A Personal Note from Cam – Dated November 24, 2020
A Plea for Unity
President-elect Joe Biden stood behind a podium on a stage in Delaware and said, “I’m humbled by the trust and confidence you placed in me. I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify; who doesn’t see red states or blue states, but only the United States.”1 That pledge, at this moment in time—in this most interesting month of a most interesting and difficult year—meant a lot symbolically.
“Let this grim era of demonization begin to end, here and now,” Biden said. “The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another, it’s not some mysterious force beyond our control,” Biden said. “It’s a decision, a choice we made. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.”2 Cooperation and compromise? That sure sounds nice. That certainly hasn’t been the norm in a while.
Biden said that “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again.”3 A lot of people are skeptical of his chances at the moment. Katie Pavlich, editor of Townhall, questioned whether some on the far left would “allow” the new president to unite the country.4 The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal agreed with that sentiment, and said that if the president-elect’s call for unity was anything “more than Beltway virtue-signaling,” he would have to speak out “against those on the left who want to stigmatize and purge from civil society anyone who has worked in the Trump Administration.”5 The WSJ editors pointed out that “most of the people” who served in the Trump Administration “did so honorably.”6 The fact that our major media organizations are even in the position of having to make statements like these is a testament to how much has changed in recent years, and how much hasn’t changed— and how much room there is for growth.
A Transition, An Agenda and Georgia
As of this writing, it looks like about 80 million Americans voted for President-elect Biden—the most votes ever cast for a candidate. President Trump received 73.8 million votes—the second highest vote total in history.7 This was the largest total recorded by a challenger over a sitting US president since the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover in 1932. In the Electoral College, Biden’s 306 - 232 margin was identical to President Trump’s margin in 2016—a margin Trump himself referred to as “a landslide.”8 So what does this mean in terms of national unity and the coming transition?
It is notable that these results came from a historically large turnout. With almost 157 million votes tallied, overall “turnout stands at 65 percent of all eligible voters, the highest since 1908, according to data from The Associated Press and the US Elections Project.”9 In other words, it has been 112 years since such a large portion of the American people felt the need to vote. That says something.
The real story of the election according to Andrew Busch, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, was not that President Trump lost—he was, statistically speaking, “the least popular incumbent president since polling began.”10 The real story of the election was what Busch referred to as “Biden’s lack of coattails down-ballot.”11 When Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter, he brought with him massive Republican gains in the House and the Senate. FDR did the same thing for the Democrats in 1932. But while Biden soundly defeated Trump, he didn’t come close to delivering on the “blue tsunami” that the pollsters and the media had forecast.12
The Democrats “fumbled key Senate races, lost ground in the House, and failed to capture state legislatures in a redistricting year despite having the political winds at its back, more money in its bank account and a hyper-activated grassroots that had spent four years preparing for this moment. If this wasn’t the year for Democrats to win big, then when can they?”13 These were some of the questions leaders of the Democratic Party asked themselves at a post-election summit. But maybe they weren’t asking the right questions.
It appears that “This was a ‘change-the-president’ election,” Professor Busch explained, “not a change election.”14
One person this fact has apparently not been lost on is President-elect Biden. Since he announced the first round of his cabinet picks, it seems clear that Biden “is choosing people who are, indisputably, experts in their fields,” as opposed to filling his cabinet with popular politicians from within his own party, which presidents are often guilty of doing.15 Biden is “trying to restore some kind of normalcy,” and he has made a point of saying that “there will be very little on-the-job- training needed” for the senior members of his administration.
Trump came into office with a stated desire to drain the swamp, “to upset the pillars of government and global order,” and now Biden appears to be “aimed at rebuilding it with people who have held similar roles in the past.”16 Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, “would offer less ‘swagger’ and more sobriety. Figures close to him describe his political worldview as broadly centrist and pragmatic.”17 Janet Yellen, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has been tabbed as the new Secretary of the Treasury—and the markets rallied strongly when this news was released.18 Dubbed the “Back-to-Normal Rally,” on Tuesday, November 24th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 30,000 for the first time in history.19 Biden’s simple pursuit of “hiring people qualified for their jobs,” has been seen as “a rejection of the Trump model,” a welcome rejection, at least so far in the eyes of the financial markets, which value predictability above just about all else.20
The markets love predictability, and there are few things more predictable in American politics than divided government. This is why the eyes of the nation will turn to Georgia in the coming weeks, where “Republican Senator David Perdue and Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler will battle to keep their seats in early January runoffs against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.”21 This matters so much because the Republicans currently hold a 50-48 advantage in the Senate, and the Democrats have taken the House and the presidency. A divided government is a government that can only get things done through compromise. “The Senate outcome was unambiguously positive,” simply because it means that deals will have to be cut. If Republicans “win at least one of the Georgia races and maintain a slim majority,” this will put up “a roadblock to Biden’s proposals to raise corporate taxes and individual taxes on the wealthy.”22
“A divided government will be positive for the economy and the market.”23 Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “have a history of cooperating during Biden’s tenure in the Senate and as vice president, and they can work well with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”24 The hope is that the forced bipartisanship might lead to a new stimulus package, and possibly even the infrastructure package Biden touted on the campaign trail.
The above chart from Microsoft’s Bing Covid-19 Tracker shows the daily tally of new coronavirus cases in the US.25 The pandemic has changed so much for so many of us. Record numbers of Americans have lost jobs. Americans have burned through their savings. Students haven’t been able to go to school. Families haven’t been able to go to church. Almost 18 million American adults live in households that are currently behind on rent or mortgage payments, and “5.8 million adults say they are somewhat to very likely to face eviction or foreclosure” before the end of this year, according to a survey completed November 9th by the US Census Bureau.26 Over 261,000 Americans have died, and the trajectory of that chart is ugly.27 The people who have been impacted the most are the people who have the least. In so many ways, we have become numb to this situation.
We have been due for some good news on this front, and we are finally starting to get it. On Monday, November 23rd, AstraZeneca announced that its Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Oxford University, is highly effective and ready to go. This vaccine is cheap and easy to store, which means it might become the vaccine of choice in the developing world.28 This news comes right on the heels of Moderna’s announcement that its vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19; it also doesn’t require ultracold freezing, and has a much longer shelf life than the similarly effective but more expensive vaccine that Pfizer has developed.29
While we still await regulatory approvals, final testing, and production, it seems like we are probably months away from the public having access to a vaccine—maybe by the second quarter of 2021. This news “gives great cause for hope that we may finally be entering a more familiar time than this turbulent year we’ve all endured.”30 There is a lot we don’t know yet, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the positive developments, and the belief that maybe someday soon we will be returning to something approximating “normal” again.
“Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens wrote those words in A Christmas Carol, in a different country, in a different era, but I find the sentiment resonating strongly with me today, during Thanksgiving week.
Gratitude is at the heart of Thanksgiving—it is a holiday literally built on recognizing things that we are grateful for. As individuals we have so much to be grateful for. Our families have so much to be grateful for. As citizens of the greatest country in the world, we have so much to be grateful for.
When we recognize our blessings, we recognize our humanity.
I am grateful for my country, and grateful for the beautiful, disparate and distinguished range of people and ideas that make it so strong and vibrant. I’m grateful for my work, and for my CTA team. I’m grateful for my family, for my wife Jane, for our children and grandchildren. I’m grateful for my faith, which has mattered more in this year for me than any in my memory. And finally, I’m grateful for you. I hope you and your loved ones are doing well, and that this holiday season will lead us all into a new year of continued growth, health, and wellbeing.
Yours truly, Cam
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1 Lindhal, Chris. “Joe Biden Delivers Victory Speech with Promise to Unite the Country with Decency, Science, and Hope.” Yahoo News. November 7, 2020.
3 Pavlich, Katie. “Biden Vows to Unite the Country, Will the Left Let Him?” Townhall. November 7, 2020.
5 “A ‘Time to Heal’ Agenda.” Wall Street Journal. November 11, 2020.
7 “2020 National Popular Vote Tracker.” The Cook Political Report. November 24, 2020.
8 Cole, Brendan. “Joe Biden's Popular Vote Share Is Third Largest by Presidential Challenger in Election History.” Newsweek. November 14, 2020.
9 “Election results: Joe Biden approaches 80 million votes in historic victory.” AP Newswire. November 19, 2020.
10 Cole, Brendan. “Joe Biden's Popular Vote Share Is Third Largest by Presidential Challenger in Election History.” Newsweek. November 14, 2020.
13 Seitz-Wald, Alex, and Benjy Sarlin. “‘A huge catastrophe’: Democrats grapple with congressional and state election losses.” NBC News. November 23, 2020.
14 Cole, Brendan. “Joe Biden's Popular Vote Share Is Third Largest by Presidential Challenger in Election History.” Newsweek. November 14, 2020.
15 Krieg, Gregory. “5 takeaways from Biden's first wave of nominations and appointments.” CNN. November 24, 2020.
16 Tharoor, Ishaan. “Biden brings back the establishment.” The Washington Post. November 24, 2020.
18 Seitz-Wald, Alex, and Benjy Sarlin. “‘A huge catastrophe’: Democrats grapple with congressional and state election losses.” NBC News. November 23, 2020.
19 Wang, Lu, and Claire Ballentine. “Back-to-Normal Rally Drives Dow Above 30,000 for First Time.” Yahoo Finance. November 24, 2020.
20 Krieg, Gregory. “5 takeaways from Biden's first wave of nominations and appointments.” CNN. November 24, 2020.
21 Schoeff, Mark, Jr. “Georgia’s Senate races could slow down Joe Biden’s agenda.” Investment News. November 16, 2020.
25 Microsoft Bing COVID-19 Tracker. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
26 Tanzi, Alexandre. “Millions of Americans Expect to Lose Their Homes as Covid Rages.” Bloomberg Wealth. November 23, 2020.
27 Microsoft Bing COVID-19 Tracker. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
28 Kirka, Danica. “3rd major COVID-19 vaccine shown to be effective and cheaper.” Associated Press. November 23, 2020.
30 Zidle, Joe. “Unintended Consequences of a Dovish Shift.” Blackstone. November 16, 2020.