Are there two Americas, each led by its own president?
Well no, of course not. There’s one America. It has one president: Joe Biden.
But that’s a little too obvious for the likes of Peter Baker, the star White House reporter for the New York Times.
In a major “news analysis” article published on Thursday marking the occasion of Trump essentially becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Baker adopts the conceit that there are two Americas, one led by Donald Trump and the other by Joe Biden.
It’s nonsense. It’s a way of avoiding the real conflict between the two men, which is over their visions of what the (entire) U.S. should be: A democracy or a dictatorship?
So let me rewrite that for you, Peter.
Let’s start with the headline: “The Looming Contest Between Two Presidents and Two Americas”.
I’d rewrite it: “The Looming Contest Between Two Presidents and Two Futures”.
Baker starts of by writing that the 2024 election between Trump and Biden “represents the clash of two presidents of profoundly different countries, the president of Blue America versus the president of Red America.”
I would say instead that it “represents the clash of two presidents with profoundly different visions of the country, one democratic, the other authoritarian.”
Here’s the nut graph:
Mr. Biden leads an America that, as he sees it, embraces diversity, democratic institutions and traditional norms, that considers government at its best to be a force for good in society. Mr. Trump leads an America where, in his view, the system has been corrupted by dark conspiracies and the undeserving are favored over hard-working everyday people.
My first objection is that the president leads the entire country, not just the parts that support him. In fact, that’s a key distinction between Biden, who advocates policies that benefit the entire nation, and Trump, who has made it clear he intends to use the power of the state to punish his political opponents.
But my biggest objection is that only one of those visions can be accurate. So which one is it? You would think that sort of thing might matter to the New York Times. But alas. Baker leaves it as a jump ball.
Let me rewrite that for you:
Mr. Biden leads an America that, as he sees it, embraces diversity, democratic institutions and traditional norms, that considers government at its best to be a force for good in society. It is a hopeful vision, and it’s largely accurate. Mr. Trump sees an America where, in his view, the system has been corrupted by dark conspiracies and the undeserving are favored over hard-working everyday people. It’s a nightmare vision that is largely unsupported by the facts.
Here’s another doozy full of nonsensical both-sidesing:
Americans do not just disagree with each other, they live in different realities, each with its own self-reinforcing Internet-and-media ecosphere. The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was either an outrageous insurrection in service of an unconstitutional power grab by a proto-fascist or a legitimate protest that may have gotten out of hand but has been exploited by the other side and turned patriots into hostages.
As congressional observer Daniel Schuman tweeted, “Surely there must be some people who were there, journalists maybe, who could say definitively what happened.” He added: ” A big part of this story is that some folks have become deranged, not that there’s differing views.”
And yes, it’s troubling that one side here occupies an alternate reality of “alternate facts,” as Kellyanne Conway so famously put it. But let’s be clear: There is only one reality. Our finest journalists strive to capture it. Just not Peter Baker.
So let me rewrite that for you:
Americans do not just disagree with each other, they disagree about the facts, about reality. For instance, while most Americans acknowledge that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was an insurrection in service of an unconstitutional power grab, the Trumpist MAGA crowd – influenced by a conspiracy-laden Internet-and-media ecosphere – has convinced itself that the attack was a legitimate protest that may have gotten out of hand and that the people who have been imprisoned for their roles in it are hostages.
This is a worthwhile, fact-based paragraph:
In an increasingly tribal society, Americans describe their differences more personally. Since Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Democrats who see Republicans as immoral has grown from 35 percent to 63 percent while 72 percent of Republicans say the same about Democrats, up from 47 percent. In 1960, about 4 percent of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party. By 2020, that had grown to nearly four in 10. Indeed, only about 4 percent of all marriages today are between a Republican and a Democrat.
But it needs to be followed by some context. I’d add:
That does not mean, however, that both parties have become equally extreme. As NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has pointed out, these are precisely the kinds of numbers you’d expect to see if one party slid off the rails while the other one remained in the normal range.
In support of his theory of two Americas, Baker then quotes someone I admire:
“Today, when we think about America, we make the essential error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mix of red and blue people,” Michael Podhorzer, a former political director of the AFL-CIO, wrote in an essay last month. “But America has never been one nation. We are a federated republic of two nations: Red Nation and Blue Nation. This is not a metaphor; it is a geographic and historical reality.”
But Baker fundamentally misrepresents Podhorzer, whose point was that state governments -– not the American people themselves — are terribly polarized. Blue-led states aspire to pluralism and democracy while Red-led states reflect the “values of white Christian nationalism and rigid social stratification,” Podhorzer wrote.
By contrast, he argued, Americans are actually “much less divided as people than the universally accepted polarization literature would have us believe.” He cited as an example the large majority (over 60 percent) of people who opposed the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision rescinding the right to an abortion.
So his essay doesn’t support Baker’s point at all.
Now consider who Baker leaves out of the Democratic coalition in this paragraph:
Mr. Trump has transformed the G.O.P. into the party of the white working class, rooted strongly in rural communities and resentful of globalization, while Mr. Biden’s Democrats have increasingly become the party of the more highly educated and economically better off, who have thrived in the information age.
Tellingly, Baker doesn’t mention Black, Hispanic, and younger voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. He doesn’t want to say that it’s mostly older, rural, under-educated Christian white people against everyone else, which it is.
Then comes this utterly bizarre paragraph
Each of the leaders of these two Americas wields power in his own way. As the current occupant of the White House, Mr. Biden has all the advantages and disadvantages of incumbency. But Mr. Trump has been acting as an incumbent in a fashion too — he never conceded his 2020 defeat and the majority of his supporters, polls show, believe that he, not Mr. Biden, is the legitimate president.
The point here should not be that both are sorta kinda incumbents. They are not! The point here should be that one is the incumbent, and the other is spouting lunacy that his die-hard supporters believe about being the legitimate president.
Let me rewrite that:
Each of the leaders wields power in his own way. As the current occupant of the White House, Mr. Biden has all the advantages and disadvantages of incumbency. Mr. Trump has had enormous success leading a massive disinformation campaign that includes Fox and other right-wing media outlets. Many of his supporters actually believe his lies about having won the presidency in 2020. His threat-fueled domination of Republican elected officials, slightly reduced after he incited an insurrection, is once again nearly absolute.
The elite political media consistently normalizes extreme Republican obstruction, rather than asking why they can’t compromise for the good of the country. So it’s no surprise to see Baker conclude that, given how quickly members of Congress are rushing to endorse him, “it is hard to imagine any major policy deal coming together in Washington this year without Mr. Trump’s approval or at least his acquiescence.”
But I’d rewrite that to say “it is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Trump will block any attempts at governance that could potentially redound to Biden’s benefit, putting his own interests ahead of the country’s.”
Because Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have both served as president, Americans already know what they think about them. That will make it harder for either to define his opponent with the public the way that President George W. Bush defined John F. Kerry in 2004 and President Barack Obama defined Mitt Romney in 2012.
But the wild cards this year remain unique nonetheless — an 81-year-old incumbent who is already the oldest president in American history against a 77-year-old predecessor who is facing 91 felony counts in four separate criminal indictments. No one can say for sure how those dynamics will play out over the next 285 days, which Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are already treating as the general election presidential campaign.
Yes, in Peter Baker’s telling, Biden’s age and Trump 91 felony counts equally qualify as “wild cards.”
Let me rewrite that:
Although Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have both served as president, Americans face an even starker choice in 2024 than they did in 2020, when Mr. Biden won by a 7-million-vote margin. As president, Mr. Biden has overseen a growing economy and has had several major legislative triumphs, which benefitted Red states and Blue states alike.
His biggest liability in the polls — and in the view of pundits — is his age. He is four years older than Mr. Trump. By contrast, Mr. Trump — who badly botched the nation’s response to the Covid pandemic and whose signal legislative achievement was passing a massive tax cut for corporations and wealthy Americans — has telegraphed plans for a much more vengeful and dictatorial presidency a second time around, and is currently being prosecuted for 91 felony counts ranging from stealing top-secret documents to conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, any of which could result in a conviction before November.
Here is more about Peter Baker, from the archives: