Sleepy Woke Joe, Coal Mine Manchin, the Holy Charter, and the Color and Gender of Faces in High Places

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

Joe “Never Called me Boy” Biden is now poised to fulfill his campaign promise to “put a Black woman on the US Supreme Court.” Biden will do so with undeniable symbolic justice and the white nationalist right will wage neofascistic culture war against his nominee. It’ll be both disgusting and amusing to watch sexually anxious Amerikaner Republicans bitch and moan about the possibility that their top white male judicial preserve will be polluted and degraded by “affirmative action.”

Still, the neoliberal Democrats’ identitarian obsession with the color and gender of faces in high places has its own reactionary aspects. In and of itself, there’s something infantilizing about a pledge “to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.” At the risk of stating the obvious, neither one’s race nor one’s gender make someone the kind of person decent citizens want sitting on the highest court in the land – or the kind of person who could be expected to take aim at racism and/or sexism, deeply (institutionally and societally) understood. After all, Amy “Coat Hanger” Barrett is a female, and Clarence Thomas is Black. Together those two noxious jurists make up one-third of the right-wing white- and male-supremacist super-majority on the Supreme Court. (The Black female Republican Condoleezza Rice was George W. Bush’s rabidly imperialist National Security Advisor before and during the imperialist and racist invasion of Iraq…I could go on.)

Installing an officeholder of the politically correct color and/or gender can be worse than merely not a solution to racial and/or gender oppression. It can be a debacle for racial and/or gender justice when the installed person is a right-wing Republican openly opposed to serious anti-racist and anti-sexist government policy. Less obviously but equally if not more important, it can be a calamity if the Black officeholder is a “deeply conservative,” objectively white-supremacist corporate Democrat like Barack Obama, Deval Patrick or Lori Lightfoot – someone who may be Black and/or female but is more subtly opposed in neoliberal ways to serious anti-racist and anti-sexist policy. Among its different downsides, the elevation of an Obama, Patrick, and Lightfoot sort of non-white and/or non-male policymaker helps discredit anti-racism and/or (in Lightfoot’s case) anti-sexism and anti-homophobia by linking them with imperial capitalism and neoliberal regression. Hitching anti-racism to a corporate imperialist like Barack Obama helps the right paint out anti-racism as elitist. Hitching anti-sexism to a corporate imperialist like Hillary Clinton helps the right do the same thing with feminism.

It gets worse. The elevation of Black and/or female Democratic officeholders feeds white nationalist and/or white supremacist paranoia and reaction while fueling the deadly illusion that racism and/or sexism no longer pose serious barriers to Black and/or female equality. How any times did we hear white folks say that the Obama’s presidency proved that racism no longer posed serious obstacles to Black advancement and equality in the USA – this even as the atrocious Black-white wealth gap worsened under Obama.

The “empires new clothes” Obama presidency was a predictable racial justice nightmare (one I repeatedly warned about) in many ways, including the White House’s Axlerodian calculation that Obama should steer clear of serious anti-racist policy (not that the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” Obama had any particular desire to fight radical oppression in a meaningful way) since he already had the white Amerikaner homeland race-triggered by the simple fact of his being Black (even he was white-pleasing “Black but not like Jesse”). Tragically but predictably, Obama’s color granted neoliberal and imperialist policies an outwardly progressive sheen and re-rebranding they didn’t deserve, helping mute left criticism of his hope-mongering/crushing administrations.

Some ask a curious coal-dark question: will the nation’s de facto president Joe “Coal Mine” Manchin (“$-WV) really let Joe “Con Pop Was a Bad Dude” Biden appoint a Supreme Court Justice? It might seem like a relevant query. After all, US Senators Manchin and his partner in dollar-drenched degeneracy Kyrsten Sinema ($-AZ) have deep-sixed voting rights reform (necessary to stem Republican-led constitutional fascisation at the state level), Build Back Better, and other desirable policies including the continuation of the expanded child tax credit.

All the expanded tax credit did was reduce US child poverty by 30 percent. It was important for King Manchin and the Repuflifascist Party to get rid of that: more poor children, more Oliver Twists, please.

Here’s the answer: yes, Manchin will let Biden appoint a Black female to the high court just so long she passes neoliberal muster with the ruling class fractions tied to fossil fuels (which is most of them).

And then there’s an unpleasant institutional matter to discuss. Yes, there’s a special place in Hell for Manchin and Sinema. But these reptilian plutocrats (who make one almost long for the return of the Baader-Meinhoff gang) are only able to evacuate their rancid and oligarchic intestines so profusely and poisonously on the common good and “democracy” (what’s left of it) because of institutional factors rooted in Stephen “America is an experiment” Breyer and Joe “You Know the Thing” Biden’s beloved national charter. Manchima sit in a ridiculously powerful US Senate that absurdly overrepresents the nation’s most white, rural, and reactionary regions and states by giving every state two senators regardless of population size. (If liberal and diverse Democratic California had the same populace-to-US Senator ratio as right-wing white Wyoming, it would have – no joke – 134 US Senators. If Brooklyn was a state with the same ratio as Wyoming, it would have 10 US Senators.) The Republifascist Party would never hold nearly half of the seats in a representative national body based on actual democracy.

The Senate apportionment regime is an open extreme violation of the elementary democratic principle of one person, one vote. (Why do we even have a bicameral legislature?) So, of course, is much more in the sacred national charter that is so lovingly embraced by Bryer and the Bryers’ ice cream fan Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden. Other anti-democratic characteristics include the judicial review power of the lifetime-appointed Supreme Court and the nauseating Electoral College, which has permitted candidates who lost the popular vote to win two of the last six presidential elections. The holy US Constitution is still very much “a covenant with death,” to use William Lloyd Garrison’s language – an ancient and authoritarian parchment that needs to be not merely amended (practically impossible anyway) but replaced with something altogether new. It is a graphic embodiment of Marx’s observation that “men make history …under circumstances …transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” The anti-democratic legacy of the nation’s rich Indian-killing, slave-raping, and wealth-accumulating, white male Founders is alive and well and encoded in the still living national rules.

The high court will remain absurdly far to the white- and male-supremacist right of majority US opinion, with a 6-3 Republikaner super-majority regardless of who Joe “You’re Not Black if You Don’t Support Me” Biden appoints.

Biden’s cherished “system of governance that has been the envy of the world for 240 years” de-legitimizes democracy in ways that help give a sick mass appeal to white nationalist Dear Leaders promising to cut through the dysfunction and gridlock to “get things done” – including putting nonwhite and female people “back in their place” along with making the trains run on time – with the Iron Heel.

In the meantime, Biden seems almost determined to spark a potentially disastrous war in Eastern Europe, leading Ukraine’s president to beg him to dial down his Russia-baiting saber-rattling before all Hell breaks loose. As he quite literally starves millions in Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion cheerleader Biden seems determined to use the drums of a new Cold War to drown out the distressing noise of pandemo-fascisation to which he and his party are so richly contributing even if they are not themselves part of the fascist bloc.

As 2500-plus US-Americans – more than the body count of 9/11 – die each day from a pandemic that the right is “done with,” Biden and his imperial team want us to focus our ire on Moscow and spend resources needed for public health on ginning up a confrontation with the potential to spark nuclear winter – probably the wrong solution to global warming.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).