State of the Union: Americans are exhausted — and more vulnerable to a fascist takeover than ever

The public appears to have grown tired of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. That's a huge problem for our democracy

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published February 8, 2023 5:45AM (EST)

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

When I think about President Biden and Donald Trump, I see two aging boxers.

Donald Trump was once a promoter with mob connections who always wanted to be a boxer. Trump understood the sport and knew that he had just one shot to win it all. He spent years learning how to exploit the rules, work the commissioner(s), and figure out which referees and judges were weak. Trump would use all of his money and nefarious connections to his advantage.

He pounced at just the right moment to announce that he was challenging the world heavyweight champion for the belt. The public, mostly, laughed at him. The news media thought he was a joke, and it was all a stunt. Trump had no experience they proclaimed. How could he be taken seriously?

Well, Trump got his title shot and won.

He is a dirty fighter who tears at and bites his opponent. Trump used rabbit punches and other illegal moves — including punching his opponent in the groin and biting his ear — to win. Trump paid off the referee and judges. When Trump feared that he was losing the championship fight he fell to one knee and screamed that his opponent is cheating. Of course, this was all a lie. When Trump is in trouble his cornermen throw salt in the eyes of the opponent or poke and grab at him.

Trump's fans are ecstatic and utterly devoted to him. He is the ultimate heel champion, combining boxing with professional wrestling — and he has the fame, the beautiful women, the money, and the big gold world championship belt. The American people and the boxing establishment, however, are disgusted with Trump and his antics.

The news media has engaged in endless false equivalency and "bothsidesism" where Biden's failures have been amplified while Trump and the Republican fascists' lawbreaking, criminality, and existential danger to American democracy and society have, in many ways, been downplayed.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, is a respected boxer who, until Trump, never got his shot at the world heavyweight title. Biden won all the other championships that mattered but never THAT ONE. Something or someone always stopped that from happening. He is technically sound but uninspiring in the ring. Boxing experts and insiders sing Biden's praises, but the fans and media never really warmed to him. Biden lacks Muhammad Ali's charisma and of course skill. He doesn't carry himself or cut a promo like the recently deceased Jay Briscoe or professional wrestling legends such as Ric Flair or The Rock. Still, there is something about Biden and his dutifulness, craft, intelligence, and quiet way of taking care of business that convinced the American people that he could be the one to dethrone the reigning champion. 

As expected and hoped, in a methodical workman-like fashion, Biden would soundly defeat Trump, who claimed that he never lost and the whole thing was rigged. Trump even had his fans run into the ring and riot. Trump continues to hold rallies around the country where he proclaims that he is the real champion of the world and that he is going to beat Biden into a pulp when they fight again next year. Biden has now been champion for two years — and has done much to restore dignity to the sport — while Trump and his followers are continuing to cause mayhem and trouble across the country.

Yet the public appears to have grown tired of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

New survey data suggests that people think that both are too old. They want new champions to cheer and boo in 2024. As is true in politics and sports, novelty and generational change are inexorable forces that push people on and off the grand stage. A new public opinion poll from the Washington Post and ABC News puts that truism in stark relief:

President Biden and former president Donald Trump may have each drawn a record number of votes in 2020, but at this early stage in the 2024 election cycle, Americans show little enthusiasm for a rematch between the two well-known yet unpopular leaders, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Neither Biden nor Trump generates broad excitement within their own party, and most Americans overall say they would feel dissatisfied or angry if either wins the general election.

Biden, who has said he intends to seek reelection, has no current opposition for the Democratic nomination. Trump is likely to face at least several challengers in his bid to lead his party for a third consecutive election.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the Post-ABC poll finds 58 percent say they would prefer someone other than Biden as their nominee in 2024 — almost double the 31 percent who support Biden. That is statistically unchanged since last September.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 49 percent say they prefer someone other than Trump as their nominee in 2024, compared with 44 percent who favor the former president. That too is statistically unchanged from last September.

More than 6 in 10 Americans (62 percent) say they would be "dissatisfied" or "angry" if Biden were reelected in 2024, while 56 percent say the same about the prospect of Trump returning to the White House for a second time.

But negative sentiment is also notable. More than one-third (36 percent) say they would be angry if Trump wins while 30 percent say that about a Biden victory. Fewer than 2 in 10 are enthusiastic about Trump (17 percent), and just 7 percent are enthusiastic about Biden.

The new Washington Post – ABC News poll is one of many that have recently shown how many Americans want to move on from Biden and Trump.

And quite predictably, the mainstream news media and the pundits and the Church of the Savvy will continue with their obsolete and inadequate approaches for explaining and analyzing the deeper meaning of this poll and what it reveals about America's democracy crisis and the ongoing neofascist disaster. So the mainstream news media will focus on the poll and horserace politics. Why? Because it is an easy and familiar story to write. They will frame this poll and its results in the context of rival political personalities and a struggle between various factions in the Republican and Democratic parties for control. Again, this is an easy and familiar story to write that does not really reveal anything new, but readers will likely read, click, and share it. The "media" in the "news media," after all, translates as money and business.

To this point, the news media has engaged in endless false equivalency and "bothsidesism" where Biden's failures have been amplified while Trump and the Republican fascists' lawbreaking, criminality, and existential danger to American democracy and society have, in many ways, been downplayed. In essence, the news media as an institution has reasoned that "they were not hard enough on Trump" so, for reasons of "fairness" they must be equally, if not more hard on Biden – even it means manufacturing "scandals." The mainstream news media must also for reasons of "balance" and "fairness" allow former Trump regime members a platform (and employment) to launder their befouled reputations.

On this, historian Heather Cox Richardson writes in her newsletter Letters from an American that "A poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, written up today in the Washington Post, shows that 62% of Americans think Biden has not accomplished much in his two years in office. In fact, his administration ranks as one of the most consequential since the New Deal in the 1930s. Whether you love what he's done or hate it, to think nothing has happened suggests a terrible disconnect between image and reality." As Richardson suggests, there is no equivalent between Trump, a coup plotter and fascist, and Biden, a man who has shown that he sincerely loves and cares about the nation and is doing his best, however imperfectly, to be a positively transformative president who leaves things much better than when he entered office.

Republicans know that exhaustion is one of their most powerful weapons.

The deeper and much more important story that the mainstream news media should be focusing on in response to the new poll is how it is just another indicator of how America's governing institutions are experiencing a legitimacy crisis. Polling and other research have repeatedly shown that the American people increasingly view the parties, the courts, Congress, and other political and social institutions with suspicion, and a lack of trust if not outright disdain. There is a deep feeling that the country has been going in the wrong direction for some time and that its leaders and other elites are disconnected from the real concerns, needs, pain, and experiences of the "average American." In all, the American people know that something is terribly wrong and broken in American society. Albeit for different reasons (and driven by divergent motivations and priors), this is true on both the left and the right.

Fascists and authoritarians, especially fake right-wing populists, are fueled by such feelings and emotions. Political leaders and movements of that ilk represent change, a break from normal and something exciting through destruction and tearing down the old to build something new. Steve Bannon, Trump's former political advisor, summarized that agenda when he infamously said in 2013, "I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment."

Ultimately, the more "the system" is perceived to be broken and dysfunctional – today's Republican Party and "conservatives" spent decades gutting it from within – the easier it is for malign actors to grow their anti-democracy and anti-human revolutionary movement. Republicans know that exhaustion is one of their most powerful weapons. Thus, the Washington Post – ABC News poll about how Democrats and Republicans are both tired of their respective leaders is actually a win for the Republican fascists and their forces.

For all of the happy pill talk about how the Democrats "won" the midterms, Trump is supposedly in trouble and is (finally) going to jail, and the "red tide" didn't materialize, a broken and spent people are increasingly ready to accept the neofascist and other hateful poison(s). Meanwhile, the mainstream political class, news media and other elites are largely at a loss as to what to do about it.

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While reading the new Washington Post – ABC News poll, I was reminded of a moment that has stuck with me for two years. On Nov 7, 2020, I was woken up by the sounds of car horns, loud music, and cheering. Like most Americans, I was anxiously waiting for President Biden to be declared the next president of the United States and hopeful that our long national nightmare would finally be over. I knew what the horns and cheers and other jubilant sounds meant. Donald Trump was beaten. I quickly showered and dressed and ran outside. I put on my favorite jacket and good service boots and went to Trump Tower here in downtown Chicago to watch the celebrations. People were dancing. There was a group of teenagers and other young people playing YG & Nipsey Hussle's song "FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)". I most certainly will never forget the man on his classic motorcycle repeatedly driving by Trump Tower on Michigan Ave. with an adult-sized teddy bear wearing a helmet and scarf riding in the sidecar as people cheered them on.

I let a tear of relief and momentary joy stream down my cheek as I looked up at Trump Tower, that damned monstrosity. I laughed and uttered a few choice profanities and curses at him and that building and all that he and it and the MAGA movement represent.

I then came back to my senses. 

In the film Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Bane tells Batman: "Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you." 

Bane was right.

The American people have sacrificed so much in these last few years -- and they are broken and tired by Trump and what he has wrought and unleashed. America's democracy crisis is so far from over and most of the country's leaders and everyday people don't even realize it. Behold a tragedy in slow motion.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Joe Biden Neofascism Polls Public Opinion