Biden? Seriously?

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump is a paradoxical creature. On the one hand, he resembles nothing so much as a dumbass teenage boy, and, on the other, a barfly, long in the tooth and good for nothing but mouthing off.

This from an obese septuagenarian who doesn’t drink and who, unlike Richard Nixon, his only near rival in political depravity, is as unconflicted and intellectually shallow as they come.

Nixon was good at many things. In politics, Trump is good at only two.

One is using corporate media to his own advantage. To be sure, Trump has Fox News and talk radio, propaganda assets Nixon could hardly have dreamed of, in his pocket, but they were in place, dumbing down and otherwise doing harm, long before he came onto the scene. What Trump has managed to do is to get the ostensibly respectable cable networks, CNN and MSNBC, to offer him their platforms for free.

This, as much as Hillary Clinton’s politics and her failures as a candidate, helped him get elected in 2016. It is helping him stay afloat now, even as the utter incompetence of his handling of the on-going covid-19 crisis that he did so much to exacerbate becomes stunningly clear to anyone not hellbent on denying the obvious.

CNN’s and MSNBC’s hatred of the Donald is as palpable as it is justified, and yet he plays them like a fiddle.

The other thing he is good at is turning the GOP into an instrument of his will.

The Republican Party was already unspeakably odious before Trump waddled into the scene, but, by giving a large and growing segment of its base – its mainly male, mainly rural, mainly geezerly, poorly educated, socially dislocated and economically stressed component — permission to give their most noxious impulses free rein, Trump has turned the Republican Party into a personality cult for him to manipulate as he sees fit.

Meanwhile, playing on their rank opportunism and mindless disregard of values and principles, he has brought the God Squad, rightwing Christian evangelicals and their Jewish counterparts, into the Trumpian fold, along with many of the most base and shamelessly venal plutocrats and plutocrat wannabes in creation.

And what does the other duopoly party offer in response? Joe Biden. Seriously.

Biden is a doofus who, even in his prime, could actually make the Clintons look good.

That was surely one of the reasons why Barack Obama picked him to be his running mate; the future President Drone and Deporter-in-Chief, anticipating taking up where Bill Clinton left off, wanted to look good too.

Another reason was to reassure Wall Street. They had already vetted him out the wazoo, but with serious money involved, they were still a tad worried. Team Obama therefore felt it expedient to set their minds at ease. Biden on the ticket would seal the deal.

In those bygone days of yesteryear, Democratic Party honchos still knew what they had to do to win elections that weren’t handed to them on a silver platter.

Where, then, are they now, those savvy Party grandees? And why don’t their paymasters intervene? Why are they being so stupid?

Whatever the answer, it hasn’t made them too stupid to hold onto their power.

Sad to say, though, that they were still clever enough to realize that Sanders, and maybe Elizabeth Warren as well, were everything they didn’t want Obama to be. And so, aided and abetted by CNN and MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR and the whole motley mess of “liberal” corporate media, they quashed their candidacies well.

Sadder still, after the powers that be pulled off the South Carolina and Super Tuesday fiascos and then promptly got the other “moderates” to throw in the towel all at once, it became clear that the old régime would win again.

All doubts about that ended when the pandemic made door to door canvassing, rallies and nearly all the other usual forms of electoral politicking impossible. Almost overnight, the only two candidates in the Democratic field worth taking seriously had no chance at all of making the Democratic Party anything more than a lesser evil. The bad guys had won.

But still the question remains: why are the winners being so stupid?

Even if all they want is a colorless stooge whose only virtue is that he is not Trump, or Pence or any of the other kakistocrats in the Trumpian fold, surely they could at least do better than taking on the Trumpian juggernaut with a second-rate dodo leading the charge.

[“Kakistocracy,” for those who still don’t know, is an old word that has lately become timely. It means: rule of the worst, the most vile, corrupt, and incompetent.]

In a saner political environment, or even in the one we knew before Clinton, the Queen of Ineptitude, blew a sure thing in 2016, Trump and his minions could be counted on to defeat themselves.

In the actual world, the chances are good that this will still be the case. Corporate media give Trump precious airtime, but they also display his and his administration’s mind-boggling awfulness day by day.

With the economy collapsing and the corpses piling high, and with rural America about to feel the pain along with the urban centers, it is hard to imagine that at least some of the lost souls in the Trump cult won’t see the light and defect.

But Democrats these days are born to lose; it might as well be in their genes.

Therefore, like the Wall Street financiers in 2008 whose minds were set at ease when Obama put Biden on the ticket, voters who get what Trump is about could still use some reassurance.

Trump may advertise his awfulness with every breath he takes, but with our electoral institutions being what they are, and with his base still standing by their man, the chances that Democrats will blow it again can seem greater than trivial.

One would think that mainstream Democrats would have learned something from 2016 about the wisdom of fielding a stalwart of the ancien régime, a “moderate” — she called herself a “progressive pragmatist” – against a buffoonish, sociopathic liar, a reality TV conman, who promises “to drain the swamp.”

But leave it to Democrats and Democratic voters to draw precisely the wrong lesson from that debacle. Leave it to them to field a candidate who is even worse than Clinton this time around.

Needless to say, better a President Biden than a President Trump; better by far. But even befuddled moderates should be able to figure out that a Biden presidency will be a disaster in its own right.

There is a certain irony in what Democrats are now saying about that prospect, now that, barring a miracle, Biden is the presumptive nominee. They are saying just what people were saying about Trump when his more thoughtful supporters were starting to anticipate and then to experience voters’ remorse – that, however awful he may be, however much out of his depth in the Oval Office, “the adults in the room” will be there to keep him in line.

That by running Biden, they are squandering an historically unprecedent opportunity to make basic, urgently needed, structural changes in the economy and society, and to transform the Democratic Party, presently part of the problem, into a force for genuine progressive change, at least to the extent that it was in the more radical phases of the New Deal and then later before the Vietnam War undid the Great Society, doesn’t seem to matter to a large segment of the Democratic electorate – not yet, anyway.

If they have qualms, they comfort themselves by telling themselves that, unlike Trump, Biden will appoint good people to run the show. And when that thought doesn’t quite suffice, the default position seems to be that at least he, like Obama, will be a No Drama president, which is, they claim, just what the country now needs.

These wrong-headed but cheery bromides are not entirely without merit.

With Trump gone and Democrats eager to take over from the kakistocrats he empowered, the national government probably will become not exactly “great again,” it never was even close to that, but at least not stunningly abominable.

And although Biden, unlike Sanders and Warren, has hardly comported himself in a way that suggests competency or, for that matter, a fully functional mind, and although Andrew Cuomo and other governors have far outshined him since the corvid-19 plague erupted, at least he is not a narcissist, a sociopath, or a barely constrainable maniac.

But what’s wrong with Democrats? Why don’t they dump him while they still can?

Even Kirstin Gillibrand, scourge of womanizers who like Al Franken couldn’t keep his hands enough to himself, seems OK with Joe, notwithstanding the fact that he is credibly accused of having done far worse than Franken ever did.

By almost any relevant standard, Franken was a far better Senator than Biden or, for that matter, than nearly every other Democratic Senator, Gillibrand included. By almost any relevant standard, Biden, even in his prime, was a dunce. But no matter. Anything for banality’s sake; anything not to field a candidate worth supporting.

And at a time when “the homeland,” as we now call it, is facing a crisis the likes of which has not been seen on these shores for more than a hundred years, how can it still be that, for so many Democratic voters, it is practically axiomatic that only a paragon of banality can defeat the most inept and villainous president that the United States has ever had to endure?

The Democratic establishment is incapable of redemption. They have demonstrated time and again that they will do anything to maintain their own power, and the power of the forces they represent. That would be the obscenely rich; the beneficiaries of an increasingly inegalitarian distribution of income and wealth that, regardless the intentions of a few kindly billionaires, puts nearly everything on earth that is worth saving in mortal jeopardy.

But Trump is their enemy too. They could at least stop helping him out to the extent that they are.

Lately, for whatever it’s worth, Democratic Party honchos have been floating the idea of running Warren for Vice President. I suspect that they are just blowing air, and I would be surprised and more than a little disappointed in her if she would go along with that; I’d expect her to have more integrity. But some good come of that possibility.

After all, while there is death and the twenty-fifth amendment there is hope. Not much, though; not anyway in this “one nation under (Mike Pence’s) God.”

I, for one, have been waiting for nearly four years for cholesterol and a sedentary lifestyle to relieve us of the clear and present danger we face. Now there is the corona virus as well. But here we are. I would say, though, that were the Donald to follow the lead of his British counterpart and soul-mate, Boris Johnson, and then go one step beyond, I might almost start believing in that (alleged) divinity.

In ancient Greek dramas, a deus ex machina would sometimes be enacted; a god, wheeled in on a mechanical contraption, would appear upon the stage and go on to set an otherwise intractable situation right.

It is too late now for Sanders and probably for Warren as well, even if she does become Biden’s running mate. It probably always was; the fix was in too deep. What those two wanted to do was obviously better than any of the moderates’ nostrums. But the dodos calling the shots would not abide Democrats doing the right thing or even some pale semblance of it. Those bastardly dodos won.

But, even if only out of self-interest, and also in order to make the demise of Trump and Trumpism more likely than it already is, they surely ought to be able to bring themselves to pull off something like a deus ex machina trick — by dumping the doofus for another “moderate,” one less retrograde, less risible, and less likely to inspire potential anti-Trump voters to stay home.

They could put Biden back out to pasture where he so plainly belongs. As Trump might say “what have they got to lose?” Of course, when Trump says it, the answer is always “everything.” In this case, it would be “nothing at all.”

But I wouldn’t hold my breath. It is more likely by many orders of magnitude that we will have a Clintonesque, Obama-inflected, déja vu all over again in our future.

But even with the Forces of Darkness running the Democratic show, the forty or fifty percent of Democratic voters who favored Sanders or Warren still have leverage over where the Democratic Party goes.

They could and should use it to push Biden and the Democratic Party establishment as far to the left as they can.

They should also insist on at least two things.

The first is obviously in the interest of all Democrats, the ones who are, for whatever reason, still wedded to the status quo. as well as those who understand the need to transform the lesser evil party fundamentally.

That would be to defeat Republican efforts at voter suppression. It is plain as can be – so plain that even Trump has said as much – that if the black, brown, and youth votes are not suppressed, Republicans would have hardly any chance of electing anybody, much less Trump himself.

Anyone paying attention to the April 7 primary election in Wisconsin, conducted at great peril to voters in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, could hardly fail to understand how important this is.

Republican lawmakers in the heavily gerrymandered and therefore Republican led Wisconsin state legislature, and so-called “conservative” but actually radical rightwing Republican judges in the Wisconsin and then the U.S. Supreme Courts put peoples’, mainly black and brown peoples’, lives at risk in order to secure the electoral victory of one Dan Kelly, a retrograde state Supreme Court Justice whom they can count on to ease their way.

In light of that, who knows what mischief Trump and the cult around him have in store for November. The problem is especially acute now that, thanks to the machinations of Mitch McConnell, arguably the most malign figure in the entire Trumpian firmament, the judicial system is so profoundly compromised.

Congressional Democrats must therefore, first and foremost, guarantee the right to vote for everybody eligible to vote. This means, among other things, making voting by mail an option that even troglodyte Republican judges cannot refuse to honor.

Surely, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the other party leaders can do that much.

If they have the sense they were born with, they will do everything in their power to make the November election a referendum on Trump. If it is, Trump will surely lose.

On the other hand, if it devolves into a choice between him and Biden, Trump will only just probably lose, the probability depending on how the corovid-19 virus is doing by then, the state of the economy, and the extent to which the good citizens of the United States of Amnesia keep in mind even just a tiny fraction of all the harm that the Trump presidency has done.

In any event, the less Biden is exposed to the public, the more he stays bunkered down in Wilmington or wherever he has been hiding out, the better. The more voters see him as the only feasible alternative to Trump, the more electable he will be. The more they reflect on his merits, the more reason there is for concern.

The other “non-negotiable demand” should be to insist on holding Trump and his factotums accountable. That will require riding herd over the doofus because, having attached himself to Obama’s “legacy,” letting it all go has become his default position.

Obama’s Original Sin, and also Eric Holder’s, was to let the war criminals in the upper echelon of the Bush administration off scot-free. I fear that just as Trump takes his cues from Fox News, Biden will be taking his from what Obama did a dozen years ago.

Back then, Obama said that he wanted “to look forward,” to let bygones be bygone. Because that is precisely what he did, the Bush-Cheney perpetual war regime became his own. It is still with us too, and Biden is no doubt itching to take up where his Best Friend Forever left off.

Does anyone doubt that, left to his own devices, a President Biden would repeat Obama’s and Holden’s mistake? Banality and the absence of drama are his trump card, after all; letting bygones be bygone is his thing.

Were that to come to pass, the countless, legally actionable crimes that Trump and his kakistocratic minions have committed, now including the depraved indifference to human life and the menace to public health that Trump has been exhibiting daily since the corvid-19 crisis broke, would go unpunished, setting an even worse precedent than the one set by Obama.

When that comes back to haunt us, as it surely will with Biden continuing the political line that made Trumpism all but inevitable, it won’t be pretty. With the bar now set so low, the next demagogue in the Trumpian role is likely to be a lot smarter and more capable than Trump, and therefore a lot more dangerous.

Surely, even the “moderates” in the House and Senate Democratic caucuses could at least force the dodo they are inflicting upon us to pre-commit, as it were, not to stoop so low as to give get-out-of-jail-free cards to the likes of Trump, his family and inner circle, and the most criminal of the base and servile sycophants he has inflicted upon us.

The judgment of history is sure, but it is inevitably slow in coming, and the time for guarantees that Trump et. al. will be held to account, just as soon as Trump vacates the premises at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is now.

If a Democratic president isn’t good even for that, then, when the judgment of history comes down on the Democratic Party establishment too, as it surely will, they will have a lot more to answer for than squandering a chance to make up for the neoliberal turn their party has been on since the Jimmy Carter days, and for all the many other post-Watergate ways that it has been making life better for the rich and heinous and worse for the working class.

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).