Happy New Year.
In a special column on Sunday, December 27 in The New York Times, Frank Bruni opines on whether or not “normalcy is obsolete.” The answer is, it depends. If normalcy is America before the pandemic, my guess is that we will not go back to that world. It is very unclear whether people will return to the office, to restaurants or to movie theaters and if so, when. Surely that will require herd immunity and many millions of vaccinations.
I assume once we get to herd immunity, live music will make a comeback and Broadway will come storming back, but whether we need to leave our homes to sit in the dark and eat popcorn, when we can do it in the comfort of our living rooms with a pause button for bathroom breaks is not at all clear. The same will be true for business travel. If you can Zoom the meeting, why spend the time and money flying to the east or west coast for a one hour conference? My guess is that national scientific meetings like all trade shows, will return, but we have gotten awfully good at doing it without the hotels, the poster discussion sessions, and the expensed dinners.
But perhaps the biggest expectations that Americans have as we enter 2021 revolve around politics and the question of the relative potency of three old men—Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. The country’s fate may rest in the hands and mouths and intentions of these three septuagenarians.
With Trump it is simply a question of how he will try to stay relevant and whether the Republican Party has had enough of him. I think he’s yesterday’s fish myself and that once he retreats to Mar-A-Lago, he will not be a factor in the GOP again. There are too many young, lean and hungry pretenders to the Oval Office in the Republican Party to expect them to allow Trump to continue to dominate the news cycle.
Most people are presuming that no matter what happens in Georgia on January 5, 2021, Mr. McConnell will hold the key to Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda. Many in the Democratic Party including many on the far left would like to see Mr. Biden use Trumpian initiative and presidential decrees to undo everything that was done in the past four years in the areas of climate change, health care and racial relationships. This is not Mr. Biden’s inclination. He believes in bipartisanship and he believes in the Senate and doing deals. Trump said he liked to do deals, but he pulled out of more deals than he formulated (Paris Accords, Iran nuclear deal and Pan-Pacific Partnership). Mr. Biden genuinely wants to pass bipartisan legislation and is rightly incensed at Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to sign the coronavirus relief package that passed with bipartisan support just before Christmas. (Trump finally did, but now wants each taxpayer to get $2000 and Uncle Mitch is not playing along). People are hurting and Trump played politics with the federal money that could help them. Now McConnell is doing it. Does it always have to be about them? Silly me. Of course, it does.
How the earliest days of the Biden Administration go with regard to working with Congress and getting relief to Americans in need will be interesting to watch. It will be fascinating to see whether or not Biden has gained any insight from his experience as Vice President when the Obama team chose to push a health care bill when the economy was in the tank will largely forge the success of the Biden Players. Mr. Biden would do well to consult carefully with Mr. McConnell on all proposed legislation and try to find the common ground that evaded Mr. Obama most of the time. I think the President-elect will. It’s Joe Biden’s nature as Bruni points out.
We are not going back to life as “normal” if that means life before covid. We are forever changed, but some good things may arise even if some traditional things like movie theaters shrink in their impact on Americans. 2021 is likely to be a pivotal year. God willing we will arrive at herd immunity, get back to bars, Broadway and live music. But we will never be the same. We have suffered collectively and individually, but it is only through collective action that we can recover. It may turn out that Joe Biden is the perfect President for the moment. If he can reach the 16 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue and open a meaningful dialogue with people on his left and right, he will have done his country a mighty service even if he never runs for a second term.