In this eerie hiatus in U.S. electoral politics — we don’t, as I write, know the result and may not for a while — let me state what I consider the optimum outcome: a narrow Biden win. A squeaker. I say this despite the view among well-meaning leftish sorts like me that it’s important for the U.S. to massively repudiate the Trump years and their rotten tone, to “heal” their nation and get back to “who they really are,” etc.
This may seem an odd exercise, but it’s an odd moment. If it all suddenly resolves, please feel free to treat this column as a historical curio, like those Dewey Defeats Truman front pages from 1948, or just skip it and stop reading right … now.
If Biden sailed into office on a flood tide, the inept, corrupt leadership of his Democratic party (prime example: the Clintons), their retainers and paymasters (Wall Street, Silicon Valley) would slither back in too, without new insights — like the Bourbons, who learned nothing and forgot nothing after the upheavals of Napoleon and revolution. They’d feel vindicated and carry on as before, leading to another, probably smarter, Trump in four years, or Trump himself again. The teachable moment would’ve been missed.
Inept and corrupt how? After 2016, they spent zero time self-criticizing, like asking why once loyal former industrial workers in the Midwest — betrayed by the Clintons and Obama in free trade deals — joined the dark side. Instead, for two years they gloried in the Mueller investigation (I know, you can’t even recall it) into how Russia destroyed their chances in 2016, versus their own cravenness.
This meant reviving all the stupid Cold War regalia and, worse, allying with the vintage security state apparatus — CIA, FBI, NSA — like effective perjurer James Clapper, who continues to garner reverence and airtime despite clear admissions he lied to Congress.
When Mueller’s non-case collapsed and they’d recouped half of Congress in 2018, they avoided relevant issues like health care, climate and student debt, and instead impeached Trump — which they and everyone else knew would fail.
Meanwhile, they rubbished signs of life and creativity in the party: socialists, The Squad, minorities, radical women, youth — a new leftism, basically. They lined up behind Biden as their candidate: a lifelong, go-along mediocrity complicit in all the misdeeds of neo-liberal economics, free trade, crime crackdowns, demonizing Black “predators” and smearing Anita Hill. They poured energy into defeating Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, eventually succeeding.
Give them a handy win and they’d see it as vindication of all that baggage. They’d move back in right behind Joe. That’s why I’m for a slim, terrifyingly close Biden victory. A chance to take stock before taking power.
But along with all this venting (and there’s more there), I want to make clear I consider Trump a mortal threat not just to U.S. democracy, the historical value of which gets overstated: it is not the first, best, nor primary example of democracy in human history. He is a threat to species survival via both nuclear cataclysm and climate disaster.
I’d have voted for Biden with both hands if I lived there, even while knowing that a Biden victory would be likely to lead to another Trump moment when Biden’s done, the way Jimmy Carter led to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton led to George W. Bush and his Iraq debacle, and Barack Obama, alas, led almost inevitably to Trump.
You make the best you can of the dog’s breakfast you are served.
Final jarring note: perhaps, in spite of all this gloom, Biden could be a great president. He’s old enough not to have future agendas. And unprincipled enough to slide effortlessly in new directions. He could be one of those who eventually, near the end, tries to become the person he misleadingly pretended to be all his life. It’s happened before.
FDR, who Biden cites more than other presidents — at least he doesn’t jump on Lincoln like everybody else — didn’t look very promising at the start. Sanders says Joe has the most progressive platform since FDR.
Whether he’d implement it is another question. That depends on the battles waged inside the party, against its self-absorbed, moribund leadership.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Image: Joe Biden/Facebook