Cat Boyd argues that alliances with the ruling elite based on fear of the far right will lead to disaster. We need to oppose the Biden and Co with a distinctive socialist case.
AS Donald Trump’s unrepentant army occupied America Inc for a few hours earlier this month, my customary disdain for US politics was replaced with ghoulish fascination. They were said to have been intent on bloody mayhem: kidnap, murder and hostages. I’m clear that their intentions were more prosaic: to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as 46th President of the US.
Unless you’ve been hiding in your own bunker, fearful of the alleged fascist threat, then you can’t fail to have seen the raucous scenes as Trump’s circus rolled into town. (If the protest proved anything, it was that the alt-right look just as mad as the far-left when they embrace the weirdness of carnival-chic.)
Last week, on CONTERCAST, David Jamieson and I interviewed Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin on the crises in US politics. Sunkara shared the currently-circulating anecdote about Trump’s apparent disgust at the protestors. The former president, it’s claimed, privately castigated the Capitol mob, saying that they looked like unrefined yokels.
And only the staunchest puritan could suppress a giggle at these oddballs in leather chaps, like the Village People’s version of Davy Crockett. But the joke in this story works because it’s Trump “of all people” who finds the mob unruly and vulgar. For many liberals, Trump represents the parts of America they’d rather pretend didn’t exist: rude, brash, and sceptical of “expert advice”. Trump is America’s id, the nation’s dark, hidden and disruptive desires, thrust onto the international stage.
Yet peering into Trumpist psychology disguises the fact that he is a symptom of America’s wider crisis. American society created Trump, and the politicians responsible are those who so often rail against his vulgarity. This doesn’t absolve Trump or Trumpism. But a Joe Biden presidency is in the ideological lineage of neoliberalism and anti-democratic forces. This, in turn, generated the working class disaffection which helped bring Trump to power.
Let’s say what we mean here: Trump is a particularly nasty boil on the terminally rotting corpse of American greatness. His gaucheness and authoritarian personality – even his incitements for supporters to storm the capitol – are part of a wider phenomenon. This is the unravelling of a society constructed by the very elites he professed to oppose while the decline of American Global Power continues apace.
Efforts to monster him have commonly backfired. Indeed, the biggest victim of Trump monstering wasn’t Trump at all, but Bernie Sanders. His “me, but also anyone but Trump” campaign rhetoric spoke to liberal preoccupations. The left’s fixation, too, on Donald Trump’s aesthetic offences, his many gaffes and gaucheries, disguised the powerful forces in the US that were Sanders’ previous object of critique and its most committed evangelists, men like, …Joe Biden. The globalisers are back, baby! And this time, they think the Left are backing them.
Let’s bear in mind who Joe Biden really is. He is the Wall Street candidate, a symptom, again, of the conditions that created Trump. He is the candidate of the 1%. His early headline grabbers therefore include: keeping the US embassy in Jerusalem and more spending on NATO. During the election, Biden pledged to restore America’s international reputation, which is less about behaving well on social media, and more about rebuilding the neoliberal consensus on economics and politics.
The radical left has often miscalculated the stakes in these debates. In 2016, Angela Davis, backing Hilary Clinton for President, said that protesting against Clinton would be much easier than protesting against Trump. In 2016, I could understand that. Biden’s administration though, favours quick laws to tackle ‘domestic terrorism’.
And this isn’t just about curbing the far right. Remember Charlottesville? The Biden backers, even then, dismissed Antifa as inflammatory, unreasonable and violent. Remember the seemingly realistic and reasonable desire to “push Biden’s presidency leftward”? Well, it will be incredibly difficult to do that now the War on Terror is ‘working from home’ too.
Biden’s domestic ‘War on Terror’ must face resistance, and the previous coalition to Get Rid of Trump definitely won’t oppose the new domestic terror laws: billionaires, Wall Street, the New York Times… The Left also needs to break from any notion that “big tech” and state power (even the FBI was “resisting Trump”) are worthy allies. New encroachments of the security state must be countered, or those powers will be used to curb the left protestors that Davis hoped to inspire against the Democrat elite.
Lastly, the Capitol Hill stunt and the subsequent reaction sets the tone for 2021. Welcome to Panic Politics, where the dread of “something really, really bad” requires everyone who opposes Trump/coronavirus/ISIS/the far right to set aside all differences and build the biggest possible tent. “Panic politics” dictates that we must bin our critical faculties and clutch our pearls, because something simply must be done. But this is the story of the past four years of failure. The Capitol Hill protest cannot become the latest excuse to stop thinking.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Trump was just a symptom. Let’s not build a coalition with those who created him to clamp down on dissent. Let’s learn our lesson: whether in the US, the UK or here in Scotland, when the Radical Left unites with liberal institutions, we lose more than we gain. In the US, all roads of liberal alliances (including movements on race and gender) led to Joe Biden. In the UK, pandering to liberal squeamishness on Brexit destroyed Corbyn’s populist project. And in Scotland, the radical left’s capitulation to the broadest possible formations in the 2014 indyref campaign simply swallowed us whole.
On Trump’s last day, there’s plenty of optimism in the air. But there’s also a total absence of real answers from the centrist elites who have restored their authority. Let’s not abandon our critical faculties.