A Superstition Called the Presidency

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder – CC BY 2.0

Every four years the American polity works itself up into a lather about the supposedly mammoth difference in direction offered by the two political parties presidential candidates. This is nonsense, as experience has proved time and again. Even with two so-called diametrically opposed politicos like Biden and Trump, “nothing,” as Biden so memorably phrased it was “fundamentally” going to “change.” And it didn’t.

Biden continued the anti-China bluster and did not undo Trump’s tariffs against Beijing, though as of early September he was supposedly pondering doing so – at least partially. Since he’s waited this long, don’t hold your breath. Biden even upped the ante as far as war is concerned, announcing on several separate occasions, most recently on September 18 on national TV, that the U.S. would aid Taiwan militarily in a fracas with Beijing. Thus Biden deliberately undid decades of the One China policy, which so effectively deployed ambiguity to keep the peace. That policy, rooted in President Richard Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger’s opening to China, had a decidedly bi-partisan cast, for decades. Now it’s got the bi-partisan war party cast, with pugnacious whoops, provocations, bellicose yowls and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle regularly jetting into Taiwan just to stick it to China. It doesn’t matter whether Biden or Trump sits on the throne: the Exceptional Empire has put itself on the warpath.

Then things slid even further downhill as the White House, following in Trump’s sanctions-happy footsteps (vide, most egregiously, Venezuela), mulls sanctions on China for threatening Taiwan. Even for Biden, this move would be colossally reckless and provocative. And that’s saying something. He’s the guy whose lousy sanctions on Russia weakened the American economy to the point of recession and crippled the European one. That’s because the west utterly depends on Russia’s raw materials and commodities. If Russia refused to export to the west everything from metals to uranium to fertilizer to wheat, we’d be looking at some pretty grim times, though maybe not as bad as Europe facing winter without Russian energy.  Meanwhile, U.S. reliance on China’s economy is even greater, because the U.S. economy deeply intertwines with its chief trading partner, who happens to be, you guessed it, China! The west as a whole would do well not to forget that China is the manufacturing workshop of the world. Can you even begin to imagine how sanctions will boomerang when Biden slaps them on China? Hello? Ever hear of inflation?  You thought it was bad last summer due to sanctions on Russia? With sanctions on China, the price of well, just about everything, will undoubtedly zoom into the stratosphere.

So Biden continues Trump’s Sinophobic rampage. Yet normal people thought he wouldn’t. How to account for this stupendously stupid expectation every four years, flying in the face of all evidence and experience, that with a new president, things will change? It must be the human weakness called hope, which springs eternal from that entrancing but utterly false view of things, that incurable delusion called optimism. We Americans would be much better served – and likely better motivated to alter reality – with a healthy dose of pessimism, or even, ta dum! that thing most Americans regard as rat poison, fatalism.

If enough people really deeply believed that this salvation by presidency is as much of a sham as the hallucination that our country’s constitution serves us well (excepting, of course, the still stellar bill of rights), they might at last be motivated to do something about the absolutely parlous state of a nation where, over the last four decades, $50 trillion has been extracted from ninety percent of the population and funneled into the bank accounts of one percent of the population, making those few people unfathomably rich. And that ninety percent has permitted this with hardly a peep! Just like the relative silence over the abomination of two foreign, decades-long wars which served utterly no purpose other than to kill tons of Iraqis and Afghans, and quite a few U.S. soldiers too…and to help bankrupt all three countries. Time to wake up! Things are awful and will surely get worse, unless we forget this nonsense about a savior in the White House, or in a gang of partisan hacks on the supreme court huffing and puffing over a hopelessly outdated constitution, written by a bunch of slave-owning, indigenous-slaughtering, female-oppressing bigots. Things will get worse because there is close to zero difference in this country’s dreadful policies regardless of which party is in charge.

Speaking of continuity within the bipartisan war party, remember the Bush era tax cuts for billionaires followed by the Trump era ones. These scandalous giveaways to the rich prompted Dem candidates Obama and later Biden to swear up and down that their first acts once ensconced in the White House would be to restore some sanity and fairness to the U.S. tax code. They would rescind those execrable Republican tax cuts. Tra la! They didn’t. They were busy having so much fun being presidential that they couldn’t bear the thought of offending wealthy donors, even though they had promised they would. Oh well, the Dems doubtless save undoing the tax cuts for another day – like the next presidential election.

Speaking of tax cut charlatanism, how on earth did two GOP presidents get away with stuffing cash in oligarchs’ pockets while posing as tribunes of the people, pals of the average working stiff? Well might you ask. Me, I chalk it up to the superstition called the presidency which enables transparent liars to bamboozle otherwise normal people of average intelligence into denying the evidence of their senses. Bush and Trump thus aided and abetted the aforementioned four decades-long heist of almost $50 trillion from the 90 percent of the population called ordinary people to the richest one percent. But Bush was the kind of guy folks want to have a beer with, while Trump let loose with all the grotesque rudeness that, evidently, pleases millions of Americans. So they got a pass on their tax cuts, and Bush on his unprovoked war on Iraq, and innumerable other crimes, to say nothing of the overall dereliction of squandering the people’s wealth.

And that’s just this century. It doesn’t even touch the presidential hocus pocus of the twentieth century, which featured the supposedly mellifluous prose of that forerunner of modern American elites, the so-called “decent” American president, Woodrow Wilson, whose literary vacuities cloaked an all-out effort to aid and abet the worst butchery the world had ever seen, namely World War I. After whipping up wild hysteria for the needless entrance of the U.S. into this blood-soaked monstrosity, Wilson proceeded to lock up virtuous heroes like antiwar socialist Eugene Debs and bequeathed the country the obscenity called the Espionage Act.

Another supposedly decent president, this one adulated for his homespun American wisdom, was Harry Truman – a killer in sheep’s clothing, who dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pretty much out of spite and also as a blood-drenched warning to the Soviet Union of what was in store for it if it messed with the U.S. The slaughter was atrocious and thoroughly needless, because Truman knew very well the Japanese were ready to surrender. In fact, he hastened the bombing by moving up the date before that surrender could become public. Thus two of the so-called great twentieth-century American presidents. They really don’t look much superior to the ignominious mediocrities, like Nixon, reviled for the war crime of bombing to smithereens innocent bystanders called Cambodia and Laos and Herbert Hoover, detested for his idiotic economic policies which ushered in the Great Depression – two so-called mediocrities who, well, were pretty darn awful.

So now we have Biden, whose pedigree includes Wilson, Truman and even Eisenhower – not the Eisenhower who bemoaned the military-industrial complex, because Biden has no gripe with that, but the Eisenhower who greenlit the assassination of Congo’s duly elected president, the heroic Patrice Lumumba. Eisenhower. Truman. Wilson. These are Biden’s frightening antecedents and so far, having unleashed the CIA on Russia, a country bristling with nukes, through the Ukraine proxy war infamy, while refusing to consider a negotiated peace and even allegedly helping to sabotage one in April, which thus condemns thousands of Ukrainians and Russians to death; threatening outright war with nuclear-armed China; and now bombing Somalia for apparently no reason, Biden has proved he’s got what it takes to be a leading American president cherished by American elites – no qualms about committing mass murder.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Hope Deferred. She can be reached at her website.