RETURNING TO THE SAME OLD, SAME OLD
As Biden prepares to take office, America is unlikely to witness meaningful change.
President-elect Joe Biden’s pitch to the American people was simple: after four confusing and exhausting years under President Donald Trump, he was going to “restore the soul of America.” He presented himself as the safe bet—the quintessential Washington man whose decades in power would help him steer America back to “normalcy.”
What the “soul of America” and “normalcy” meant was left deliberately unanswered: after all, America’s history of committing genocide against Native Americans, enslaving Africans, nuking two cities, dropping over seven million tonnes of bombs in South East Asia during the Vietnam War, fomenting coups in foreign countries (usually to displace socialist governments), selling weapons worth billions of dollars to Middle Eastern theocracies, and forever war (the Afghanistan conflict will be entering its twentieth year this year) are all very much part of America’s soul.
However, that is an uncomfortable reality not many Americans are willing to acknowledge. Instead, Biden harked back to Obama’s hopey, changey stuff—utterly insipid platitudes that do not help the working class in any way. Using Biblical quotes, Biden urged Americans to move on and “heal” from Trump’s bruising years, hailing the virtues of bipartisanship—of which he claims to be a skilled practitioner.
To do so, however, would mean that he and the Democrats have learnt nothing from the past four years. The election of Trump to the presidency was not an anomaly; it was the logical culmination of decades of neoliberalism that hollowed out the welfare state, failed to create good, well-paying union jobs at rates that matched the growing population, and exacerbated inequality. Trump did not breach the so-called Blue Wall because voters there—Obama voters in 2008 and 2012—suddenly turned racist; he did it because Obama’s promises turned out to be hollow and Clinton did not promise any real structural change in the way Washington works.
And Biden has few answers to any of that.
Biden ran a deliberately bland campaign. He sought to bring together progressives, liberals, moderates, and conservatives disenchanted with Trump’s brash demeanour under one pennant. And he thought the best way to achieve that was by not upsetting the apple cart too much.
He was risibly unsuccessful in that. Biden barely squeaked a win over Trump in the Electoral College, even after Trump horribly bungled the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Exit poll data shows that Biden not only failed to peel away a significant number of Republicans away from Trump, he also shed support from reliably Democratic voter blocs, notably Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans. In fact, Biden’s victory was only made possible by the emigration of some white suburban voters from Trump. In an America that’s becoming less and less white, that’s cause for concern.
It is not hard to see why that happened. If your fundamental promise is that “nothing will change,” it is hard for you to convince people to vote for you, especially if you may also be responsible for the carceral state that imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Black Americans for petty offences.
Worse, you cannot afford to run a campaign such as that when your opponent is someone who does not care about basic norms. President Trump was—irresponsibly, no doubt—holding super-spreader rallies, knocking on a million doors per week, and fighting with the energy of a man half his age.
But Biden did not care about any of that stuff—and did not even feel the need to pretend to care about any of that stuff—because his primary constituency is capital. That’s why he told his billionaire donors, “Nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected president.
Sure, he would raise taxes on the rich here and there, staff regulation agencies a bit more, and maybe expand healthcare a smidgen. But fundamentally, America’s economy would continue to be rigged in favour of the few instead of the many.
Woke Cabinet, Conservative Policy
As Biden is set to be sworn in in a bipartisan pageant of unity on Jan. 20—bringing together Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton—he will preside over an America with the Democrats having unified control over the government. They control the presidency, have a majority in the House, and share 50-50 control in the Senate whose ties can be broken by the Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.
With Republicans on the back foot after Trump supporters besieged the Capitol— allegedly leaving shit and peeing in Congresspeople’s offices, stealing laptops and podia, smashing windows, and killing one police officer—Democrats have a unique window to legislate bold progressive policies.
Unfortunately, that does not seem likely.
Biden’s Cabinet appointments continue a longstanding American tradition of appointing friends to Wall Street and the Pentagon to—you guessed it—oversee Wall Street and the Pentagon. A Raytheon-funded military general will be the Secretary of Defense. A woman who has earned some $7.2 million in speaking fees from Wall Street will be the Treasury secretary.
Many of his appointees make little sense: a Rhodes Scholar and McKinsey alum to head the Department of Transportation? A representative who hasn’t engaged in housing-related work to the Department of Housing and Urban Development? After liberals (rightfully) dunked on Trump Cabinet appointees for being inexperienced, Biden turns around and does the same thing, this time with not a word from those very same liberals.
And some of Biden’s cabinet picks are outright contemptuous to the progressives who helped elect him. Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a Clinton loyalist who has spent the past few years demonising Senator Bernie Sanders as a Russian-backed candidate and attacking progressive policies, has been picked to head the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden, in an internal email to her think-tank, advocated stealing Libyan oil to pay for the US’s invasion of Libya. That he elevated a person like her to a position of power displays his priorities. Notably, Senator Sanders, as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee will be in charge of midwifing her nomination, rubbing yet more salt in progressives’ wounds.
The liberal mainstream media has celebrated his Cabinet for being the most diverse in US history. But how does that matter to ordinary Americans whose lives are likely to remain unchanged by the fact that it will now be a person of colour who will preside over their suffering?
When it comes to actual substance, Biden’s domestic policy seems notably lacklustre: he has promised to veto Medicare For All (even if it passes through Congress), refused to back the Green New Deal, and has already backtracked on immigration promises. Curiously, the liberals for whom immigration was a cause célèbre during the Trump years have kept mum so far.
None of these is surprising to those who paid close attention to the Obama administration. Obama, after all, was the one who proffered a watered-down version of Obamacare instead of what he promised. Obama engaged a climate-change-denying BP scientist to work in his administration (credits to Current Affairs’ Nathan J. Robinson for pointing this out). And Obama presided over a massive increase in deportations of undocumented immigrants—figures even the “anti-immigrant” and “xenophobic” Trump failed to match. (I am not excusing Trump’s bigotry here; I am merely pointing out the media’s willingness to call him out on it while largely giving Obama a free pass.)
That Obama’s Vice President, who is of an even more conservative temperament than him, would backpedal on moderate campaign promises and refuse to champion a popular progressive agenda is, well, expected.
Nowhere will America’s “restoration” under Biden be more visible than in the State and Defense Departments. State and the Pentagon were perhaps the only departments to really be disrupted under Trump, as he sought to remake America’s foreign policy.
America First—Trump’s signature foreign-affairs slogan—meant restructuring multilateral trade deals and bilateral defence arrangements, waging trade wars with China, reducing American soldiers’ presence in foreign countries, and attempting to cease some conflicts.
Most of this is likely to end, as Biden will undoubtedly seek to reimpose the bipartisan consensus of forever war, neoliberal trade deals, and defence spending in faraway lands, not to mention orchestrating coups against Latin American governments (not that Trump really tried to stop that).
Samantha Power, who was one of the main instigators of the Libyan invasion, will be in charge of USAID—the US agency dedicated to “helping” the vulnerable in foreign countries.
Plans to roll back some of Trump’s good policies are already in the offing: Democratic senators have already signalled their opposition to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and Biden, despite a hackneyed op-ed committing himself to end forever wars, refused to advocate for complete withdrawal.
Biden is also unlikely to heed progressives’ (and some Trump supporters’) concerns about funding the Saudi-backed Yemen conflict. His tweets reflect his commitment to régime change in Venezuela. And more unnecessary sanctions on Russia (and possibly North Korea) are likely to follow, as Congress will now have an enthusiastic supporter in the White House.
America’s soul certainly will be restored. This time with a woke veneer.
Cover Image: Pixabay
About the author: Kieran is a first-year law student at Jindal Global Law School.