The Liveliest of the Lifeless*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

A talent deficit plagues not only Democrats but their opponents as well

Last week, Zavtra published an article about the opening of Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. The U.S. President went to Kyiv to pose against a backdrop of golden cupolas, then on to Warsaw to embrace children of all races and genders, where he anointed himself the leader of the free world. Biden’s plan is clear: Cultivating the image of a wartime president is an unbeatable electoral strategy. The problem is that Americans don’t recognize the war behind this “wartime” president. A conflict on the other side of the world that does not directly involve Americans hardly constitutes “wartime” for ordinary Americans, regardless of what U.S. military personnel, conveniently on vacation in Malorussian fields, might say.

Biden’s ratings have remained stable since last fall: 43% approve of his actions, 52% disapprove. More important than the numbers, however, is the sad reality that this old Washington dog simply cannot find a replacement. Biden might be glad to leave it all behind and go back to his native Delaware to ride around in his green Corvette and grow cabbages, but there is absolutely no one to take his place in the White House.

D.C. donkey Kamala Harris has failed at absolutely everything she has set out to do. Consequently, the woman who was supposed to gradually step into old Joe’s shoes has proved to be an incompetent fool, even by comparison to the old man who periodically loses touch with reality. The foreign policy apparatus, represented by the engaging Antony Blinken and the promising Jake Sullivan, squandered its public approval during the Ukrainian crisis by failing to explain the causes of the crisis and the motives for America’s involvement in it. Washington’s Prince Pete Buttigieg, whom many saw as the future leader of the Democratic Party, has been crushed by recent events, as will be discussed below. Finally, the brightest Democratic politicians of the Trump era — five women of color in Congress led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — turned out to be of no interest to the American public beyond their former roles as oppositionists.

Biden is alone. In the twilight of his years, the 80-year-old leader of a divided country is forced to watch the work of his entire generation slowly crumble. On March 3, Bloomberg News chose to report on the malignant tumor Biden had removed from his chest in February. It’s a journalistic choice that suggests that Michael Bloomberg is getting back in the political ring, after investing more than a billion dollars in his run for the presidency in 2020 and being roundly defeated by Trump. Bloomberg did not even win the primaries. Bloomberg made his presence known in the political arena by penning an opinion piece in The New York Times criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the latest protests against judicial reform in Israel. Bloomberg doesn’t need to sling mud at Bibi. This is just how the 81-year-old billionaire reminds the public that he is still alive and still has political opinions of his own. It may be the beginning of another Bloomberg stab at the presidency. This time, with the current talent deficit in the Democratic Party, “Mini-Mike,” as Trump called him, may get further than he did in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Political Action Coalition Conference was held in Washington. It would be wrong to think of this conference as a Republican Party convention; it is more like a general gathering of all the right-wing forces in the country, sometimes including outsider-comrades like Milo Yiannopoulos (who later turned out to be an FBI informant). But not this time. The reason is simple: The Republican Party was making a choice between its two most promising leaders. The first was Ron DeSantis, whom many expect to be the presidential nominee in 2024. At the end of last year, the Florida governor appeared to be the most obvious contender for the presidency, given the failure of Trump’s henchmen in the midterm elections and aged Biden’s infirmities.

But now all that is history. As it turned out, Biden is not so weak, Trump is not a totally lost cause, and DeSantis, by virtue of his entanglement in a series of incidents, has presented himself to the Republican electorate in a less than favorable light. First, he quietly dialed back his noisy confrontation with the Disney corporation. Mickey’s House will now once again benefit from Florida’s preferential tax treatment even though Disney’s followers have no intention of abandoning their promotion of gay and transgender culture. Second, DeSantis tarnished his reputation as a freedom fighter by introducing a bill in Florida to criminalize anti-Semitic statements. This truly European legislative norm was poorly received by American conservatives, despite their tender affection for Jews, and it was extremely poorly received by all those who regard the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech as tantamount to a religious value.

Against this background, Trump has managed to distinguish himself favorably. The over-the-top love he professed for Israel during his presidency is now forgotten like a bad dream. And his recent public relations win over the disaster in Ohio has earned him additional popularity points. As a reminder, the context for that disaster was a human-error accident in early February, where an old train loaded with toxic chemicals came off a stretch of run-down rails. Toxic chemicals generously fertilized the surrounding soil and waterways and, once ignited, polluted the air in Ohio and the surrounding states.

There could not have been a better start for a campaign to promote American isolationism. Washington ignored the problem as if nothing had happened in the Midwest. It’s easy to see why. Under the influence of the green lobby, Biden has refused to allocate money to repair or even the maintain railway infrastructure in workable condition, and in the best tradition of progressive initiatives, Biden chose staff gay Buttigieg — who until that moment had no prior experience in transportation — to the post of Secretary of Transportation.

Enter Trump with humanitarian aid in hand. In addressing Ohioans, Trump made pointed jabs at Biden, who at that moment was speechifying in Warsaw. This contributed to a boost in the former president’s ratings. He rode into CPAC on a white horse and departed on an even grander one.

The speech Trump gave to CPAC attendees was laden with his beloved populism. No specifics, just plenty of loud pronouncements, face-making, gesticulating, all leading to the conclusion that good old Trump was back. The Donald proposed building “Freedom Cities,” high-tech clusters filled with tech giants, innovation hubs and flying cars. Then the Orange Man proposed introducing a baby bonus in the U.S. to raise the birth rate (as if Mexicans, who cross the southern border by the millions, need any help with that). Then, during the conference itself, Trump announced the need to drive the neoconservatives and warmongers out of the Republican Party and sweep Washington clean of the Deep State. Not a word was said about how, and most importantly, with whose help Trump would do this. In a word, it was the same former president, whom many political observers (even those of a radically liberal bent) openly miss after two monotonous years of victorious National Bidenism.

Trump’s speech was intended to be the main attraction of the conservative conference, but after his competitors spoke, it became clear that it was the only significant attraction. For example, Nikki Haley, former U.S. Representative to the U.N., former Governor of South Carolina and current Russophobe, who announced her candidacy for president three weeks ago, limited her remarks to monetary policy and managed to say nothing at all during her speech. Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who dumped his boss at just the right moment and unsuccessfully tried to insinuate himself into the Washington elite, also made a speech that impressed no one. It was expected that a faction of neocons would support Pompeo for president, but after this conference, the group’s political clout is so diminished that Pompeo can forget his presidential ambitions.

DeSantis, who obviously won’t be happy about Trump’s success, was nowhere to be seen at CPAC. The Florida governor has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but it is hard to imagine a trump card he could use to beat his former ally and fellow countryman Trump. A poll conducted at the end of the conference painted a disappointing picture for all its participants who do not boast orange skin, red hair and an absurd manner of speech-making: 62% of the votes were for Trump, one-in-five supported DeSantis and Haley got off with a purely symbolic three percent.

It is amusing to observe how the American right-wing public is shooting itself in the foot with Trump for the second time. The same rhetorical devices, the same vacant charisma and the same obviously impossible promises. The talent deficit plagues not only the Democrats but their opponents as well. This dearth of talent is a symptom of American senility, of the desire to sequester oneself in the comfortable era of inter-party battles over abortion, guns and gays, a time before COVID-19, inflation or Ukraine.

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