Fraternal Warfare

Joe Biden’s Democrats are experiencing a major crisis of confidence. So how is the president supposed to save the world, too?

When Joe Biden made his big appearance at the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow on Monday, his popularity was in a tailspin, at a new low. It was his 286th day in office, and only 43% of citizens said they were satisfied with the job the president was doing. The only one to have had lower approval ratings is his predecessor. But Biden’s curve has been lurching for months toward Donald Trump’s lows.

Before his departure for Glasgow, the president had threatened members of his party, saying that it was “no exaggeration” that the fate of his presidency would be decided during the week of his second major international trip — a desperate attempt to discipline the Democratic Party. For weeks, it has been fighting over two pieces of proposed legislation with which Biden wants to modernize the U.S. by simultaneously making it more environmentally friendly and socially responsible. His fellow party members shrugged off his plea and continued their trench warfare, leaving the multi-trillion-dollar bills in limbo and sending their president to the climate conference empty-handed.

Almost exactly one year after Joe Biden’s election victory, his administration is suffering a major crisis of confidence.

And from Mar-a-Lago, Trump is Sending Out Signals – Destructive as Usual

What underlies the American president’s weakness? The Democrats are blaming the destructive consequences of Trump. The Republicans are completely in his hands, being destructively controlled from Mar-a-Lago, in their telling. From there, Trump continues to spread the lie about the stolen election and is preparing his comeback. All of that is true, unfortunately, but it is a lazy excuse. The Democrats do not need an opponent -– they are beating themselves. Biden’s crisis is a homemade one, both internationally and domestically.

The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was, in fact, unopposed. A large majority supported an end to America’s “endless war.” But because of incompetent leadership, the withdrawal turned into a national humiliation. It was no accident that Biden’s popularity plummeted just as the Taliban were taking over Kabul.

The same goes for domestic policy. The Democrats are negotiating two legislative packages that should be appealing to both parties. They are supposed to invest $1.75 trillion in infrastructure and a social safety net, a socially responsible, environmentally friendly restructuring that would make the U.S. more equitable and more and better prepared for the future, and thus, also better armed for ideological competition with China.

But the party has been talking the issue down for weeks. Conservative Democrats are blocking spending, and progressive ones are blocking infrastructure projects, because popular measures like paid parental leave are not included. They are taking each other hostage in turn and talking about what is missing rather than about what good will be done. The Republicans have an easy game of caricaturing their opponents as an incompetent, embattled heap that wants to spend all too generously. Even if the legislation is eventually passed, the bold reforms will be saddled with the label of a listless compromise. A lesson on how a left-center administration shoots itself in the foot. (Hello, dear politicians negotiating a traffic light coalition*, please take note!)

Biden’s crisis is significant far beyond America’s borders, as one can observe in Glasgow. Someone who cannot get his own party to strike a deal between climate, economic and social policy can hardly be fit to bring together the world’s leaders. The demonstrative absence of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping leaves that reality unstated.

Environmental policy is geopolitics. The superpower conflict between the U.S. and China is drawing everything into its orbit. Without the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, nothing will improve. Beijing is expecting that in exchange for its cooperation, the world will turn a blind eye toward Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Uighurs. Carbon reductions in exchange for human rights –- that would be a bad trade-off.

A change in political climate is becoming apparent. The greatest danger for humanity, namely the rising global temperature, cannot be combated using the superpowers’ existing instruments of power. The influence of the United States also does not really rest on some dozen aircraft carriers that dominate the seas. Without its own citizens’ confidence in the political system — and the competence of its administration — it all comes to nothing.

Confidence is a scarce resource in all free democracies. Whoever cleverly manages this rare earth of politics will determine the future.

*Editor’s note: This term is used in Germany and elsewhere to describe a coalition between political parties whose traditional colors (red, yellow, green) resemble the normal color sequence of a traffic light.

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