Cave Man Joe: On Hollow Resistance to Fascism and Other Existential Menaces*

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

*This essay originally appeared one week ago, five days prior to the tentative bipartisan “debt ceiling deal” that Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy worked up last Saturday. Nothing in the “deal,” which now faces opposition from the most reactionary members of Congress, leads me to significantly alter the general emphasis here on Biden’s predilection for caving to the right in the name of “reaching across the aisle.” The tentative bargain is not as completely awful as it might have been, but it is plenty bad enough. As The New York Times national correspondent Peter Baker reports:

“Many on the political left are aggravated that Mr. Biden in their view gave into Mr. McCarthy’s hostage-taking strategy. The president who said the debt ceiling was ‘not negotiable’ ended up negotiating it after all to avoid a national default, barely even bothering with the fiction that talks over spending limits were somehow separate. Liberals were pushing Mr. Biden to stiff the Republicans and short-circuit the debt ceiling altogether by claiming the power to ignore it under the 14th Amendment, which says the ‘validity of the public debt’ of the federal government ‘shall not be questioned.’ But while Mr. Biden agreed with the constitutional interpretation, he concluded it was too risky because the nation could still go into default while the issue was being litigated in the courts. And so, much to the chagrin of his allies, the bargaining of recent weeks was entirely on Republican terms. While details were still emerging this weekend, the final agreement included no new Biden fiscal initiatives like higher taxes on the wealthy or expanded discounts for insulin. The question essentially was how much of the Limit, Save and Grow Act passed by House Republicans last month would the president accept in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.”

Let’s hear it for the cavemen and the cavers.

No, I’m not talking about primitive humans or those who explore caves today.

I mean those American elites who cave in to the Republi-facist Party and its malignant Dear Leader Donald Trump.

And here I mean people much higher up the food chain of power than FOX News contributor Glenn Greenwald…

A CNN Kickoff Rally for Trump

…People like CNN CEO Chris Licht, who signed off on that instantly (and justly) infamous Trump Town Hall three weeks ago – the one where CNN, a network that Trump has long used as his top whipping boy, gave the wannabe fascist strongman 90 primetime minutes to:

+ repeat the same lies about his accuser E. Jean Carroll that convinced a jury two days before to hold him liable for sexual abuse and defamation.

+ describe Carroll as a “wack job.”

+refuse to rule out reimplementing his sadistic family separation policy at the border.

+ insanely claim that Democrats “will kill the baby in the ninth month.”

+ repeat his giant Hitlerian lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

+ announce his intention to pardon many Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

+ call January 6 a “beautiful day.”

+call the CNN host Kaitlin Collins “a nasty woman” because she dared to correct some of his lies.

+falsely claim that Black Lives Matter has murdered people.

+ call the Black Capitol Police officer who shot the fascist insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt “a thug.”

+ take personal credit for the Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which is causing terror and misery for women and girls across the nation.

+absurdly deny that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal.

How disgusting.

Also horrific was CNN’s audience selection: an almost completely white crowd of New Hampshire Republicans and Independents who were permitted to sneer, snicker, laugh, and cheer at the command of their orange-hued Hitler.

Thanks for the cave to Trumpism-fascism, CNN. It was about – what else? – eyeballs, that is ratings, which have been…well, caving for CNN in recent months. Loss of viewers and advertising is the explanation for CNN’s decision to hold a Springtime for Trumpler event, a sign of its determination to “reposition as a non-partisan network” and present “both sides of every issue.

(Of course, it’s not just CNN that practices insidious both-sides-ism in the Republi-Nazi era. “PBS,” a learned correspondent writes me, “still interviews Republicans without any fact-checking, pretending there are two sides to (say) the debt limit, abortion, or academic/teacher freedom. Only Democracy Now! is somewhat better, but it has a tiny audience.” )

Anderson Caver: “It is Happening Again”

Former CIA intern and top CNN host Anderson Cooper justified his “liberal” media company’s Trump propaganda event as supposed journalistic responsibility to give voice to the supposedly unrecognized and supposed half “half the country. They are your family members, your neighbors, and they are voting,” Cooper said, adding that a Trump presidency “can happen again. It is happening again.” Cooper accused people criticizing CNN for giving Trump a platform of “staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with.”

Anderson Caver is apparently unaware that Trump is backed by just a quarter of the nation, a fourth that is very well known and granted absurdly outsized voice in the right-tiled Minority Rule US political and governance order.

A Trump presidency “ can happen again” and indeed “is happening again”? Props to Cooper for (perhaps intentionally) referencing It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel depicting a fascist takeover of the US, but we are seventeen months from the next presidential election and CNN just gave Trump a kick-off rally for the 2024 campaign. If it happens again – and by the way my book on the first Trump presidency is titled This Happened Here – CNN can take some credit for getting the ball rolling for a man who, in Cooper’s own words, “attempted to destroy our democracy.”

Cave Man Joe

The Coming Debt Ceiling Cave

But let’s turn to a bigger cave man than Cooper or Cooper’s new boss Chris Licht – US president Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden. Reports are that Biden is now open to cutting discretionary spending to the level of fiscal year 2022, and then capping the rate of increase at 1 percent per year for an indeterminate period. Also included in the likely compromise would be a rescinding of COVID aid and imposing absurd and sadistic work requirements on Medicaid and Food Stamp recipients. The “compromises” Biden will likely make, caving to Republi-facist threats to spark a major financial meltdown, will be disastrous, as Ryan Cooper recently pointed out:

“Politically, it reinforces the precedent that Republicans can extract concessions through legislative terrorism, and by signaling weakness and timidity in the Democratic leadership, it will further enable GOP extremism… returning to fiscal year 2022 budget levels would mean an immediate cut of about 13 percent to every government agency and program… If defense and border cops are exempted, then the cut will be perhaps 22 percent… 60,000 people would not be able to attend college; 200,000 children would get kicked off Head Start; 100,000 families would lose childcare; and 1.2 million people would be removed from WIC nutrition assistance. One hundred twenty-five air traffic control towers would be shut down… Rail safety inspections would be cut back by 11,000 workdays, meaning 30,000 miles of track going uninspected. (More dangerous chemical spills, here we come!) Some 640,000 families would lose rental assistance, and 430,000 more would be evicted from Section 8 housing. And that isn’t the whole list of carnage.”

It is of course unthinkable that the nation might try to resolve some of its deficit and debt issues by increasing taxes on its grotesquely wealthy few. The Republicans oppose that and so do most of the big corporate donors who pay for Democrats’ campaigns.

Biden’s coming cave will be the usual raised middle finger to Bernie Sanders and other liberal and progressive Senators who are telling him to smack down the right-wing debt-ceiling terrorism – the very real threat to throw the nation into default and economic meltdown – by reasonably and constitutionally bypassing Congress. Biden has every right to do that under the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which says flatly that “the validity of the public debt” cannot be questioned.

Sanders and other “progressives” are challenging Biden to boldly invoke the constitutional provision and thereby end the debt-ceiling insanity. Good luck with that. Biden doesn’t do bold when it comes to righting the Republi-fascists. “The White House has studied the issue for months,” POLITICO reports, “with some aides concluding that Biden would likely have the authority to declare the debt limit unconstitutional as a last-ditch way to sidestep default. But Biden advisers have told progressives that they see it as a poor option overall, fearing such a move would trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness and damage the economy.”

Biden and his fellow neoliberal masters of Hollow Resistance and inauthentic opposition always have good reasons for engaging in their favorite hobby: caving.

Infrastructural Cave

Are we supposed to be surprised that Biden has recently weakened his supposed firm line on the debt-ceiling crisis? His whole long Senatorial and Vice-Presidential career was a deeply conservative monument to corporate and imperialist collaboration “across the aisle.” His 2021 infrastructure bill was an epic cave:Biden accepted a watered down $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal with Republicans which coldly slashed trillions of dollars originally designated for climate action and social programs. He sold this miserable surrender as a vindication of his longstanding commitment to “reach across the political aisle.” Never mind that the party to his right had gone fascist and that many Republicans in Congress had absurdly voted against the certification of his election on January 6.

Carbon Bombing Climate Cave

Biden has caved badly on his green-sounding climate promises. I don’t have time and space to list all the examples here. Please consult this depressing document from Food & Water Watch (FWW): “Biden Climate Watch.” Among the most depressing entries in FWW’s roster of Cave Man Biden’s betrayals:

“March 13, 2023 — Lighting the Carbon Bomb in Alaska: In spite of a massive push by climate activists and environmentalists, the Biden administration approved ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil drilling project on the North Slope of Alaska. The project – dubbed a ‘carbon bomb’ by critics – is estimated to produce up to 280 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years. The decision is a stark turn away from Biden’s campaign promises to stop new fossil fuel drilling on public lands: (‘No more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.’) Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter called the decision ‘part of a disturbing and disappointing trend with this White House. President Biden refuses to take the necessary actions to rein in climate catastrophe, while issuing rhetoric that professes concern for the existential threat that we all face.’”

By the way, the ConocoPhillips Carbon Bomb project is so sinister and cynical that it includes special new technologies to keep the fossil capitalist’s firms deep Arctic drills in place as the permafrost melts around them – permafrost thawing because of the climate change caused by fossil capitalism.

Labor-Capital Cave

Caving to capital is what “lunch bucket Joe” is all about. Like last winter, when Biden used his executive powers to shut down a long overdue strike by the nation’s badly overworked railway workers. As the Guardian reported, “US railway workers threatened to strike until they got paid sick leave. The president’s administration chose political cowardice” by invoking the 1926 Railway Labor Act to pre-empt the much-needed exercise of workers’ marketplace and workplace bargaining power.

That was quite a revealing action by a president who claimed to the biggest friend organized labor has had in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt.

When’s the last time you heard Biden promote card-check union authorization – the labor election and collective bargaining reform that would significantly enhance union density in the US workforce?

Racist Cop Cave

Then there’s the caving to the now fascist Republicans and conservative Democrats, like when Biden and his Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland announced a plan to reduce crime and gun violence by allowing $350 billion in federal stimulus money to be used to fund police departments in areas that have seen an increase in crime. That cave to the racist law and order community elicited the following response from Karissa Lewis, National Field Director of Movement for Black Lives:

The root cause of crime is poverty, but instead of making investments in our communities, people in positions of power are pushing for more money for police. President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s plan puts the lives of millions of Black and Brown people at risk by increasing the already looming and violent police presence in our communities…Despite bloated police budgets across the country, crime continues to occur because the police do not keep us safe, and they do not prevent nor stop crime. Pouring more money into the system of policing  only threatens the very lives they’re purported to protect…What’s worse, using COVID-19 relief money to boost officer pay or fund oppressive police tactics when our communities are still struggling from the pandemic. It is immoral, but not unsurprising. It is  also a slap in the face to the millions of Black, Brown, Asian, and LGBTQ+ people who voted this administration into office in a historic wave of support in hopes of shifting the material conditions of their families and communities.

Sickeningly enough and consistent with Biden’s police state cave, US police murdered 1,176 people in 2022, making it “the deadliest year on record for police violence since 2013 when experts first started tracking the killings nationwide.” The rate of fatal police shootings by police remains far higher among Blacks than any other racial group.

Trump Freedom Cave

Speaking of Biden’s AG Garland, why is the open putschist and multiply felonious fascist Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump not already in federal court facing trial for any of the different ways in which he tried to overthrow what’s left of democracy and constitutional rule of law in the United State before and on January 6, 2021? The US House Select Committee on January 6 handed strong cases for federal prosecution on a platter to Biden and Garland last December and the truth is that Trump’s guilt on obstruction, sedition and more was abundantly evident before the committee’s report came out. To be perfectly frank, the Trumpenstein ought to be behind bars for the rest of its life by now. Letting it run around the country spewing its lies, spreading its hate, and promising “retribution” two years and five months after the Capitol Riot looks like an epic cave on the rule of law.

DeFascist Kidnapping Cave

And where is the federal prosecution of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – the number two Republi-fascist presidential candidate – for his insane criminal kidnapping of Venezuelan asylum-seekers in Texas, dropping them in Martha’s Vineyard by way of Florida last September? It was a sadistic, openly felonious and brazenly fascist stunt that should be taken up by Garland but won’t be, another sign that the dismal Weimar Dems will endlessly cave to the other dominant party, which has gone more than merely “like semi-fascist” (Biden, speaking to wealthy donors last summer).

Abortion Rights Caves

Then there’s Biden’s caves on abortion rights. When the Christian fascist Supreme Court made its sadistic, women-hating decision that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion last summer – opening the door for the nation’s red states to re-impose the female enslavement that is forced motherhood – Biden could have issued executive orders: proclaiming the war on abortion a national public health emergency; providing free and legal abortion on federal properties in all fifty states; and guaranteeing the legal mailing of medical abortion pills to every US jurisdiction.

He did none of that in response to the openly Medieval Dobbs v. Jackson ruling. Instead Cave Man Joe repeatedly advanced a cynical promise to sign a bill codifying the right to an abortion as a federal law in 2023. It was a coldly disingenuous pledge. Such a bill could never have gotten past a nearly half-Republi-fascist US Senate unless Biden had commanded his party to abandon the Senate’s reactionary filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most bills to pass. That is something Biden would never do.

In a similar vein, the Biden administration has signaled that it will not exercise its fully legal right to tell the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to ignore future federal court rulings that illegitimately ban the nation’s leading and safe and effective abortion pill, mifepristone. Doing so, Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services said, “would set a dangerous precedent.”

Ironically enough, the High Handmaid’s top women hating Medievalist, “justice” Sam Alito, has recently suggested that Biden has constitutional authority to tell the FDA to snub judicial “orders” on abortion medication.

The Ask and Cave Game with Zelensky: What Could Go Wrong?

Oh and there’s someone else Biden can’t seem to stop caving to: the president of the corrupt neoliberal Ukrainian regime. Precision guided anti-missile systems? “No, Zelensky, too provocative…. okay yes.” State-of-the-art tanks? “No, too provocative, Zelensky…umm, okay, yes.” Now it’s F-16s: “nope…that would be nuclear war…umm, okay, use them wisely soon.”

Hey, what could go wrong in a long bloody proxy war between two armed-to-the-teeth nuclear superpowers, one of which is fighting on its own direct and repeatedly invaded southwestern border, and whose leaders have repeatedly warned that it is willing to use nuclear weapons and destroy Ukraine before it will let that country become a NATO outpost?

Just keep asking, Kyiv: if Biden decides it probably won’t cause World War III, you shall receive. It might cause a nuclear war but maybe not. If the gamble goes wrong, those of us who survive may find out what’s it’s like for humans to live in caves again – really cold and barren caves.

As the despicably still free Trump likes to say, we’ll see what happens. You never know what’s around the next corner of a cave.

This essay originally appeared on The Paul Street Report.

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