The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was splendid and uplifting, from beginning to end. What a day! The country needed that!
Mike Davis is a keen and creative Marxist analyst. I can’t claim that I have read his entire body of work, but I have read enough to appreciate his writings on a range of topics from urban transformation to the global South to environmental degradation and more.
His recent analysis of the US elections, which seems to be receiving kudos from many, disappointed me various ways. But for the moment I will mention only one.
“Against a background of plague, impeachment, racist violence and unemployment, one party espouses a vision of autocratized government and a return to the happy days of a white Republic. The other offers a sentimental journey back to the multicultural centrism of the Obama years. (Biden’s promise of a ‘new new deal’ was for gullible progressives’ ears only.) Both parties are backward looking, solipsistic and unanchored in economic reality, but the first echoes the darkest side of modern history.”
While his diagnosis of the Republican Party is on point, I can’t say the same for his take on the Democratic Party.
His characterization of the latter as “backward looking, solipsistic and unanchored in economic reality” strikes me as mistaken and a case of personal pique and ideological disposition getting in the way of a concrete political analysis. It has a radical ring to it, I guess, but it doesn’t correspond to today’s reality.
The Democratic Party is more complex and variegated than Davis would have us believe. It’s not the party of the Clinton years, even the Obama years. It isn’t any longer in the tight grip of neoliberalism and triangulation. Nor is it backward looking. Nor unanchored in economic reality. And it certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as the other political arm of the capitalist class, barely distinguishable from its Republican counterpart. Wall Street is still in the game, but it doesn’t carry the same weight in the Democratic Party as it did a few decades ago, when financialization and unfettered globalization were the talk of party leaders.
Today’s Democratic Party is tacking in a liberal/progressive direction as is the Biden administration. Both have emphasized their commitment to moving an ambitious agenda addressing the interlocking crises that grip the country. At its center is a sustained commitment to subdue and then eradicate the coronavirus, while at the same time reinflating the economy, providing economic relief to tens of millions, and addressing the structural inequalities embedded in our political economy and climate disruption. While President Biden is issuing a slew of executive orders that begin to undo some of the damage of the Trump administration, his larger ambition is to set in train a legislative blitz in the first 100 days, responding to the objective pressures of this many sided crisis. the subjective expectations of millions at this moment, and his own campaign promises.
Moreover, such a blitz is doable thanks to the special election in Georgia that shifted (barely) control of the Senate from Republican to Democratic hands. But it won’t be easy. The Republican Party is weakened and divided, but it isn’t dead by any means. Talk of bipartisanship and Senate comity notwithstanding, Senate Republicans, much like they did during the Obama years, will surely act to block any major initiatives of the Biden administration, employing where they must the 60-vote rule.
Nor are Trump and his fascist-like supporters, daily fed the milk of racism and other backward ideologies and practices ready to slide into the woodwork, never to be seen again.
And no one should expect the right-wing media information ecosystem to go silent. They could be more not less shrill, more not less inclined to peddle conspiracy theories.
To this mix we have to add conservative Democrats, like Joe Manchin (WVA), who won’t frontally oppose major anti-crisis initiatives, but may use the leverage of an evenly divided Senate to scale them down, to rein them in.
If we have learned one lesson from the Obama years, it is that the election of a president with a progressive disposition and agenda is no guarantee of legislative success. Back then what was missing was an aroused and active mass movement bringing its wisdom and muscle to bear on the political-legislative process.
If that was the lesson of the Obama years, it is no less the lesson today. Surmounting the present crises in the face of Republican opposition will take the ingenuity and energy of an expansive and heterodox coalition led by the Biden administration. It is hard to imagine how anything less will lift the country out of this morass in which we find ourselves.
Almost surely differences over the pace and scope of reform will surface in this coalition, as they should. But at the end of the day and at every moment in this contested process, the accent should be on unity. Much depends on it!
As a result of the November elections, the special runoff in Georgia, and the storming of the Congress that shocked the county, political power has shifted in favor of the Biden administration and the Democratic Party, not to mention the broader democratic coalition that supported Biden and Harris last fall. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is split. Trump leaves the White House considerably weakened. And his mass base which has acted like a cudgel enforcing discipline in Republican ranks and provided the troops for the assault on Congress is in some disarray.
The shift in power, however, wasn’t a quantum shift. It was far more modest. This isn’t 1965 when Johnson and Democrats won in a landslide capturing substantial majorities in both chambers. Or even 2008 when Obama initially could count on 60 plus votes in the Senate. Biden, in contrast, has a Senate that is split down the middle and only the vote of Vice President Harris gives Biden and Democrats an advantage of one.
Moreover, the opposition will regroup, even if intra-party tensions and divisions remain high. Trump will reemerge. His fascistic base will catch a second wind. Nothing like a major anti-crisis legislative initiative of the Biden administration to concentrate the collective mind and discipline a fractured Republican Party and its legions of racist authoritarianism.
Into this cauldron of struggle – and it will be fierce, notwithstanding the appeals for comity and bipartisanship – must step the same expansive coalition that elected Biden and Harris last fall. That didn’t happen during the Obama years. Let’s hope, let’s make sure, it doesn’t happen once again.
It’s more likely that white workers and other Trump supporters will be weened off Trumpism by the enactment of policy and legislation addressing the concrete needs of our diverse working class than on the level of discourse, especially when that discourse is disconnected from the legislative process over the next 100 days. That’s not an argument to go silent, but a modest suggestion as to what line of argumentation might register with Trump supporters.