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Biden, the Lesser Evil, is a Problem Too, But There are Reasons for Hope Nevertheless

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The prospect sickens, but for reasons that are widely understood, it would be irresponsible, this election season, not to pile on votes for Joe Biden. Even more than Hillary Clinton, and a whole lot more than Barack Obama, Biden is a living embodiment of all that makes the actually existing Democratic Party execrable. But we must vote for him nevertheless.

Democratic Party muckety-mucks and their media flacks call out for enthusiasm but enthusiasm for Biden is psychologically impossible for most people. It can sometimes be possible, however, to mitigate the disgust that many of us feel about the vote we must cast.

Living, as I now do, in Biden’s home state, I welcome any and all mitigations.

While there has never been much doubt that Delaware’s three Electoral College votes would go to the Democratic candidate, Biden’s nomination effectively guarantees that result. Piling on votes for him in Delaware is therefore even more superfluous than in other solidly “blue” states. Moreover, here in “the first state” – the first, that is, to ratify the constitution – the Biden machine rules.

Still, it must be done – to convey a message and a warning to Donald Trump, by far the greater evil. I long ago became resigned.

Not voting for Biden isn’t an option, even in Delaware, but not voting for Bidenites is. I used to consider that a worthwhile but ultimately futile gesture.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when, a few weeks ago, advertisements for Chris Coons, Delaware’s Bidenite Senator, began appearing on TV. Why would he or the party honchos behind him spend good money on that?

Coons is running to retain the Senate seat that Biden vacated when he became Vice President. Much to the dismay of late night TV comedians and countless others with a taste for the absurd, he first won that seat by defeating Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell.

O’Donnell was a Tea Partier, but at least she was colorful and, unlike Trump women nowadays, not at all vile. No doubt, Coons’ heart is in the right place too. But as anyone who has seen him on MSNBC, where he has lately become a fixture, can attest, there is hardly anyone in politics at the national level less colorful than he.

I have known for a while that there was a true progressive, Jessica Scarane, a woman with views much like AOC’s and not much older than her too, running against Coons in the September 15 Democratic primary. I have contributed to her campaign several times, and I have already voted for her by mail.

However, Delaware politics being what it is, I used to think that her efforts, though admirable, were essentially futile. Hence my surprise when Coons ads started appearing. What was he afraid of?

I suspect that the people who crank out email solicitations for donations to progressive candidates assessed the situation in much the same way. They send out pleadings in copious quantities – hourly, it sometimes seems — but not a single mention of Scarane that her campaign didn’t send me has ever reached my inbox.

Evidently, though, there are Delawareans, quite a few it seems, who believe, as I do, that however much we resent having to vote for Biden in November, we can still vote, not entirely in vain, for someone worth voting for this September.

I say “not entirely in vain” because, to my amazement, there are now ads on TV too. Since, as she makes abundantly clear, her funds come entirely from small donations, there must be plenty of people, besides me, sending her money. Perhaps her candidacy is not the non-starter I thought it was.

How wonderful it would be, what a message it would send, were she to defeat a hapless Bidenite, and then go on to bring the spirit of the squad into the Senate of the United States — along with Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey (unless Nancy Pelosi gets her way) and perhaps a few others too who see which way the wind is blowing.

I therefore urge readers to check her out, at jessfordelaware.com, and maybe too to donate to her campaign.

***

To hear the hordes of corporate media scribblers and talking heads tell it, there is no need for Scarane and others like her to mitigate voters’ disgust at having to vote against Trump by voting for Biden. The problem is just that people don’t realize how wonderful Biden is.

Of course, when they say that, they are being disingenuous. What they really mean is that the task at hand is, as it were, to uncurb voter enthusiasm, to make anti-Trump voters enthuse over the Biden-Harris ticket.

Now just as it is better in nearly all imaginable cases, to be cheerful than depressed, it is better, in elections, to be enthusiastic than resigned. However, in the final analysis, what matters are voters’ votes, not their states of mind.

Surely, if pressed, even the scribblers and talking heads who bombard readers and listeners with calls for enthusiasm would agree.

Even so, for them, Topic A, and also Topics B and C, are Biden and Trump voters’ levels of enthusiasm for Biden and Trump. This is because they want to get people who might otherwise not vote at all to come out instead to vote for the Democratic nominee.

To that end, they would do better to focus more on Trump and his minions, and as little as possible on Biden himself. Biden inspires indifference at best, but, for anybody with a brain and a spark of decency, and a mind not too dumbed down by Fox News and other rightwing media, the very thought of Trump and his fellow miscreants gets the blood flowing.

Were there reason to expect that Biden and the Pelosiite leadership of the Democratic Party wouldn’t replicate the Original Sin of the Obama administration – giving Bush era war criminals get-out-of-jail-free cards – voters who might otherwise not bother would be well motivated to mail in their ballots or to turn up at the polls.

However, despite the undeniable fact that Trump’s actionable offenses and those committed by his underlings exceed by many orders of magnitude the crimes that Obama and Biden (if he too wants to take credit) and Attorney General Eric Holder let pass, voters know not to hold their breaths expecting those criminals to be held to account; not while Biden and Pelosi and their co-thinkers are calling for “normalcy,” not justice.

The normalcy that Biden and the others have in mind is insipid at best, pernicious at worst; it is what made the Trump phenomenon possible if not inevitable. Who could enthuse over that?

The situation with the forty percent or so of Americans who remain loyal to the worst American president ever, the creature that his niece, Mary Trump, called “the most dangerous man on earth,” is mind-boggling and bizarre but it is at least a tad more authentic.

There is certainly plenty of enthusiasm in their circles for making America more like they imagine it was sixty or seventy years ago. Their imaginings are delusory, of course — they reek of ignorance and misguided nostalgia — but at least they do register at an emotional level.

These delusions are rife within the “Republican base,” but they nevertheless do sometimes seep up from the lower depths into the halls of power.

Even so, enthusiasm levels among Republican officials and the plutocrats who own them are lower than many think.

The officials fake enthusiasm out of fear of Trump’s wrath; they don’t want the Dear Leader to sic his base upon them. The plutocrats are motivated by greed; their venality knows no bounds.

Indeed, unlike in the past, they seldom even bother any longer to “justify” their own shameless money-grubbing on libertarian or other ostensibly principled grounds. In their view, cupidity is a force of nature; it doesn’t need to be justified.

Arguably, it is not quite enthusiasm, but cupidity, that they evince. Many of the lost souls in the Republican base nurture a sense of grievance that is arguably also not exactly enthusiasm either.

The observable enthusiasms of the white evangelicals who see Trump as an instrument of providential design (seriously!), and of the white supremacists who have crawled out from under the rocks Trump overturned, could also be described in similarly unflattering ways.

This is also true of the adoration Trump elicits from psychologically damaged persons who, recognizing a kindred soul, see themselves in his nefarious image.

Thus, as he famously said of covid-19 deaths, Trump’s hold over Republican hearts and minds “is what it is.”

Needless to say, this most unfortunate state of affairs is politically consequential. It is plain, however, even as its consequences unfold, that the whole rotten business is of greater clinical than political interest.

Be that as it may, it still makes sense to ponder what all the enthusiasm gibberish has to do with what really matters: voter turnout.

This much is clear: were all eligible voters’ preferences freely and fairly expressed in a Trump-Biden electoral contest in which, as is sadly the case now, the only meaningful way to vote against Trump is to vote for Biden, there is no doubt that Biden would win handily.

No one except perhaps Trump himself, his favorite daughter, his two idiot adult sons, their spouses and girlfriends, a few demented advisors of the Steven Miller type, and the most dumbed-down and deluded Trump supporters could possibly think otherwise.

Thus, the real cause for concern is not that there might be more people idiotic enough, after three and a half years of the Trump presidency, to come out and vote for him than there are people willing to vote against him by voting for Biden.

It is that thanks to our glaringly undemocratic electoral institutions and our deeply entrenched duopoly party system, there might be enough people in the right places either to give Trump another popular vote defeat but Electoral College victory, or to make the election results close enough for Trump and his followers to attempt and perhaps succeed in precipitating a constitutional crisis that would lead him to attempt and perhaps pull off a successful coup d’état.

By slowing down mail delivery and doing everything else in their power to undermine faith in voting by mail, Trump and his minions, are already hard at work preparing for that eventuality.

Their larger strategy, it seems, consists, first of all, in squeezing all the votes they can out of the kinds of people who, out of sympathy or conviction or malice, voted in droves for Trump in 2016, and who seem inclined, even now, to stand by their man.

Step two is to do all they can to keep potential Biden voters from voting at all; step 3 is to disqualify as many Biden votes as they can. And, finally, unless their electoral defeat is massive or perhaps even if it is, they will try to hold onto power by any means necessary, no matter how foul, that they are able to deploy.

As everyone knows, the “demographic” Trump is courting most assiduously consists of rural, disgruntled, long in the tooth men with little or no post-high school education. Their women are a close second, and white, better educated, rural and suburban “housewives,” as Trump calls them, are not far behind.

Meanwhile, Democrats want to revive the so-called “Obama coalition,” a term that has come to designate “persons of color,” people under thirty (or maybe forty or even fifty), and persons of all ages, hues, and gender identifications who are drawn to political views that, starting from a center-right perch on an idealized political spectrum, veer towards the left. In other words, their plan is to mobilize everybody whose head is screwed on more or less correctly.

The Democrats’ Pelosiite leadership would have a far easier time getting potential voters to vote if had they not quashed the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns or, failing that, had at least opted for a more appealing “moderate” than the one they settled upon.

Having Kamala Harris on the ticket helps a little – in large part because, as per the current watchword, she “looks like” several of the core constituents of the Obama coalition, and can even get away with claiming to be African-American.

That she is loved by Silicon Valley plutocrats and other billionaires and is nearly as subservient to AIPAC as Biden himself, could and should be a problem in progressive quarters. But “speak no evil” has become the order of the day in the de facto popular front that has arisen spontaneously in opposition to Trump.

For the time being, I am glad that she got the nod – in part because I think that, more than Biden, she has it in her to veer to the left if pushed hard enough, and also, I confess, because if the debates are on, I cannot wait to see her go after Mike Pence. If only she could be the one to debate Trump as well!

In any case, I am confident – far more than in 2016, when my confidence was misplaced – that Trump will defeat himself, even if the Democrats and their media flunkies succeed in making the election more about Biden or Biden-Harris than about Trump.

The more they do that, the worse their chances become, but with Trump and Pence for opponents, it will be all but impossible for Biden to lose, no matter how ineptly he and his people campaign.

Once this plain fact filters through the Donald’s seemingly impenetrable skull, he is likely to become even more dangerous and more unhinged than he currently is. This should give even the densest and most apathetic potential anti-Trump voters as compelling a reason to vote as can be.

Were enthusiasm for Biden possible, it would help a little too, but there is no cause for worry on that account. Fear of four more years of Trump can hardly fail to help a lot.

Therefore, chances are that, before long, the time will come to move reconstructing the Democratic Party radically for the better back to the top of the agenda.

When it in no way impedes efforts to send Trump and his people packing, there is no reason not to work on that now too — no reason not to vote against Democratic incumbents who, like Coons, are part of the problem in their own right, and no reason not to work diligently in support of progressive insurgents like Scarane.

Thanks to Pelosi and others of her ilk – James Clyburn, Biden’s savior, above all — the way forward is temporarily impeded. But it is not permanently blocked. Quite to the contrary, 2020 is likely to be an even better year for progress than 2018 was.

When the time is right – that is, when the Trumpian menace is eliminated or at least diminished — the struggle for a better possible world, not just a less bad actual one, can resume full speed ahead. To that end, the better progressive insurgents do now, the better off the political scene will be.

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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