E&L is posting the following three articles on the situation in the USA after Biden’s presidential electoral victory. Far from heralding a new “progressive” era, or even a return to “normality”, Biden is already preparing the grounds for a neo-Trumpist populist backlash. The first article by M. K. Kumar in the USA looks at the nature of Biden’s transition team. The second article by Paul Demarty examines the pyrrhic nature of Biden’s “victory”.The third article form Socialist Democracy (Ireland) situates the current political situation in the long term decline of US imperialism.
1. BIDEN TRANSITION TEAM – NOTHING “PROGRSSIVE” ABOUT BILLIONAIRES AND CEOs
Joe Biden’s transition team is full of every kind of capitalist — CEOs, tech execs, even Republican lawmakers. Where are the Squad members or other progressives who were supposed to be moving his administration “to the left”?
Since Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential election, there has been much speculation around the kind of president he will be. While some believe, he might be persuaded by the progressive wings of his party who are rallying for the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, there is no doubt that he will choose to remain a centrist Democrat, who prioritizes profit over people at every turn and sees capitalists as his only constituents in an America where “nothing will fundamentally change.” To understand his future Presidency, one need not look further than his transition team, composed of over 400 Obama-era staffers, academics, Congressional representatives — and more than a few tech moguls. The Biden-Harris campaign has touted this list as especially inclusive and diverse: more than half of the personnel will be women, and at least 40 percent are people of color or people who identify as LGBTQ+. A more diverse transition team however does not ensure the end of oppression and identity politics is no path to liberation.
Sure, the Biden-Harris transition team is made up of diverse voices — in the form of CEOs and high-level corporate executives, along with a fair number of Republican lawmakers — as Biden has stressed that he will be a President for all Americans, not just Democrats. His choices so far include Bob McDonald, the ex-CEO of Procter and Gamble, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, and Cindy McCain, the Chair of Hensley & Co and widow of John McCain. These capitalists are just a few of the bourgeois class who will now be part of Biden’s team to run the country.
Bob McDonald, the Retired Chairman, President and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company and the 8th Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is on Biden’s Transition Advisory Board. Procter & Gamble is one of the worst polluters on the planet, as per both an audit done in the Philippines and a 2020 ongoing lawsuit. In 2014, Argentina accused Procter & Gamble of tax fraud and suspended its operations in the country. There have been numerous reports of P&G’s exploitation of workers, the most disturbing being the use of child labor and forced labor in Indonesia. P&G is one of the most exploitative companies in the world, worsening the climate catastrophe and harming workers and their communities at every turn. It’s no surprise that Bob McDonald’s on the Transition Advisory Board, after all his company is great at pushing “woke” advertising to turn a profit while doing nothing substantial or positive for its workers–much like the Democratic Party itself.
Eric Schmidt, the Former CEO of Google is under consideration to run a tech industry task forcefor the Biden-Harris administration. The criticism of Google spans the gamut, from tax avoidance and censorship to the violation of people’s privacy and helping the state intelligence agencies and militaries spy on citizens using Google Earth. Biden is relying not only on Eric Schmidt and Google, but other affiliated companies of Google parent company Alphabet including Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Labs, a company claiming to innovate the city of the future, has been accused of data harvesting and being at the forefront of a very dystopian “surveillance capitalism,” a mode of control that undoubtedly appeals to the police-loving Democrats.
Cindy McCain, the Chair of Hensley & Co. — and Senator John McCain’s widow — is also on the transition advisory council. McCain’s appointment is a political one, as Biden has repeatedly attested that he believes in compromising with the Republicans. After Senator McCain’s death, Biden made public statements calling McCain “a political giant” and “a genuine American hero,” never mind that Senator McCain was explicitly racist and a warmonger for his entire political career. Appointing Cindy McCain to the transition team is definitely a nod to John McCain’s morally reprehensible political career but it is worth noting that she might also have her own private interests at heart: Cindy McCain is an heiress worth over $200 million through her father’s beverage distribution company in Arizona which she chairs.
While there are not a significant number of CEOs specifically on his roster, there is an alarming number of tech execs. Despite Silicon Valley’s continual exploitation of workers by denying them a livable wage and health insurance, the Biden-Harris Transition Team includes leadership from Amazon, Lyft, Uber, AirBnb, and SalesForce, among other monopolizing firms. While these companies will continue to influence policy and ensure that their profits stay protected, workers as usual have no representation at the table and are treated as but a commodity to be disposed of.
The Biden-Harris Transition Team shows us that capitalists will continue to pull the strings for their administration and the working class will find no relief. Biden works for Wall Street — it is important that we remember this and continue to mobilize and fight for socialism. The working class deserves more.
16th November 2020
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2. PYRRHIC VICTORY OVER POPULISM
For us, two images stand out from the weekend’s events in the United States, when news agencies one by one called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, bringing that bizarre 96-hour election night to a close.
One is the sight of spontaneous mass celebrations in American cities. There is a lot of chatter about the class composition of the Democratic vote at the moment, but these were not (or not only) the street parties of socially-liberal venture capitalists and adjunct lecturers in Africana Studies. A broad swathe of the American masses breathed a sigh of relief that – barring a constitutional coup – the nightmare of Donald Trump’s presidency is over, and the rather shorter one of his potentially sneaking an election that proved too close to call.
The other is – what else? – the bizarre press conference held by Team Trump at a garden centre on an industrial estate in the outskirts of Philadelphia. As Rudy Giuliani stepped up to the podium, he might have reflected on how life can turn; from mayor of New York to a flunkey of one of its most notorious sons – reduced to prosecuting an apparently hopeless legal struggle to overturn an election from a windswept Philadelphian roadside. We could put it no better than Saturday Night Live writer Zack Bornstein:
I could write jokes for 800 years and I’d never think of something funnier than Trump booking the Four Seasons for his big presser, and it turning out to be the Four Seasons Total Landscaping parking lot between a dildo store and a crematorium.
The two scenes we identify are ones of humiliating defeat – the losers muttering darkly about vote-stealing conspiracies like Speakers Corner nutjobs, and the masses telling the outgoing commander-in-chief not to let the door hit his ass on the way out. Indeed, if someone had fallen into a coma in 2001 and woken up this weekend to look at the election results, they might not have found anything remarkable in them. Joe Biden – who they might remember as a bloodless centrist senator – won a convincing, if hardly crushing, victory. He won the popular vote by over four million, and is likely to top 300 electoral college delegates, once the Trump campaign’s kicking and screaming is over.
Such a person would, of course, be a little confused to find Donald Trump in the top job, with Giuliani at his right hand and a legion of conspiratorially-minded far-right superfans behind him – who, that Donald Trump? The one with the cameo in Home alone 2? The road that led, this millennium, to the podium in front of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping front door does not terminate there. If Trump is the loser of this election, the long-term winner will be Trumpism, whether the man himself has another tilt in 2024 or there is another standard-bearer for repellent national chauvinism.
Exhibit A for that rather grim outlook is, of course, the peculiar course of the election itself. As expected, turnout soared – with a massive increase in absentee and early voting, and a pervasive sense of national crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it could hardly have been otherwise. That change in turnout was what led pollsters and pundits to predict a Biden victory. Indeed, the post-poll progress of the counts rather gave the impression that turnout changes in core Democratic constituencies told, as voters in cities like Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia slowly overturned Trump’s lead.
The unavoidable truth, however, is that this historic turnout did not save us from a bum-squeaker of a contest, and the reason for that is that Trump’s vote also enormously increased over 2016. He got 8.5 million more votes than last time: Biden beat Hillary Clinton’s total by 10.3 million (subject to the final ballots trickling in). Trump’s percentage of these ‘new’ votes, in other words, is around 45% – which is to say, plumb in the range that Trump’s presidential approval rating has sat throughout his entire reign, despite accusations of treachery, articles of impeachment, and now his catastrophic handling of the pandemic. It is the latter issue which stands out as truly astonishing – in the midst of what could well be the worst dereliction of duty in the entire history of the American executive branch, the sitting president found 8 million new votes from… somewhere.
Reading the liberal media at this time is a curious experience. On the front pages, there is gloopy, adulatory coverage of Biden and his vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris: the former ending a long nightmare of misrule, and the latter – according to liberal anti-racist cliché – making history on behalf of all African-American and/or Indian-American women, and so on. Leaf on through to the comment pages, however, and it is almost like reading about a different election. Pundit after pundit looks horrified at the solidity of Trump’s vote, the Biden failure to take the Senate (excepting some miracle in run-off votes in January), and grimly concludes that the ‘populist’ dragon has not been slain after all, but merely waits, gathering its strength.
No sober observer can expect the reckoning for Joe and Kamala to begin too far into the future, even if we take an unusually bullish view of Biden’s personal vitality. Biden has fought this election precisely on the basis of Trump’s clownish mismanagement of the pandemic. The point, of course, is that a sensible president – even one forgetful of names and ends of sentences – would have the power to ‘sort it out’. The problem is that Biden does not. Getting through the next two years without control of the purse strings – as will be the case in the likely event that the Republicans maintain control of the Senate – will be essentially impossible. Biden talked about a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package, but Senate leader Mitch McConnell is perfectly capable of vivisecting anything of that sort. Such a ghoul is well aware that not he, but the White House, will be blamed for the failure to do anything remotely adequate in response to the burning needs of the day. After all, it was Biden – not McConnell – who promised it to voters.
It is difficult to foresee anything other than a crushing victory for Republicans in the 2022 midterms, and a victory moreover for individual congressmen after the pattern of QAnon wingnut Marjorie Taylor Greene, newly seated in Georgia’s 14th district. That will set us up nicely for 2024, where Harris (presumably) will face off against god knows who (according to some reports, Trump himself, but also possibly his idiot son, Don junior – or Tucker Carlson, the bow-tied ultra-reactionary cable news troll). She will be forced to defend a record of total failure. Perhaps she will hope, by the end of it, that Ms Taylor Greene turns out to be right after all, and a deep-state conspiracy puts her out of her misery and replaces her with a body double.
Reality of class
So far, we are at one with the liberals (or at least the intelligent liberals). We both wait for the other shoe to drop, and indeed – for all the likely madness of the lame duck period – expect the disasters to truly begin in the early days of Biden’s ascension to the executive. What divides us is the past.
Like our liberal papers’ coverage of the election, there is a peculiar split-brain phenomenon in liberal aetiologies of Trumpite ‘populism’. The fact that anyone dared to hope for a return – in the words of that other corrupt and intellectually bankrupt Republican president, Warren G Harding – to “normalcy”, rather implies that Trump’s rule arrived as a bolt from the blue (just as Wilsonian interventionism seemed aberrant to a US ruling class, whose ambitions for power were still decidedly regional, rather than global, in scope). Yet it is simultaneously characterised as an outworking of the great original sin of the American polity, white supremacy. It is like old video games that readers of a certain age might remember, where the action happens on a 2D plane in the foreground, and some landscape scrolls in parallax in the far distance behind it, but between these two flat surfaces there is just nothing.
Marxism, like nature, abhors a vacuum. For us, both ‘planes’ of liberal explanation are partly true, but radically incomplete. History moves in a punctuated equilibrium: there are moments of catastrophe, and the Trump presidency amounts to just such a catastrophic failure of political regime; but what such moments reveal is the structure of the preceding period.
Meanwhile, the ‘original sin’ interpretation of white supremacy – recently epitomised by The New York Times’ 1619 Project – correctly rebukes the idea that deep history is easily transcended: after two centuries of black slavery and a further century of black disenfranchisement and acute oppression, it is simply naive to suppose that all those economic, political and cultural ghosts should be exorcised in a mere 50 more years. But white supremacy is simply too abstract a proposition to do for an explanation: an amalgam of plantation slavery, lynching, redlining and elite workplace micro-aggressions simply does not describe a single, coherent phenomenon, but rather a grim half-rhyme between different historical periods and social contexts.
What has disappeared is the very thing that Trumpite populism makes its calling card – class. Secretly, the history of racial oppression is read backwards from the speaker’s subject-position – so the micro-aggressions the Africana Studies adjunct lecturer faces in the private college seminar room are the inheritance of the post-civil rights backlash, which in turn are the child of the violence the civil rights movement faced, themselves the inheritors of the strange fruit of the hanging trees, whose roots were in plantation slavery.
But slavery was an economic system, whereby unfree labour was exploited by a peculiar agrarian-capitalist caste; it continued because it made people very rich; and because the weak confederal basis of the early United States gave such people outsized influence in the government; and because that was in the interests of the global hegemon, which needed a ready supply of cheap cotton to fuel its nascent and then booming textile industries. Jim Crow, too, defended a semi-free system (sharecropping) and the sectionalinterests of white workers as against those of the working class as a whole. It too was a class politics – not only a class politics, for sure, but able to survive for as long as it did because it crystallised real economic interests.
The Civil Rights movement coincided with the period between the New Deal and the stagflation crisis of the 1970s and the end of the post-war long boom. Beyond its immediate demands – an end to disenfranchisement, to arbitrary violence, to racial segregation – the movement necessarily divided. Some – even among the more ‘respectable’ elements, such as Martin Luther King junior himself – began to identify the struggle for racial equality with more or less concrete visions of ‘economic justice’, or indeed overt socialist programmes (as with elements of the Black Panthers and similar). With the neoliberal counter-offensive, however, prominence drifted towards a new black professional class, whose demands were based on the idea that individual success for black people elevated the whole ‘community’, whatever that was (hence the gushing over Kamala Harris).
The identification of progressive politics with the interests of career politicians necessitates the suppression of class as the fundamental political category. It does not, however, negate the reality of class. It merely leaves that phenomenon, felt very acutely in a deindustrialising country, to the care of the right. It invites demagogues to declare that the problem is that a cosmopolitan and effeminate elite has abandoned the working man; that it will not defend its industries or its borders; that (in the words of the alt-right) it is full of ‘cucks’, cuckolds; and what is needed is a true elite, someone with balls, someone who will drain the swamp. Someone who will ride to the rescue on a white horse – or, failing that, a golf cart. In 2016, we declared that Hillary was not an alternative to, but the cause of, Trump. The past two weeks have regrettably reconfirmed that diagnosis.
In the last five years, the American left has begun – haltingly, in great confusion – to detach itself from this putatively progressive consensus. That is a truly important development, which could be of far greater consequence than the ascendancy of Trumpite populism. But only if we get it right – and in time to break the political cycle before it collapses into the tyranny threatened in the last four years. Like Pyrrhus, we can ill afford any more ‘victories’ after the fashion of Sleepy Joe’s.
12th November 2020
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3. THE SHORT AMERICAN CENTURY
World dominance followed by gradual decay
Many socialists would still hold to the idea of the USA as an overwhelming imperialist power, and indeed it remains the dominant economic and military force on the planet, but the Trump era has ripped away the mask of invincibility to display a highly corrupt and decaying system.
Two world wars built on a history of regional colonial war unleashed the massive capacity of the US economy.
It was at its zenith in the years following the 2nd World War, with the use of atom bombs on civilian populations to subdue Japan and the initiation of the Cold War to encircle the USSR, bring discipline to the competing imperialist powers under US leadership and unleash anticommunist hysteria against workers at home.
The emergent US economy dwarfed all others.
The productivity of the working class was so great that “liberty ships” could be built in days. The dollar was established as the new international currency and control of the world banking system passed into American hands.
Military bases, established in the four corners of the world during the war, remain operational to this day.
Soft power was cultivated. Diplomacy was used to garner new allies and the culture of Hollywood, of US film, music and consumer culture was used to build the myth that it was leaving less fortunate nations to a future of plenty.
The new educational, scientific, technical and intelligence bureaucracy gave the United States an overwhelming lead. The intelligence agencies led many coups in Latin America and the Middle East that crushed democratic movements and persuaded other nations to cooperate for fear of intervention.
A major goal of the state was to build overwhelming military power. Nuclear weapons were stockpiled in amounts sufficient to devastate the planet and strategic policy based on the ability to fight two major wars at once at any point on the globe.
At first glance all these elements remain in place. The rot is at the core of the economy. Although the US is still the centre of much production, the tendency within capitalism for the rate of profit to fall over time means that the focus has moved to financialisation and to a service economy with high levels of government subsidy. For example, General Electric, once a byword for the mass production of household goods, shifted focus to building financial empires before sinking into decay. While goods are still made in America, but by an imprisoned black youth paid in cents. Sections of the economy operate as criminal enterprises. For example the opioid crisis was a deliberate marketing ploy by big pharma to distribute medicines that they knew were not effective but that were highly addictive. Coal and big oil use government influence to profit from the trashing of pollution controls. Major companies operated by milking government subsidies, lobbying for government deregulation and calling for tax cuts. Business focus switched from industry to services and the realisation of value rather than its production. Major sectors of the economy such as education and public health have been gutted by the privatisation of schools and the growing cost of the health insurance industry.The downward pressure on wages and the absence of public infrastructure funding has led to decay of the social fabric and mass homelessness even in many of the most prosperous parts of the country. The effect on government has been to degrade the bureaucracy and increasingly silence and deride the
scientific evidence on which policy was once based.
Outwardly the US appears as powerful as ever. It has taken the Trump presidency to tear down much of its extensive soft diplomatic power, smash up the leadership of a powerful and efficient bureaucracy, ignore and demean its scientific infrastructure and cannibalise its education system. It
would be a mistake however to see Trump as a unique figure. It was under Ronald Reagan and his programme of Reaganonomics that the US switched from the World’s biggest creditor nation to the biggest debtor nation. Reagan also established the trickle down theory that argued that enriching the rich would benefit the poor. The slide has continued ever since.
The USA is decaying but remains a world colossus, representing a massive danger to workers inside and outside the country.
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