Rebounding from a low of 37%, President Biden’s approval rating is somewhere around 42-43% today, and both left and right wing pundits love to discuss. Why so low? What will this mean for the midterms? These hand-wringers should come to the youth group at my church and ask the students for an approval rating on their parents. Better yet, go to any high school and tally the approval rating of the administrator charged with discipline. I can tell you the result: high thirties, low forties.
President Biden’s approval rating is so low because he’s the grownup in a room full of children. His low approval rating is the least surprising aspect of his presidency.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Biden apologist. I mean, he’s probably one of the better Republican presidents we’ve had in awhile (except for a few social issues Biden is basically a Republican). But he’s doing next to nothing to reform our terribly broken and precarious systems. And can we not find anyone under the age of 70 to run for president?
Biden is, however, a grown up. He approaches the task of president-ing with a coherent theory of how American government functions. He knows what is expected of him and carries out his duties with maturity, dignity, and discipline. He comes off kind of boring and out of touch at times, you know, like a grown up. His performance as president is, sadly, about the only mature way to respond to the increasingly untenable situation that is American politics.
American politics in the digital age has devolved into a high school lunchroom food fight, which is to say it’s stupid, wasteful, and unproductive. With food flying through the air most of the grown ups have taken shelter. Mature politicians retire or lose primary challenges to extremist food-slingers in their own party. Mature citizens have to limit their exposure to political discourse for fear of being constantly slimed. Biden is the building principal standing on a table in the middle of the cafeteria, trying to regain control, trying to salvage and un-salvageable situation. You were in high school once. You know that guy never has a good approval rating.
The old saying is that governing is like sausage, it’s best not to see how it’s made. Social media and 24 hour cable news have us watching the sausage production on a constant live stream. Journalism is dying, and our new media is in the advertising business (not the informed-public business). Their sales strategy is to sensationalize every innocuous detail and fill our trays with ginned-up ammunition in the form of outrage and grievance. The problem is, there’s no way most of us can truly understand what we’re seeing on our screens. We lack context. We lack any coherent theory of government, human services, foreign policy, economics, and so on. All we have are these bits of sausage thrown into our laps via our smart phones—most of it misinformation, ideological propaganda, and used car sales tactics—plus a steady stream of politicians and pundits who act as instigators. So we grab our little bits and pieces and chuck them at each other… a food fight.
The situation isn’t confined to Washington, it’s state and local, too. And it’s not just the politicians. The food-fight goes on in City councils, zoning commissions, and school boards whose meetings are routinely hijacked by outraged citizen-commenters with their bull-horns and “don’t tread on me” flags. We have no civil discourse, just the weeping histrionics of a people who have no access to wisdom, but unlimited access to Qanon, Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, or Glenn Beck.
Yet, while the media most certainly bears some guilt, and the Democrats are all-too-willing participants—and at the risk of sounding partisan—it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that today’s Republican Party is the problem. Only 30% of Republicans believe Joe Biden won the election (he did). In battle ground states, two-thirds of the Republican nominees for the midterms believe the election was stolen from Trump (it wasn’t). When Republicans get out the pitch forks for blue-blood conservatives like Liz Cheney or Jeff Flake there’s obviously a problem. Good lord, if you lose George Will you have derailed. What used to exist in both the Republican and Democrat party now exists among the Democrats, and what Republicanism has become is unrecognizable to me. The Republican party has become anti-democratic. They are openly embracing white-nationalism, systemic injustice, patriarchy, voter suppression, conspiracy theories, and fomenting a permanent culture war. There’s no way to engage with them and keep your clothes clean.
Still Biden has to try. That’s the gig. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” That’s where we are. American political discourse has devolved into a food fight, devoid of maturity, wisdom, or purpose. Most people’s working theory of government is unsophisticated and cartoonish (you know nothing wise was ever printed on a bumper sticker, right?). What’s worse, we don’t know how to love our neighbor and still disagree. We don’t know how to compromise. We don’t know how to practice the forbearance of our own rights for the sake of the common good. What we do know is how to hate. We do know how to click post, or share, or retweet; which is to say we know how to grab our jello and chuck it into the air.
Any fool can join a food fight. No, strike that. Only fools take part in food fights, and we’re all fools now (I’m part of this, too). There are no victims here, only willing participants. This is us: a bunch of immature children slinging food across the cafeteria, trading our souls for likes and shares. Biden’s problem is that his job is to wade into the fray and try to restore some order. President Biden is the principal, doing his best to normalize a completely abnormal situation, and predictably hanging in there at around 42%.