The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy held a talk called The Biden Presidency: A Clough Center Conversation on Monday, Feb. 18. The event analyzed the first 100 days of the Biden administration and the current state of American politics in the wake of the contentious election and transfer of power.
The conversation was moderated by the Director of the Center Vlad Perju and hosted three BC political science professors: David Hopkins, Marc Landy and Kay L. Schlozman.
Schlozman began by presenting data from The Economist’s "Democracy Index" in which the United States has fallen to the third rank, “flawed democracies.”
This rank change is a reflection of former President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the election. Schlozman said that we are now grouped with countries like Chile and Mauritius.
Schlozman said she was concerned about the consequence of Trump’s rhetoric on public confidence in American democracy. She said public trust in the government has declined over the last two generations.
The legislative branch is dysfunctional because of partisan gridlock and animosity. Executive orders have become increasingly common in the vacuum of legislation.
Schlozman said, “government has become executive ping pong rather than deliberation and legislation.”
Her final warning on the current state of the American political climate was the fact that in 2020 there were $14 billion in known donations to campaigns in the presidential election. Schlozman did not say that we have entered the threshold of plutocracy, but the lack of regulation and the US Supreme Court’s decision to protect money as a form of protected speech will propel us in its direction if changes are not made.
Schlozman concluded by saying that the lack of a ceiling on campaign donations creates a select level of accessibility to politicians that requires a certain amount of capital.
The next speaker was Landy who argued that the biggest threat to American politics in 2021 is polarization.
He credited the leading donors to the opposing political campaigns in which the Biden campaign received the majority of donations from institutions like Harvard, Google and Facebook, and occupations like therapists and lawyers.
On the flip side, the Trump campaign received a majority of donations from welders, custodians and farmers. Regardless of your political affiliation, this divide reflects a deep schism in this country politically on the merits of class and education.
Landy said, “One world is very cosmopolitan and international while the other is parochial and localized.”
Landy argues that the problem with the current political sphere does not start and end with Trump; rather there is an identity crisis with the Republican Party.
He asked, “What does it mean to be conservative today? Is it the religion of small government, low taxes and controlling labor unions, or is it the Trumpian notion of xenophobia?”
As for the Democrats, he said that President Biden has been called a step in the direction of moderation, but he has yet to implement any concessions to Republicans in the name of unity.
He finished by emphasizing the importance of the State of the Union Address and President Biden’s responsibility in extending a message of unity. In light of the hostility and partisan polarization, Landy said that both parties have very important decisions to make about the direction they seek to take.
The last speaker was Hopkins who began by saying that President Biden is not the moderate that so many Democrats say he is.
Historically, Biden has followed the middle of the party for as long as he has been in politics. At the start of his career, he was a party regular for the JFK years. During the Clinton years, Biden became more moderate supporting legislation like the 1994 Crime Bill.
Following the Obama administration and his successful presidential race, Biden has positioned himself as more liberal as the Democratic Party shifts left. Supporting policies like a $15 minimum wage and stimulus twice as that given during the 2008 financial crisis is evidence that Biden is continuing to move with the party’s alignment.
Hopkins concluded with the Biden administration’s diverse cabinet and lack of Republicans is a testament to both the direction of the Democratic Party towards an intersectional coalition and the Republicans' refusal to cooperate.
The event finished with a question and answer session that highlighted concerns about polarization, money in politics and bringing the country together in the shadow of the Trump administration. The Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy will continue to have events addressing the Biden administration in the future.