Joe Biden is to be inaugurated Wednesday. Twenty-five thousand soldiers have been brought in to make sure there is no more funny business, and the Biden Administration reportedly has asked that guard units be vetted to weed out possibly dangerous Trump supporters. The inaugural parade was turned into a virtual event over fears that it might attract more pro-Trump than pro-Biden Americans. We have arrived at a very peculiar place, considering that this is the inauguration of the man who supposedly won more votes than any man in history.
Marco Travaglio, who may be Italy’s most influential journalist, was asked in a recent Italian TV interview what Biden’s victory meant. He said, “For us, what changes is that the U.S. will become more interventionist, while under Trump it had been more isolationist. In my opinion, with Biden we will have more wars than we had with Trump, who, being an isolationist, didn’t care about the world.”
The reporter, clearly displeased with this answer, pressed Travaglio further: “Aren’t you as happy about his victory as everyone—as most people are?”
“If I were an American I would be happy,” Travaglio replied. “As a European, I believe we had more to gain with Trump because Trump took his hands off the world. Indeed, strange things happened under Trump. There was peace between the Koreas, there were unique agreements between Israel and some of the Arab states, there was, let’s not call it peace, let’s say a small cooling, even if the war continues in Afghanistan . . . ”
The reporter interrupted again to ask if populism is dead. Travaglio said it is not, and that if people think Trump’s fall means the end of that movement, they’ll be disappointed. The reporter then shuffled along to other things.
What is extraordinary about this interview is the admission by Travaglio, the publisher of a large left-wing newspaper, that Europe (and large parts of the world) were better off under Trump, coupled with the implied idea that everyone should prefer Biden anyway. Results be damned, the world will pretend that Biden is good news.
In America, we, too, will play make-believe. GOP politicians make-believe Biden was actually elected. Democrats make-believe Biden will actually be president. (A Rasmussen Poll from August found that 59 percent of likely voters—including 49 percent of Democrats—thought that Kamala Harris would replace Biden before the end of a first term.) This is the Make-Believe Election.
Biden has now served his purpose as a placeholder for the Democrats. He is the “fill-in later” section of the government form, the seat being saved for a friend, the stand-in actor, the dummy title. He is the empty store-display bottle that you point out to a salesman: You and the salesman both know that something else will be delivered, but it’s a convenient convention.
The instant Biden is inaugurated, his honeymoon as America’s third most-admired man will be over. Perhaps not the instant, because the transition must be gradual if we are to keep making believe. But you will see a growing emphasis in the media on topics that were dismissed as “Russian disinformation” just a few months ago.
We will begin to hear more about how Biden’s son is a cocaine-plastered hustler selling his country to the Chinese and paying off his father in the process. We will hear more about Biden the touchy-feely toucher and feeler of young (sometimes very young!) ladies. We will hear more about Biden’s painfully obvious gathering senility, and our esteemed mainstream journalists will begin to wonder aloud: Is Biden really up to the job?
“Of course he isn’t!” the media will say, with the social media dutifully amplifying this message as though it were a public-address system plugged directly into the New York Times editorial board. “Fortunately, we have a backup! Long live the first female president!”
And, just like that, Biden will have to resign. We will express our sympathy for poor Mrs.—I mean, Dr.—Biden, who thought she had a shot at becoming the most powerful person in the world by proxy, and who was willing to humiliate her husband by helping prop up his nearly lifeless body and wave his hands to make him look lively. Now he will be out, and she will be out, and we will welcome President Kamala.
What a lucky thing her name is just as big as Biden’s on the inauguration materials. It’s almost as though they’re preparing us for this. And, once it happens, we will make believe that it’s all entirely fine. We will make believe this is still a democratic republic and we are not being governed by a dictator installed by powerful, wealthy, and corrupt special interests.
But the problem with an entirely make-believe system is that it relies on a universal willingness to make believe. It’s only good as long as everyone participates. And when these systems collapse, they collapse completely, and—it seems to someone who was wholeheartedly making believe—they collapse without warning.
To return to our favorite historian, Winston Churchill gives a pithy account of the international situation in the late 1920s in the opening of The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his history of World War II:
Germany only paid, or was only able to pay, the indemnities later extorted because the United States was profusely lending money to Europe, and especially to her. In fact, during the three years 1926 to 1929, the United States was receiving back in the form of debt-installment indemnities from all quarters about one-fifth of the money which she was lending to Germany with no chance of repayment. However, everybody seemed pleased, and appeared to think this might go on forever. History will characterise all these transactions as insane.
When the music stopped and the fantasy collapsed in 1929, the world economy went with it.
Now we are in a similar situation, but politically rather than economically. The powers that be have decided that the best thing for America—and, by extension, the world—is an ersatz democracy. We are all to pretend, however, that we are still enjoying the real thing.
It remains to be seen how far America will be willing to support this fantasy—to what extent will we all be willing to make believe. Perhaps to a great extent, since the alternative would be to admit that the hallowed institutions of the nation we love are in ruins. But the farther the fictional system is pumped up, the more fundamental and astounding will be the collapse.
We don’t know when it will happen, but we can be certain it will: We will suddenly acknowledge that our democracy dollar has been fantastically overvalued. The music will stop. And we will enter the Great Depression of American democracy.
It would be nice to think that will simply mean long lines of unemployed politicians. But we are likely to find a harsher reality than that. Our founding fathers gave us a republic with the caveat: “If you can keep it.” Once lost, it will be no easier to get back than it was to get in the first place.