Any Way You Look at It, You Lose

Image by Element5 Digital.

Here it is, February 2024 and it’s as if the US’ two major parties had already held their nominating conventions. Biden vs. Trump. Two corpses of the US political system as the vaunted democracy’s choices. Reactionary neoliberalism or reactionary fascism. The key word in both phrases is reactionary. At this point in history, I don’t believe it could be any other way.

As you might be able to tell, I don’t care much about presidential elections in the United States. Decades ago I concluded these exercises in hype, false promises and just plain lies were not about representation or democracy. Indeed, for most of the voting citizenry they end up affirming that they are okay with the forces that rule them. They are okay with the forces that fight wars in their name, absconding with their tax dollars and their children’s lives. They are okay with an economy that forces those with something to lose to accept the growing expansion of corporate profits at their expense. Those with less to lose vote for candidates who promise a less economically stressful existence while the billionaires fund their campaigns. They are okay with random massacres by unhinged individuals with powerful weapons protected by laws written for the gun manufacturers and passed by men who confuse their weapons with their masculinity. I could go on, but I believe you get the point.

Presidential elections resolve none of the issues facing the planet. The military continues its domination of the economy. Prices continue to increase on almost everything we buy. Attempts at peacemaking are dismissed over and over; the arms industry’s voice drowning out every voice of sanity in a manner similar to how the noise of the F-35 death planes that fly over my roof five days a week drown out everything including one’s ability to think. The callous disregard for human lives overseas currently determined to be enemies is echoed in school classrooms, shopping malls, bars and other public spaces where homicidal Americans kill dozens with guns anyone can purchase almost anywhere. As for those places in the USA where guns can’t be so easily obtained; the Supreme Court is working on changing that. Then there’s economic inequality—something no major party candidate has been actually qualified to talk about for as long as I can remember. If for no other reason then that it’s the practices of the class they cater to (and usually come from) that are the cause of that inequality.

Otherwise intelligent people argue the merits of a Democrat or a Republican, a Biden or a Trump. It’s as if they believe it matters in an existential way, despite the all too obvious fact that the trajectory of life in the US has been on a downward track throughout most if not all of their sentient lives, no matter who’s at the top. Friends who voted for Trump at least once in the past decade tell me that the world would be different if he had been re-elected in 2020. Mr. Trump agrees with them—telling his followers that Russia would not have attacked Ukraine and Hamas wouldn’t have launched its October 7, 2023 attack if he had been president. Of course, there’s no way to prove Trump’s statement. It is, after all, meaningless. It’s possible the trajectory towards war with Russia might have been diverted. However, given Trump’s actions during his reign, it’s very likely that his support of the Zionist project in Israel/Palestine would not have prevented the Hamas action. Also, given Trump’s aggressions against Iran during his rule indicate that his response to the current situation in the region called the middle east would be all out war on Iran. This supposition is substantiated when one reads the current calls from various Trumpist legislators for an all-out attack on Iran and its allies. Neither candidate or their party accepts that the Palestinians have a clear right to a sovereign state with its own economy, political system, international recognition and foreign policy. Instead, the US political system funds and defends Israel no matter how many crimes against humanity it commits. As regards China, Trump’s actions and words reveal a confused approach while Biden’s are more in line with the aggressive policies of George W. Bush and others in the neocon wing of US policy makers.

When it comes to domestic issues, it’s always about the economy. Like war, the economy is not something that changes every four years. Nor is it too dependent on who is in the White House. This latter statement becomes truer every year, especially since the process now called neoliberalism began during the Carter administration. Briefly put, neoliberalism is all about getting rid of social services—underfunding public schools, overfunding the military and war industry, loosening any restrictions on corporations and banks, and cutting taxes on the richest people in the country. The favorite mechanism in this process is privatization. In other words, figuring out a way to make a profit from everything after ending governmental involvement. In the zeal for privatization everything is fair game: public water, energy providers, schools, the military, policing, roads, medicare and social security, to name a few targets. Both parties are on board with the process, although there are occasional attempts to pass legislation to protect the most vulnerable in society. Historically, those efforts are usually advocated by the Democrats. However, even those efforts are constantly under attack from those who make profit their god and the pursuit of it their religion. All too often, it is the latter who succeed in cutting of so-called safety net programs while the best the Democrats seem to do is limit some damage in certain instances while the underlying situation for working people becomes both harsher and longer term. In other words, the Democrats talk the talk of compassion, but are too willing to compromise on delivering the goods necessary to lessen the suffering in a meaningful manner. Their allegiance to the profit motive and the private sector ensures the party’s continuing rightward drift.

Joe Biden is this election’s version of Ronald Reagan. Besides the obvious factors like his age and occasional confusion, there are political similarities, too. There is the increase in arms production and the intensification of weapons sales to clients around the world, including Europe where the saber rattling against Russia is at its greatest since Reagan’s rule. Although Reagan was less aggressive in his use of the military, he wasn’t shy about funding other state and non-state proxies to do Washington’s dirty work in Central America and elsewhere around the world. The Pentagon is currently involved in at least two proxy wars—Ukraine and Gaza. Either conflict could ultimately involve US boots on the ground. Domestically, economic inequality continues to widen. Perhaps the best indication of this is the ever-growing numbers of unhoused in the United States. For those who remember, it was under Reagan that the numbers of the unhoused reached crisis proportions. Furthermore, today’s incredible transfer of wealth from the working class to the wealthy echoes the Reagan years—years when the concept of a so-called underclass became part of the discussion.

Donald Trump is this election’s version of, well, Donald Trump. More overtly fascist than he was in his previous campaigns, his arrogance and ever greater rejection of the facts seems to be a winning combination once again. His criminality is more obvious than before and so is his celebration of it. When he tells the media he is going to be a dictator if he gets elected, he should be taken seriously. I don’t think one is exaggerating if they say immigrants, the unhoused, protesters and many others should be ready for a repression this country hasn’t seen in decades. The forces he unleashed during his time in the White House have not been silenced and now have an even greater sense of grievance which will be resolved through revenge. Just like in his previous term, any modifications of current US war policy would be overshadowed by Trump’s actions in the domestic realm.

I’m not writing this to make a case for either candidate. Mostly because I can’t make such a case for either candidate. This thought is what is bouncing around in my brain, bumping up against questions about what kind of capitalist authoritarianism I prefer. My case against Trump is probably greater, but that doesn’t make a case for Biden, who continues to insist US power should be used to expand wars and not for negotiating peace while personal debt goes off the charts. The only guaranteed result of the upcoming election is that most US residents will continue to be screwed.

(The title of the piece is a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s song “Mrs. Robinson.”)

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