Why the Biden Presidency is in Peril – The Health Care Blog


By JEFF GOLDSMITH

Democrats’ despair after Joe Biden’s pallid and halting debate performance stems from the realization  that the uphill climb needed to prevent the return of Donald Trump might be too steep. What is less obvious is the awareness of the urban intelligentsia of the root causes of the adverse political climate, which can be seen in this map, taken from the Economist’s April 20 feature on declining US population.

A map of the united states

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America’s economy is booming, and the gap between its economic performance and that of the rest of the world is widening. The on-the-ground political reality is very different depending crucially on where you live. People who live in the red parts of this map do not need convincing that all that wealth, and the power that goes with it, has eluded them. Many of them believe that it has been stolen from them by corrupt leaders and the oligarchs and corporate interests that finance their campaigns.

That is the underlying reality of MAGA.  Ninety percent of those red counties voted for Donald Trump in 2020. People in metro Austin, Manhattan or the suburbs of Houston do not resonate with the need to make America great again. It’s already great for many of them.

For folks living in the abandoned parts of the US, the on-the-ground reality is absurd gas prices, unaffordable mortgages, a mountain of forever debt, deteriorating public services, dreams cruelly out of reach and the despair that goes with all of it-alcohol and drug dependency, depression and anxiety, obesity, domestic violence. There is an almost perfect correspondence between the above map and that of the epidemic of “deaths of despair” suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning. This phenomenon is rooted in middle-aged whites, the overwhelming demographic of the red parts of this map, but affects all demographic segments including black and Hispanic folks who traditionally supported Democrats.     

After 2016, political analysts believed that the prevalence of non-college educated whites in a local electorate was the single best predictor of Donald Trump’s shocking victory. That was not the case. A post-election analysis by the Economist revealed that a better predictor of Trump’s victory was a composite measure of health/life expectancy, specifically “county-level data on life expectancy and the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, heavy drinking and regular physical activity (or lack thereof)”, the mapping of which again correlates remarkably with the map of population decline above.

The very same forces of outmigration and economic stagnation are destroying these communities’ local health systems, as well as their schools, commercial businesses and churches. The same red areas are also areas where local physicians have retired and were not replaced, and whose hospitals closed or merged with larger regional conglomerates. A recent scurrilous analysis by Yale and University of Chicago economists blamed the rising deaths of despair and  local business’s economic struggles on hospital mergers, an absolutely “from central casting” example of blaming the victim. 

The bitter irony of this political season is that the Biden Administration’s remarkable roster of Congressional achievements in 2021 and 2022- the American Rescue Plan, the American Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act showered many tens of billions in temporary relief spending and capital investment for manufacturing and infrastructure on these red areas. Because many of these investments take years to execute, credit for them will be claimed by future administrations.

Yet due to the arrogance and isolation of the progressive policy advocates that shaped this legislation, it was simply self-evidently obvious that the most ambitious domestic reconstruction program in the ninety years since Roosevelt will help many of the most economically challenged areas in the country. Proud and sparsely attended ribbon cutting ceremonies made the local newspaper, if there still is one. News of these investments never arrived via the partisan news channels and hyper-targeted social media venues on which most ordinary Americans rely these days. That attitude of “self-evident good works”  is of a piece with the “Why Bother Visiting Wisconsin” arrogance that let Trump into the White House in the first place. 

If post-debate polling is any guide, all these trillions of dollars of good works, funded with money borrowed from our grandchildren, will not be enough to turn the red tide, which could well leave the Republicans firmly in control of all three branches of the federal government. As they go to their cushy post-administration redoubts at the Brookings Institution, Yale, Hopkins and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and hobnob at Aspen Institute and Martha’s Vineyard cocktail parties, the executors of all these good works, for the unforgiveable political sin of failing to communicate effectively with the struggling working class they used to champion, will have fully earned their retirement. 

Jeff Goldsmith is a veteran health care futurist, President of Health Futures Inc and regular THCB Contributor. This comes from his personal substack


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