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Get Trump, But Biden is Next, So Lose the Kumbayas

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Inasmuch as even the hyperbolic, overused expression “existential threat” doesn’t quite capture the nature and extent of the “clear and present danger” that a second Trump term would pose, dispatching Donald Trump is and ought to be Job Number One.

This means voting for, and even piling votes on for, Joe Biden. Biden has been making that prospect slightly less onerous than it used to be – not so much by being less of a mainstream Democrat, but by keeping his doofus side under control and by being, or seeming to be, less doddering.

Also, as Election Day approaches, he seems to have become a tad less wedded to the (neoliberal) austerity politics that made him even worse than the average Senate Democrat.

Even so, Biden continues to embody the political orientation that made the election of Trump or someone like him all but inevitable. This makes voting for him distasteful, to say the least. However, it must be done. For ridding the world of Trump, there is no other way.

I mailed in my ballot the day it arrived. Ulysses had himself bound to the mast of his ship because he knew that, when he heard the Sirens sing, he would want to steer his ship in their direction, causing it to founder on the rocks. In that vein, I wanted to make it as hard as possible for me to do what I knew I was going to want to do the more I thought about voting for the candidate the Democratic Party’s establishment has foisted upon us.

What I would want to do, I feared, would be to write in the name of one of my dogs or to cast a protest vote for Howie Hawkins, the Green candidate, or to leave the presidential line blank.

Not voting at all would be an option too. I have never succumbed to that temptation. Many others have, however. Indeed, in recent elections, it has been the most popular option of all, especially among black, brown, and younger voters of all genders and hues – in other words, among those who have the most to lose should the Donald win.

Some people don’t vote for principled reasons; more often, they don’t vote because they cannot be bothered. Nine times out of ten, or ninety-nine out of a hundred, there is no way for public officials, or anybody else outside a non-voter’s circle of friends, to tell which.

If only for that reason, not voting, even for seemingly defensible reasons, harms the body politic by reflecting a reprehensible indifference to the common good. At best, it is an irresponsible choice. This year it would be a lot worse than that. With the Trumpian menace threatening, not voting against him would be self-destructively stupid, in much the way that flocking to Trump super-spreader events is.

Moreover, with Trump and the GOP putting the right to vote itself in jeopardy, whoever chooses not to vote is complicit in a crime against (small-d) democracy.

Thus, the first order of business now is to decimate Trump electorally; defeating any and all efforts on his part to remain in power notwithstanding an electoral defeat is not far behind.

Democratic Party fear mongers are working overtime against complacency. Biden’s poll numbers are outstanding, but then so were Hillary Clinton’s; that memory lingers. Nevertheless, what happened in 2016 is unlikely to happen again.

To be sure, this time, more than the economy, “it’s the politics, stupid,” and Clinton’s may actually have been slightly less bad than Biden’s before he became the Democratic nominee. But Biden is a better campaigner, and the people around him seem to have a better grasp of what they need to do.

And then, there is Trump himself. In 2016, poorly informed people could think that he was worth taking a chance on.

They could also be in the grip of the widespread but transparently false belief that if you’re rich, you must be smart. That notion is probably no less secure than it used to be but, by now, the extent of Trump’s ineptitude is more widely perceived.

The news is out, everywhere, that Trump’s wealth, such as it is, came not from his own genius or hard work, but from his father and from the political juice he was able to garner. The suspicion that it comes from sleazy and disreputable sources too is also more widespread than it used to be.

So, while it is not impossible that Biden will fail to deliver on Job Number One, he has it in him, chances are that he will not go the way of Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Sad to say, we can count on Trump not ceding power gracefully. Nevertheless, he will be gone by Inauguration Day. You can bet the ranch on that.

Getting to that point however, is likely to require considerable effort. Even so, it is time to start working on the next step and the step after that — as we move into a world in which the main enemy is no longer Trump and Trumpism but the defenders of the status quo within and around the Democratic Party and the Biden-Harris administration.

***

This is urgent even now because Biden is already giving off signs of wanting to repeat the mistakes of Barack Obama and Eric Holder – and, to the extent he deserves “credit” too, of himself as well.

They wanted to move on after the Bush-Cheney years, and they thought – sincerely, I suppose – that the way to do that was to look forward, not back. Thus, they let Bush era war criminals off scot-free.

The result, of course, was that, under Obama, forward movement all but ground to a halt, as Obama became more like Bush and Cheney and less like the great non-white hope people thought they had voted for.

He and his underlings did precious little to restore the basic rights and liberties lost after 9/11 – if anything, they made that situation worse – and, just by being superficially less odious than their predecessors, they effectively undid the formerly flourishing anti-war movement.

Under their aegis, we kept Guantanamo while adding extra-judicial drone killings to the empire’s repertoire. Foundations were laid too for a deportation regime that ultimately made ripping children, even toddlers, away from their parents and other Trumpian crimes against humanity thinkable.

Talk of “a global war on terror” subsided, but American military adventures throughout the historically Muslim world increased. And then there was the Cold War mongering that became the watchword of the Democratic Party during Obama’s second term — thanks mainly to Clinton, the liberal interventionist foreign policy mavens she empowered, and the neocons she and Obama kept on board.

Even Trump was better than that, at least at a rhetorical level, notwithstanding whatever nefarious reasons he may have for keeping the dogs of war at bay.

In his case, it was mainly smoke and mirrors; Trump is hardly a man of peace. But at least he hasn’t gone out of his way to start wars, the way Democrats are wont to do. It goes without saying that the nuclear codes are safer in almost anybody else’s hands, and surely this counts for something. But even if, in this one respect, Democrats are actually worse than he, it would be seriously wrong-headed to think that anything Trump said or did in the field of foreign affairs in any way mitigates his blatant criminality and corruption.

Job Number Two, must therefore be to hold Trump and his people accountable for their many, plainly actionable, federal and state crimes.

They deserve punishment too for the technically legal but nevertheless unconscionable harm they have done to the people of the United States and to the larger world, and to planet earth itself, by their gratuitous cruelty, depraved indifference to human life and well-being, and by their manifest stupidity.

But short of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission or something of that sort, it would be a mistake to try to do anything about most of that now — beyond handing Trump and his underlings a massive electoral defeat.

Fairly or not, more robust efforts to mete out justice would be seen as examples of what Trump and his cronies deserve to be called to account for: enforcing political orthodoxies and criminalizing political opposition. Also, they all have more than enough patently illegal crimes under their belts to keep the wheels of justice turning for years to come.

Unlike in 2016, it is now widely appreciated that Trump has never been anything like a business Wunderkind; that but for his father’s generosity and the kindness of oligarchs, he would be no richer than the “losers” he despises. The grand master of the art of the deal cannot negotiate his way out of a paper bag.

It is also clearer than it used to be that his mind, such as it is, though cunning, is full of delusions of grandeur. Nevertheless, the persona he projects is somehow charismatic enough in some benighted quarters to be capable of unleashing mayhem, should he take a notion or mindlessly decide to act out.

Biden will therefore be more than usually tempted, but he must nevertheless be prevented from handing Trump a slew of get-out-of-jail-free cards, just to make him go away. In addition to the many reasons why giving Bush era criminals a pass was a bad idea – I would say that it was the Original Sin of the Obama-Biden administration — there is another, overwhelmingly compelling reason now: that it won’t work. Unlike Bush and Cheney and the people around them, Trump et. al. are so self-serving that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that they will go away peacefully of their own accord.

There were intimations of cosmic justice when Trump fell ill from the covid-19 virus but, unfortunately, the gods whose playthings we are let him off easy. This makes calls for human justice all the more compelling now.

***

Chances are that the Senate too, not just the White House, will fall to the Democrats, and that the Democratic majority in the House will increase. This creates potentially game-changing opportunities if the Democratic left, a growing segment not just of the electorate but in Congress as well, would leverage its power – either to force Biden to get out of the way, or else to go along with at least some of the mildly progressive policies that the two decent candidates for this year’s Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, favored.

That would be, among others, the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, free tuition at post-secondary public educational institutions, and, despite Biden and Harris, a ban on fracking. Fairer tax policies, a smaller “defense” budget, reduced support for policing (as we know it), and a more progressive (less interventionist, less predatory, more just) foreign policy wouldn’t hurt either. Neither would breaking up the huge tech monopolies and reforming the financial sector along the lines Warren proposed.

If Democrats win big, the time for intra-party unity will be over. Then the hard work of changing the country for the better, disrupted by the Pelosiite-Bidenesque old guard, can resume.

Ironically, the Tea Party showed the way. If only for this, its emergence on the scene some ten years ago may actually have been good for something.

The Tea Party’s obduracy rose almost to the level of the sublime. Since the eighteenth century, philosophers in Germany, Britain, and elsewhere, working in the field of aesthetics, have drawn a contrast between the sublime and the beautiful. Beauty elicits a kind of pleasure and is complete unto itself. Sublimity is seemingly limitless; in place of pleasure, it elicits awe.

On those occasions when the Tea Party’s baseness rose to that level, it was hardly by design; Tea Partiers were just so morally and intellectually defective that they couldn’t do otherwise.

The emerging left opposition within the Democratic fold, its post-2018 component especially, is made up of the boldest and the best politicians around. How ironic that the antics of rightwing nincompoops a decade ago would provide a model the brightest and the best would do well to follow. But that is how it is. The gods whose playthings we are work in mysterious ways.

Therefore, Democrats willing to leave the dark side behind, listen up: lose the kumbaya jibber-jabber that your party’s establishment and their media flacks are promoting. It serves a useful purpose as long as the situation calls for all hands on deck to defeat the Trumpian menace, but as soon as that nightmare is over, it will serve no worthwhile purpose at all.

It is tempting, of course, not to change course but instead just to lay back and hope for the best. The lazy way out is always tempting, but especially so at a time when everyone is weary from inhabiting the same universe as the covid-19 virus and Donald Trump.

However, intra-party unity now would be a recipe not just for squandering a rare historical opportunity, but also for laying the groundwork for worse times ahead. Interparty collaboration with the actually existing GOP in anything like its present condition would be even worse.

The pundits on MSNBC and CNN bleat on about the virtues of “bipartisanship,” of working “both sides of the aisle.” But what is bipartisanship good for? Not for getting things done; that isn’t how Washington works anymore. As long as one of the two parties in question is the modern day GOP, it is plain as can be what bipartisanship is good for: absolutely nothing.

It is even worse than that because even if all goes as well as it possibly can after Trump is gone, there will still be tens of millions of people that voted for him. Some of them are probably harmless, pathetic souls likely to melt back into the general haze once the Trump-induced turmoil clears. But some, no doubt quite a few, are itching for a fight.

In short, a base for a Trumpism without Trump exists, fully primed. Were a leader more competent and less vile than the Donald suddenly to emerge, it would be good to go.

Were that to happen, would Biden be up to dealing with it? At this point, it is impossible to say. It is not a good sign, however, that thanks to Trump’s anti-antifa ravings, anti-fascism suffers from a case of bad press. Neither is it a good sign that on Israel-Palestine, Biden seems to be running to Trump’s right, and that the two of them seem about equally eager to denounce what they call “socialism.”

Still, it is more likely than not that the demons that crawled out from under the rocks Trump overturned will crawl back out of sight before long, and that they will stay there for a while. If nothing more radical than taking up where Obama left off is attempted, must less achieved, the fascist impulse will surely survive, but the quasi-fascist politics Trump has set in motion will likely disappear – in short order and not a moment too soon.

For decades after World War II, nearly everyone thought that fascism had suffered an historic defeat that pushed it and anything like it off the political stage altogether, at least in ostensibly democratic countries. That cheery thought was obviously mistaken.

When a cause is or seems to be lost, a kind of amnesia sometimes settles in. Thus, after World War II in France and elsewhere in occupied Europe, the reigning mythology had it that collaborators were few and resistance fighters many. In a similar vein, once Joe McCarthy was gone, erstwhile McCarthyites claimed always to have opposed McCarthyism; and with the victories of civil rights activists in the sixties and seventies, supporters of the Jim Crow order in the South abruptly relieved themselves of that historical memory.

If all goes tolerably well in the years immediately ahead, Trump and Trumpism will meet a similar fate. Tens of millions of Trump voters will effectively forget that they ever fell for the Donald’s con.

This cannot happen soon enough, but it will be a temporary fix at best, because the demons will still be out there, waiting to be stirred back into life.

A real fix would require profound structural changes, beyond anything like the nostrums offered by the party of Schumer and Pelosi, the Clintons, and the crew that we now have to do everything in our power to elect.

Barring a disaster too dreadful to contemplate should we not succeed in that endeavor, the next order of business will therefore be to take on the kinder, gentler but nevertheless noxious, later-day version of the comparatively tranquil, pre-Trumpian normalcy that Biden and the others will be hard at work trying to restore.

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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