be eradicated quickly so that they can get back to being Republicans. What is more likely is a protracted period of increased government oversight and control, a new era of yet bigger government that continues to transform the American way.
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