Donald Trump Lost — Great. Joe Biden Being the One to Defeat Him is a Hard Pill to Swallow.
The neoliberal politics of Joe Biden is a major part of why America was ever fated with Donald Trump in the first place.
Trigger warning: Don’t read on if you don’t want your post-election buzz to fade just yet.
In February, I wrote a piece on the political vacuity of moderates running in the 2020 Democratic primaries. At that point in time, it appeared Pete Buttigieg was most likely the one to be groomed by the DNC to be the Democratic nominee. In a progressive pitch for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, I focused most of my attention critiquing him rather than Biden, Amy Klobuchar, etc. But here’s what I had to say specifically about Biden at the time:
“Joe ‘Nothing Will Fundamentally Change’ Biden has already lost the “electability” argument — the entire genesis and basis of his campaign…He fights for the pre-status quo — the Obama era marked by promises for “real change” that manifested in corporate welfare, drone strikes, regime change wars, and modest change on liberal issues. Biden represents comfort in the familiarity of an idyllic past for people who have nothing to materially gain from any social justice, working class movement. Or perhaps do, but are too disillusioned and disaffected by the whole system to actually know that Joe has no substantive value to add.”
Here are my thoughts after swallowing my pride and voting for him (from the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, I might add) merely to oust Trump. My sentiments for the most part now? Same as it ever was.
Here’s where I was wrong:
“Biden has already lost the “electability” argument — the entire genesis and basis of his campaign”. Welp.
“[Biden] represents comfort in the familiarity of an idyllic past for people…too disillusioned and disaffected by the whole system to actually know that Joe has no substantive value to add”. Not entirely true. There are millions of folks who aren’t disillusioned and disaffected. Many have been successfully sold by the Democratic party into believing it has their best interest in mind and that only incremental reform is possible (through bipartisanship with an opposition party who fights to strip away civil rights and doesn’t believe in science (precarious civility > transformational progress).
There’s almost a maddening Groundhog Day-ness to the Democratic playbook: The other side is bad. You may not like us, but at least we are not as bad. If you don’t accept that, it must mean you want the worse variety of bad. Vote for us, otherwise you deserve the worse variety of bad. (Oh, by the way, we don’t really think they’re that bad, we actually aren’t that different — we just want your vote.) Rinse and repeat. Every two years. Why is it considered “radical” to demand and fight for something more than this?
Watching him give his victory speech, I couldn’t help but feel like we were looking at a time frozen in the past, not at a promising, exciting future.
So many have fantasized about a 2020 Trump defeat since November 9th, 2016, myself included. Yes, Trump being so uniquely awful, naturally it feels good that it became a reality. I was one of the thousands of folks across the country joining the celebrations of the election result. I went to celebrate in Philadelphia, one city out of many deserving much credit (with a major shoutout to Black and POC grassroots organizers) for awarding us Trump’s demise. I wanted to purely celebrate this particular loss, not this particular win. Would we be out dancing in the streets in a rapidly worsening pandemic had it been Biden/Harris vs. Romney/Ryan and not Biden/Harris vs. Trump/Pence? No. Are most people genuinely inspired or energized by someone like Biden? Unlikely. It’s dangerous to rely on cult of personality alone as a means to progressive change (as Angela Davis taught me, leaderless mass movements > individual messiahs), but even still, Biden is so unbearably mediocre. His entire campaign was premised on his relative personal decency, not on calling for audacious, meaningful change. Why couldn’t it have been both, with a focus on the latter? Because this is who Joe Biden is and has always been. Why is it considered “radical” to demand and fight for something more than this?
Now he will be whitewashed to death by the Democratic party, white liberals, and corporate news media as some kind of champion of civil rights and economic justice when his 47-year track record in government has been more on the side of corporations, lobbyists, police, and the war machine. Lest we also forget that white male supremacy allows Joe to be this level of mediocre and bad and still be heralded as our savior. Most white liberals who voted for him will go back to sleep for four more years under the assumption that “justice” has been served. Nevermind the sober reality that the majority of white people in the biggest referendum on Donald Trump’s America yet told us once again that actually no, this is exactly who they are. But no matter, the not-a-Nazi won, so all that will vanish now. We are at the brink of being back to the “idyllic” normalcy of barely reigned-in capitalism, continued funding and support for a racist, imperialist military and police force, and corporations flourishing at the people’s expense with occasional slaps on the wrist. Why is it considered “radical” to demand and fight for something more than this?
In this ugly stain of a moment in human history — where an unhinged white supremacist at the helm of an empire attempted to unravel democracy and eventually march people to the death camps — people deserved an alternative far more than kinder words and weak reforms. They deserved far more than someone just vowing to not be that guy. They deserved far more than someone who was gung-ho for the Iraq War which killed millions of Iraqis, authored the 1994 Crime Bill that locked up thousands of Black men for even low-level offenses, “worked across the aisle” with segregationists, sometimes even for their causes, and advocated to cut funding for programs like Social Security and Medicare over the military budget. Even if you believe that bipartisanship is a better approach than being an all-out resistance party, it’s hard to look at Biden’s history in Washington and think he will now fight tenaciously for a multi-racial working class. He just doesn’t have the fight in him to steadfastly defend his supposed ideals, whereas the likes of Bernie Sanders on the left and Mitch McConnell on the right do.
People like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Tom Perez of the DNC don’t understand that it’s all of the above and not a progressive agenda that delivered us Trump, and will deliver someone as dangerous as him — if not more — once again. “Trumpism” as an ideology will live on for generations, and even if it does end up receding into the shadows momentarily, the disgruntlement of those 70 million people won’t just disappear. If Biden understood or cared to understand that, he wouldn’t have crafted and marketed a ‘politics as usual’ platform that got us here, but rather an unprecedented bold agenda that would materially change everyday people’s lives — including Trump supporters’. Watching him give his victory speech, I couldn’t help but feel like we were looking a time frozen in the past, not at a promising, exciting future.
Biden would rather offer less inspiring platitudes than Obama did and assume it to be enough to forge unity, when what he needs to offer (a.k.a. fight vociferously for) is guaranteed healthcare, education, green union-paying jobs, while vastly diminishing the power of corporations, the millionaire and billionaire donor class, lobbyists, and imperialist institutions like the military and police. Looking at his half-a-century-long record, we have reason to doubt he will. He will not wake up in the middle of the night and realize that fighting for increasingly popular populist policies is a reasonable solution on his own. He will need to be pushed, and pushed hard. Those energizing the electorate who will push him — AOC, Ilhan, Rashida, Pramila, Ayanna, Cori (all women of color) and others will be labeled as too woke, too unreasonable, and now, in spite of helping to elect him, costing moderate Democrats’ seats. Unsurprising, yet still sad to see. This isn’t about purity— it’s about demanding and fighting for something far more than (in other words, strongly against) the 40 years of Reagan-era-style neoliberal rule that got us here. The idea isn’t to be negative, it is to be hyper-realistic to ensure we don’t keep making the same mistakes.
Is Joe Biden a better person than Donald Trump? Well, yes — hence why so many including progressives preferred a stellar blowout for him as, at the very least, a firm rejection of Trump/GOP fascism to the edge-of-your-seat race we all just witnessed. He will be vastly better than Donald Trump on nearly every critical issue — COVID-19, healthcare, climate change, education, gun control, women and LGBT+ rights, and so on. Of course there’s a relief in that! The more important question, however, is: After the past four nightmarish years of Trump + 40 years of Reagan-era-style neoliberal rule — is Biden our solution? Is he good enough for people who don’t just want but need upending structural solutions to the deeply entrenched social and economic injustices they bear?
“Come on, man!” You know the answer.
Our mandate now must be to push him not to “Build Back Better”, but to build forward, bolder. If Joe Biden can’t/won’t rise to the occasion to do so, our mandate will be to replace him, just as we did Donald Trump. Nevertheless, the most important mandate we will ever have in our lifetimes is to fundamentally grasp this one truth — only we can save us. Together we must fight like hell for the deep, everlasting change we so desperately deserve.