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Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown


At the presidential level and perhaps down-ticket too, this year’s electoral circus will be a spectacle well calculated to cause disgust and despair – thanks mainly to Donald Trump’s unprecedented machinations, but also because, at least in the presidential contest, the main contenders, both of them, are embarrassingly unfit to serve.

For kindness sake, one of them, Joe Biden, should be put back out to pasture; for the sake of justice, the other, Trump, should be put behind bars.

Biden at least means well; meaning well is beyond Trump’s ken. The man has no moral compass and no capacity for empathy; he is a vile, narcissistic ignoramus. Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson, his first Secretary of State, got it right: Trump is a “fucking moron.”

Worse, he is a dangerous sociopath (in the colloquial sense certainly, in the technical sense, very likely).

He is a loser who, thanks to his father’s money and political juice, feckless bankruptcy laws, clever lawyers, venal bankers, and assorted miscreants, failed his way to the top.

Biden, by far the lesser evil, has been a fixture of mainstream Democratic politics from what seems like time immemorial. Through all that time, however, he has seldom gotten anything right. I challenge anyone who disagrees to produce a counter-example.

The Republican and Democratic Parties are of one mind on the usual foci of political contestation. However, they draw on different constituencies, and they disagree on apolitical cultural matters. This has sufficed to make the enmity that divides them ferocious. Nevertheless, this time around, they are in total accord on at least one point — putting their worst foot forward.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, they both find themselves fielding candidates for president who are on the verge of senescence or are perhaps already there.

***

There is no need to argue that point in Trump’s case; it is clear as can be to all but the willfully blind. Willful blindness, however, is alarmingly widespread.

In part, this is because, as H.L. Mencken put it, “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

Blatantly undemocratic electoral institutions and practices — the Electoral College and gerrymandering head the list – along with mind-numbing rightwing propaganda outlets like Fox News, and a deeply entrenched duopoly party system in which, for both historical and systemic reasons, each party can count on support from roughly forty percent of the population are also partly to blame.

Forty percent, plus or minus a tad, is where support for Trump has been hovering since Day One.

But now, thanks to his glaringly inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its immediate economic consequences, it could well be that, come November, Trump will secure an even smaller share of the popular vote than even the most unpopular major party candidates have garnered in the past.

As he puts his supporters, along with their families and friends, in mortal jeopardy, some light seems finally to be shining through. Many of his supporters are sublimely stubborn in their stupidity but, even so, over the next three months, as conditions worsen, or even just if they don’t improve, there could be substantial defections from their ranks.

This is a reason to be hopeful about the future; it is also a reason to be more than usually afraid. With his back against the wall, who knows what crimes against the peace, against humanity, and against the letter and spirit of Constitutional government, Trump will go on to commit.

Therefore, Trump’s malevolence could and probably will worsen between now and November in ways that could have consequences monumentally dire.

Assuming, though, that nothing irreversibly awful transpires, or that any trouble that Trump and his minions cause is easily and rapidly overcome, I would suggest that the justice systems at both the national and state – New York state – levels start preparing now for a move on Trump’s part that, as far as I know, no one is yet talking about, but that is nevertheless unfolding, not very subtly, in plain sight.

Trump is and always has been a dunderhead; and his mind, such as it is, is plainly in decline. But there still is a “very big and stable” brain lodged somewhere inside his skull that is capable, at the very least, of cunning.

William Blake long ago declared that “the weak in courage are strong in cunning.” Perhaps we should add that, as the minds of the weak in courage deteriorate, their cunning is the last to go.

To be sure, Trump blabbers on about “Yo-semites” and “Thighland,” and his tweets, never more than semi-literate, have lately become more infantile and incoherent than usual.

Were he not also still skillfully dominating the news cycle, undermining confidence that mail ballots will be counted, and stoking up racist and nativist animosities – directed nowadays as much against “the yellow peril” as “Mexican rapists” and “gang-bangers” and Muslim “terrorists” – in ways calculated to keep his electoral prospects alive, it would be painfully obvious that the man is just not all there upstairs. Period; end of story.

But because he still is doing all that and more, that answer doesn’t entirely cut it.

This is why prosecutors should at least consider the possibility that he is following the lead of the “Oddfather,” Vincent Gigante, for many years the boss of the Genovese crime family. Towards the end, Gigante, “the Chin,” would appear in public in his pajamas and bathrobe, and otherwise do all he could to maintain the fiction that he was insane and therefore not competent to stand trial for anything.

Trump is not a good enough actor for that and, unlike real mob bosses, banksters, corporate honchos, and politicians flirting with trouble, when he does something he would like to hide, he lacks the skills to make a case for “plausible deniability.”

Instead, he commits “high crimes and misdemeanors” in full public view, along with plainly actionable, criminal offenses. He leaves any covering up that needs to be done to his accountants, lawyers and assorted flunkies.

Even so, there is a cell at Club Fed and another in New York, with his name on it. He knows it too and will do anything he can to avoid going to either one.

Barack Obama and Eric Holder, no doubt with Biden’s input and help, gave Bush-Cheney era war criminals, and Bush and Cheney themselves, get-out-of-jail-free cards, ostensibly so that the country could “move forward,” but also so that the Obama administration could more easily continue and even intensify what Bush and Cheney started.

I have no doubt that Biden would like to repeat that mistake, this time with Trump and his underlings. But, with the public so far out ahead of mainstream politicians this time around, that won’t be easy for him to do. And, in any case, New York state is still there, whether or not Biden somehow manages to weasel out of doing the right thing.

And so, at the same time that Trump is working hard to delegitimize the electoral defeat that is staring him in the face, he is following in the Chin’s footsteps, not so much by pretending to be batshit crazy, but, even better, profoundly senescent.

Is he not then contradicting himself? Of course, he is. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A strategic inconsistency sometimes can be as well.

***

As for Biden, how much better the world would be had Nancy Pelosi and the other Democratic Party House leaders, the gang of four – Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, Ben Ray Luján, and Hakeem Jeffries – just let him remain ensconced in a comfortable retirement.

Life was good for him. A former poor boy, he has a house in the swanky part of northern Delaware and another, recently acquired, by the sea in the southern part of the state. After leaving office, he kept busy raking in money from speaking engagements and who knows what else.

Better still, all over the state, he had a lot named after him already, including the Amtrak station in Wilmington, one of the seediest and most decrepit in the northeast corridor.

He even had a legend associated with it – about how, when his two sons were young, he would commute daily from there to his day job in the Senate. Perhaps he really did, though anyone who rode those rails, especially back then, would have a hard time believing it, inasmuch as the commute would have left him barely enough time in Washington to grab a bite and utilize the facility.

Did he really need to trade all that for what is bound to be a difficult and protracted process of de-Trumpification? And did Pelosi and the others really need him for them to serve their donors and keep their power?

Granted, the pillars of their party had no time for Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren. But they had other, more capable, less goofy “moderates,” still in their prime, that they could have turned to. Why him?

It is practically axiomatic, in the liberal corporate media view, that Nancy knows best. But if Biden is the best that she and her colleagues could come up with, then that is one axiom that has gone seriously wrong.

It doesn’t matter for defeating Trump; Trump is doing a fine job of that on his own. It does matter, though, for what will come after the Trumpian nightmare has subsided. On that score, Pelosi et. al. have much to answer for.

To be sure, what goes on outside official Washington, in the larger society, matters as much or more than who is holding court at the White House. But at some point, it comes to nothing if victories won in the larger society do not register in laws and in their implementation.

Biden nowadays is beginning to talk the talk, at least to some extent. More important, he does seem susceptible to being moved leftward in practice as well, should circumstances compel him. At least, he is not, like Trump, in thrall to his own delusions and to the wishes of plutocrats who have figured out how to use money and flattery to bend his will to theirs.

It is worth noting that, at first, FDR was considered a flyweight too. And yet, through his good offices, we got the New Deal.

If Biden makes it through the next four years with his mental and physical capacities more or less intact, it is not inconceivable that he would end up following a similar trajectory, but only if an insurgent citizenry and a Democratic Party beginning at last to reconstruct itself from the bottom up gives him no choice.

In any case, no matter what happens, no one should expect a Second Coming of FDR. Even if Roosevelt was the flyweight some thought him to be, his leftward trajectory started out from a far higher plateau.

But Biden may not be quite as hopeless as he seems, or as one would expect, given his past; and should alternative centers of executive power assert themselves even with him still in office, the chances of some good, not just less bad, coming out of Washington over the next few years would be much improved.

This is why the choice of a running mate matters a lot more this election cycle than it usually does or than it has at any time since 1944, when the nod went to Harry Truman instead of the incumbent, Henry Wallace.

Partly thanks to that unfortunate choice, we got the Cold War, the core institutions of the national security state, and the demise of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, the country that had done more than any other, including our own, to defeat the fascist menace. Who can say how much better off we would have been, and would still be, had Wallace, not Truman, been calling the shots.

In a saner world than our own, a candidate’s politics would matter a lot more than her ascribed or chosen “identities.” By that metric, of all the candidates said to be in contention, Elizabeth Warren is by far the best.

If we could be sure that Biden wouldn’t last more than a year or two in office, it would therefore make sense to urge that she be his choice. He wouldn’t listen, of course, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

But, we cannot be sure that he won’t make it through the next four years; and if events go the way that now seems most likely, Warren could probably do more good outside the immediate Biden fold – in the Senate or perhaps as Secretary of Commerce – than waiting in the wings, helping the doddering doofus out, the way Vice Presidents must.

Moreover, as matters now stand, it actually would make sense to give up on some measure of political rectitude in order to put an African American woman on the ticket.

Were Biden to weasel out of doing that, he could indeed face an “enthusiasm” problem that, added on to GOP voter suppression efforts and other Trumpian machinations, actually could bring him to the brink of defeat.

As of now, that prospect is little more than a nightmare scenario conjured up by Democratic Party operatives and worrywarts on the cable news channels — in order to solicit contributions and fill airtime.

There is always the possibility, though, that Biden might just be inept enough to render it plausible. Clinton managed to lose, after all, and Biden is even worse than she.

By my lights, while each and every one of the African American women Biden is said to be considering would be an improvement on him, there are only two who, at this point, actually seem cut out for the job. They are the two supposedly at the top of Biden’s list: Susan Rice and Kamala Harris.

Rice is a liberal imperialist of the Clinton-Obama, foreign policy establishment type. If Biden chooses her, it would signal his determination to “make America a no longer risible global hegemon again.” No surprise there, but it would still be bad news.

Were Biden more insightful and more inclined to think outside the box, it might even occur to him that Susan’s namesake and Bush era counterpart, Condoleezza, would be a better choice.

She surely would be insofar as she is still interested, as she was in the past, in winding down, not stirring up, potentially catastrophic anti-Russian animosities, and in fostering cooperation, not conflict, with China.

In marked contrast, the Rice that Biden seems interested in empowering would, more likely than not, exacerbate a glaringly debilitating problem with the actually existing Democratic Party — the extent to which so many of its leading figures and rank-and-file members suffer from Clyburn’s Complaint.

The Rice who was practically George W’s nanny would likely have a more salutary effect.

And, at a time when “bipartisanship” is said to be a virtue – an odd claim inasmuch as the worst of our duopoly parties merits nothing better than total and complete contempt – and in which, to their everlasting shame, liberal commentators and politicians seem more inclined to venerate than to derogate the Bush-Cheney regime, Condoleezza might actually look better than her namesake to the liberal commentariat.

Needless to say, however, if there is a Rice in our future, it will be Susan, not Condee, and if we have any luck at all, the Rice Question will soon be forgotten, out of sight and out of mind.

If our luck holds, Kamala Harris will be Biden’s choice.

It could be a lot worse. It could be a lot better too, however; and it would be, but for Pelosi and the others.

However, there is some consolation in the fact that, if Harris is chosen, we will be able to see her reduce Mike Pence, Trump’s godly sycophant, to tears when the vice presidential candidates debate. Better yet, she is just the one to get Trump’s goat, as she surely will repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead, if she is the nominee.

She is a good choice for just the reason that Democratic Party honchos and donors are said to have doubts: because she is ambitious and defiant. She wiped the floor with Biden when she debated him last winter. Hooray to her for that.

In straits as dire as ours now are, and in a political universe as impoverished, a lively anti-Biden figure on the ticket, and then in the vice presidential role, is precisely what is needed most – first, to vanquish Trump and the Trumpians, and then, in due course, to move beyond the Trumpian nightmare, the better to smash the Democratic Party as we know it, replacing it with a radically reconstructed political formation that really can move us closer to a better – more just, more peaceful, more prosperous, and, most important of all, healthier and less ecologically deleterious — possible world.

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).

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