We Know Joe

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

We know this man Joe Biden. We know the politics he champions. We know his corporate and financial backers. We know what we’re up against. Barack Obama and the Clintons operated in the same neoliberal and essentially reactionary sphere. The faces in power may be female, Black, Latino and gay, but the policies are designed to keep the power from the people, the money from the vast numbers of working people, and the war machine’s troops around the globe. We cannot afford to get fooled again.

Inauguration Day is the opening of a new front in the battle for the planet and those creatures who live on it. The Trump years were, more than anything, a forced retreat. The fascist and other reactionary forces unleashed by his occupation of the White House made major gains and they are determined to hang on to those gains. The eight years that preceded him were, in essence, not a forced retreat but part of a decades long retreat, nonetheless.

It’s good that Biden is a conventional establishment politician. It is also bad. The history of the last four decades (with the exception of the Trump years) is the history of a nation ruled by conventional establishment politicians. It is good because we know their strategies and tricks. It is bad because those strategies and tricks can lull people into a political sleep.

Without the personal outrage a Trump can cause, elected officials, their appointees, and the monetary forces they serve can do a lot of damage under the guise of doing good. Whether it is Reagan’s privatization of the government, Clinton’s destruction of the social welfare system, the Bush’s bloody wars on the people of the Mideast, or Obama’s continuation of all those policies, the reality is these actions took place with most US residents’ assent. Liberals fell for Reagan’s folksy lies, letting themselves be led by their investments into a world where the poor were once again blamed for their circumstances. When their man Clinton was in office, they supported his intensification of the war on the poor, all the while pointing to their 401Ks as proof the American Dream still worked. And the wars just went on.

There was opposition, but never to the point that the troops would not be sent to fight or completely withdrawn once they got there. Indeed, too much of the antiwar leadership abandoned its constituents and joined up with the Obama campaign in 2007, just as the war on Iraq was escalating. That war, and the war on the Afghans continues to this moment. In addition, there are tens of thousands of US forces—military and mercenary—wreaking death and destruction around the globe. Many of those forces have been “cleaning up” the results of Obama’s warfare-by-drone strategy; a strategy that continued under Trump.

There will be certain proposals made by Biden that those to his left should support. Hopefully, those proposals will do much to ameliorate the financial pain so many US communities find themselves in because of the pandemic. To begin with, unemployment benefits should be extended, as should the eviction moratorium. Student debt should be cancelled and affordable universal health care must be instituted.

Those are just for starters. The left should set the agenda on these and other domestic issues and not allow them to be limited by the right wing of the Democratic party. This is only possible via a concerted organizational surge that puts tens of thousands in the streets and the halls of Congress. Unions must be called upon by their members to join these actions. So should schools, municipalities, churches and local politicians. If this occurs and is sustained, success is possible.

On the other hand, there is the matter of war and the preparation for war. Although politicians often tell us they oppose war, it is a rare one who actually opposes it. This is especially the case once a war is started. What this means is that, unlike the domestic programs mentioned above, there will be very few allies in Congress for a meaningful antiwar movement to look to.

In fact, right now it seems the only politicians speaking out against US wars overseas are libertarian leaning Republicans. This should not be the case. For example, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), correctly noted that Biden’s cabinet was made up of “corporatists and war enthusiasts.” Of course, the GOP has plenty of both, too, but it seems crucial that the antiwar left take the lead in the next four years in order to prevent Hawley or another trumpist from claiming that his party is against war, despite both history and the current reality.

Furthermore, while the antiwar sentiment from libertarian sources is welcome at a protest, the antiwar left must rebuild, being careful about alliances with individuals who oppose most imperial wars while simultaneously championing US freedom to pursue profit anywhere on the globe. The simple fact is, capitalism needs to expand and tighten its grip on those populations it controls in order to survive. Libertarians are fundamentalists when it comes to their belief in capitalism, imagining the pursuit of profit to be the only genuine freedom.

History—more than any libertarian pipedream—tells us quite clearly that for capitalism to expand and survive (two words which become synonymous in capitalism), war will occur. The same libertarians who oppose war also oppose universal public health care, social security, unemployment insurance and even the paltry stimulus checks provided by Washington earlier in the current pandemic.

Regarding war and capitalism, let me touch on the concept of imperial rivalry. While I am not convinced that Russia or China are imperial powers, it is clear their economies are serious rivals to the economic hopes of the United States. Even though each capitalist nation requires the entire global capitalist economy to exist, it is also true that capitalism requires competition among those nations as much as it looks for trade deals that benefit the corporations and bankers that trade across borders.

While it is the rare nation that chooses war with its greatest rivals, the fact remains that such wars do occur. That is why recent statements from GOP politicians against China and calling Biden’s cabinet “panda-huggers” and the like are disingenuous at best. Then again, so are statements by Democrats regarding Putin and Russia. As for Iran, one hopes that Biden will not allow the US to be dragged further into a conflict provoked most recently by the assassination of the Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

When George HW Bush was inaugurated in 1989, I lived in Olympia, WA. A coalition of antiwar, environmentalist, anti-racist and labor groups called for a counter-inaugural protest. Most noticeable by their omission were certain liberal and pacifist individuals who argued that us organizers should give Papa Bush a chance. Our answer was simple: George HW Bush had a record. He had been the director of the CIA, the lead man in the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan contras, and a loyal member and cheerleader for Ronald Reagan’s reactionary administration.

Of course, the list we provided was longer than that, but you get the idea. We knew who George HW Bush was. We knew his politics and whom he served. It was no time to “see what he might do.” In other words, we knew what we were up against. It was not a time to rest. Nor is it now. We know what we are up against.


Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com