Trump, Biden and America's destiny: We're about to face the consequences. How bad will they be?

For Republicans in D.C., endless division is fun and games. But that isn't what most Americans really want

By Brian Karem


Published October 13, 2022 9:01AM (EDT)

Trump signs and flags adorn sheds in rural Northumberland County near Milton, Pennsylvania. (Paul Weaver/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Trump signs and flags adorn sheds in rural Northumberland County near Milton, Pennsylvania. (Paul Weaver/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

The Biden administration learned the hard way last week that it can't trust Saudi Arabia.

Along with other OPEC nations, the desert monarchy cut oil production, virtually ensuring an increase in gas prices just before the November election.

"Puppets for Putin" never rang more true.

But there isn't much of a positive nature that you can expect from a country that was complicit (at the very least) in the murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist and that had a hand in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There will be "consequences," Biden warned in an exclusive interview on CNN. We just don't know yet what those will be.

Consequences are a leading theme as we cruise into the midterm elections. 

Leading economic indicators show the world is slipping into recession. In the Atlantic this week, Norm Ornstein underscored the bottom line for American voters should the Republicans prevail this fall and take control of Congress. It's not just the move toward authoritarianism. Ornstein points to the fact that the Republicans would likely, and eagerly, crash the whole economic and political system. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre broke down the differences between Democrats and Republicans, when it comes to consequences, from her podium this week in the Brady Briefing Room. "We hold Democrats accountable," she said. "When a MAGA Republican says something racist or antisemitic, they are embraced."

And in the midst of the fall follies during the run-up to the election, Joe Biden is on the road again, trying to make a livin' and doin' the best that he can — with apologies to the Allman Brothers. 

But Uncle Joe ain't movin' so slow and has joined his fellow Democrats on a crusade across the country to sell the idea of self-government, while members of the GOP are pulling their hair out and screaming about lizard aliens harvesting children for God only knows what nefarious and fictional ends. Think about the consequences!

Too many Republicans see themselves as fictional heroes in the solipsistic movie playing inside their heads. The fact that anyone takes them seriously is the real problem.

For some reason the results of the midterm election remain in doubt. Election deniers now dominate the Republican Party and will cause all kinds of torture to election officials no matter what the turnout. That's what a scorpion does. Of course the Democratic scorpion is the only one to ever sting its own back — so again, remember the consequences.

Many Democratic candidates see themselves as patriots holding the tide against rising fascism while those election deniers and GOP candidates who believe Trump is a postmodern shaman see themselves the same way. Both sentiments cannot be true.

The key is that many on the far right see themselves as fictional heroes in the solipsistic soup inside their heads. The fact that anyone takes them seriously is a dire reflection on the electorate as whole.

*  *  *

I thought about all that and more while walking up a dusty hill in a public park in Columbia, Missouri, recently. A lack of rain has turned this part of the state into a fine ash-like powder that seems to be everywhere. It sticks to your clothes and your car, and makes breathing difficult.

I walked up the hill to an outdoor theater to hear Jon Batiste sing "Tell the Truth," make a plea for universal peace and also perform the greatest rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" I've ever heard. Batiste has said that "human interaction during a live musical performance can uplift humanity in the midst of the 'plug in, tune out' nature of modern society." He proved it that night and gave me an insight into the consequences we all face. As it turns out, human interaction is not just for music. It makes a big difference in dealing with people. It's something we did without during the pandemic — and the consequences of that are being felt today.

This country remains a hyperkinetic wound, rubbed raw by divisiveness and desperate for a laugh. Most people want very much for common sense to take over. Even those who participate most in the insanity are a little out of sorts. I saw a self-described Trumper declare he was tired of everyone "claiming to be patriots" and wanted to know "what the hell are you going to do for us if we elect you." He declared this at a coffee shop in Fulton, Missouri, as several of his friends bobbed their heads in agreement.

Consequences. You cannot escape them no matter how much you want to, and you can't create reality from fiction without heavy consequences. The longer you wait, the rougher those consequences will be. 

Mid-Missouri is suffering a drought. There are consequences. "There's Missouri hot. There's Missouri dry. Welcome to Missouri hot and dry," I was told at a truck stop, with little hint of sarcasm. The speaker said he was tired of strife, tired of the weather and most definitely tired of politics.

With that said, there are fewer public displays of Republican lunacy in mid-Missouri in the last few months. The greatest uprising against Republican lunacy came after the Jan. 6 hearing that showed Sen. Josh Hawley (yes, of Missouri) doing his "Chariots of Fire" sprint through the Capitol on the day of the insurrection. Even stalwart members of the GOP, nay, especially the most stalwart, are beginning to understand that Hawley may have the potential for a healthy amount of adult growth, but certainly hasn't realized any

Will he face consequences? Or will he end up out of office and hired by a news network to be the voice of the loyal opposition? There can be no consequences if those who promote extremism are given equal consideration alongside law-abiding citizens. And there can no equal justice if it is not applied to any and all presidents. 

*  *  *

The thunder rumbles in the background against a quiet countryside — with a faint baying of hounds, in response to the coyotes, the only sounds to be heard other than the wind and rain.

After weeks of no rain, the mid-Missouri countryside picked up an inch and a half on Tuesday — enough to bed down the dust, but not enough to relieve the ongoing drought. This leads me to wonder: If the Republicans are turned back in the fall and the Democrats do retain control of one or both houses of Congress, will it be enough to end the drought of decent government we've experienced? Or will it be just enough to bed down the dust while the drought remains?

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I continue to have hope, but I realize this is a long fight that won't be over soon, no matter what the outcome in November. But I had an epiphany of sorts in a Moser's grocery store at the north end of Fulton. They advertised that they had the best cuts of meat, and I had to see for myself. I got sidetracked when I saw a woman in her mid-80s waving a walking stick. In time. To AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top." When she got to "If you wanna rock 'n' roll," she was somehow transformed. She told me it was "our song," the favorite song of her second husband, whom she loved and cherished and recently lost after 40 years. Hotel, motel, makes you want to cry... It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll. If seeing a woman over 80 dancing to AC/DC while rattling her cane won't restore your faith in humanity, I don't know what will.

The "Let's Go Brandon" signs you saw along the country roads of mid-Missouri even a few months ago are less frequent in October. That may speak to a growing realization that there are consequences for all this discord.

But it's hard to see, at this point, whether we are going to face the consequences now or later for the mistakes we've made in this country. Take a walk through the mid-Missouri countryside, if you can, and clear your head. The ghosts are hard to shake. The arrowheads found in the ground along a nearby creek and the Civil War buttons from the uniforms of the North and South speak of the savagery of our recent past. They're easy to find in any cornfield.

The "Let's Go Brandon" and "Trump Is My God" signs you saw along the country roads of mid-Missouri even a few months ago speak to the savagery of the present. Their relative absence in mid-October, a few weeks before the midterm elections, speaks perhaps to the growing realization that there are consequences for all this discord that most Americans don't want to face, including total government upheaval on a scale not seen since the Civil War. 

There are always consequences. Seldom do we wish to face the worst of them even if we're responsible for them. Alex Jones doesn't have $965 million to pay for the consequences of his misdeeds. Vladimir Putin doesn't want to face the consequences of an illegal war he started as a monument to his own ego. Donald Trump doesn't want to face the consequences for a lifetime of bilking the citizens of the planet.

And Americans don't want to face the consequences of the people we voted into office. But there it is. We have to do so. 

One last tale of consequence.

Sitting at Coopers Landing this week — a riverside diner, pub and music venue on the Missouri River — I witnessed a beautiful thing. Two obvious Trumpers (the MAGA hats gave it away) were sitting with two friends who obviously were not. They spoke about the last few years, COVID, Trump, the threat of nuclear war in Ukraine and the general state of the world. They embraced each other. One said to the other, "If you have to explain to me that you are woke, then you aren't." And the other said, "And if you claim you're a Trump Patriot, you're not a patriot." They laughed, shared some suds and listened to a pretty good rendition of "Wild Night" by Van Morrison.

The consequences of our actions are things we seldom wish to face. We're eager to slide on past them. Next month's election won't let us do that.

The echoes of all our past problems, the ghosts of strife from the past, the injustice, the racism, misogyny and vitriol are all crying at us across time to settle our differences and move forward as one nation.

There are those in Congress, including but not limited to Jim Jordan, Mitch McConnell, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert and Lauren Boebert, who want to benefit from avoiding any consequences for their actions. But I'm not sure they're in lockstep with Americans outside the D.C. bubble.

Out here I see people who understand consequences. Whether or not those consequences are felt in D.C. is up to the Jan. 6 committee, Congress, the president and the voters. 

Whatever voters say, in a few short weeks there will be consequences that we cannot avoid and cannot delay. The reckoning is upon us.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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2022 Midterms Commentary Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Missouri