Gene Lyons

So what’s it going to be, America? The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Chaos and misrule, or the gradual rebirth of democratic governance under President Joe Biden?

The omens are unclear. In the short term, a specter of pandemonium looms. Maddened by defeat, Boss Trump appears determined to shoot the moon: summoning a mob to Washington to bully Congress into reversing the 2020 election. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he tweeted the other day. “Be there, will be wild!”

The so-called “Proud Boys” and other toy soldiers envision an anarchic takedown of government itself. Trump’s psychodrama requires destructive theatrics; millions of his followers remain enraptured by the spectacle: basically a professional wrestling extravaganza on a national scale.

In short, choreographed make-believe.

The smoke had hardly cleared from the Nashville bombing before QAnon-accented conspiracy theorists announced that the Clintons and George Soros had orchestrated the whole thing, because the building damaged in the explosion held confiscated voting machines that would have proven the presidential election was stolen.

An admission of defeat, if you think about it.

Now the “steal” can’t be proven.

Because no, it’s not going to work. Regardless of what anarchic, delusional schemes Trump puts into play over the next couple of weeks, he’s done. Things won’t fall apart; the center will hold.

Trump’s mad antics over Christmas — denouncing and then signing the COVID relief bill, and forcing GOP members of congress to vote to override his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act — endeared him to nobody. The anti-Trump vote in the House was 322-87.

“Republican leadership only wants the path of least resistance,” Trump tweeted. “Our leaders (not me, of course!) are pathetic. They only know how to lose! P.S. I got MANY Senators and Congressmen/Congresswomen Elected. I do believe they forgot!”

Not him, of course!

Yeah, well, most won’t say so yet, but many Republican leaders must be awfully glad to be rid of him. The sane ones, I mean. Such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, also a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. Kinzinger describes Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as a “grift” and a “scam.” “My God,” he tweeted. “Trying to burn the place down on the way out because you can’t handle losing ... Embarrassing.”

Not to mention that sane Republicans understand that GOP congressional candidates did considerably better in 2020 than Trump. Voters’ rejection of him wasn’t ideological; it was personal.

Which brings us back to the end of the beginning and President-elect Joe Biden. “I may eat these words, but I predict to you,” he told supporters recently, “as Donald Trump’s shadow fades away, you’re going to see an awful lot change.”

During his own 46-year career in politics, Biden has himself always been a man of the center: a hand-shaker, a back-patter and a schmoozer. Precisely the characteristics the nation needs this darkest of Januaries — not necessarily Mr. Excitement, but a guy who wants to be liked. A guy who understands and wants to be understood. A man who wants to get things done. 

Facing the catastrophic mess Trump has left behind, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic woes, Biden sees the opportunity — and the necessity — of bringing people together.

Talking with sympathetic columnists, Biden recently spoke of what he called “a new sense of urgency ... on the part of the public at large.” He specifically pointed to the bipartisan coalition of senators who met to hammer out a compromise $900 billion COVID relief bill.

They included Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Dick Durbin of Illinois; Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Rob Portman of Ohio; and Independent Angus King of Maine.

Both parties; all regions of the country. The only way politics in the United States have ever worked. Realistically, the only way they CAN work, if we’re to isolate the soreheads and conspiracy theorists and dig ourselves out of the deep hole that Trump’s intellectual incompetence, indifference to any interests but his own, and contempt for scientific expertise have put us in.

This kind of governance isn’t terribly dramatic and doesn’t necessarily result in boffo TV ratings. But Biden appears to think there’s a hunger for it among citizens worn out on melodrama. Faced with the spectacle of Trump’s furious denialism, he’s deliberately kept a low profile.

Let the loser rant; he’s still the loser.

“We need to work together to give each other a chance to lower the temperature,” Biden said last December. “We may come from different places, hold different beliefs, but we share in common a love for this country.”

Do we really? Come January, we’ll start to find out.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.

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