Robert Reich

Here are 7 ways 2020 exposed how backwards our system really is

If America learns nothing else from these dark times, here are 7 lessons it should take away from 2020:

1. Workers keep America going, not billionaires.

American workers have been forced to put their lives on the line to provide essential services even as their employers failed to provide them with adequate protective gear, hazard pay, or notice of when COVID had infected their workplaces. Meanwhile, America's 651 billionaires – whose net worth has grown by over $1 trillion since the start of the pandemic – retreated to their mansions, yachts and estates.

This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sheltered in his 165,000-acre West Texas ranch while Amazon's warehouse workers toiled in close proximity to each other, often without adequate masks, gloves, or sanitizers. The company offered but then soon scrapped a $2 an hour hazard pay increase for warehouse workers, even as Bezos' wealth jumped by a staggering $70 billion since March, putting his estimated net worth at roughly $186 billion as the year came to an end.

2. Systemic racism is literally killing Black and Latino Americans.

Black and Latino Americans account for almost 40 percent of coronavirus deaths so far, despite comprising less than a quarter of the population. As they've borne the brunt of this pandemic, they've been forced to fight for their humanity in another regard — taking to the streets across the country to protest decades of unjust police killings of their community members, only to be met with more police violence.

Among Native American communities, the coronavirus figures are even more horrifying. The Navajo Nation has had a higher per-capita infection rate than any state but can't adequately care for the sick, thanks to years of federal underfunding and neglect of its healthcare system.

Decades of segregated housing, pollution, lack of access to medical care, and poverty have left communities of color vulnerable to the worst of this virus, and the worst of America.

3. If we can afford to bail out corporations and Wall Street, we sure as hell can afford to help people.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to insist we can't "afford" $2,000 COVID survival checks for Americans. But the latest coronavirus relief legislation doled out over $220 billion to powerful business interests that could instead have been used to help struggling working families.

Another way of looking at it: The total cost of providing those $2,000 checks ($465 billion) is less than half the amount America's 651 billionaires added to their wealth during the pandemic ($1 trillion).

4. Health care must be made a right in America.

Even before the pandemic, an estimated 28 million Americans lacked health insurance. After it struck, an additional 15 millionlost employer-provided coverage because they lost their jobs. Without insurance, a hospital stay to treat COVID-19 cost as much as $73,000. Remember this the next time you hear pundits saying Medicare for All is too radical.

5. Our social safety nets are woefully broken.

No other advanced nation was as unprepared for the pandemic as was the United States. Our unemployment insurance system is over 80 years old, designed for a different America. We're one of the few countries in the world that doesn't provide all workers some form of paid sick leave.

Other industrialized nations kept their unemployment rates low by guaranteeing paychecks during the pandemic. But Americans who filed for unemployment benefits often got nothing or received them weeks or months late. Under new legislation they get just $300 a week of extra benefits to tide them over.

6. The Electoral College must be abolished

Biden won 7 million more popular votes than Trump. But Biden's margin in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin totaled just 45,000. Had Trump won these three states instead, he would have gained 37 more electoral votes, tying Biden in the electoral college. Under the Constitution, this would have pushed the election to the House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting just one vote. Even though Democrats have a majority in the House, more state delegations have Republican majorities. Trump would have been reelected.

The gap between the popular and electoral college vote continues to widen. The Electoral College is an increasingly dangerous anachronism.

7. Government matters.

For decades, conservatives have told us that government is the problem and that we should let the free market run its course. Rubbish. If nothing else, 2020 has shown that the unfettered free market won't save us. After 40 years of Reaganism, it's never been clearer: Government is in fact necessary to protect the public.

It's tragic that it took a pandemic, near-record unemployment, millions of people taking to the streets, and a near-calamitous election for many to grasp how broken, racist, and backwards our system really is. Biggest lesson of all: It must be fixed.

'Sedition' of Trump-supporting senators has a silver lining: political economist

I've been in or around politics for over a half century now, and I never imagined how low and looney the Republican Party would become. Eleven Republican senators and senators-elect said today they will vote to reject President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s victory next Wednesday when Congress meets to formally certify it.

They are joining a growing movement in the GOP to defy the unambiguous results of the 2020 presidential election and support Trump's bizarre attempt to remain in power with false claims of voting fraud.

Remember: Every state has now certified the election results after verifying their accuracy. Several underwent post-election audits or hand counts. At the same time, judges across America, including Supreme Court justices, have rejected nearly 60 attempts by Trump and his allies to challenge the results.

None of the twelve Republican senators who say they will vote to invalidate the results of the election has made any specific allegations of fraud. At most, they offer vague statements that some wrongdoing may have occurred.

Their most specific grounds for contesting the certification is that many of their supporters believe Trump's claims of fraud – which is circular reasoning, since Trump and many of these same senators have been arguing since the election that fraud occurred without offering any evidence.

The sedition of these twelve United States senators – and I use that term advisedly – will not alter the outcome of the election. It is purely for show, as have been so much of Trump's and his enablers' actions. But the show itself will be a brawl that will only serve to validate in the minds of many of Trump's supporters his baseless claims – dividing America even more.

The one consolation, if it can be called that, is that their cynical ploy will also force other Republican members of Congress to openly choose between doing their constitutional duty and accepting the results of the election, or displaying brazen loyalty to a fading demagogue who has sought to turn the GOP into a personal cult. In short, it will smoke them out: They must openly choose democracy or fascism.

The rest of us can only watch and take careful note. Rarely in American history has a symbolic act carried such significance for the future of the country.

Donald Trump's vilest legacy

Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to reelect Donald Trump – 46.8 percent of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election – don't hold Trump accountable for what he's done to America.

Their acceptance of Trump's behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows. The message: Do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it.

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in poor communities. But America's most privileged and powerful have been breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the members of the Sackler family who own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they've got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels' investigations of his wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being "fake media" and "enemies of the people," and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his reelection.

A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of evidence – and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those who voted for him.

Trump's recent pardons have broken double-paned windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted because of a petitioner's good conduct after conviction and service of sentence – but he's pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them, he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law's father, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, including women and children; Border Patrol agents convicted of assaulting or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It's not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according to Wilson and Kelling. It's the willingness of society to look the other way. If no one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including criminal charges. But it's unlikely he'll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a self-pardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents – strengthening congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general, demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress – a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution – cannot rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don't want to weigh in on political questions.

The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American presidents. The giant windows he's broken are invitations to a future president to break even more.

Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.

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The appalling reality is what Trump may get away with

Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to reelect Donald Trump – 46.8 percent of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election – don't hold Trump accountable for what he's done to America.

Their acceptance of Trump's behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows. The message: Do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it.

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in poor communities. But America's most privileged and powerful have been breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the members of the Sackler family who own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they've got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels' investigations of his wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being "fake media" and "enemies of the people," and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his reelection.

A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of evidence – and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those who voted for him.

Trump's recent pardons have broken double-paned windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted because of a petitioner's good conduct after conviction and service of sentence – but he's pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them, he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law's father, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, including women and children; Border Patrol agents convicted of assaulting or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It's not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according to Wilson and Kelling. It's the willingness of society to look the other way. If no one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including criminal charges. But it's unlikely he'll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a self-pardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents – strengthening congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general, demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress – a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution – cannot rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don't want to weigh in on political questions.

The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American presidents. The giant windows he's broken are invitations to a future president to break even more.

Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.

How the richest 1% are coming out big winners in the COVID relief bill

Hidden in the bill combining Covid relief and government spending is a cool $200 billion in tax breaks. An estimated $120 billion of those tax breaks will go to the richest 1 percent of Americans.

Those giveaways include:

—A $2.5 billion break for racecar tracks

—A $6.3 billion write-off for business meals, i.e. the "three-martini lunch" deduction

—A new provision under the Paycheck Protection Program that allows forgiven loans to also be tax deductible, giving businesses the ability to "double dip" into the program

The bill also creates an independent commission to oversee horse racing, at the behest of Mitch McConnell.

There's no question about it: This pandemic has both revealed and exacerbated our already staggering economic inequality.

Republicans didn't blink twice when they handed out $6.3 billion in tax breaks to their wealthy corporate backers, but when it came to getting direct relief to struggling Americans $600 was the best they could do. Their priorities couldn't be clearer.

Robert Reich explains Joe Biden's biggest challenge

"Life is going to return to normal," Joe Biden promised in a recent address to the nation. He was talking about life after Covid, but he might as well have been making a promise about life after Trump.

But a return to "normal" would be disastrous. We can't give in to the allure of "normal" – because normal is what got us here. Normal led to Trump.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the last four years have been traumatic for the nation. After Trump's abuses of power, human rights violations, blatant racism, and maliciously incompetent response to the pandemic, people are understandably exhaling a sigh of relief.

But we can't return to "normal" because "normal" was four decades of stagnant wages and widening inequality when almost all economic gains went to the top.

The Republican Party's core response has been stoking division and hate while suppressing the votes of communities of color. And the Democratic Party abandoned the working class.

Another reason we can't go back to normal is that "normal" led to our staggering Covid death toll and devastating economic fallout that have most brutally harmed lower-income Americans, especially communities of color.

That's because normal in this case has been decades of systemic racism as well as shredded safety nets for everyone in need, the most expensive but least adequate healthcare system in the modern world, and a growing climate catastrophe that's steadily undermining public health.

Unless these trends change, the pandemic and economic crisis America is experiencing will be nothing compared to what's to come. And after Biden, we could have Trumps as far as the eye can see.

The only way to avoid this is to fundamentally change course.

It's a mistake to see this task as placating the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Fighting these systemic problems is not a matter of ideology. It's a matter of morality and common sense.

If we don't address them now, they will be even more destructive in the years to come.

In other words – back-to-normal complacency would be deadly. Joe Biden's great challenge is to restore America to sanity after four years of Trumpian chaos while at the same time offering bold solutions to the crises of our time.

Our task must be to ensure he finds the energy and political will to do so.

Joe Biden’s Biggest Challenge www.youtube.com

Trickle-down economics is a cruel hoax. Here's the practical alternative Biden must adopt

How should the huge financial costs of the pandemic be paid for, as well as the other deferred needs of society after this annus horribilis?

Politicians rarely want to raise taxes on the rich. Joe Biden promised to do so but a closely divided Congress is already balking.

That's because they've bought into one of the most dangerous of all economic ideas: that economic growth requires the rich to become even richer. Rubbish.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once dubbed it the "horse and sparrow" theory: "If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows."

We know it as trickle-down economics.

In a new study, David Hope of the London School of Economics and Julian Limberg of King's College London lay waste to the theory. They reviewed data over the last half-century in advanced economies and found that tax cuts for the rich widened inequality without having any significant effect on jobs or growth. Nothing trickled down.

Meanwhile, the rich have become far richer. Since the start of the pandemic, just 651 American billionaires have gained $1 trillion of wealth. With this windfall they could send a $3,000 check to every person in America and still be as rich as they were before the pandemic. Don't hold your breath.

Stock markets have been hitting record highs. More initial public stock offerings have been launched this year than in over two decades. A wave of hi-tech IPOs has delivered gushers of money to Silicon Valley investors, founders and employees.

Oh, and tax rates are historically low.

Yet at the same time, more than 20 million Americans are jobless, 8 million have fallen into poverty, 19 million are at risk of eviction and 26 million are going hungry. Mainstream economists are already talking about a "K-shaped" recovery – the better-off reaping most gains while the bottom half continue to slide.

You don't need a doctorate in ethical philosophy to think that now might be a good time to tax and redistribute some of the top's riches to the hard-hit below. The UK is already considering an emergency tax on wealth.

Biden has rejected a wealth tax, but maybe he should be even more ambitious and seek to change economic thinking altogether.

The practical alternative to trickle-down economics might be called build-up economics. Not only should the rich pay for today's devastating crisis but they should also invest in the public's long-term well-being. The rich themselves would benefit from doing so, as would everyone else.

At one time, America's major political parties were on the way to embodying these two theories. Speaking to the Democratic National Convention in 1896, populist William Jennings Bryan noted: "There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them."

Build-up economics reached its zenith in the decades after the second world war, when the richest Americans paid a marginal income tax rate of between 70% and 90%. That revenue helped fund massive investment in infrastructure, education, health and basic research – creating the largest and most productive middle class the world had ever seen.

But starting in the 1980s, America retreated from public investment. The result is crumbling infrastructure, inadequate schools, wildly dysfunctional healthcare and public health systems and a shrinking core of basic research. Productivity has plummeted.

Yet we know public investment pays off. Studies show an average return on infrastructure investment of $1.92 for every public dollar invested, and a return on early childhood education of between 10% and 16% – with 80% of the benefits going to the general public.

The COVID vaccine reveals the importance of investments in public health, and the pandemic shows how everyone's health affects everyone else's. Yet 37 million Americans still have no health insurance. A study in the Lancet estimates Medicare for All would prevent 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year, while saving money.

If we don't launch something as bold as a Green New Deal, we'll spend trillions coping with ever more damaging hurricanes, wildfires, floods and rising sea levels.

The returns from these and other public investments are huge. The costs of not making them are astronomical.

Trickle-down economics is a cruel hoax. The benefits of build-up economics are real. At this juncture, between a global pandemic and the promise of a post-pandemic world, and between the administrations of Trump and Biden, we would be well-served by changing the economic paradigm from trickle down to build up.


Super-spreader COVID workplaces: Amazon reveals the fatuousness of McConnell's corporate 'liability shield'

As a former Secretary of Labor, I often receive mail from workers with job complaints, who apparently believe I still have some authority. But the email I received a few days ago from a worker at Amazon's Whole Foods delivery warehouse in Industry City, Brooklyn, New York, was particularly distressing.

She said that six of her co-workers had tested positive for COVID since October 22, because "safe social distancing is not only being ignored but discouraged," adding that "when we express our discomfort to management, we are yelled at about filling orders faster, or told that we can take a leave of absence without pay."

She ended by noting "we work for a trillionaire."

Well, not quite. Jeff Bezos is worth $180 billion, making him the richest person in the world. And his corporation, Amazon, which also owns Whole Foods, is among the world's richest corporations.

Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic.

So you'd think he'd be able to afford safer workplaces. Yet as of October, more than 20,000 U.S.-based Amazon employees had been infected by the virus. That estimate comes from Amazon, by the way. There's been no independent verification, nor has Amazon revealed how many of them have died.

Decades ago, employees in most large corporations could remedy unsafe working conditions by complaining to their union, which pressured their employer to fix the problems, or to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (founded in 1970), which levied fines.

Alternatively, they could embarrass their companies by going public with their complaints. As a last resort, they could sue.

None of these routes is readily available to Amazon warehouse workers – nor, for that matter, to warehouse workers at Walmart, or to most workers in other super-spreader COVID workplaces such as meatpacking plants and nursing homes.

Amazon's workers have no union to protect them. (Throughout its 25-year history, the corporation has aggressively fought union organizing.) Nor, for that matter, do 93.8 percent of America's private-sector workers. Fifty years ago, more than a third were unionized.

And OSHA? Since the start of the pandemic, it's been useless. Although receiving more than 10,000 complaints of unsafe conditions, it has issued just two citations.

Amazon employees who go public with their complaints are likely to lose their jobs. The corporation prohibits its workers from commenting publicly on any aspect of its business, without prior approval from executives. So far during the pandemic, it has fired at least two white-collar employees who publicly denounced conditions at its warehouses, as well as several warehouse workers who raised safety concerns to media outlets.

Amazon isn't alone. A survey conducted in May by the National Employment Law Project showed that 1 in 8 American workers "has perceived possible retaliatory actions by employers against workers in their company who have raised health and safety concerns" about COVID.

The final option is to sue the company, but lawsuits against employers over COVID have been rare because of difficulties proving that the employee contracted the virus at work. A Washington Post analysis found that since the pandemic began, just 234 personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits have been filed due to the virus.

All of which reveals the utter fatuousness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's and his fellow Senate Republicans' demand that any new COVID relief package must include a corporate "liability shield" against COVID cases.

Even if such lawsuits were successful, corporations already have limited liability. That's what it means to be a corporation. In the unlikely event Amazon were sued and plaintiffs won, Jeff Bezos would remain comfortable.

The heinous resurgence of COVID makes clear that corporations need more – not fewer – incentives to protect their workers from the virus.

As millions of Americans lose whatever meager income they had, they should not have to choose between taking a risky job – such as in an Amazon warehouse – or putting food on their family's table.

Bezos, as well as every major employer in America, can easily afford to protect their workers. And as Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans should know, the richest nation in the world can easily afford to provide every American adequate income support during this national emergency.

That they're not doing so is disgraceful.

Unsung heroes: The people who stood up to Trump in his final days

We always knew Trump would contest the election results. He's spreading wilder and wilder conspiracy theories about non-existent voter fraud. Of course, these claims haven't held up in court because there's zero evidence. But the integrity of thousands of people responsible for maintaining American democracy is being tested as never before.

Tragically, most Senate and House Republicans are failing the test by refusing to stand up to Trump. Their cowardice is a devastating betrayal of public trust, and will have lasting consequences.

They worry that speaking out could invite a primary challenge. But democracy depends on moral courage. These Republicans are profiles in cowardice.

Fortunately for our democracy, many lower-level Republican office-holders are passing the test.



Take, for example, Brad Raffensperger – Georgia's Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election there and describes himself as "a Republican through and through and never voted for a Democrat."

Raffensperger is defending Georgia's vote for Biden, rejecting Trump's accusations of fraud. He spurned overtures from Senator Lindsey Graham, who asked if Raffensperger could toss out all mail-in votes from counties with high rates of questionable signatures. And Raffensperger dismissed demands from Georgia's two incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both facing tougher-than-anticipated runoffs) that he resign.

"This office runs on integrity," Raffensperger says, "and that's what voters want to know, that this person's going to do his job."

Raffensperger has also received death threats from Republican voters inflamed by Trump's allegations. Election officials in Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona are also reporting threats. But they're not giving in to them.

Let's not forget other public officials in the Trump administration who have stood up for democracy and against Trump – public health officials unwilling to lie about Covid-19, military leaders unwilling to back Trump's attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters, inspectors general unwilling to cover up Trump corruption, U.S. foreign service officers unwilling to lie about Trump's overtures to Ukraine, intelligence officials unwilling to bend their reports to suit Trump, and Justice Department attorneys refusing to participate in Trump's obstructions of justice.

Some of them lost their jobs. Some quit. Many were demoted. A few have been threatened with violence. That's the price they had to pay to do what's morally right under Trump, who has no idea what it means to do what's morally right.

The question after January 20, when Trump is gone from the White House, is how many Senate and House Republicans will find the integrity to stand up for America rather than bend to the conspiracy theories and hatefulness that will be the legacies of Trumpism.

From climate change to creeping fascism, any 'return to normal' would be disastrous for America

"Life is going to return to normal," Joe Biden promised Thursday in a Thanksgiving address to the nation. He was talking about life after Covid-13, but you could be forgiven if you thought he was also making a promise about life after Trump.

It is almost impossible to separate the two. To the extent voters gave Biden a mandate, it was to end both scourges and make America normal again.

Despite Covid's grim resurgence, Dr. Anthony Fauci – the public health official whom Trump ignored and then muzzled, with whom Biden's staff is now conferring – sounded guardedly optimistic last week. Vaccines will allow "a gradual accrual of more normality as the weeks and the months go by as we get well into 2021."

Normal. You could almost hear America's giant sigh of relief, similar to that felt when Trump implicitly conceded the election by allowing the transition to begin.

It is comforting to think of both Covid and Trump as intrusions into normality, aberrations from routines that prevailed before.

When Biden entered the presidential race last year, he said history would look back on Trump as an "aberrant moment in time."

The end of both aberrations conjures up a former America that, by contrast, might appear quiet and safe, even boring.

Trump called Biden "the most boring human being I've ever seen," and Americans seem to be just fine with that.

Biden's early choices for his cabinet and senior staff fit the same mold – "boring picks," tweeted the Atlantic's Graeme Wood (referring to Biden's foreign policy team),"who, if you shook them awake and appointed them in the middle of the night at any time in the last decade, could have reported to their new jobs and started work competently by dawn." Hallelujah.

All his designees, including Janet Yellen for Treasury and Anthony Blinken for Secretary of State, are experienced and competent – refreshing, especially after Trump's goon squads. And they're acceptable both to mainstream Democrats and to progressives.

They also stand out for their abilities not to stand out. There is no firebrand among them, no Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders (at least not so far).

For the same reasons, they're unlikely to stir strong opposition from Republicans, a necessity for Senate confirmation, particularly if Democrats fail to win the two Senate runoffs in Georgia on January 5.

And they're unlikely to demand much attention from an exhausted and divided public.

Boring, reassuring, normal – these are Biden's great strengths. But he needs to be careful. They could also be his great weaknesses.

That's because any return to "normal" would be disastrous for America.

Normal led to Trump. Normal led to the coronavirus.

Normal is four decades of stagnant wages and widening inequality when almost all economic gains went to the top. Normal is forty years of shredded safety nets, and the most expensive but least adequate healthcare system in the modern world.

Normal is also growing corruption of politics by big money – an economic system rigged by and for the wealthy.

Normal is worsening police brutality.

Normal is climate change now verging on catastrophe.

Normal is a GOP that for years has been actively suppressing minority votes and embracing white supremacists. Normal is a Democratic Party that for years has been abandoning the working class.

Given the road we were on, Trump and Covid were not aberrations. They were inevitabilities. The moment we are now in – with Trump virtually gone, Biden assembling his cabinet, and most of the nation starting to feel a bit of relief – is a temporary reprieve.

If the underlying trends don't change, after Biden we could have Trumps as far as the eye can see. And health and environmental crises that make the coronavirus another step toward Armageddon.

Hence the paradox. America wants to return to a reassuring normal, but Biden can't allow it. Complacency would be deadly. He has to both calm the waters and stir the pot.

It's a mistake to see this challenge as placating the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It's about dealing with problems that have worsened for decades and if left unattended much longer will be enormously destructive.

So the central question: In an exhausted and divided America that desperately wants a return to normal, can Biden find the energy and political will for bold changes that are imperative?

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