Biden-Trump Rematch Is the Perfect Showdown for America’s Cadaverocracy

Image by Markus Spiske.

I am looking at an online series of photos of President Joe Biden, who some these days refer to as “Genocide Joe.” The sobriquet seems out of place next to the images. In one, Joe squints with his bushy old eyebrows knotted in an expression that might easily be taken as the astonishment of an interplanetary explorer gazing at a panorama filled with unimaginably strange things. In another, his eyes are riveted but dead, like an animal lying for days at the side of a highway. You might imagine the blue puddles of his irises as two portals to oblivion. The lips droop, the lines and shadows of his cheeks resemble the dull trickle of liquid from melting snow perched atop a section of landfill.

Then you remember that Joe Biden is a placeholder—the first available object that Democratic Party hacks and affiliated media could grab from the supply closet and cram into the space about to be occupied by Bernie Sanders after the 2020 Nevada primary. The first candidate ever to express sincere displeasure with corporate America had busted loose and unleashed a rhetorical reimagining of America’s class structure—so the powers of panic and desperation took Joe Biden and hurled him like a bowling ball at Bernie’s feet. It worked.

Biden and Donald Trump are the bookends allegedly encompassing the soul of America. In our hour of decay, all of the distress, murderous zeal, resignation, and depression of a nation have been compressed into these two versions of senility. I am loathe to blame the American people—Biden, and especially Trump have gotten more media airtime than Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Viagra, and the McChicken Sandwich combined.

The upcoming presidential election—the one that is destined to decide the fate of all creation—is hardly a matter of popular will. If we decided the world heavyweight MMA championship by taking two irascible, inebriated customers chosen at random from a neighborhood bar, no one would buy it. But a match between these two victims of neuronal rationing has been brutally sold to a somnolent public. Is the Biden-Trump rematch an ontological inevitability or a bad mushroom trip?

Please do not take this strange upcoming election as an example of a flaw in the matrix, or the devious caprice played out by the laws of probability. Also, don’t hate on old people for these two—many octogenarians have a complete set of wits and a moral vision. We do not, as some suggest, live in a gerontocracy, but rather, we inhabit a cadaverocracy. Most of those elected to office have been absorbed by their positions in the manner of a careless fly that ends up dissolved within the prison of a Venus Flytrap. Thus we have corpses propped up at congressional desks passively providing cover for Northrup Grumman, Chevron, Pfizer, and Apple. The Venus Flytrap effect defines our politics—Biden and Trump were seemingly conjured out of thin air like two rabbits emerging from a magician’s top hat. Hundreds of millions of us, mouths agape, cannot fathom how it happened.

We are caught in a vise—theatrical cruelty on one side, gratuitous reassurances on the other. Reality TV proved that ordinary people have entertainment value. The Biden-Trump redux is a low-budget script.

I take issue with those who refer to Biden as “Genocide Joe.” This term misses the larger context and promotes the assumption that Biden has the option to refrain from committing genocide. Genocide is written into the job description of every U.S. president, and, as members of the cadaverocracy, it is unlikely that American presidents will be equipped with the strength of character to resist.

Examples abound. We have Lyndon Johnson bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age while destroying people and rainforests with industrial defoliants. Bombing civilians is an old-school means of genocide (as practiced by Gulf War Bush and War on Terror Bush), but Johnson, like Eisenhower and Kennedy before, or Reagan, (and now Biden) outsourced genocide to nativist governments whose violence served U.S. interests. A 2017 piece in The Atlantic by Vincent Bevins detailed the behind-the-scenes role that the CIA played in supporting a military coup and subsequent mass murder of nearly a million suspected Indonesian communists in 1965. American affinity for surrogate genocidaires historically has triggered more secrecy than outrage. If we pretend that Biden knows U.S. history, we might imagine his surprise that anyone even noticed the genocide in Gaza.

Our citizens do poorly with long-term memory. Who remembers the proxy genocide that the Reagan administration perpetrated against indigenous Guatemalans in the early 1980’s? And what does a U.S. history of funding death squads and military thugs in Latin America have to do with those people trapped in razor wire barriers strategically placed in the Rio Grande?

A terrible genocide is occurring in Gaza as I write, but it is folly to blame the despicable U.S. role on the cadavers that we duct tape to elective seats. They are, after all, petrified specimens with formaldehyde pooling in their veins—what can we expect them to do? Nor should we blame ourselves for not voting more carefully, not electing the best possible corpse—a cadaver with the soul and resolve to pull the plug on Lockheed/Martin and the Israeli lobby.

The fiasco that we are about to consume—the Jerry Springer-style matchup of untalented, overmatched, effectively brain-dead presidential mannequins will be a nauseating spectacle, but no one should be disillusioned. In America, we have the habit of blaming systemic atrocities on the indiscretions of individuals. We should have worked harder to elect Bernie Sanders, we tell ourselves, as if the horseshit choices we inherit boil down to a flaw in our collective free will. We are about to consider electing a strong man dictator who, objectively, could not competently perform the functions of a postal clerk. The alternative is “Corn Pop” Joe. My internal struggle at this moment is not about which one gets my vote, but, more immediately, on whether to respond with a suppressed giggle or an all-out guffaw.

It is unhelpful to opine that we get the leaders we deserve, or that we need to make better choices. An election between Trump and Biden might be a subplot in a Samuel Beckett play or a Franz Kafka novel. This is the darkest sort of comedy. There is no roadmap out. You are here, but where is here?

We, the voters, many of us, are on a breathless treadmill, with the bony, strangling grip of fascism honing in on our necks. Every election cycle we fill elective seats with cadavers as a fantasy firewall against fascism. Comedienne, Sophie Buddle, compares the Democratic Party to a perfect date, but when she is invited into his apartment he can’t get it up. Cadavers usually can’t. “Really? You mean, we’re not going to do anything?” Buddle asks. “Then why did you say all those things to me?”

I want to offer a solution, but really, who am I? We can’t vote our way out of this. The left in America is exactly the left that the right wished for—what are they (we) going to do, fight among ourselves? And, as Sophie Buddle observed, the Democrats can’t get hard. I can barely imagine overthrowing cadaverocracy, but at least we can name it.

Keeping fascism from consolidating a stranglehold on our collective throats means committing genocide in Gaza, growing our own genocide at the southern border, taking half measures against climate change, and killing millions of our own citizens with medical neglect, meat subsidies, and deregulated environmental poisons. But in America we are always on our toes—things can always get worse.

Phil Wilson is a writer and essayist who has written for Current Affairs, Common Dreams, The Hampshire Gazette, Common Ground Review and other publications.