Views » June 16, 2020
Our Biden Problem
Movements face a challenge: how to oust Trump while still combatting Biden’s neoliberalism.
This is a hard article to write. I wish our political landscape were so much different than it is, and I wish our political choices were better than they are.
To say Joe Biden is not an ideal presidential candidate—for the Left or for Black people—is an understatement. Of the myriad hopefuls crowding the debate stage at the beginning of the Democratic primaries, Biden is close to the worst. Recall Biden’s role in drafting and passing the heinous 1994 crime bill, which contributed mightily to the scourge of mass incarceration. Consider his disrespectful and demeaning treatment of Anita Hill at Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation. Consider his leadership in plunging the U.S. into the bloody and unnecessary war in Iraq. Consider the inappropriate hugging and hair sniffing and Tara Reade’s credible and disturbing allegations.
Biden’s recent behavior digs him into a deeper hole. Speaking at a Black church in Wilmington, Del., earlier this month, Biden’s response to the massive protests over police killings of Black people was to suggest that police learn to “shoot ‘em in the leg instead of in the heart.” He later rolled out a list of proposed reforms made up of oversight and training measures focused on rooting out “bad cops” that fell far short of the defunding of police departments called for by the Movement for Black Lives.
In a disastrous performance in May on the syndicated “Breakfast Club” radio program, Biden told the Black host, Charlamagne tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” The level of arrogance is breathtaking: Biden is both taking the Black vote for granted (again) while appointing himself the arbiter of Blackness; invoking (his notion of) Black vernacular adds insult to injury. A presumptuous, erroneous and offensive notion that Biden has some kind of political intimacy with Black people has become an underlying message of his campaign.
That said, if Biden is nobody’s dream, Trump is a nightmare. We know a second term of Trump will inflict enormous repression, suffering and death. So we face a dilemma: We cannot be cheerleaders and apologists for neoliberal politicians like Biden, but we cannot endure four more years of Trump. Do we hold our noses yet again and support a candidate so grossly out of sync with our values, or do we sit on the sidelines and let an aspiring fascist hold power?
Four more years, I fear, would be a no-holds-barred grasp for the throne. GOP leaders are such spineless and opportunist sycophants that they will tolerate anything to maintain proximity to the tyrant’s power, or at least avoid his ire. Coupled with Trump’s reckless incompetence and contempt for both democratic practices and the suffering of human beings, we can visualize a catastrophe far beyond what we have witnessed thus far.
We do have a choice in November, though it’s not good. The best option this time (unless you live in a very safe Democratic state) is not to cast a symbolic third-party vote. We have to, as political scientist Cathy Cohen puts it, “vote against Trump and organize against Biden.” Even if Trump is ousted, we need to fight Trumpism in all manifestations while challenging Biden’s neoliberal policies. This is about damage control politics, not to be confused with a Biden endorsement.
Conventional political wisdom suggests we should mute our critiques of Biden, that a blunt, critical assessment of Biden will only help Trump. But I disagree. People see through hypocrisy and are tired of it. Perhaps being honest about what we are asking people to do will actually bring more to the polls and get them involved in post-election activism. We are not voting for a savior—quite the contrary. In fact, despite the theatrics, presidential elections are never about saviors. As Rachel Gilmer of the Dream Defenders often says, electoral politics, for the Left, is about choosing our opponents in the next round of struggle. We have to organize our communities under a “Dump Trumpism” banner—through voter education, fighting for safe and accessible voting by mail, virtual door knocking and mobilizing in key states.
But here is another inconvenient truth. Voting, though necessary, is insufficient. Those who came before us did not fight and die simply so we could vote; they fought and died so we could live in a more just world. That world will not occur within the bounds of racial capitalism; that marks the bigger project. Meanwhile, we have to vote—and organize.
We have to build social movement organizations and coalitions, reinvigorate our labor unions, protest in the streets and lobby local officials, and struggle for fundamental and systemic change on multiple fronts. Arundhati Roy urges us to see this moment of crisis as a portal to a new society and “be prepared to fight for it.” Defeating Trump and Trumpism is only the beginning.
Views expressed are those of the author. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, In These Times does not support or oppose any candidate for public office.
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Barbara Ransby is a professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. She is a longtime activist and a founder of the group Ella's Daughters.
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