Pause on weapons to Israel

I wish President Biden would have done it sooner, but I welcome it now!!! It’s a step in the right direction. And sets the stage for further actions.

Martin Luther King and tactics

MLK deftly combined the fierce urgency of now with an unvarnished look at the readiness of people to act in particular ways. He understood better than most, maybe anyone else, that in an elaboration of tactics both sides of this dialectic, that is, demands, forms of struggle, moments to advance and retreat, when to compromise and when not to, etc., are of great consequence. He had little patience with people and organizations that see only one side of this dialectic.

Lesser evilism

With a national election six months away, “lesser evilism,” thanks in no small part to the failure of President Biden to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and curtail the shipment of weapons to Israel, is once again creeping into the public conversation. Progressive minded people are asking themselves: Is Biden a lesser evil? And if so, should I vote for him this November? Or should I vote for a 3rd party candidate? Or, not vote at all?

Here’s what I think.

Lesser evilism isn’t a relevant category in this election. It is, analytically speaking, a category error. The concept and practice of lesser evilism, as I understand it, assumes a choice between two candidates who, though they advocate different positions on a range of issues, one better than the other, are found on the same political continuum. But that isn’t the case in this election. (See link below) Biden, like every other president in the 20th century and early 21st, other than Trump, sits on a political continuum in which free and fair — at least reasonably so — elections occur regularly.

Moreover, elected bodies have legislative powers and control the purse. Democratic and constitutional rights are proclaimed and codified, if not universally enjoyed and practiced. Presidential powers, while considerable, have limits. No president can hold office for more than two terms. Finally, the transfer of power from one president to another is peaceful, which up to the presidential election was a hallmark of our political culture and democracy.

Before anybody howls, I am aware that this picture or schema or whatever you want to call it requires qualification insofar as it doesn’t capture the contradictions, complexities and limitations of present day democracy in the U.S. Still, it is useful as a first approximation of the political values and practices that more or less framed and constrained the thinking and actions of every president up until Trump. To take it a step further, even if I took the time to move from this broad generalization to a more concrete level of realty with all its messiness, this schema, I believe, would still hold.

In contrast, the continuum on which we find Trump is the mirror opposite of the one outlined above. Presidential power is unlimited. If elections occur, they are neither free nor fair, unless, of course, Trump wins. Laws and rights are subject to abrogation at the whim of the president. Force and decree take the place of democratic decision making in the Senate and House. The Supreme Court and Justice Department act at the whim or command of the White House.

And, the great democratic experiment that we call America with its undeniable achievements as well as its obvious contradictions, egregious shortcomings, unfulfilled promises, and pressing challenges slowly fades into the past and with time out of collective memory as younger generations replace older ones.

Or, to put it differently, a second Trump presidency would have little or no room for public protest or democratic institutions. He and the MAGA movement would scrub clean everything that is decent, democratic and egalitarian in our political and economic practice. The institutional structures of our democracy and state would be transformed into a rubber stamp of the White House. Our past would be either reinterpreted or erased, while Trump’s authoritarianism and neofascism would forcefully and indelibly leave its mark on our present and future. He would, as he unabashedly said, rule as a “Dictator on Day 1.” And we should take him at his word.

After all, Trump, as we know too well, set loose his paramilitary marauders in a failed attempt to overturn a free and fair election on Jan 6, 2021.

In short, the differences in governing philosophy and practice between Biden and Trump are so stark, so vast, so unbridgeable, and so frightening that lesser evilism is rendered irrelevant in this election. It is a construct of no analytical or practical use whatsoever. If anything, it is a poison pill that can do more than create mischief.

The choice in November is, fundamentally speaking, between two forms of governance – democratic or neofascist — not to mention two political-social coalitions — one cross class, democratic and progressive, anchored in the Democratic Party, the other retrograde, neofascist, and cross class as well, but dominated by Trump and his inner circle. If Biden is the continuation of democracy in present conditions, Trump is its negation. In these circumstances, a vote for a 3rd party candidate or a decision not to vote for either candidate is effectively a gift to Trump, placing our democracy in peril and in harm’s way.

A Biden presidency isn’t a guarantee that future will be better than the past. But it creates space and opportunity for such a possibility, a chance to make America a better version of itself.

Course adjustment

In April and May in 1920, Lenin, the head of the new Soviet state and Bolshevik Party, wrote “Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.” 15 years later, another communist Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov, presented to a worldwide meeting of Communist Parties, a speech in a similar vein titled “The United Front against War and Fascism.” Both speeches persuasively and forcefully addressed the dangers and problems of political sectarianism and narrowness of parties across the world. As a result, the communist movement worldwide and in its respective countries substituted its previous sectarian strategic and tactical policies and practices for policies and practices that accented the politics of broad unity and sustained action against the rising fascist threat.

It needs no saying that conditions are different today. And yet the rise of fascism and right wing extremist authoritarian rule here — Trump and Trumpism — and on a global level should be a sufficient prod for the democratic, progressive and left movements/coalitions to revise and re-calibrate their politics, much like what was done in the 1930s, to accent peaceable protest and broad unity in every arena of struggle, and especially the electoral arena.

Much will depend on their willingness

Mass movements

People on the left speak of the overarching importance of participating in “mass movements.” I hope that is the case this year, this fall especially. After all, between now and election day, the broadest, deepest, and best resourced “mass movement” will soon be the “movement” to elect Joe Biden to a second term and a Democratic majority to the Senate and House. Even now, there is no shortage of things to do.

I wish I could say that the left, or, at least parts of it, will do the out of the spotlight, but absolutely critical work — voter registration, phone banking, door to door work, delivering and collecting absentee ballots, etc. — that wins elections. But for now the jury is out.

To make matters worse, the left (or more accurately a part of it) seems to be gravitating in a sectarian direction. And the genocidal war in Gaza only accelerates this process. What might change this dynamic to a degree is if President Biden demands a permanent ceasefire and a weapons freeze. It’s long overdue. Even Jill, reportedly, thinks so.

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