Friday, May 5, 2023

Solving our problems is going to take a lot more than a different president

Today is the last day of the Florida legislative session.

Everyone expects that sometime soon, likely this month, Florida governor Ron DeSantis will announce that he is running for president, or at least forming an exploratory committee. The state legislature passed a bill that explicitly says DeSantis doesn’t have to resign his office as governor if he wants to run for president. It is far from clear that Florida’s resign-to-run law was ever meant to apply to presidential candidates, but this revision to the law averts the complaint from the Trump team that DeSantis would be breaking state law by remaining governor and running for president.

After his landslide victory in November, DeSantis enjoyed a polling surge. Since then, Trump has enjoyed a polling surge that aligns with the time of his indictment in Manhattan.

At this point, the GOP Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for January 8, 2024. (Remember, Democrats moved their Iowa caucuses later, but Republicans did not.) We’re about eight months away from votes being cast in the GOP primary. It’s early, but it’s not quite that early anymore.

No offense to South Carolina senator Tim Scott, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former vice president Mike Pence, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, or any of the others, but at this early point in the primary, they are non-factors. One poll in February had Haley at 10 percent; beyond that, not a single poll conducted this year among potential GOP primary voters has put any of those figures in double digits. Many polls put them at 1 percent or 0 percent, or don’t even bother listing them as options.

Yes, those low numbers could change, but the fact that those polls keep finding Trump’s support to be ranging from in the low 40s to the low 50s — and Emerson had Trump at 62 percent! — indicates that about half of the Republican Party is not beginning this primary eager to shop around for new options.

It is hard for a lesser-known presidential candidate to stand out, and the more crowded the field is, the tougher it is for those lesser-known presidential candidates to stand out.

Ron DeSantis represents the best shot at a non-Trump Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He would represent the emergence of a post-Trump Republican Party, not an anti-Trump party. Almost 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and 74.2 million Americans voted for him in 2020. The overwhelming majority of Republicans have now voted for him twice; very few of them will ever be willing to say those votes were mistakes. Insisting that those voters should see those past votes as mistakes and renounce their support for him is only going to make them dig their heels in deeper.

As I wrote back in November, nominating DeSantis would represent a return to normalcy.

A DeSantis nomination steers the GOP from rolling the dice a third time on a man who is facing rape charges in a civil trial; dined with white nationalists; lamented that Jewish leaders “lack loyalty”; called for “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution”; used racial slurs to publicly berate his own former secretary of Transportation; demanded that his own Secretary of State stop denouncing the Chinese and emphasized how much Xi Jinping was helping the U.S. with Covid-19; insisted that all of Florida’s growth and success in recent years is because of “SUNSHINE AND OCEAN,” and has nothing to do with the decisions by its state government; repeats the most inaccurate and unhinged left-wing critiques of DeSantis; rewrites history on the pandemic and shutdowns; and just recently said, under oath, while discussing his infamous “grab them by the p****” comments, that, “Historically that’s true with stars. If you look over the last million years, that’s largely true, unfortunately — or fortunately.”


If you point out these things, Trump supporters accuse you of having “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” as if it is self-evidently insane to note that these are not the sorts of accusations, experiences, statements, and positions that most of us would want in an American president. Apparently, it’s nuts to think that maybe, just maybe, the country could find better options for commander in chief than a babbling, incoherent soon-to-be-77-year-old who just happens to be the one man on earth who has already lost to Joe Biden in a presidential race.

A lot rests on DeSantis’s shoulders right now — some might well say the fate of the country depends on what he does in the year to come. If DeSantis stumbles out of the gate in his presidential bid, the roughly half of Republican primary voters interested in non-Trump options might shop around. Or they might shrug their shoulders and acquiesce to Trump. Or they might look at the GOP as a sinking ship of a personality cult and lose interest in politics entirely. What’s the point in identifying with a political party that consistently chooses the option least likely to win a general election?

The country is in rough shape, and solving its problems is going to take a lot more than a different president.

There has been a collapse of civic engagement and the crumbling of societal institutions, and appearance of widespread political polarization that make people feel like things are worse than they used to be. While these trends were already being noted pre-COVID, the insane lockdown restrictions that were generated in response, really pushed those trends to 11.

The funny thing is, there is some bipartisan agreement about the nature of the problem. This week, the Surgeon General, Doctor Vivek Murthy, released an 81-page report warning of a crisis of loneliness afflicting the American public. Our Noah Rothman observed that “the loneliness epidemic will be written about as though it is a fatherless phenomenon,” as if it were just this mysterious fog that blew in at the beginning of the decade. We all know that this socially destructive isolation was dramatically exacerbated by public-health experts and officials who effectively sentenced the entire country to solitary confinement for most of 2020 and into 2021.

When the government forced just about everyone in society to minimize contact with anyone outside of their household for the better part of the year or more, just what did it think was going to happen? That addictions and overdoses would go down? That senior citizens would be just fine and happy with no visits from their kids and grandkids? That America’s children and teenagers could skip a year of socialization and education and everything would turn out hunky-dory? That there wouldn’t be skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and anti-social behavior? That existing mental-health problems would just get better? That out of that considerable number of Americans with untreated mental-health problems that were worsened by that long stretch of forced isolation, none of them would pick up a gun and start shooting people?

Now we’re stuck with these consequences, and the only way to dig ourselves out of this mess is to rebuild civic engagement and societal institutions. People need something to believe in, something to feel connected to, something to reassure them that their life has meaning and purpose and that they are needed.

But as intense as that need is, filling that need has never been the job of the American government, and considering the record of the federal government in its attempts to solve national problems, I don’t think we want a national federal effort to even try to provide or restore meaning to our lives. (Remember Hillary Clinton’s Godawful — very deliberate word choice — “Politics of Meaning”?) In fact, probably the most surefire way to exacerbate America’s loneliness, isolation, depression, and alienation problems would be to create a federal Department of Making Americans Feel Better. As I wrote in 2019, “If you put the federal government in charge of banning porn, you’d probably end up getting Stormy Daniels videos sent to your phone by FEMA.”

Way back in 2015, Ben Carson said he was running for president to change the culture. While it is indisputable that the U.S. president influences America’s culture, influencing the culture is hard to measure and isn’t one of those powers laid out in the Constitution.

Your mileage may vary, but from where I sit, that sense of meaning can only come from a non-state institution such as your family, your friends, your faith, your neighbors — in other words, community, and I don’t mean the sitcom. I suppose institutions within the state can provide a certain sense of identity and purpose — the military, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders, medical researchers, etc. But I’d argue that sense of meaning comes from the work that is being done and the sense of being helpful and useful to other people, not from the state itself or its approval.

A person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.

I hope you have those things — and I hope your happiness, fulfillment, meaning, and sense of purpose in life are not dependent upon the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.

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