Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo

Photograph Source: Er-nay – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Trump presidency is mainly about enriching and glorifying Donald Trump. To that end, and in accord with his attitudes and dispositions, he has set about making America hate again – or, more precisely, a whole lot more than in the recent past. Thus, he has taken to calling the global pandemic caused by the covid-19 virus “the “Chinese flu.”

By whatever name, Trump didn’t create the pandemic. But, as with virtually everything he deals with, he has made it many times worse.

Therefore, if ever there was a time to counterpunch, now is it. How salutary – and educational — it would be if people would start calling the catastrophe now raging around us, “the Trumpedemic.” That would only be fair; after all, Trump’s bungling ineptitude and moronic instincts are at least partly responsible, if not for the affliction itself, then for the extreme damage it is causing.

Now imagine some mainstream corporate Democrat or anti-Trump ex-Republican or garden-variety, ostensibly centrist “independent,” intent on scoping out the enemy within, asking, like the Evil Queen in “Snow White”: “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the Democrat we defenders of the status quo should fear most of all?” Then imagine the mirror responding: Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In what Trump era Brave New World could that happen? In pre-Trumpedemic times, the very idea would have been unthinkable. However, we are living in a different cosmic dispensation now; one in which the magic mirror’s answer is no longer as inconceivable as it would have seemed just a few weeks ago. Times really have changed.

To be sure, they have been changing with stupefying rapidity from that day of infamy in the summer of 2015 when the Donald and his trophy bride rode down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy and to cast dispersions on “Mexican rapists” flooding into the Land of the Free. But this is qualitatively different, a quantum leap.

Yesterday’s normal now feels like ancient history — eating out, going to bars, movies and shows, working out in gyms, mellowing out in groups of varying size, heedless of “social distance” and confident that groceries and paper products, even toilet paper, could be purchased at any time.

In due course, the old ways will surely resume, but the world will have changed. No one can now say how extensively or how profoundly. What is clear already, though, is that the next few months, and perhaps even the next year, will make the still very recent past seem like a Golden Age, a time when most people didn’t even have fear itself to fear.

There was, of course, plenty to be fearful of: global warming heads the list. But most people are not as mindful or focused as Greta Thunberg. Most of us are instead blessed (or cursed?) with the ability to compartmentalize. It is therefore easy for most of us to set such fears aside most of the time. Not so with covid-19; it is too much everywhere and in your face.

The Trumpedemic outbreak wasn’t the only disaster to erupt all of a sudden a month or so ago.

In the halcyon days of the still very recent past, Bernie Sanders was on track to become America’s next president. Bona fide leftists could find plenty to complain about in that, but there was widespread agreement, in nearly all progressive quarters, that, among politicians at the national level, he is about as good as it gets or, for the time being, as good as it can get.

With the arguable exception of Jesse Jackson, there has been no one like Sanders anywhere close to becoming president at least since 1972, when George McGovern was the Democratic nominee. Elizabeth Warren was good too, and while her chances seemed dim, they were still better than Joe Biden’s.

Therefore, progressives inclined to be fearful were more likely to fear for Sanders’ health and well-being over the span of the next two presidential terms than to fear a global pandemic; and, despite the best efforts of “liberal” corporate media, they could rest assured that, this time around, the Democrats were not about to run a candidate even worse than Hillary Clinton.

There were some, though, who did fear that Trump would win a second term, and who were prepared to go for the Democrat they thought most likely to keep that from happening. Many of them appreciate the fact that Biden isn’t good for much, but they believe that he is good for that.

They are wrong, and they are probably also wrong in thinking that Trump could defeat any of the Democrats in contention. However, even many who would agree, still find it impossible to dismiss the fear that somehow Trump might not soon be going away.

That worry was sustained, in large part, by the thought that the meretricious prosperity brought on by Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and by the reckless deregulation that he and his underlings promoted, would still be bounding along by election day, abetting “the darker angels” of sufficient numbers of voters in “battleground states” to bring on a repetition of the 2016 Trump v. Clinton debacle.

I, for one, have never been much worried on that account. Even allowing for the non- and anti-democratic distortions inherent in elections decided ultimately in the Electoral College, I have too much faith in my fellow citizens to think that there are sufficient numbers of them, “deplorable” enough, to reelect Trump this year, no matter how the economy is doing on election day.

However, along with many others, I have “misunderestimated,” as George W. Bush would say, the moral and intellectual decrepitude of the American electorate before – in 2016 especially — and, notwithstanding the plain fact that the case against Trump becomes stronger day by day, I could be doing it again.

I must therefore concede that perhaps the worrywarts have a point – about the danger ahead.

Indeed, it so far seems not to have hurt his standing in the polls that, heeding the pleas of his business cronies and media flunkies, Trump now wants to “restart” the economy, even as the Trumpedemic is nowhere near under control.

Could we really have come to a point where he is willing to do anything, no matter how idiotic, to keep corporate profits from collapsing, and that his base is willing to do anything he tells them?

Many Republicans plainly are. Thus, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, announced on Fox News (where else?) that he and other grandparents would be willing to die to that end; no President Bone Spurs he!

Patrick has drawn scorn for what he said, but he is has been joined by other miscreants in the Trump fold who will say anything to please their master, apparently without feeling even a hint of shame.

Surely, though, even in Trump-besotted quarters, there are also plenty of people who, if pushed, would find themselves caring more about their own well-being and the well-being of their friends and family members than about the entreaties of the rich and heinous, and the narcissistic delusions of an odious Commander-in-Chief.


As noted, the Trumpedemic wasn’t the only disaster that struck in the past few weeks. Almost simultaneously, Democratic Party honchos and their media hacks came through for the donor class, making Biden, the least plausible of all the “moderates” in their party’s menagerie, their all but certain nominee.

Biden probably could defeat Trump even if the world as we used to know it is again functioning tolerably well by November; and as Trump’s lies and bungling continue to menace public health, increasing the overall level of economic and social insecurity, the chances that even Biden will prevail rise exponentially.

It therefore hardly matters — but, boy, is he not the candidate most likely to send Trump packing. Of all the major contenders, Biden is the least likely by far.

That he is a second-rate exponent and practitioner of the very politics that made Trump or someone like him all but inevitable is the least of it. Even in his prime, Biden was never much good for anything requiring sound judgment. Thus, I would challenge his defenders to name anything at all, over his many years of “public service,” that he got right.

Moreover, his senescence is, by now, nearly as plain as Ronald Reagan’s became during his second term. Even so, Trump’s “large and stable brain” is, and likely will continue to be, no match for whatever it is that Biden still has upstairs. But is this really what a party hellbent on winning should put forward for a standard-bearer?

That aside, Biden is vulnerable for, among other things, his active role, not just his vote, for getting the United States into the Iraq War, and for his work in promoting the Clinton era anti-crime legislation that led to the mass incarceration of black and brown youth. He is vulnerable too for consistently putting the interests of the financial industry first, at the expense of the working people, the ninety-nine percent, whose concerns he claims to champion.

He could also be attacked for putting popular New Deal-Great Society programs, including Social Security, in jeopardy, and for his role in facilitating the rightward drift of the American judiciary. Biden’s support for Clarence Thomas in the face of Anita Hill’s accusations is just the tip of the iceberg.

If only Sanders and Warren had called him to account for these and countless other vulnerabilities; but, alas, comity prevailed. We are all, even Biden himself, worse off for it. Whether he knows it or not, he would surely be happier going back to pasture, where he plainly belongs.

If, like Trump, he likes to see his name plastered all over the place, Delaware is already full of Biden memorials; among them, the Amtrak station in Wilmington that he claims to have commuted to Washington when his sons were little.

Anyone familiar with those trains, especially decades ago, and with the hours even the most desultory Senators must keep, would have a hard time believing any of that – but, out of kindness and because, after Trump, uplifting yarns can have a healing effect, it is best just to let that much repeated story pass, like the one about George Washington and the cherry tree.

The Wilmington train station is a fitting memorial, after all; seedy and unpleasant and so poorly provisioned that, last time I was there, even the toilets were closed – not for cleaning, just closed.

Finally, because his children — not just Hunter, but also the good one, Bo, now deceased – have benefited egregiously from their connection to him, Biden is also vulnerable in just the ways that Trump has been exploiting since the moment his reelection campaign began.

On this as on so much else, the level of Trump’s hypocrisy is monumental. The bad seed he has sown has produced flyweights who have benefited far more egregiously from their father’s name and connections than the Biden boys could ever have dreamed of doing. But, of course, he could care less; like his many charged and uncharged high crimes and misdemeanors, extreme hypocrisy only makes him more popular with his base.

Democratic Party grandees and donors ought to have thought more carefully a month ago about their candidate’s shortcomings, but they were too busy going after Sanders and the insurgency coalescing around him. Now, with the Trumpedemic raging, they are stuck with a situation they have brought upon themselves.

When they see Cuomo on TV, some of them must surely wish there could be a do-over. The contrast with Trump is too stark to ignore. For Trump, bloviating in moronic and contradictory ways at press briefings is just an unseemly way of getting free publicity for himself; he does not even try to be subtle about it. Cuomo’s TV addresses are more like fireside chats. Facing a disaster, how could any sane person not want Cuomo to be where Trump now is.

Trump puts his ignorance on display, along with his inability to think coherently and his lack of a moral compass. Cuomo is sharp, analytic, well-informed, articulate and humane. Trump is an arrogant, self-satisfied buffoon; Cuomo is a Mensch with the common touch and a tragic sense of life.

And then there is Uncle Joe, the doddering doofus, who isn’t much of anything at all. The powers that be in the Democratic Party surely realize that, unlike Sanders or Warren, Biden enthuses no one; and at least some of them must also realize, at some level, that the public is right not to be enthused. They surely realize too that the public is now chock full of people who would very much prefer that Cuomo be the one they will vote for in November.

Come November, those people could well be enthusiasts, in much the way that Sanders or Warren supporters enthused over their candidates before, and even after, the party saw to it that their candidacies were quashed.

There used to be no more reason to give Cuomo a thought than there is to think about any other governor. It is hard now, though, not to think of parallels between him and FDR.

Two governors of New York state, both from established political families – the one patrician, the other old-school “ethnic” and therefore, by sympathy and conviction, working class – both non-ideological but, by nature, experimental and open to measures that right wingers would, at best, be wary of or would, more likely, categorically oppose.

FDR was hardly a “socialist” in the usual sense of the term. He had no quarrel with private ownership of means of production. Quite to the contrary, his aim not at all to move beyond capitalism, but only to save it from the capitalists.

To that end, he was amenable to the kinds of social democratic measures that Sanders and, in her own way, Warren favor. The New Deal was many things, but at least sometimes and in some respects, it had a counter-systemic thrust that linked it to the socialist tradition, in much the way that Sanders’ “democratic socialism” does.

Cuomo seems cut from a similar cloth. The New York State Democratic Party has always had a functioning, though generally ineffectual, leftwing. Also, New York also still has a respectable, though much enfeebled, labor movement.

Cuomo’s relation to both has always been more troubled than friendly. But much like FDR, he seems amenable to being pushed left when pressured strongly enough and when the circumstances are right. And also, like FDR, he is an ardent (small-d) democrat who plainly appreciates the appeal of such core socialist values as equality and social solidarity.

Thus, he is a pragmatist, not in the debased, if not entirely vacuous, sense that has become commonplace in Democratic Party circles nowadays, but according to the original meaning of the term. His politics, like FDR’s, is of a piece with the philosophical views of the great American pragmatist philosophers – Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and so on. The true and the right for them and I would venture for Cuomo too, is what, in the final analysis, works best to realize defensible and widely shared individual and collective values.

This is emphatically not the Clintonite or Bidenesque sense of the term, according to which political feasibility in the world of actually existing capitalism is the alpha and omega of truth, justice, and the American way or, more precisely, the way that the American ruling class wants the American way to be.

With a still out of control pandemic turning daily life on its head, threatening economic ruination and societal dissolution, real pragmatism may be just what the country now needs.

I still think that it would be better to go the Sanders or even the Warren route, but, in these Trumpedemic times, I could well be wrong about that; and, inasmuch as, sad to say, Biden is now the anointed one, it hardly matters in any case.

Were dumping Biden now a more feasible option, it would be appropriate to inquire into and perhaps also to worry about what the foreign policy of a Cuomo administration would be like. I have no idea, except that it could hardly be worse than what we would have had with Clinton and what we now have to look forward to under Biden.

His decades long, subservience to Israeli ethnocrats is the least of it; there is hardly a rightwing dissident movement anywhere on earth that he hasn’t, in one way or another, supported during his far too long career.

He has not been quite as virulent a Cold War revivalist as Clinton has been, but he has been right up there too. On this, Cuomo is a tabula rasa, a blank slate; and, inasmuch as we don’t need to know and on the principle that ignorance is bliss, we might just as well leave it at that.

We don’t need to know because it is almost certainly too late to dump Biden now. Ironically, even were it not, it would be very hard to promote the candidacy of Cuomo or anyone else new to the race because the very pandemic that has made the astonishing declaration of the magic mirror on the wall plausible has also made it all but impossible to do politics in anything like a normal way.

With Cuomo, the problem is not just that he already has far too much on his plate; it is also that he could hardly campaign in circumstances when groups of more than a few people cannot even safely go outside.

The Trumpedemic itself is proof positive that the unimaginable sometimes does happen, and there is always a chance that the very same elites who secured Biden’s nomination will suddenly realize how wrong-headed their thinking has been. And, of course, where there is mental debility, significant illness, and not-so-premature death, there is hope.

But now is not a time to grasp at straws. It is a time to face up to the fact that, among the tribulations ahead, even when a covid-19 vaccine finally does come on-line, and after Trump and his minions are successfully dispatched, in addition to the protracted de-Trumpification project that we will have to undertake, we will also have a hapless Joe Biden problem with which to contend.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).