DANIEL VAUGHAN: Joe Biden, GameStop, Reddit, and the end of ‘normalcy’

Joe Biden pitched his campaign as a kind of “return to normalcy,” taking the country back to a pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, and to pre-“everything is insane” world.

He took those cues from President Warren G. Harding, who pitched his 1920 campaign as a return to normalcy from the insanity of the first real progressive leftist to take the White House, President Woodrow Wilson.

A return to normalcy ostensibly means a time before populism was rocking both political parties. Three things are abundantly clear in the less than two weeks Biden has been in office: 1. Biden’s choice of governing style is going to exacerbate the populist forces continuing to shake the country. 2. Populism is here to stay for the near future. 3. All of this means normalcy isn’t returning.

On the first point, in less than two weeks, Biden has issued more executive orders in that time than either Barack Obama or Donald Trump did, combined. Looking at the numbers, “Biden hit the ground running, enacting 25 executive orders, 10 presidential memos, and four proclamations within his first 12 days in office,” according to Quartz.

What adds to the starkness here is that Biden himself warned against governing like this as a president. “I have this strange notion, we are a democracy,” he said. ‘If you can’t get the votes…you can’t [legislate] by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”

As The Hill’s opinion contributor Joe Concha pointed out, “This isn’t a matter of unearthing a clip from the 1980s or ’90s in an attempt to play a game of gotcha on some antiquated flip-flop. That’s Democratic nominee Biden, less than three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, talking to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.”

Far from returning to normal, Biden is setting a new precedent as the Executive Orderer in Chief. He’s legislating with his pen at a rapid pace. And some of those orders are broad and impact a wide variety of agencies across the federal government.

As Biden is actively reshaping the federal government like he has a large mandate, populism has continued to rise in new and novel places. The last few weeks of January showed a remarkable struggle between individual retail investors in the stock market and big-time hedge funds.

The Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets created a movement to push GameStop’s valuation through the roof, costing hedge funds that had shorted that company betting on its collapse. That movement spread into other stocks, costing hedge funds who had many shorts out billions of dollars. According to Reuters:

Short-sellers are sitting on estimated losses of $70.87 billion from their short positions in U.S. companies so far this year, data from financial data analytics firm Ortex showed on Thursday.

The hefty losses come as shares of highly-shorted GameStop jumped more than 1,000% in the past week…while retail investors then piled in to benefit from the surge. Chasing shorted companies became a trend among retail traders, rippling across U.S. markets and Europe. Ortex data showed that as of Wednesday, there were loss-making short positions on more than 5,000 U.S. firms.

The seismic power change caused the Wall Street Journal to say “power dynamics are shifting on Wall Street.” The paper added: “War has broken out between professionals losing billions and the individual investors jeering at them on social media. Meanwhile, the frenzy of activity is stirring regulatory and legal concerns, as well as the attention of the Biden administration.”

It’s the people versus Wall Street, and the White House has perked up its ears in concern. The events in the markets involving GameStop caused Republican strategists to start tweeting out, “Wall Street, welcome to our world.”

Republicans have seen this movie before. Democrats should notice it, too, with the influx of the Bernie-wing of the party and the creation of the self-styled Squad, who seeks to upend the Democratic establishment. It took the combined effort of every single part of the Democratic Party to stop Bernie Sanders from winning the 2020 primaries.

Now, Wall Street faces down the populist insurgents. The populists in politics took over by winning elections and swinging races. On Wall Street, they are moving billions out of the hands of wealthy hedge funds and into individuals’ pockets. It’s a redistribution of wealth through capitalist means, providing yet another ironic blow against democratic socialists.

All of this brings us to the third and final point: “Normalcy,” whatever that means, is not coming back. Populism is alive and well. The election of Joe Biden didn’t end or curb it. If anything, now the populists have money, which means we don’t know what happens next. Add that to the fact they’ve already won elections, and the sky is the limit.

And with Biden governing through executive orders, a governing method that he called authoritarian, the red meat populists have to act on multiplies by the day. Biden might not be tweeting every day in a way that enflames populist passions, but it’s pretty clear those impulses are still alive and well. Normalcy isn’t coming back.