Well, I never thought I would be 75 years old. In my mind’s eye I am still a young man and you all are still small children. Clearly, nothing could be farther from the truth.
So much has changed in my lifetime and I have had the opportunity to see a lot of that change up close. My sister went to a high school that had recently integrated and had significant violence over that decision. I lived in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention and watched that happen. I have a memory of being in Grant Park the day before the Yippies showed up, but I may be making that up. I went to Chicago Stadium to watch the Chicago Bulls play to a crowd of maybe 5,000.
I owned one of the first calculators – the Bowmar Brain – I think it cost something like $300 back before I went to college and I spent half my summer savings on it. I also bought one of the first Apple II computers….my dad’s business was using the base processor to help select microfiche (look that up) from the library of available materials. I bought a 6-inch green screen and a 5½ inch floppy drive. I taught myself how to program it (in Basic). I bought Lotus 1-2-3 (think early Excel) which could do a entire 10 column by 10 row spreadsheet. Imagine that.
But with all of that and more, the last 10 years have been remarkable. Since President Trump dropped Mike Pence in favor of Nikki Haley at the Republican online convention in 2020 and then subsequently lost to the Biden/Duckworth ticket, there has been a real resurgence of optimism in the country. Of course, Trump went nuts, claiming the election was fraudulent and continuing his assault on the foundations of our democracy. But Nikki Haley, looking forward to 2024, went public with her famous press conference where she declared that Trump was cognitively impaired and, in reality, there was no election fraud. Trump simply got beat. Lost the popular vote by 20 million votes, lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio. Lost the Electoral College by a lot.
For the first time in ages, both the House and Senate were in Democratic control. Senator Hickenlooper won in Colorado, Sara Gideon won in Maine (bye-bye Susan Collins), Greenfield beat Ernst in Iowa, Mark Kelly beat McSally in Arizona, and both Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell lost, McConnell after his wife was indicted for corruption. That was quite an election night!
In the first 30 days of his administration, President Biden invalidated virtually all of Trump’s Executive Orders. One of the first pieces of legislation Biden signed was a Federal minimum wage rate of $15.00 an hour, with increases to $20.00 an hour over the next 6 years.
The Congress passed legislation to update and enhance the Affordable Care Act, including a Medicare buy-in option priced according to income levels. The Black Lives Matter reparation act attempted to redress racial inequities of the past GI Bill, FHA, and other racially-biased government programs. The act included the forgiveness of student loan debt based on income levels, the prohibition of lenders, including FHA, from using race as a pricing or decision-making criteria, and expansion of both higher education and vocational programs for all citizens, but with initial priority to minority populations discriminated against in the past. After the horror of 4 years of Trump and his congressional enablers, your mother and I watched these rapid changes with such a sense of relief and satisfaction.
Soon after Biden was inaugurated, Ruth Bader Ginsberg retired, allowing the President to replace her with Merrick Garland. When Clarence Thomas died a year later, Barack Obama was nominated and confirmed. The first case of real significance brought to the new Court was a challenge to Citizens United, with a 5-4 vote to reverse the ruling, the majority ruling that corporations were not people, and thus had no first amendment rights to protect. The next case was a reversal of a Texas law restricting abortion, with John Roberts joining the majority for a 6-3 vote.
Under Biden’s leadership, the United States re-entered the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, and rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords. Congress re-established clean air and water standards and passed comprehensive immigration reform, including reauthorizing DACA. Implementation of all this common-sense legislation was accomplished by an intensive rebuilding of federal agencies gutted by Trump, with a major overhauls of the Departments of State, Education, Interior, and Commerce. The EPA and FEMA were similarly re-staffed and repositioned. Russia was not admitted to the G7. And the Voting Rights Act was resurrected and included a requirement of a vote by mail option for all Federal Elections.
The Biden administration also made available on a wide scale the two effective COVID-19 vaccines. The Federal vaccination mandate was met with resistance, but only valid medical excuses were permitted exemptions. By 2022, COVID-19 was under control though by no means eradicated, and masks were encouraged for everyone in indoor public places and businesses and States were allowed to require them.
Under Biden, the economy started to rebound. By the beginning of 2024, employment was close to reaching 2018 levels and the S & P 500 hit 4,000. That was a relief!
So, as you can see, a lot changed, and quickly. Perhaps, though, the biggest surprise was Joe Biden’s retirement in favor of Tammy Duckworth as President in March of 2024 and the subsequent naming of Val Demings as Vice President. In November of that year, Duckworth/Demings easily defeated the Republican ticket of Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, with some 40% of Republicans opting to vote for the Romney/Spanberger “Independence” party ticket.
The Duckworth administration continued the trend of correcting the embarrassing policies of the Trump administration and previous Republican-controlled Congressional actions by allowing Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, strengthening our relationship with NATO, and continuing to reestablish the foreign policy relationships of the past.
After Netanyahu lost in Israel and Abbas died, the Duckworth administration, along with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Jordan, mediated the first successful treaty between Israel and the Palestinian State since the Oslo accords. The West Bank was demilitarized, and land swaps over the next 5 years were agreed upon. A vision for peace was established.
From an economic perspective, the Duckworth administration pushed through the tax reform bill originally proposed by President Biden, limiting Federal income tax rates to 35% for Annual Gross Incomes below $1,000,000 and graduating that tax to 85% up to $10,000,000 and beyond. The 2% “wealth tax” on individually or household level net worth over $1 billion was also passed. Social Security benefit payments were eliminated for households earning over $250,000, but the payroll tax continued and the income limit was raised to $250,000.
The other major accomplishment of Duckworth’s first term was the reframing of the role of police and federal enforcement. Block grants for implementing Community Policing and the de-militarization of local police forces improved police relations with communities nationwide. Mandatory testing and screening for ability, capacity, and attitudes towards minorities became standard. Only the Democrats could have stood up to the police unions….and they did.
President Duckworth won a second term, defeating Nikki Haley rather handily. Duckworth and Demings initiated a new national service program, requiring all 18-year-olds to serve for two years in the military, in the Peace Corp, in AmeriCorps, in Teach for America, or a number of other programs. Federal funds, newly available after the failure of so many colleges and universities in the early 2020s, were budgeted for vocational schools and some of those programs incorporated into the national service program. Unemployment reached 5%, most of it transitional.
As promised at the end of her first term, the Duckworth administration successfully challenged gerrymandering at the Supreme Court and won. States now have to have a non-partisan commission to determine districts based on census facts and ensuring that the popular vote for a party approximates their percentage of Congressional seats.
When John Roberts died unexpectedly last year, Duckworth nominated, and the Senate confirmed Michelle T. Friedman as the first female Chief Justice. The moderates now have a 6-3 majority on the Court.
The economy is booming. The DJIA hit 40,000, unemployment is under 5%, and wages are increasing faster than spending. The changes to Social Security strengthened that program and Medicare cut costs significantly with the changes in coverage and pharmaceutical prices.
So, kids, the Trump nightmare did not kill our democracy. Sure, it took a lot of effort, time, and money to reduce the damage done, but once Fox News lost most of its advertising base and had to reformat to compete and the Social Media Responsibility Act was passed, a lot of the most virulent and violent racist, sexist, antisemitic, anti-immigrant stuff went back underground. Not gone, for sure, but abated, thank goodness.
I’m so glad I was around to witness this last decade of change. Lesson learned: good things CAN happen. Although tested as never before, this nation of ours, this 200+ year-old experiment in democracy, survived. But only because we all participated – we made our voices heard and we VOTED. Make sure you vote!