August 16, 2023


Reflecting on What’s To Come in 2024

By: Rodney Rios

The 2024 general election will be convoluted and filled with surprises. There is an air of uncertainty in the climate, a sense of crisis. International challenges, wars, rumors of wars, economic crisis, an insecure border, rising crime, and pervasive feelings of greater political polarization with the anxiety of where it will lead. This soup of actual and potential calamities means the next year is fraught with choices to make. As such, it becomes necessary to reflect on current trends and what these might mean for America.

To understand our politics, we must first understand the state of our culture. The first cultural characteristic of our age is the lack of belief in objective truth. The philosophical roots of that disease are as old as Western Civilization. Still, they eventually led to the rise of post-truth/post-modernism, which can be summed up as the idea that there is no truth beyond the subjective definitions of the individual. With the decline of the Christian religion, morality, and culture in the past three centuries, it was inevitable that, as the Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc explained, the West would return to paganism and barbarism.

As Belloc says: “Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come, they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.” It is no coincidence that as Christianity recedes in our Western world, so does the idea of truth, for evil always benefits from ambiguity. Anyone that doubts the truth of Belloc’s explanation should look at how the old cruelties of the Pagan world are returning, from infanticide, the dearth of newborn children to euthanasia, and the rise of agnostic-like belief in the separation of soul and body.

Now then, as part of that cultural climate, it is no surprise that post-truth politics has arisen, which can best be defined as a political approach where public discourse and decision-making are influenced by emotions and opinions rather than objective facts. In this context, truth is often less critical than appealing narratives and emotions when shaping public opinion and policy. An essential feature of this view of politics is its mix of whataboutism, in which all politics is viewed as a Manichean struggle against evil (though sometimes this is so) and in which the ends justify the means. That intellectual framework has created a space for lies to dominate our society and politics. There is no longer a unifying idea of truth. In a way, our present social and cultural trends have combined to form what the writer Rod Dreher described as soft totalitarianism. The culture is filled with lies, and the premier characteristic of our approximating election will be a cacophony of lies.

Here lies the importance of the story of Fr. Tomislav Kolaković in Dreher’s book, Live Not by Lies. In short, Fr. Kolaković taught his followers that seeing, judging, and acting would be necessary to defeat totalitarianism. To identify something, to see if it’s a lie, and, if it is, to not participate. It is challenging to think things through and to find the truth, at least for me. The political climate is filled with lies; one can always find something to give a lie a veneer of truth or respectability. Falsehoods usually spread fast, and only with time, after passions calm, can we clearly identify lies.

If one thing has become apparent in the present tense and anxious climate surrounding our politics is that something in the political process is broken. Most Americans, it seems, are very apprehensive about choosing next year between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. And yet, when you look at the numbers closely, you see that both parties will overwhelming back them if they become their parties’ respective nominees. That is natural, but it does leave the question, where does that energy, that frustration with the parties’ nominees, go? What will voters do if the two major parties deem it necessary to make 2024 a 2020 rematch? I don’t know who would win that election or what voters would do. But that energy is there, and the question remains, will the American people do anything about it?

Trump is consumed by the past, and though there is much truth to his claim that things were better under his administration, the January 6 riot also happened. Republicans might not like to hear it, but many people are uncomfortable with the lies that led to that horrendous event and hesitate to vote for the principal author of the disgrace. Additionally, there are legitimate questions about Trump’s staff picks. It seems that just about everyone he hired for his first administration was, according to Trump himself, weak, inept, or incompetent. Trump’s denigration of former administration officials makes one wonder;  did all those people lie to him, or does he not hire the best people? Why do so many in his administration break with him in such acrimony?

Additionally, one can ask, is he the strongest candidate for the general election? Has he recovered standing amongst independent voters? Though there are other questions, I think these are some that will be instrumental in the upcoming year.

As for Biden, there are many legitimate concerns over his integrity. There is serious evidence of misuse of power for influence peddling and troubling whistleblower allegations. Moreover, the Justice Department is used in a two-tier fashion when it indicts President Trump on shaky legal theories (with unclear repercussions for our politics and constitutional order). At the same time, it provides Hunter Biden with benign treatment. In ethical terms, the Biden presidency seems to be one of the most infested with corruption in American history.

Moreover, there is an astounding lack of good governance, a decay of our military preparedness, and anemic economic growth and involvement, without clear goals or strategy, in the Russia-Ukraine War. Lastly, Biden is the oldest sitting president in history, and despite the attempts to gaslight voters, one can see his decline. It is legitimate to wonder if 1) this is the man to lead the nation for the next four years and 2) if he will be physically capable of fulfilling the duties of the Presidency.

As such, it is no wonder that Biden has a long-short primary challenge from Robert Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson; not even Democrats seem satisfied with the administration. It is no wonder that the 2024 election appears to be headed toward being one of the closest elections in American history between two candidates that are widely disliked, untrusted, and unpopular. Will some prominent Democrats, seeing Biden as a weak incumbent and a Trump return to the White House as possible, challenge Biden? If so, who? Suppose Biden were to retire from the race. Would Vice President Kamala Harris be able to lead the Democrats to victory? What role will No Labels and the Green Party play in this cycle?

And what about the other prominent figure, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? Gov. DeSantis seems, on paper, to have all the requirements to be competitive for the presidency, yet he has struggled. It seems, in part, because he started his run behaving as a front runner when he was far behind in second place. His campaign was overly cautious, and though it was somewhat critical of Trump, it has only recently begun to take a firmer position against him.

Moreover, once a narrative becomes dominant and the popularly accepted view of a politician, it is challenging to dislodge it. DeSantis had multiple possible negative narratives. For instance, the media has wanted to portray him as unlikable, awkward, cruel, cold, and distant (a description the Trump campaign has been very willing to collaborate with). Another supposedly negative narrative is that he is, apparently, a career politician and a creature of the “establishment” (never mind his record as a founding member of the Freedom Caucus).

Another narrative is that “it’s not his turn” to run for the Presidency, as if there were such a thing in a Republic. Alternatively, it could be argued that Trump, knowing he already lost in 2020 when it was his turn, could move aside and leave room for DeSantis (or anyone else) as the Republican nominee and do everything in his power to help the party retake the White House by keeping it united. Moreover, another critique is that DeSantis allegedly is only a copy of Trump. However, his ideological consistency throughout the years, effective governance, discipline, and his, so far as we know, scandal-free and admirable private life and military service demonstrate a powerful contrast.

Of all these narratives, I think the most dangerous ones have been the awkwardness one and the “Trump lite” narrative. They, unfortunately, have had some success. The building of those popular narratives and Trump’s indictments seem to have created an insurmountable lead for Trump over DeSantis. Moreover, DeSantis’ campaign appears to have been plagued with bad luck from his problematic Twitter launch onward.

Former President Richard Nixon, who knew something about bad luck in politics, when asked why he thought he would win the Presidency in 1968, replied, “The office seeks the man, and it did not seek me in 1960, but it does now.” Sometimes things are not to be, though there is still time for things to change, albeit less and less. Will DeSantis’ campaign revamp be enough for him to beat Trump? Can he distinguish himself nationally and build his image? If he were to win, could DeSantis unite the two factions of the Republican party and defeat Joe Biden? What would Trump do if he lost the primary? If DeSantis is defeated, can he survive politically as an alternative and return in 2028? Only time will tell. Yet, there is a portion of Republicans who do not want to fall in line effortlessly behind Donald Trump and would very much be grateful for a chance to vote for someone else. DeSantis deserves gratitude for providing that choice and alternative, even if he loses.

Amidst all the political uncertainty, there is also the specter of China and Russia. What will happen in Ukraine? What did the joint Russian-Chinese fleet near Alaska signify? Will their “partnership without limits” endure? One persistent question (and anxiety) I think about is that China might try to invade Taiwan and achieve hegemonic dominance over Asia during the next presidential election. The incentives are present. An America distracted and divided, a president who shows weakness on the international stage, weariness over overseas engagements, and no clear American foreign policy strategy. What is Beijing making of all that? And if China were to invade, what should be the American response? How can America gain time to rebuild its strength? All substantive questions of policy and government that will not—along with economic, policing, ethics, Biden corruption, etc.—be discussed since the likeliest event is that our politics will continue to be consumed, almost exclusively, by questions of personality.

In conclusion, the unpredictability and volatility of the following year seem to be reminiscent of that other notorious year in history, 1968. That was also a year of trials and tribulations. And if we’ve learned one thing about the Trump era, it is that the unexpected occurs more often than one thinks. As the British conservative statesman Benjamin Disraeli once explained, “When the present is concerned – the present that we see and feel – our opinions about it are generally bewildered and mistaken.” I have no idea what will happen next year, but I cannot get rid of the gnawing feeling we are in for one hell of a ride. Christe eleison.