Decency, Normalcy, Genocide and the U.S. Presidential Election

Each day passes, and another 260 die; the genocide is slow. Some 2.3 million Palestinians lived on the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. By January 14, 23,000 of these were gone. It took all of three months to extinguish one percent of the population.

When will we get to two percent? We exceeded 30,000 last week. It will take another two months, at this rate, sometime before May Day, to bring the total yield to 46,000 dead Palestinians, or two percent of “pre-war” Gaza. Will the corporate media call it genocide then? How many of a targeted population need to be annihilated to warrant the accusation? Is CNN waiting for 50%, before reporting things as they really are?

One wants to say that it’s become obvious—even to the people of this country—that Israel is, in Biden’s feeble phrase, “over the top.” Being so, and headed by an “a-hole” (again, Biden’s term), it is at least guilty of some “indiscriminate bombing” (again, Biden) of innocent civilians. The fact that Biden has had to make a few gentle criticisms of Israel, and of Netanyahu in particular, has nothing to do with his convictions, which are solidly, historically Zionist, and framed by the opportunism that’s characterized his whole career.

Rather, in a world of diminishing “U.S. influence;” competing powers and blocs; a global south increasingly repelled by U.S. wars based on lies and sowing chaos; mounting consciousness around the world including the U.S. of both the viciousness of the “IDF” bombing and colonial-settler state itself—in such a world, the U.S. must cling to its posture of “honest broker” in a “dispute” in the Middle East, to be resolved sometime in the future through diplomacy.

But it can’t do that, at least not in the traditional way (including the vetoing of UNGC resolutions), if the Israelis leave the world aghast at their capacity to inflict Holocaust-like terror—on the people they’ve already displaced—to sustain the settler-state they say shares a universal “right to exist.” They have gone too far, says the world.

So Biden’s public message has been timid: “You guys are overdoing it,” he complains softly. The private message to Netanyahu is more likely: “You’re appalling the Arab street by your vindictive slaughter, maybe provoking a repeat of the ‘Arab Spring’ that undermined our allies, if not a general resurgence of Islamists uniting around Palestine. The world is solidly against you now, more than usual, and I’m doing my best to protect your ass, along with Fiji. But my own political base is calling your actions genocide. You realize how dangerous that is? Your desire to satisfy enraged Israels is getting in the way of my need to maintain some credibility in this world. So please don’t invade Rafah without giving some people a route to escape—otherwise it will look like just killing people to kill them. It could cost me the election, and Israel’s better off with me than Trump.” (This latter point may not be so obvious; hasn’t Trump advised Netanyahu to “wipe out the problem,” and would he not love to boast of creating jobs in the death industry, churning out the required weaponry?)

That’s Biden’s reasoning, behind the fog, I think. Yes, it’s obvious that Israel, whose cause Biden has championed throughout his career (however problematic his relationship with Binyamin Netanyahu has been), is in the midst of committing an atrocity so conspicuous and ongoing as to preclude any further “normalization” of relations with nations, and to ensure that Israel will be shunned, as a nation, by more and more significant actors in the world, in the foreseeable future. The Zionist movement has gone full circle, from a cause arguing its own necessity (to prevent “another genocide”), to a cause requiring Palestinian genocide for its own preservation.

The world sees this genocidal mentality in the Israeli government spokespersons’ Nazi-like self-righteousness, as they bark to the world that the Palestinian people must be “denazified.” They really appear to believe their settler-colonial cause has the world’s moral support (or if it doesn’t, it makes no difference, since an ubiquitous global “antisemitism” can always be assumed, while the U.S. was made to have Israel’s back, no matter what). Doesn’t the U.S. Congress, to say nothing of Christians United for Israel, always treat the Israeli prime minister as a rock star?

This arrogant hubris—this expectation that Israel can rain down fire and brimstone on its enemies, smiting them from the face of the earth (like the tribal god Yahweh, in the Bible myth, ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanite tribes to display his wrath, and thus open up the Promised Land for settlers), without any serious consequences—will likely lead to a fall. But leave that to the world, for the time being.

Biden No Longer Mr. Decency, Still Mr. Normal

Here in the U.S., the diminishing (but still significant) corporate and other media coverage of Gaza continues to fan mass outrage at what is more and more commonly, even matter-of-factly, termed “genocide.” This in itself is a win for critical thinking. The State Department and Pentagon spokespersons, and those of the president’s office, continue in their language and worldview to promote the tired old concepts of “Free World,” “rules-based order,” “international security,” “shared values,” and of course democracy. All these, in their usage, are codewords for U.S domination, wars based on lies, expanding military alliances, aid to murderous dictators (who are somehow “vital allies” to the U.S.), support and subsidization of settler-colonialism.

The best the Biden campaign can do now—now as Biden’s “decency” selling-point has disappeared in the Gaza rubble (if not the moment he fist-punched the murderous Saudi Prince Muhammed bin Salman)—is to fall back on his “normalcy” sales pitch. That means “getting the message out,” in a very focused way, that this election is one for or against democracy itself. (And democracy, by the way, means not just the selection of a law-abiding “democrat” over a lawless fascist, but the maintenance of “our traditional bipartisan foreign policy” via the sale of arms to Ukraine and Israel, the “strengthening” of NATO, secret wars in Syria and elsewhere, confrontation with China, etc.)

Trump remains the abnormal candidate, in that he does not promote the myths undergirding U.S. “foreign policy” for two generations. He makes it clear he’s fine with all manner of brutality, if it benefits him or his friends; but he is an advocate of his own, not “American,” exceptionalism. While offering no analysis of NATO, its anticommunist origins and post-Cold War character as a tool for U.S. domination (the Kosovo, Afghan, and Libya wars, etc.—what does he care about such matters?) he adopts a gangster-like tone in addressing the European members. His message is simple, stupid, amoral: We have been paying for your security; you’re not paying us protection money; if you don’t obey, and don’t force your people to pay more for the alliance, we don’t need it!

This of course does not echo the left critique of NATO (as a one-time “anticommunist” alliance of imperialist powers and their satrapies, designed to prevent a Soviet invasion of western Europe and to crush the left in the west, which has evolved into an alliance of imperialist powers steered by the U.S. that overthrows governments in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya and strives to expand to surround and suffocate Russia). It is gangster logic, not anti-imperialist logic. But the fact that Trump is already weakening NATO (by signaling to its members—including incoming Finland and Sweden, whose entry is supposedly a major U.S. triumph—that the U.S. ruling class has become too unstable or crazy to lead it), can hardly be a bad thing.

Trump’s readiness to challenge longstanding State Department policies is

a key reason the bulk of the bourgeoisie is not on his side. Biden on the other hand is a lifelong hawk, a supporter of the war in Iraq based on lies (in which his son Beaux so proudly “served,” and which killed half a million Iraqis). Biden’s always been a leading proponent of NATO expansion, supporting the U.S.-backed putsch in Ukraine in February 2014 that brought the pro-NATO faction in Kyiv to power. (Soon after this, Biden’s son Hunter was strangely offered a cushy job as a board member of Burisma. the country’s leading energy company, despite his lack of any experience in the field). It’s hardly surprising that Biden should double down now, on the traditional stance of giving Israel everything it wants, even under current circumstances, and even while indicating some personal distaste with indiscriminate bombing.

Biden was selected by the DNC after Sander’s primary victories in 2020, as the anti-Sanders, the candidate of capitalist normalcy, the fifth most popular among the Democratic candidates, the most establishment. The bargain was: give the progressives some of what they want, understanding this as the necessary condition for a coalition, and even if they become disillusioned, rely on the threat of a second Trump turn to force them to choose the lesser evil. (This of course assumes that the potential voter has been sufficiently indoctrinated as to believe that elections are worth their time.) In exchange the progressives were supposed to accord fealty to Biden, as the head of the democracy-saving mission.

Now, however, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan urges Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the primary. (Biden through his childlike press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has condemned her embrace of the slogan: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” In that condemnation reverberates the sheer ignorance and hypocrisy of the State Department in its most normal state, supposedly under threat from the abnormal Trump.) The main (non-MAGA) part of the corporate media attacks, ever more shrilly, forces that might—in the “two-party system” we’re taught to see as given—throw the election to Trump, whose identification as “fascist” gains mainstream currency, even as his poll numbers rise.

Everyone’s Calling Trump Fascist Now

Now it’s not unusual to see, say, former GOP national chairman and MSNBC commentator Michael Steele calling Trump a fascist. The only thing we can do, according to every voice allowed to speak on CNN and MSNBC, is use this precious two-party system to elect the non-fascist! Or this will be the last democratic election we’ll ever see!

(I notice that Nikki Haley is now drawing an equivalence between Democrats calling Trump “fascist,” and Trump calling opponents “vermin.” While she pooh-poohs the former charge as levelled at Trump, the fact that she draws attention to the fact that fascism’s being discussed at all may be significant. But not to her candidacy.)

The argument has credence. Trump heads a movement which is vaguely fascistic, although he makes a point to (preventatively) dissociate himself from fascism: when he denounces “the Marxists, the communists, the fascists” he’s conflating movements he doesn’t even try to understand, and using terms merely as meaningless epithets to arouse his clueless adherents, few of whom actually identify as “fascist.”

(The latter would include the Nationalist Front, Patriot Front, and the Daily Stormer —formerly Total Fascism—who might either disdain Trump as something other than the real thing, or accept his references as purely strategic. But most Trump adherents would be hard-pressed to define fascism as something more specific than the enemy’s ideology in World War II. But then, most don’t know what “ideology” means, and they’re unclear about who fought who in World War II. Hasn’t Alabama’s Sen. Tommy Tuberville boasted about how his father was deployed in Paris during the war to “liberate it from communism and socialism”? Self-chosen ignorance is a key feature of the MAGA faith.)

Trump’s attempt at dissociation is no more convincing than efforts by (fascistic) Israelis to depict Palestinians as “fascists,” but it points to the fact that Trump doesn’t head a programmatically fascist party articulating one-party dictatorship, white supremacism, state control of industry, anticommunism, ethnic cleansing, imperial expansion, and endless war. He heads a party with no program at all, except the satisfaction of the leader’s whims, and it conspicuously does not glorify war as the health of the state.

That party is ludicrously locked in internecine warfare that appears to the outsider strangely childlike. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calls South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace “trash” for not being MAGA enough; Republicans could not elect a new speaker of the house forever, then ousted him in ongoing infighting; they are paralyzed tactically, when an agreement won by Trump supporters from the Democrats gets ditched the moment Trump raises objections. The very feature of this movement that seems most threatening (its religious-like personality cult) is also its Achille’s heel, since such a vapid object of loyalty appeals to diverse idiots, with competing opportunisms, who tear into one another when not kowtowing in unison to the Dear Leader.

The Republicans are Not the Same as the Nazis, and the Democrats Do Not Represent “Democracy”

This is not the party of a Heinrich Himmler, who had some organizational skills; it is not a disciplined party, much less one with a well-organized paramilitary organization. It’s a motley crew of ignorant, petty ideologues with ties to the white supremacist, Christian nationalist sects, who can be counted upon to get rowdy when signaled to do so by Steve Bannon and his ilk.

It’s not the party of a united bourgeoisie, any more than it ever was. It’s a party that can barely agree on a Majority Leader of the House, whose more mature elements are abandoning it or being driven out; a party that (in Alabama at least) declares embryos human beings, prompting more internal division. If there is a terrifying high level of Trump support, whipped up by corporate money, there is also a significant faction of the party, supported by more corporate money (Americans for Prosperity Action) who have backed Nikki Haley, even if the investment hasn’t paid off and the support ended after the North Carolina primary.

A faction of moneyed donors who generally unite with Trump’s “Christian nationalism,” are betting on Trump’s appeal to the most stupid, which is to say, his personality cult. But this is the movement’s Achilles’ heel; if Trump’s image among the stupid were to be transformed overnight—if they could, say, be persuaded that Trump’s been the Antichrist all along, and that’s why he could hoodwink so many people—MAGA as it exists would collapse with it.

But ever since polls last November showed Trump leading Biden in “battleground states,” some of the most powerful corporate media outlets have been raising alarms. Those who oppose, for a wide range of reasons, a second Trump presidency, including many who fear for the fate of their global investments under Trump, are necessarily now inclined to depict him in the darkest terms. To the extent that the mainstream press (New York Times, CNN, MSNBC) reflects majority ruling class sentiment, we can suppose that the class as such now sees Trump as highly dangerous to its own interests. Capital assumes risk, but capitalists prefer stability, and dislike the thought of trade wars, labor market disruptions, global boycotts, etc. that might occur under a second Trump administration.

So the decision has been made: this election will be about democracy. Whereas the Democrats have protested Trump’s “dictatorial” and “autocratic” behavior for years, now the sales pitch will be: Biden and democracy, or Trump and fascism! It’s a very black-and-white, simplistic approach, so will likely be successful. Trump’s campaigning now on Biden’s “failure on our borders,” but this could easily change to “Biden’s a warmonger, and I’m not.” Much depends on the wider world, especially the situations in Ukraine and Gaza.

While some of the same cable anchors who condemn the Gaza carnage express indignation at Congress for delaying weapons to Ukraine and Israel, the Ukrainian military (utterly dependent on the U.S. and NATO) is losing ground to Russia. It’s obvious to the world that the U.S. wants Russian defeat in Ukraine, but also that Ukraine is dependent for arms on the very country whose intervention in 2014 empowered the current political class, allowing them to request those arms as well as NATO admission. And that, of course—Kyiv’s planned entry into an anti-Russian military alliance, as part of the long-term plan to encircle Russia—is the reason for the current war.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has used the crisis to destroy the once powerful German-Russian trading relationship (bombing the Nordstream II pipeline!), to expand NATO in the far north, and to pressure allies to provide more support for Kyiv. The insane effort to maintain global hegemony, through the positing of ongoing threats to “European security” from both Russia and China requiring Europe to further embrace the USA, is probably hopeless in the long term. But Biden is its current best exemplar; he stands for the New Cold War, and incessant self-righteous military interventions, slaughtering thousands or hundreds of thousands, never with any accountability or apologies. He is Mr. American Exceptionalism, which means Mr. Normalcy in U.S. politics.

When a U.S. president sees Israel behaving outrageously, their normal instinct is to provide cover for the politically sacred ally. This Biden continues to do. All pretensions of seeking common ground with Progressives have been dropped. Democratic Party pollsters express “concern” about the “feelings” of Arab-Americans and potential young voters, but remain optimistic that in the end the critics will see reason and vote for the candidate who’s at least not Hitler. I’d say “Good luck with that” but I’m bad at feigning sincerity.

An Insulting Question

So November will come, and the crumbling nation will be saddled with a wannabe fascist at the head of a crazed mob of ignorant thugs bent on suppressing critical thought and resistance, and implementing a white Christian nationalist program—or, or a mass-murderer hell-bent on maintaining capitalist normalcy and expanding the imperium. Meantime we’re asked to choose which of these two—culled carefully, as they’ve been, from all of 259,000,000 adults with U.S. citizenship, we’d rather have preside over the country.

Isn’t the question itself insulting? We’re told several times a day as the big day looms that any failure to vote for Biden is a vote for Trump. After all, the argument continues, “We have a two-party system.” That’s what democracy is all about! Voting for one or the other two choices, hoping the choices improve next time, always resigned to the fact that this is “our” system and that at least we should take advantage of our precious right to vote (for a Republican or a Democrat exponent of that system). Post-Michigan pundits are now noting glumly that yes, it’s unfortunate that feelings are so strong on Gaza etc., but still, the choice is clear. Such pundits are out of touch; they think it’s all about “getting the message out”—meaning both reiterating all the good that’s been accomplished over the last three years, which is for some reason not generating mass appreciation, and warning the masses of the dire fate awaiting them under a draconian MAGA dictatorship.

Increasingly the negative element is emphasized, along with the stifling choices “Democracy” now offers it: either use your vote—that sacred instrument signifying your “freedom”—to choose Biden and continued freedom (if that is indeed what you think you’re experiencing), or decline to do so, and through this failure, virtually inviting fascists to take over. The pitch will change over the next few months, adjusting to the international situation. If Biden is broadly associated in November—as sponsor—with ongoing genocide in Gaza, and is trying to put out (in the normal, familiar imperialist fashion) multiple fires in the region ignited by Zionist war crimes, those accustomed to voting in the first place may simple be unable to choose between comparable evils and so do what’s generally been the wisest thing to do: stay home.

Whichever moral monstrosity ascends to power next year, the country will likely enter a period of intensified mass protests, violent confrontations between a broadening “left” and increasingly fascistic right, conflicts between federal and state authorities, and struggles between science and idiotic religiosity. As “confidence” in all the major institutions—presidency, legislature, courts beginning with the Supreme one—plummets, the realistic prospect arises of building on that disillusionment to topple them.

Whatever history of mass struggle we can boast of in this country, there is no mass-based party, with a program that speaks specifically to the most burning questions, and has a strategy to win power. Marxist ideas are more prevalent than they’ve ever been, certainly on campuses, but also in the resurgent labor movement and even at the fringes of electoral politics. But Lenin lingers on the sidelines.

Steven Bannon, the alt-right chief strategist of the MAGA movement, occasionally calls himself a Leninist, which, in his usage, just means he’s eager to seize power by any means necessary. For whom? For Bannon, it’s the dictatorship of one, particularly vile, human being. For real Leninists, the seizure of power is seen as the inception of the dictatorship of the masses, led by the working class—the empowerment of the people via their party.

As Lenin famously declared in 1915, a revolution is possible when the ruling classes are unable to maintain power in the accustomed ways, the suffering of the masses forces them into action, and there’s a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class exists to shape that action to the seizure of power. Two of these preconditions exist, but there’s no party with a program uniting the most advanced, to (as Mao puts it) win over the middle and neutralize the backward—who now appear to be on a roll.

Who we vote for, if indeed we vote, matters little compared with what we do the days after Nov. 5. Whatever the result, respect for the pillar institutions will be at a new low, anti-capitalist consciousness at a new high, the conflict between post-60s liberal democracy and fascistic white nationalism at least as sharp as it is now. The election will solve nothing fundamental, but only begin a new stage of struggle against a familiar, disgusting figure—Genocide Joe or Donald Trump (unless one of them disappears)—as the political chief of the familiar, disgusting ruling class as a whole.

The question today should not be “Who will you vote for?” but “Why choose one of these scumbags—which the ‘democracy’ (that they claim is under attack) has offered us—over the other?” And: “Do you support this (capitalist, imperialist) system itself?” The day after we should ask ourselves, “How does this this result create new opportunities for radical consciousness-raising, a necessary condition for real revolution?”

The Palestinian solidarity movement so widely present on U.S. colleges campuses becomes more radical (more aware of the roots of the problem) by the week. Concepts like “settler colonialism” have become entrenched, and if cable news channels remain aghast that such ugly terms can be applied to Israel, they are in fact being widely employed as the Gaza slaughter continues. The awareness that Israel is committing genocide extends deep into the Democratic base. Sometimes consciousness soars ahead, and ideas, as Marx says, become a material force when grasped by the masses. In U.S. history, students have played a key role in this process, of bringing theory out of the campus onto the street.

But, as Marx wrote in 1882, of Algerians striving to maintain the traditional “absolute equality in their social intercourse” in the face of French colonialism: “they will go to rack and ruin without a revolutionary movement.” It is one thing to realize the bankruptcy of the two parties, and of the “two-party system” doctrine we’re conditioned to view as somehow normative. It’s another to build a mass revolutionary movement, on the basis of rapidly evolving radical consciousness. But we’re seeing it emerge on campuses across the country, as opposition to settler colonialism becomes more consciously anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti the system as a whole. It will likely intensify, regardless of which monster wins in November. That’s the good part.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: