On April 8, Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his 2020 presidential campaign, effectively making former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee. While the Sanders campaign has technically ended, the senator has indicated that his name will remain on the ballot in the primary states that have yet to vote. This strategy will allow Sanders to continue acquiring delegates to use as leverage at the Democratic Party’s convention this summer while shifting his current focus to the federal government’s coronavirus response.
The harrowing news was a gut punch to the burgeoning progressive movement, including to yours truly. Being a perpetually “online” Millennial, I recall watching videos of the Vermont senator giving fiery speeches on the Senate floor several years before his 2016 presidential run began. This eccentric, white-haired Brooklynite seemed to be an anomaly at the time, comparable only to Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, and a handful of other progressive, “anti-establishment” politicians. During the subsequent years, my support for Sanders only intensified as I learned about his decades of public service and his ability to consistently stand on the right side of history and advocate on behalf of struggling, working-class Americans. For every modern social and political issue, there always seemed to be accompanying video footage of Bernie in the 80s or 90s gracefully articulating a refined and firm moral outlook.
In addition to Bernie’s impressive résumé of legislative landmarks, this unwavering progressive has also contributed immeasurably to the culture of American politics, expanding our political imagination regarding what is possible. In the last five years, Sanders ran two grassroots presidential campaigns free of corporate influence, inspiring a massive, multi-racial, working-class coalition of small-dollar donors and volunteers. He introduced the voting public to exotic proposals like Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness, tuition-free public college, and raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Because of Bernie’s ongoing, people-powered “political revolution,” these policy proposals — which are realities in less wealthy countries — have become overwhelmingly popular ideas in the United States. As Nelson Mandela allegedly said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
I was fortunate enough to attend a beautiful and inspiring Bernie Sanders rally last February — an event I perceived as a tangible landmark in my own journey as a progressive. But now that Bernie appears to be out of the race, American voters are left with precisely two viable presidential candidates: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. If you’re reading this (or anything at all), you’re likely familiar with the machinations of the orange menace currently occupying the Oval Office. But for any newcomers, here’s a brief overview:
Donald Trump kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and continued by advocating political violence (including thinly-veiled nods to assassination), mocking a disabled journalist, and insulting the family of a deceased Muslim-American veteran. Trump’s affinity for white supremacists and his endorsement of neo-Nazis emboldened the perpetrators of hate crimes. He has employed racists, white nationalists, a probable Nazi, and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. He implemented a child-separation policy on the U.S.-Mexico border, where he runs concentration camps, and attempted to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. More recently, Trump’s negligence in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused unnecessary death and suffering. The current president has also been accused of sexual misconduct by 25 women — cases including allegations of harassment, groping, and even rape.
I’m definitely not voting for that creep. However, the other mainstream option doesn’t look particularly appetizing either. As I’ve previously detailed, Joe Biden’s record is at least as abysmal as Trump’s. For instance, during his career as a senator, the Delaware politician supported racial segregation and opposed women’s reproductive rights. He said he didn’t want his kids to grow up in a “racial jungle” and eulogized the infamous racist Strom Thurmond. As an architect of the 1994 “crime bill”, he helped accelerate the mass incarceration of black and brown Americans. He utilized the racist rhetoric of the War on Drugs and supported its draconian policies. He played a central role in crafting legislation for the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the authoritarian PATRIOT Act. He used his influence in the Senate to push the Bush administration’s agenda, gaining crucial Democratic support for the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. His 2005 bankruptcy bill significantly worsened the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and made it impossible for Americans to discharge their student loan debt through bankruptcy. The former vice president has also been accused of unwanted touching by eight women. More recently, a former staffer revealed additional details of a 1993 incident, alleging that Biden “penetrated [her] with his fingers” without her consent.
But many Democrats are willing to overlook Biden’s “problematic” history. To them, the singular goal is making Trump a one-term president. What the prospect of a Biden presidency represents to liberals and conventional Democrats is a “return to normalcy.” They miss the Obama years, when Uncle Joe was V.P. and a young, intelligent, articulate, charismatic, and inspiring leader was at the helm. To black Americans and other minorities, Obama represented a monumental moment in American history, a realization of the civil rights movement, when — finally — people of color were represented by the highest office in the land. But, as uncomfortable as it might be, we must examine the unsavory history of the Obama administration. Here are some of the seldom discussed outcomes of former President Barack Obama’s policies:
- contributed to the destruction of black wealth
- deported more immigrants than any other administration
- detained immigrant families in cages
- prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined
- conducted ten times more drone strikes than his predecessor, killing hundreds (if not thousands) of civilians in at least seven different countries
- killed three American citizens abroad, including a 16-year-old boy (as part of his larger assassination program)
- helped overthrow the democratically elected government in Honduras and supported the subsequent dictatorship
- spied on millions of American citizens without their knowledge or consent and expanded domestic surveillance powers mere days before Trump took office
- mocked the residents of Flint, Michigan in a cruel stunt
- filed a petition to grant the Bush administration immunity against all civil and criminal charges related to the Iraq War
The Obama administration’s violent intervention in Libya was particularly disastrous. In a disturbingly ironic twist, the actions of America’s first black president contributed to the return of slavery in the previously prosperous African nation. In all, the former president’s legacy — his crowning achievement — was passing a Heritage Foundation-inspired healthcare plan that left the for-profit healthcare system completely intact, failing to even provide a public option. More than a decade after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of Americans still die every year due to lack of access to healthcare. On Inauguration Day, 2017, the editors of Jacobin magazine began their analysis of Obama’s tenure with a somber observation:
“Eight years ago, Barack Obama walked into the White House after raising the hopes of a country that an alternative to the brutality of the Bush years, and the desultory character of American politics more broadly, was possible. Those hopes were quickly dashed.”
I don’t mean to pick on Obama. In fact, I believe he was one of the best presidents in modern American history. Under immense pressure from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, from inheriting two wars, from relentless Republican opposition, and from ubiquitous, racist conspiracy theories, Barack Obama did his best with the tools he had. The critique of the Obama administration is not a personal attack; it is simply meant to illustrate the optimal results of a neoliberal political system that is designed to serve the interests of the capitalist class.
Bernie Sanders is known for his opposition to wealth concentration, widespread poverty, mass incarceration, wars for profit, and many other glaring injustices. It is important to realize that these realities continue unabated, regardless of which political party the president belongs to. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are simply two symbiotic elements of what Marx called the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” As Antonio Gramsci allegedly said, “The historical unity of the ruling class is realized in the state.” By seeking to empower the working class, Sanders (an independent) represented the first imperfect, yet viable departure from this paradigm in my lifetime. To myself and many others on the left, Bernie was our “compromise” candidate.
When publicly revealing our decision to repudiate the two-party system, independent voters like myself are endlessly accused of essentially “ruining the election” in various ways. An overview of these accusations is embodied by the following tweet:
There you have it, folks. If you do anything other than vote for Biden, it’s literally exactly the same as voting for Trump. You should feel very bad. But, in all seriousness, this popular notion contains a fallacious implication that needs to be dismantled. For the aforementioned premise have even a shred of validity, the voter in question would have to, first of all, believe that Biden is “better than Trump.” Secondly, the voter would have to be at least open to voting for Biden under certain circumstances. I fall into neither of these categories. The unimaginable evil of both Biden and Trump is too overwhelming to somehow determine (by what metric?) which candidate is “better.” It would be like choosing between lethal injection and a firing squad, or between Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy.
Another common election-time trope is the notion that independent voters and non-voters are somehow “privileged” — embodied below by a Mehdi Hasan tweet.
Journalist Sana Saeed responded to Hasan by saying, “The people I see espousing a non-voting perspective are mainly brown, black, immigrant low-income voters; many are people without healthcare, in student debt. It’s not always a privilege to exercise the choice to not vote: often it’s rooted in manufactured disenfranchisement.” Saeed continued by clarifying that “to many working class, immigrant, black, brown, undocumented, [and] Muslim” people, candidates like Biden and Trump are the same.
The sentiments expressed by Sana Saeed are indeed supported by the relevant data. The notion that those who refuse to vote for the candidates offered by the two corporate parties are “privileged” is refuted by the fact that non-voters are largely poor and non-white. Also, white supremacy wasn’t crudely devised by Donald Trump in 2016; it is a concept that is deeply engrained in American history and culture, and has been a horrifying reality for black and brown people since this nation’s ghastly foundation. After decades of neoliberal decay, this hatred found fertile soil for its Trumpian re-emergence.
Although I am not a member of a marginalized group, I am a working class American. My interests are not abstract, but based on my material conditions. I work two jobs and worry on a weekly basis about whether I’ll be able to pay rent, go to the doctor, and make my student loan payments. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party more broadly are directly responsible for these conditions I (and others like me) face. True privilege belongs to those who can effortlessly glide through this neoliberal hellscape, unaware of its existence while denouncing those who are struggling to survive it.
Despite the aforementioned vitriol from liberal pundits, there are occasionally slightly more diplomatic Democrats who insist that their candidate can make changes in order to accommodate progressive voters. The first problem with this naiveté is that Biden, whose career was bankrolled by the credit card industry, spent roughly four decades doing the bidding of corporate America. He even told Wall Street donors last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became president.
But the issue that should cast the most doubt on these dubious claims is Biden’s vast history of lying. He has lied about teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, about his support for the Iraq War, about his role in silencing Anita Hill, about allegedly being arrested in South Africa, about his ties to the fossil fuel industry, and has lied extensively about his involvement in the civil rights movement. Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign was even derailed by a plagiarism scandal. How can we trust that this man will reverse a lifetime of conservative policy decisions when we can’t even believe a single sentence that falls from his lips?
Not only would voting for Joe Biden amount to a tacit endorsement of vicious American imperialism and the neoliberal austerity that has affected me personally, but it would be an invitation for the U.S. to start this whole process over again; the insidious process that created Trump. Gradually destroy social programs or privatize them, dismantle unions, ship jobs overseas, keep wages flat, let infrastructure deteriorate, spend exorbitant amounts on war, and then, after decades of these attacks on the working class, some faux-populist con man inevitably comes along to blame immigrants and Muslims. Suddenly, the true American values — xenophobia, sexism, white supremacy, genocidal colonialism — come bubbling to the surface and a neo-fascist movement is born. As Lenin allegedly said, fascism is just capitalism in decay.
As Bernie Sanders recently proclaimed, “the struggle continues.” And the progressive political movement associated with this struggle is entirely incompatible with corporate-funded governance, militarism, neoliberal austerity, and capitalism more broadly. It is incompatible with a predatory economic system that profits from death and suffering by commodifying our basic necessities.
The Democratic establishment thought it could defeat an entire political movement by marginalizing a single man. But, as Bernie pointed out constantly, this was never about him in the first place (his campaign slogan was “Not me, us”). Democratic elites and their allies in the media thought they could prevail by coalescing behind a cognitively malfunctioning rapist who openly despises young people and lies on a regular basis. They thought they could use voters as human shields to distract the general public from their crumbling façade and their rotting core. And now they think they can blackmail progressives with tired voter-shaming tactics. Well listen here, Jack — you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Barring some unforeseen miracle, the White House will be occupied by a reactionary, racist sexual predator for the next four years. Whether this individual plays for the red team or the blue team is irrelevant; both candidates uphold this sadistic system and both are utterly repulsive human beings. Our movement will look beyond the narrow confines of the American presidency to build working-class power through labor strikes, mutual aid, unionization, boycotts, community defense, socialist political parties, and other militant solidarity actions that exist outside the realm of this sham political system. The choice is not between Trump and Biden, but between socialism and barbarism.