Never in living memory has late December been so welcome; 2020, the year that lasted centuries, is almost done. A great deal of us didn’t make it. For all the stress and anxiety that installed throughout the summer and fall as the presidential election drew nigh, Trump’s attempts to bring about the worst-case situation– a stolen election or descent into civil war— appear to have actually stopped working. The creaking, gerrymandered, lobbyist-leased massage table that we call American democracy has made it through another season. Fresh catastrophes regardless of, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president on January 20, by which time Donald and Melania will have emptied their nightstand and loaded their lots of gilded bags. Why is it still so tough to exhale?
In the giddy hangover of the election’s endless final act, it was possible to feel, if not actual rejoicing, a minimum of some hearty schadenfreude-tinged relief. A knot that had been getting tighter every day for months unexpectedly deciphered. That experience didn’t last. The lines on the charts tracking the spread of Covid-19 soon went almost vertical. New day-to-day cases topped 100,000 the day after the election and have since more than doubled that again. Simply as the contours of the brand-new political truth are starting to reveal themselves, a familiar sense of grief and dread has returned. We might have left the gory dismemberment that 4 more years of Trump would have released, however we did not evade a bullet.
It is however an authentic comfort that we will soon have a president efficient in speaking about something besides himself and an ever-expanding crowd of fictional opponents, from rapist immigrants to antifa thugs. What Joe Biden says is almost without exception shy, boring, and totally insufficient to the urgency of the moment, but he knows enough to acknowledge the genuine forces that are mowing us down. He talks about the pandemic, the climate crisis, and often, if only glancingly, about bigotry as a structural issue. With the virus raving, the one significant marketing point of the down-home technocratic neoliberalism that Biden represents– institutional skills– can feel inordinately assuring.
But if Biden’s presidency stands for anything other than a go back to a specific standard rationality, it is for a vision of the past that had already expired when Trump took office 4 year ago. The most constant message that Biden has had on offer since the campaign started is a fond memories for the relatively soporific years of his vice-presidency. Who hasn’t dreamed of a politics that’s boring? The Trump administration, in this vision, takes shape as an anomalous interregnum. Where Bernie Sanders spoke rashly of revolution, Joe Biden will set up a remediation. His transition group and cabinet choices– an ethnically diverse, ideologically uniform cast of centrist thinktankers, Obama appointees, corporate execs and lobbyists– all signal a go back to pre-2017 politics as normal.
Trump likewise campaigned on nostalgia. He offered a vision of white America that was never anything however terrific, unsullied by slavery, genocide, and all the criminal activities of empire. In reaction, Biden conjured a wonderful suturing of wounds that are themselves better left unmentioned: “Let us be the country that we understand we can,” he intoned in his victory speech, echoing Obama. “A nation unified … A nation healed.” It is difficult not to discover that the one lyric from the Clinton-Obama hymnal that Biden does not often utter is “modification”– and more difficult still to forget that he assured wealthy donors in June that, were he elected, “absolutely nothing would basically alter.” The other notes he regularly hits are all familiar: “hope,” “unity,” “faith in America,” “faith in tomorrow”– with “tomorrow” understood as a vague and feel-good placeholder, like in the showtune and not as another difficult day that will arrive, irrevocably, at midnight.
The fond memories Biden stimulates is not just for the relative sobriety of the Obama years however for the interrupted story of national satisfaction that the ex-president embodied. Obama might talk about slavery as “original sin,” about partition and Jim Crow, and then offer himself up as evidence that, however massive such past injustices may be, we remain “on the path of a more perfect union.” The sustaining dream of his administration was that the ghosts that haunt us were losing the fight for the country’s soul, that we were not damned to inequality and violence, that we could “ pick our much better history,” and that, echoing Lincoln, “our better angels” might dominate. The system could be made to work for everyone.
Long prior to Trump bulldozed through that dream, the subterfuge was apparent. Obama’s actions brought the exact same message that Biden clumsily voiced aloud: Absolutely nothing would fundamentally change His 8 golden years started with a $29 trillion Wall Street bailout that initiated a massive transfer of wealth that left most Americans, and particularly African Americans, poorer at the end of the Obama-Biden age than they were at the beginning. It is simple now to forget that it was under Obama, in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder and after that Michael Brown’s, that activists discovered it required to insist that Black lives truly do matter. Ferguson in August 2014 didn’t look much different than Minneapolis did this May.
Still, it is that very same haggard dream that Biden is trying to reanimate, the consoling illusion that previous criminal activities can be discharged without any significant rupture. Biden is neither as smart nor as eloquent as Obama, and he primarily makes a hash of it, advising us of his capability to collaborate with segregationists rather of plumping our sense of multicultural royal destiny. With camouflaged militias stalking statehouses and their apologists still inhabiting the executive and legislative branches, Biden’s calls for unity might not sound more impotent. But even if he were a more capable orator, no quantity of rhetoric will jam the satanic forces that Trump let loose back into the fractures in which Obama had tried to pack them.
The old neoliberal sleight of hand, substituting diversity for substantive equality, won’t work this time. The rupture has actually currently taken place. Trump spent four years pushing his small fingers into every crack he might find in the American body politic. The ghosts, it turned out, were not even sleeping. They came racing out into the light, not just the ghouls but those better angels too– the ones Obama and Biden both trot out as required for lyrical effect however disown when they make actual needs. They were angry, and they did what the more respectable class of angels have actually constantly carried out in this nation. They animated flesh-and-blood Americans to stand up and run the risk of whatever– the bullets of their countrymen, the batons and prisons of the authorities, and, this time, the infection too.
Summer season seems like a long time earlier, however it would be even worse than dumb to forget that this year the United States experienced something at least as historical as the pandemic: the largest demonstration motion in our history. Without lectures from above, people in the streets made the connections between contemporary authorities killings and the centuries of racial violence that preceded them. Nevertheless you feel about the historical worth of marble monoliths to slavers, the toppling of all those statues made it clear that these were not blind outbursts of desperation but the beginning of a numeration long past due. With as numerous as 40 million Americans dealing with expulsions in the coming months, around 80 percent of them Black and brown, it will not likely be postponed much longer.
Back in the capital, Biden’s chestnuts about unity are unlikely to budge a Republican Senate majority that, though it represents a minority of the population, has shown itself ready to let the country collapse prior to ceding an inch in the class war. And war it is: The same Republicans who eagerly transferred more than $1 trillion from public coffers to corporations and billionaires refused to offer unemployed Americans more than an extra $300 a month or to launch emergency financing to state and city governments crippled by the worst recession because the Anxiety. Still, with food bank lines stretching for miles and more than 6 million eviction orders expected to go out as quickly as the present moratorium expires, Biden has shown no indication of being ready for a fight. If anything, he is more comfortable on the side of the kleptocrats: Biden intervened in the stimulus settlements, The New York Times reported, to support a plan that amounted to less than half the funds that the centrist Democratic leadership had been promoting, providing “Democrats self-confidence to draw back on their demands.” His most recent pandemic action plan does not say a word about appetite, real estate, joblessness, sick leave, or access to care– as if hardship were not among Covid-19’s most deadly comorbidities.
Political paralysis is undoubtedly more suitable to the race straight into the void that a second Trump administration would have brought. The abyss is getting closer whether we move towards it or not. The discomfort of this coming year will make itself felt in the huge gulf in between what needs to be done to stave off catastrophe and what is from another location practical offered the political conjuncture. The infection rages, the world warms, and here we are: knowing that this broken system can not save us; understanding that we will be the ones who need to battle; understanding that our losses will be dreadful; understanding that we have no other option.