By @dougmcculloch98 and @harryrhigginson.
January 20th 2021 saw the end of the Trump era and the beginning of the Biden Administration. In mainstream political circles it was a much-anticipated day, marking an end to the overt quasi-fascist politics of Donald Trump and his merry band of thieves. The day was marked by one historic achievement for the United States: Kamala Harris became the first woman, and first black person to hold the office of Vice President, which must not be underappreciated. Overall though, it was a tame and rather uninspiring event.
The day itself was one that had much speculation around it. Following the January 6th revolt and assault on the US Capitol, 25,000 National Guard troops had been deployed to Washington D.C, ready to face the threat of potential dissent and violence in the face of the swearing in of the new President, Joe Biden. This speculation did not amount to anything however, and the ceremony went on as planned: uninterrupted and unhindered allowing the “peaceful transition of power” to take place.
“Peaceful Transition of Power” is a phrase that has so much meaning in the ‘free’ world. Undeniably, the US President is one of the most powerful people on the planet, regardless of public opinion. The power they hold has the ability to impact not only their home state but the wider global population. It is this very power that attention must be paid to, a power that very much transcends the borders of the US, as the president ultimately shapes the direction of the world’s hegemonic power.
So, what will Joe Biden do now he holds such an awesome responsibility?
In his own words, he will “unify”. He seeks to unify a broken, partisan state, aiming to find common ground with the other side of the aisle. The phrase ‘Fascism has been defeated at the ballot box’ was much repeated by liberal and moderate commentators, but after the events of this January, and the rumours of a new ‘Patriot Party’ being founded, has it really been so easily dispatched with? Who is it Joe Biden seeks to unify with and why? The answer is relatively simple. He seeks to unify with a sinister collection of people he is all too quick to praise as his colleagues, many of whom have no interest in returning these political pleasantries. He seeks to unify with neo-conservatives and their hard-line military agenda, with quasi-fascists and their unstoppable quest for governmental domination and with big business and their desires to exploit the American populace. His calls for unity are a hit and a miss.
Biden is gridlocked by an idea of bipartisanship that will see him, and the democrats, marching to the beat of someone else’s drum. In seeking to find compromise and unity, Biden misses the fact that the Republican party, in rhetoric at least, is very different now than it was in Obama’s first term. The racism is less subtle, the outright resentment of political opponents a little more baked in, and the embrace of conspiratorial, fringe views alarmingly more central. By seeking to find a middle ground with a party steadily shifting rightwards, Biden may well find himself being dragged in a similar direction, without the ideological convictions to anchor his policies. This all comes from a starting position that there was ever a good ‘normal’ to return to, and that a mythological ‘reasonable Republican’ both exists and operates within the same moral axioms as America’s progressives. Both of these assumptions are flawed. From the need to seriously overhaul, and even outright abolish the cruel, fascistic organisation that is ICE, to the dire need for single payer, universal healthcare, Biden cannot hope to get meaningful change forced through by compromising with a party that actively opposes necessary change. By chasing a middle ground, Biden will achieve the very same as Obama: very little of significance.
With Biden now firmly in office he has been presented with an obvious opportunity – do what your base, the democratic electorate, wants you to do. End the separation of children from their parents on the Southern Border; free immigrants from cages in detention centres charged with the crime of daring to seek a better life; give a population suffering through a pandemic a chance to access free and good quality healthcare; do something tangible about the rise of the alt-right in America.
But he will not. He never will. Instead, as his portion of the electorate sigh a collective sigh of relief that ‘fascism has been defeated at the ballot box’, the chain of events that led to Trump’s election, and were advanced Trump’s tumultuous term will continue. ‘Illegal aliens’ will still be crammed into cages, built by Obama, ‘undocumented migrants’ will be housed in detention centres, and the status quo will remain. Biden will stay true to his world, and in an era crying out for structural reform, nothing will fundamentally change.
There are reasons for this beyond misguided bipartisanship. Take healthcare, for example. The power of big pharma, and money more broadly, in US politics is hard to fathom. Biden’s campaign received huge amounts of money from large pharmaceutical companies that stand to profit from the status quo of health insurance-orientated healthcare in the US, reversing a long term trend of Republicans receiving the majority of these contributions. In spite of popular support, and plainly obvious need for fully functioning, state-funded healthcare, Biden has refused to commit. In a country with healthcare coverage so utterly, gallingly broken that the monthly price of an Insulin prescription can reach $1,500 per month, this position is inexcusable.
But this is Biden’s position, and this is all the Democrats can offer America. A broken, hardly-functioning normality, where the aesthetics of justice blare over the needs of the disadvantaged, and pragmatism is deployed when something an awful lot more radical is needed.
So by all means, celebrate that Trump has been kicked out of office, and that a black woman holds a hugely important office. These are undeniably good things, and worthy of celebrating. But do not be blinded by one victory, and lose a wider war: there is an almost insurmountable amount of work to be done, and we cannot rely on the politics of normality to save us.