After Biden, Let Her Run

After Biden, Let Her Run

Joe Biden’s inauguration came and went without incident.

In a sad testament to the surreal times in which we live, that counted as a “win” for America.

A beleaguered country which was promised, four years ago, that its citizens would be exhausted by the sheer scope and quantity of forthcoming victories did indeed end up “tired.” But not of “all the winning.” Rather, tired of the turmoil. Exasperated by the never-ending vitriol. Drained by mistrust. Sick from a pandemic. Torn along racial lines. And economically stricken.

In his address, Biden didn’t pretend otherwise. But he nevertheless expressed optimism. Not the kind of soaring, almost aggressive, optimism characteristic of a messianic Barack Obama speech. Rather, an almost naive, idealistic optimism that could only emanate from someone who’s overcome so much loss, that he truly believes everyone has the capacity to suffer while retaining a sense of hope, purpose, and faith, as he did through unimaginable personal tragedy.

“Naive” may seem like a misnomer. After all, someone who’s experienced the kind of suffering Biden has can’t possibly be “naive” when it comes to knowing how truly cruel a place the world can be. Rather, the naïveté comes in projecting the capacity to cope onto 330 million people, the vast majority of whom can’t be expected to similarly steel themselves in the face of calamitous outcomes or, more common, in the face of the mundane, daily grind that can render life devoid of meaning.

Everyone deals with suffering differently. And there are different kinds of suffering. On Wednesday, Biden effectively pleaded with the nation to somehow absorb his own tolerance for psychological distress. He was asking, not telling, as Obama would. He made promises, yes, and there’s no doubt he intends to keep them. But Biden’s exhortations for the country to marshal the spirit of decades past and unite around a common cause almost surely fell on deaf ears in many locales across the nation.

It’s true that many of America’s “sins” aren’t new. Indeed, confronting the country’s “original sin” is one challenge Biden will attempt to tackle. But it’s not clear that America is, as Biden suggested, an inherently optimistic nation anymore. The irony is that, while absurdly overwrought, Donald Trump’s description of the country as a desolate wasteland during his own (wholly bizarre) inaugural address was in many ways an accurate description, depending on where in the country one goes. Of course, Trump turned the figurative “American carnage” he described in January of 2017 into literal carnage by January of 2021. A true “visionary,” that guy.

By any objective account, Biden’s address was a good one. There were no gaffes, almost no rhetorical missteps, and no moments when he didn’t seem in command of his words and thoughts.

But I, for one, fear Biden’s idealism may be misplaced. The country still wants change. Ironically, that’s perhaps the only constant — the desire for change. But not the kind of change that Biden promised will come if everyone just starts being nice to each other again and resolves to be optimistic and friendly to their neighbors. People want real change. Transformational change. The kind of change that Biden at times explicitly rebuked during the primaries.

Of course, Biden didn’t rebuke it because he thought it was unnecessary. Rather, he cautioned against “radical” proposals because both he and the Democratic leadership feared the stakes were too high to risk putting anyone but him at the top of the ticket. They saw an existential threat in Trump. And they wanted to give voters an off ramp. Biden represented a free pass off the “Trump train” for those inclined to disembark, but not if it meant a vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

To his credit, Biden has paid lip service to the issues that Progressives champion, and he’s acutely aware of the enormous sway held by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “sisters.” While their clout on the Hill may be small, they together command a legion of followers that rivals Trump’s base in fervor and, quite possibly, in number too.

While I’ve readily acknowledged the notion that America may need a “placeholder” of sorts in order to restore domestic stability and rebuild trust with a disenchanted world, rescuing American democracy and resurrecting the American dream will fall to someone other than Biden. Someone with the capacity to excite voters and, crucially, to make them understand that what unites them truly is stronger than what divides them. And no, I don’t mean that as a silly, sentimental cliché. I mean it literally. The problem is that most Americans are blind to the tie that binds them in suffering: It’s a lack of economic opportunity that creates the cascade of social ills plaguing the nation. That’s what makes the electorate amenable to the siren song of populism and authoritarianism.

Failing to grasp that leads to blame-casting and factionalism, as the economically disadvantaged look for scapegoats rather than placing the blame where it belongs — namely with a broken economic system. There’s no connection between, for example, Muslims and the opioid epidemic in Appalachia. Illegal immigration isn’t to blame for the loss of factory jobs in the rust belt. Undereducated white males in coal country aren’t shooting African Americans in fast food parking lots in Atlanta.

Unnecessary economic hardship brought about by capitalism without guardrails, an acute education crisis, and a steadfast refusal on the part of the country to confront its past and take serious steps to remedy inequities that should have been eradicated decades ago, all contribute to a situation where the masses are unable to achieve the kind of overall well-being that’s conducive to a stable democracy.

Eventually, “someone” with the voice and the vision to remedy that situation needs to be given the green light by her party to step up and take her place in American history.

It’s probably true that someone like Biden is necessary right now to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg.

But the calls for transformational change aren’t going to go away. If Democrats don’t let their star shine, they risk the return of Trumpism or, as I’ve warned previously, the rise of a far-left ideologue.

I wrote about this in October. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from that linked piece.

The irony for people who demonize Ocasio-Cortez, is that once the US reaches a firebrand tipping point, we should be so lucky that she or Ilhan Omar or someone dedicated to democracy (if not capitalism) is that firebrand. What’s more likely, though, is that someone much further to the left will take a look at Trump’s successful dismantling of America’s checks and balances, study it, and then ride a wave of popular discontent with pervasive inequality and governmental dysfunction into The White House on the way to installing an authoritarian regime based on just the same kind of extreme ideals that conservative alarmist media falsely ascribes to Ocasio-Cortez.

One bad turn deserves another. And 2016 was a pretty bad (right) turn. You can expect an equally hard left turn if the realities currently prompting millions to protest in the streets are not acknowledged and addressed in a substantive way over the next four years.


19 thoughts on “After Biden, Let Her Run

    1. I never said I’m not “giving him a chance.” I said what needs to be said and if you read the piece, I think you’ll agree that it’s overtly complimentary of Joe. I basically called him a saint in so many words. I think that gives me some scope to state the obvious, which is all I’ve done here.

    2. I have had the same thoughts.

      Looking back Biden was the only way out of darkness. Only way to get away from Trump. No one else could have done it. Makes sense that it had to be someone less colorful, more peaceful, than AOC or Bernie or Warren.

      For the future, what you said has the sound of prophecy:

      “Eventually, “someone” with the voice and the vision to remedy that situation needs to be given the green light by her party to step up and take her place in American history.

      It’s probably true that someone like Biden is necessary right now to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg.

      But the calls for transformational change aren’t going to go away. If Democrats don’t let their star shine, they risk the return of Trumpism or, as I’ve warned previously, the rise of a far-left ideologue.”

      Cannot visualize such a leader being allowed to rise just now. Perhaps external circumstances will bring it about.

  1. I’d respond that the US government is akin to a giant container ship, slow to turn. I know I’m not the first (or even the hundredth) to articulate this analogy. But consider that it took 30 years, give or take, from when Reagan was considered the bastion of the right to where we are now, to a place where many on that side would even consider Reagan just another RINO.

    Biden was my guy before he even announced his candidacy, to the chagrin of my now-18-year-old progressive daughter. Yes, he is somewhat of a placeholder, the right–and possibly only–candidate to oppose the incumbent and have a legitimate chance to defeat him. But, like Reagan, he can also see the guy who shepherds the slow turn to the left. It’s the long game, as Mitch M would tell you. 30 years from now, we’ll see where we are. He may have the same impact on the direction of chance as did Reagan. In the meantime, Joe can help show the general population that many of these so-called progressive ideas aren’t dangerous, that they are, in fact, in most people’s self interest and shouldn’t be scary. And start to inch us to a world where there is more income and opportunity equality and better environmental protection.

  2. From the day we stepped foot in Iraq I have considered the USA an Empire in decline. We used to be described as the Empire that would not admit we were an Empire. Obama kept us in a holding pattern. President Checkers has been a disaster on the world stage. Forget Putin, the Chinese must have loved this guy.
    Alliances matter and the acceptance that “American exceptionalism” is another myth. We wasted that capital.
    We need a modern myth and Trump almost suceeded with america first. Trump knows he is a loser. YMCA was a proper exit song for this costume artist. Stop the Steal was put in place before the last election. A money maker carried too far. He is no warrior. He is an actor laughing all the way to the bank. Greed as a motivation using resentment as a national policy.
    Resentments from either side of the spectrum are the way unions are ended.
    I started telling people 2 years ago we needed a rocking chair in the White House, both sides laughed at me.
    As nice a guy as Biden is, he is loud and clear that we Americans have an unrealistic opinion of ourselves and spoiled bratts that we are… need a time out. I for one will enjoy markets not dictated by tweet.
    Today was a nerve racking day for me in that I know my level of training on Terrorism is the same as a whole bunch of other folk such as myself. Q is scary. Perhaps the insurrection was a happy accident.
    God bless America. Love it or leave it.
    Pursuit of Happiness….brilliant idea. Let us try that.

    1. I’ve seen a lot of sharp turns at that age. Four years is an eternity. When the betting sites start posting odds of finishing the term, I’ll take the against.

  3. I used to loathe Biden – he represented everything I didn’t like about the Democrats – a center-right corporatist – never mind the Anita Hill hearings, the crime bill, the support for the Iraq war – and let’s not forget his oh-so conveniently timed bankruptcy bill of 2007. They used to call him “the Senator from the state of Visa.” But I’ve come to believe he was the perfect man to run against Trump, and I’m glad to see him tacking, however slightly, to the left – all of those EOs he signed today, calling for a $15 dollar minimum wage, etc. Can’t imagine that all the Trump-supporting working-class red-state voters, who are working at WalMart or wherever for minimum wage aren’t going to be VERY happy when their salary doubles. From a “crazy,”far-left” (LOL) policy 5 years ago, to proposed by Joe Biden. God bless Bernie Sanders. And you know what – this old progressive is coming to love Joe – because of his empathy, something sorely lacking the last 4 years (and not just from Trump). His speech yesterday, when he said “I should be congratulating Beau right now as he becomes President,” tears streaming down his face was not just incredibly moving, but, ah, a pleasant change of pace.

    Now, for AOC – no doubt in my mind, a future President. But she’s so young, I’d prefer to see her primary Kirsten Gillibrand in ’22, and serve a term or three in the Senate before she runs for the highest office. And I have no doubt that she will be President some day – she’s the most talented Dem politician to come along since Obama, she’s smart, she’s good looking, she’s FUN (see her Tik Tok videos, Twitch appearances, etc.) And would probably get 80-90% of the Latino vote. Just needs more experience, and perhaps more importantly, for the demographics to catch up with her – most of Gen-Z loves her.

  4. Excellent piece and delightful prose! I would posit the counter-thesis that the result of inaction to fix the system for those trapped in poverty is instead a yet more forceful turn to the right.

    This last attempt to forge an authoritarian regime in the USA was wildly successful: the rich got unimaginably richer with the full backing of all branches of government and the money printer. Workers might now have a seat at the table at the federal level, but almost no representation at the state levels.

    By exploiting culture wars, attacking institutional safeguards against greed on so many fronts, and demonizing opponents, Trump and his enablers have shown the way for the next far right demagogue. The only thing that stood between him and a third term was his inability to form alliances and his inexperience leading large organizations: he caused too many self-inflicted wounds to be a totalitarian that business leaders could stand.

    Fox News was created in reaction to the Nixon impeachment, and it worked in preventing another one. I claim we’ll see the creation of media and political factions that will help the next attempt at far right totalitarianism go further. There’s simply no equivalent ecosystem in support of the “far” left in the US. Not as much National energy is spent linking the plight of the oppressed to the plight of the forgotten as energy is spent separating them.

    I certainly hope I’m wrong and a fellow reader will point out how.

    1. FWIW, fully agreed. I cannot see the US getting a Hugo Chavez or a Lenin anytime soon. I can very easily see another right wing autocrat rising thanks to the Fox News/right wing media universe.

  5. A couple of points worth making, IMHO about a key sentence in the article : “The problem is that most Americans are blind to the tie that binds them in suffering: It’s a lack of economic opportunity that creates the cascade of social ills plaguing the nation. That’s what makes the electorate amenable to the siren song of populism and authoritarianism”.

    1- Right wing populism/authoritarianism (fascism, if you will) always poses an interesting challenge to business leaders. On the one hand, right wing authoritarians usually respects/likes/admires/seeks to co-opt barons of industries. They do not threaten the apple cart that put them in the top spot. They can even be relied upon to slap down workers’ unions, environmentalists, social progressives and even international competition. Pretty good stuff when you’re running, say, GM or GE. OTOH, they do insist you employ way more people than needed and pay them more than you otherwise would. They forbid/are suspicious of labor saving innovations and you get cut off from worldwide industrial progress. Basically, right wing authoritarians tend to freeze things in amber. If you’re on top, that’s not too bad but it does mean you forgo opportunities to progress even further.

    2- the issue with the economic argument is that most people vote their values. Someone was pointing out that an affluent liberal voting Democrat was voting against his class interest and voting his values. I don’t quite agree as I think that, medium to long term, almost everyone benefit from avoiding a Mad Max or Elysium scenario. But it’s true that affluent liberals not versed in economic thinking might mostly be voting their values. And the other side does the same. Those poor downtrodden? They’re voting against their economic interests. Is that only maleducation or is it them voting their values? Why are they so susceptible to Fox propaganda machine? Are they that stupid or are they voting their values?

    If they really are voting their values, appealing to our common economic interests is going to fall on deaf ears…

  6. I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of the opposition to the $15 minimum wage comes from the guy making $14.25 who fears being leveled with the black woman making $7.50.

  7. This was extremely well written. I am a little circumspect on the economic problem so to speak. I see the low cost of solar power potentially causing deflation in developed economies. Even electric cars lasting a million miles will have deflationary impacts. However in the long run that improves productivity.

    So I think some of the economic stress is starting with the wealthy who are seeing their investments be deflated, they then support monetarily this extremism. I do not see the extremism as organic from the bottom but more driven by propaganda from the top. And yes those are two sides of the same coin.

    One commenter was touting the benefits to the top of the fascist economy, without any reference to how a fascist economy has to grow through conflict or fail.

    And well I really like your solution and I hope you are right there are more supporting those women than there are those that supported the beast. I have long believed if you want to find people who understand a society, and if you want a read on where society should go, ask woman of fertile childbearing age. They are hardwired to think about a better future. Even the most radical or ignorant will temper their words recognizing the limits of their perspective. Not so an old man grumpy listening to his favorite angry news.

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