A glimpse of our post-pandemic politics

A glimpse of our post-pandemic politics
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The 2020 presidential election will be affected more by how the pandemic plays out than the impeachment of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE, Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE's age or any other issue.

The political impact will extend well beyond November and shape Americans’ politics for the foreseeable future. With the economic and social fabric shaken more than any time since the Depression and World War II, politics will change dramatically, probably even more polarized and perhaps radicalized.

“America’s current political status quo isn’t likely to remain intact after the wave of adversity and difficulty that we're likely to see as the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course,” writes Robert Merry, a prominent journalist and historian. Merry, writing in the American Conservative, suggests a more populist politics tilting right.


Conversely, the political left says this will call for a more robust big government role.

In the short term it will be shaped by the outcome of the November election.

If Trump wins, he owns the Republican party, a vindication of his nationalistic, vindictive, exclusionary brand of populism, while shedding some of the corporate largesse he so generously bestowed these past three years.

Even if he loses, the Trump brand will continue to resonate with the rank and file. Less vitriolic Republicans, like former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyKatko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump MORE or Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal MORE will try to walk a delicate line, embracing Trumpism while staying clear of its most vile elements, like racism.

If Trump still has a microphone, he'll be able to stir the flock. A younger Pat Buchanan type might emerge to claim his mantle.


If Trumps wins, the Democrats will move left, driven by the even greater inequalities fueled by the pandemic and making the case for a radical overhaul and rejection of the incremental progress espoused by Biden and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE.

The immediate new leader in that scenario would be Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; like the French revolution, she might be overtaken by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHarry Styles hits back at criticism over wearing dress on Vogue cover 'It's not a slogan': Progressives push back on Obama's comments on 'defund the police' movement Obama says Democrats should make sure Ocasio-Cortez has a platform MORE of New York.

If Biden wins, forget about the selective bipartisanship he insists he could achieve; polarization will intensify post-pandemic. What are the chances that Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE's Republicans would have supported a multi-trillion rescue if a Democrat were in the White House?

The ideological schisms that have plagued the Democrats won't disappear: “The new politics is going to produce an even sharper distinction between the Haves (Wall Street) and the Have-nots,” predicts Democratic pollster Fred Yang.

The Ocasio-Cortez wing will demand sweeping new programs to rectify the disproportionate harm inflicted upon the poor and people of color, and they’ll drum away at the urgency of enacting single-payer health care for all.

Some of this wish list — like paid sick leave — should be an easier sell; however, with budget red ink in the trillions and a sudden crop of born-again Republican deficit virgins, any new big spending initiatives will be a tough slog.

If the turn is to the right, it's easy to see more vitriol, further crackdowns on legal immigration, cuts to programs like Medicaid and tax benefits skewed more to the middle class and families. The assault on “elites,” or experts, will be the most vociferous since 50 years ago when segregationist George Wallace railed against those “pointy-headed bureaucrats” in Washington. The irony is that on the pandemic the experts — like doctors Anthony FauciAnthony FauciHarris: 'Of course I will' take COVID-19 vaccine Overnight Health Care: Biden asked Fauci to serve as chief medical adviser | COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo says she won't be Biden's HHS secretary Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter encourage people to take COVID-19 vaccine MORE and Deborah Birx — basically got it right, while many of the right wing politicians did not.

Walter Russell Mead, a conservative scholar writing in the the Wall Street Journal, noted that the Trump base, about 43 percent of the electorate, and the Sanders base, about 12 percent, suggests a clear majority that “despise the central assumptions of the political establishment.” True, but that's not close to a majority on any semblance of an agenda.

The one group that will be left out of the new politics will be the Libertarians; both the left and right want to use the levers of government for their own purposes; regulations will be a vehicle.

Politics, in any event, will be profoundly different, so I asked Fred Yang which way it is going to go:

“If I had that answer,” he said, “I'd be on an island in the South Pacific.”

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.