“The president is increasingly at odds with leaders of the voting rights movement, who see a contrast between his soaring language and his willingness to push Congress to pass federal legislation.” — New York Times, July 22, 2021
Joe Biden’s approval rating has fallen to 50%, his lowest so far. The drop is richly deserved. Do not be surprised to see it to fall further. Consistent with his long corporate and imperialist record and with his 2019 promise to Wall Street election investors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became president, Biden is following in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s footsteps by providing yet more evidence for Sheldon Wolin’s thesis on what could be expected if a member of the Inauthentic Opposition party – the Democrats – could make into the White House. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin wrote as Obama’s star rose in the early spring of 2008, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.”
Words and Deeds
The judgement remains accurate. Populist- and progressive-sounding words are as usual common in Democratic presidential rhetoric while populist and progressive deeds are as usual scare in Democratic presidential conduct. Remember Biden’s campaign promise to significantly slash college student debt? It’s an empty pledge so far. Early in his presidency, Biden asked the Education and Justice Departments to “review his legal authority” to cancel $50,000 in student debt per borrower by executive order. No review is required. The Higher Education Act clearly grants the U.S. president broad discretion to cancel student debt. The legal assessment is a diversionary and holding action reflecting Biden’s reluctance to irritate the nation’s leading financial institutions, whose interests he dutifully served over three decades in Congress.
(Surprised? Why? Here’s what corporate Joe said about young people in 2018: “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”)
Remember Biden’s campaign promise to raise the federal minimum wage? Biden hid behind the ruling of the arcane office of the “Senate parliamentarian” to justify going ahead with a COVID-19 relief package that deleted a desperately needed $15 an hour federal minimum wage (which would have translated to a paltry $30,000 a year for full time workers). The Senate parliamentarian holds no constitutional authority whatsoever and has in the past been blown off by Republican legislators who found its rulings contrary to their agenda. Biden decided that obeying moldy Senate rules outweighed reducing working poverty. The relief package that he and his fellow Democrats passed contains no permanent measures and programs to support the working class and poor.
Remember Biden’s flowery language on behalf Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), a bill the House passed to re-legalize union organizing in the United States? Here’s what Biden said as the bill neared its vote in the lower body of Congress:
‘The (PRO) Act of 2021 would dramatically enhance the power of workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions…As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone. We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full — and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it…That starts with rebuilding unions. The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class…after generations of sweat and sacrifice, fighting hard to earn the wages and benefits that built and sustained the American middle class, unions are under siege. Nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks…We should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that we shouldn’t hamstring unions or merely tolerate them. It said that we should encourage unions. The PRO Act would take critical steps to help restore this intent.’
Those were nice words, probably the most pro-union rhetoric voiced by a U.S. president in the long neoliberal era. So what? Who cares? The PRO Act is dead before arrival to the U.S Senate thanks to the openly authoritarian Senate practice known as the filibuster. The ludicrous filibuster rule requires 60 of 100 votes for a bill to be heard, much less passed, in the absurdly powerful and unrepresentative upper body of Congress. Like the rulings of the Senate parliamentarian, the filibuster has no basis in the US Constitution. Its abolition is long overdue. But Biden will make no effort to lead his party in ridding the nation f this disgraceful practice, which has a long, ugly racist and classis history.
Cancel Culture, Senate-Style: “Absolutely Nothing Will Happen”
Indeed, like the deeply conservative corporate apparatchik he has always been, Biden recently stood up for the filibuster even while saying that he sees it as a remnant of the Jim Crow era. “There’s no reason to defend it,” he told a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, “except that you will throw the whole Congress into chaos and nothing will happen. Absolutely nothing will happen.”
Here’s a short list of what won’t happen with the filibuster intact in an institution so tilted to the right by over-representation of the nation’s most reactionary, white, and rural states that it is now mathematically possible for the Republicans to possess a Senate majority with votes from states representing just 18 percent of the U.S. populace:
+ The PRO Act, passed by the House.
+ The For the People Act, a major House-passed voting rights bill that would (a) override the racist voter suppression laws that are exploding across “red” (Amerikaner Republican) states in the name of the Big Stolen Election Lie; (b) undo the rampant gerrymandering of Congressional and state legislative districts;(c) place new restrictions on dark money campaign finance.
+ Significant gun reform, urgently required as the nation’s epic firearms carnage escalates.
+ Significant police reform, long overdue.
+ Climate action legislation, urgently required to address the biggest issue of our or any time.
+ Comprehensive immigration reform, long overdue.
None of these and other desirable liberal and progressive measures have a snowball’s chance in Hell in the filibusted Senate.
Hey, can we call the filibuster Cancel Culture?
Biden Our Time as the Democracy (well, Republic) Faces Existential Doom
Texas Democratic state legislators have taken the remarkable step not just of leaving their state to delay the passage of neofascistic voter suppression measures in their giant jurisdiction but of coming to Washington to demand that the Inauthentic Opposition Party get off its ass and play hardball to protect voting rights with serious federal action. It’s time, the nation’s civil and voting rights activists say, for Sleepy Joe to wake up and use his bully pulpit and presidential purse power to compel reactionary Demublican Senators Joe Manchin (D/R-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D/R-AZ) to answer the call of bourgeois-democratic decency by agreeing to join the Democratic Caucus in abolishing the filibuster.
Of course, one must wonder if many in the Inauthentic Opposition Party’s Congressional delegation only claim to be against the filibuster and for measures like the PRO Act and the For the People Act because they know Manchin and Sinema are in place to make sure the bills can’t actually be enacted. Manchin and Sinema permit elected Washington Democrats to deceive their party’s progressive voting base by pretending to be for things the legislators know won’t be implemented. “I had to say I was for the PRO-Act and against the filibuster,” Democratic Senators then get to tell their conservative and corporate backers, “to keep my voters happy.”
That’s the game.
Based on some of his words, you might almost think Biden was on the side of the in-flight Texas Democrats and civil and voting rights activists. In a fiery speech in Philadelphia two weeks ago, Biden warned that the current determined Republican assault on voting rights at the state level was the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”
That’s strong language, like his verbiage on behalf of the PRO-Act. Great. So what? There’s what Biden says and then there’s what Biden does.
Biden is rightly under fire from some progressive Democrats for refusing to seriously align himself with the anti-racist voting rights movement being led by the Texan legislators calling for federal intervention. By all indications, the Clinton-Obamanite Biden-its-time Democratic mis-leadership’s perspective is that racist voter suppression in the states is a fait accompli but that this is surmountable since the Democrats will just work harder to get more votes.
That’s right: the DCCC will just send out the smart guys with the spreadsheets to micro-target the right voters and it’ll all be okay. You betchya! Sorry, nope: the voter suppression measures should ensure that the Republicans take back the House in 2023. And that could well help the APOT take back the White House in 2024-25.
“The president,” The New York Times reported last week, “is increasingly at odds with leaders of the voting rights movement, who see a contrast between his soaring language and his willingness to push Congress to pass federal legislation.”
Imagine that – a gap between Biden’s words and Biden’s deeds!
The House Commission on Trump’s “Last Stand”: Great, So What?
As the Texas Democratic delegation’s desperate gambit gets blown off by the Washington Dem elite, the Inauthentic Opposition Party wants to focus public attention on its House committee on the January 6th Capitol Riot. The horrors of the fascistic Attack on the Capitol were real and the terrors of that day (revisited on national television last Tuesday) should be laid at (to use the language of Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn) “hit man” Trump’s door. The Dems’ rhetoric about the attempted putsch will be full of fire and brimstone. Great. Super. So what? Will there be any federal indictments of the fascist crime boss Trump and his co-conspirators behind the attempt to subvert, de-legitimize, and even physically nullify a presidential election? There should be criminal charges, of course, starting with the orange monster itself. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led a House review of US Capitol security failures after January 6, recently told cable news that Trump “was complicit in the planning and the delayed response that occurred in bringing in more federal assistance to the Capitol that day.”
Well, of course he was. Look at the opening lines of a December 21, 2020 POLITICO report titled “House Republicans Meet With Trump to Discuss Overturning Election Results”:
‘Trump loyalists are planning a last stand Jan. 6.
President Donald Trump huddled with a group of congressional Republicans at the White House on Monday, where they strategized over a last-ditch effort to overturn the election results next month, according to several members who attended the meeting.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) — who is spearheading the long-shot push to overturn the election results in Congress — organized the trio of White House meetings, which lasted over three hours and included roughly a dozen lawmakers. The group also met with Vice President Mike Pence, who will be presiding over the joint session of Congress when lawmakers officially certify the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, as well as members of Trump’s legal team.
“It was a back-and-forth concerning the planning and strategy for January the 6th,” Brooks said in a phone interview.’
Hello? In a fiery speech urging his backers to march to the Capitol on the fateful “last stand” day, Herr Trump said “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Then Trump sat around giddily watching the mayhem on television, openly pleased while his demented minions set up gallows on the Capitol steps, hunted Congressional officers for “Nancy,” and chanted “hang Mike Pence.” When House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called the White House, begging Trump to call off the assault, the fascist president said this: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Trump was persuaded to tell his supporters to disperse only hours later, when he released a video in which he repeated his “stolen election” lie and called the Capitol rioters “very special.”
In the opening speech at the “Save America March” rally that sent 8000-plus Trumpist maniacs to the Capitol, key Trump putschist ally and fellow January 6th planner Mo Brooks (Republifascist-AL) said this while donning a bullet proof vest and a camouflage cap:
‘Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass…Today is a time of choosing and tomorrow is a time of fighting. Today is also a day of revelation and separation. Today, the curtain will be pulled back and American patriots will learn by their votes which Republican senators and congressmen have the courage to fight for our America…Republican senators and congressmen have a simple choice. Today, Republican senators and congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us or they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft and vote for keeping America great…We are not going to let the socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.’
Will Trump and Brooks (and others behind the January 6th mayhem) be charged with incitement to violence and “insurrection” by the Justice Department? Will the Capitol rioters receive anything more than laughably minimal sentences for their bloody assault on the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power? Will the commission’s findings lead top Democrats to call for an end to efforts at reconciliation with a party that has gone neofascist, turning against bourgeois constitutionalism and opting for an ultimately authoritarian, eliminationist, and even genocidal white power politics that relies at the end of the day on the power of the gun?
The answer to these questions is of course no – this while Biden touts his success in “reaching across the aisle” to pass a strongly diluted infrastructure bill crafted to please Big Business and push social justice concerns to the curb.
Again, we have the gaping chasm between words and deeds. On one hand, the Democrats, angling for electoral advantage, are saying, truthfully enough, that our so-called democracy and (more accurately) republic and the rule of (bourgeois) law are under authoritarian (it remains largely taboo to take the extra accurate step and say fascist) assault. On the other hand, calculating that they will likely lose Congress in 2022, the dismal Democrats will do little of substance to protect what’s left of democracy going forward.
In a similar vein, Biden will do nothing to crack down on Facebook and other so-called social media outlets even as he rightly accuses them of “killing people” by granting platforms to anti-vaccine misinformation leaders. “Killing people,” indeed. Bold words, Joe! But so what? Who cares? Newsweek reports that “all except two of the 12 social media personalities dubbed the ‘disinformation dozen’ are still active on at least one of the major platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and boast a combined 6 million followers.”
What’s Biden going to do about it? Not much. As a left social scientist writes me: “Biden asks politely for Facebook to de-platform 12 anti-vaxxers who are killing people and Facebook tells Biden to go f*#k himself because Facebook profits from these murderers. End of story. Orwell rolls in his grave.”
Failure to fight back seems to make the dismal Dems losing nominal (officeholding) power something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Non-passage of the For the People Act (a consequence of letting the filibuster stay in place) helps guarantee Dem defeat in 2022. With numerous racist voter suppression measures being passed in the name of the Big Hitlerian Stolen Election Lie at the state level and the Delta-driven Covid-19 resurgence (partly reflecting Biden’s predictable failure to go hard on vaccines) likely to slow the economy, that seems like a lock now. Even under normal circumstances, the out-party gains a lot in Congress in off-year elections. And with the Amerikaner Party of Trump (APOT, formerly known as the Republican Party) in control of Congress, it seems unlikely that the legislative branch would be willing to certify Joe “Make America Competitive Again” Biden if he were to narrowly win re-election in 2024-25.
How pathetic, hollow, and inauthentic can the Democrats’ opposition to the nation’s rightward drift be? We may find out soon enough, historically speaking.
+1. The remarkable and courageous anti-DAPL Iowa activist Jessica Rae Reznicek recently got eight years for trying to protect life-giving water and save us from climate catastrophe while fascist dirt-bags get a paltry eight months for criminally invading the US Capitol in a bloody effort to nullify a presidential election. Perhaps FOX News regular and Tucker Carlson pal and supposed civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald (who risibly considers it “fascism” for Facebook and Twitter to ban Trump and other actual fascists from their venues) would like to write a piece on this grotesque sentencing disparity.
+2. I say “nominal power” because real power in capitalist societies resides in the investor class. There is a conflict within the political class over whether the nation’s underlying de facto dictatorship of imperial capital should keep or shed normal bourgeois-constitutional rule of law and (partially) democratic electoral forms at the superstructural level. The bourgeois constitutional “democracy” is also experiencing a longer-term erosion under the corrosive impact of oppressive corporate, military, and civilian institutions and the remarkable concentration of wealth and power under late parasitic finance capitalism.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of eight books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, September 2020). Paul writes regularly for Counterpunch and Dandelion Salad. Help Paul Street keep writing here and/or here.
Originally published at Counterpunch, July 31, 2021
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