Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the only game in town to defeat Donald Trump. If we are to relieve the country of Trump’s corruption, his incompetence, his hate, his buffoonery, and his scumbaggery, they are the card we will have to play. And let’s be very clear: we must play it without reservation because the stakes are so high.
But we should also be clear-eyed about what we’re getting and not getting in the bargain and what will have to be done later to finish the work.
Neither Harris nor Biden will reverse the system that brought us Trump. Both are hard-core Corporate Democrats in the mold of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. That’s why they are the party’s standard-bearers. They are priest and acolyte, respectively, in the secular church of neoliberalism that is the nation’s unofficial religion. As such, they are not the long-term solution the country needs.
Donald Trump is president because he deftly exploited the resentment of tens of millions of downwardly-mobile white working-class voters. Their resentment was and is visceral and legitimate. They had worked hard, played by the rules, kept their noses clean… and got shafted.
Trump has adroitly maneuvered that resentment to focus it on race and the fact that the relative status of poor whites has declined, while the relative status of minorities and immigrants has risen. Without a doubt, the racial animus is deep, with centuries of gestation behind it.
But the real impetus behind the decline in white working-class status is not race. It is economic. Until that is addressed, the animus is not going to go away. It is not going to be propitiated. Indeed, it will only get worse.
In the 1980s, corporate America decided it could get a cheaper workforce in the 1.5 billion people in China. So, it closed more than 50,000 factories in the U.S. and moved them abroad, mainly to China. It would make goods there and sell them back here, to its former workforce, which, though downsized into menial service jobs, still had purchasing power based on its accumulated wealth, the wife/mother going into the workforce, and its ability to borrow against the house.
The off-shoring started as a trickle under Ronald Reagan, became a torrent under Bill Clinton, and tsunami under George W. Bush. In the first decade of this century, more than 6 million high-paying factory jobs were lost to foreign outsourcing. The total loss is now more than 10 million. That is where the seething, suppurating core of Trump’s base was spawned.
There would be no Trump or Trumpism if those ten million workers still held their high-paying factory jobs, and their relative status in society was still what it was in the nineties. Their alienation and anger were amplified in the aftermath of the Great Recession that began in 2008.
Though that recession was triggered under the Republican administration of George W. Bush, its solution was left to Obama and Biden. What did they do? While 10 million people lost their homes, Obama/Biden and the Federal Reserve Board transferred $16 trillion to the banks to replace the capital, their stock in trade, that they themselves had destroyed. Otherwise, they were bankrupt.
We must understand this: it is not a bug, but an architectural-level feature of the American economy that during both normal times and crises, across Republican and Democratic governments alike, the rich get richer, and virtually everybody else gets poorer. That is the genesis, and the sustenance of Trumpism and the same expropriating dynamic is playing out again today.
Biden/Harris will not change any of this because they are leading players in this system, the neoliberalism order that has been the country’s governing system since Ronald Reagan. Biden himself has been in politics for 47 years, since before Reagan even ran for president. He has been a player in every Democratic administration and a negotiator with every Republican administration since 1973.
Harris was chosen for the ticket mainly because she is not Elizabeth Warren, whose presence would have signaled a commitment to fundamental structural change in this system. Wall Street vetoed Warren and her principled challenge to the status quo in favor of Harris, who is a well-mannered mouthpiece of reigning orthodoxy and a well-behaved custodian of ruling interests.
Harris is also the ideal candidate for VP from a neoliberal perspective because her ethnic identity allows her to deflect the focus of the public’s rage about its collapsing circumstances to race, and not on the systemically failed economic system. She is precisely, though in an opposite and more genteel way, the same foil as is Trump in redirecting animus from economics to race.
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Neither Biden nor Harris supports the Green New Deal. This is ironic, to say the least, because one of Biden’s most repeated mantras about the Coronavirus is that “We have to listen to the scientists.” The scientists are actually more united on the impending apocalypse of climate change than they are about COVID. But COVID doesn’t have a powerful lobby pushing its interests in Congress. The fossil fuel industry does.
And it is beyond irony that not only would the Green New Deal address the most pressing issue facing the planet, it would create tens of millions of high paying industrial and trades jobs as the economy is reconfigured to a new energy paradigm. Those jobs would provide great stimulus to the economy and reverse the downward economic mobility that lies behind Trumpism.
It is telling that the Democratic National Committee removed the plank in its convention platform calling for defunding of fossil fuels. Biden/Harris lead the Democratic ticket in order to ensure that there will be no fundamental change to the energy platform on which the economy operates.
In the meantime, China races ahead, leading the world in renewable energy, the energy paradigm of the twenty-first century, while Democrats repudiate the most powerful, encompassing economic innovation and renovation available to the country today.
Similarly, with health care. The U.S. spends 18% of GDP on health care, or about $4 trillion a year. That is double the average of what other industrialized nations spend. If the U.S. only spent the average of what other nations spend, it would free up $2 trillion a year for investment in the economy, education, infrastructure, research and development, and other pressing needs. That’s $2 trillion that would be available every year.
But both Biden and Harris oppose Medicare for All, the only program that could deliver those $2 trillion a year. Biden claims to want a public option, just as Obama had, until he became president and then scuttled it. Harris was for it before she realized its liability to securing the nomination. Then, she was against it.
These are not profiles in courage, but portraits in complicity. Like fossil fuels, health care has a deep and powerful lobby that guards its avaricious grip on American economic output. The exact same applies to foreign policy and the military.
Both Biden and Harris are exemplars of the liberal interventionist school of American empire in which Democrats specialize. Neither saw a military budget they would not support despite the fact the U.S. military has not won a single war since World War II: not Korea; not Vietnam; not Iraq; not Afghanistan.
Yes, it can knock over Podunk principalities like Libya, or sick its Al Qaeda and ISIS proxies on Syria and Yemen. Yes, it can carry out coups in Honduras and Ukraine. All of those dubious interventions occurred under Obama/Biden. Indeed, in the past two decades, the U.S. has spent some $6 trillion on fruitless wars in the Middle East, and Biden/Harris show every inclination of demanding more.
In other words, in finance, energy, health care, and foreign policy, Biden and Harris are against the kind of structural reforms the country so desperately needs in order to restore its economy and reverse the deep-seated impetus to Trumpism that imperils its democracy. They quite rightly scorn Trump, but effectively embrace the system that gives rise to Trumpism.
Worse, the challenge they will face once in office will be made incomparably more difficult because of the damage the Coronavirus—and Trump’s bungling of it—have inflicted on the economy.
At least three million jobs will not return. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been destroyed. Millions of personal credit lines have been exhausted. States, having lost hundreds of billions in tax revenues, will carry out massive layoffs. The federal government has borrowed an astonishing $5 trillion to deal with the collapse in aggregate demand. That is 20% of all the borrowing the U.S. has done since the founding of the Republic 244 years ago, and it’s happened in the last six months.
The fiscal cupboards will be closed to more borrowing and because of the resilience of Trumpism, there will be no consensus for any program equal to the needs of national recovery. There will be no going back to anything resembling normal, and yet, Biden/Harris eschew the only available path out of broken that is available.
Biden and Harris may defeat Trump and that, in itself, will be a goodness, indeed, an existential imperative. But they will not defeat Trumpism. That task will be left to less conventional but more courageous, and imaginative leaders still yet to come.