We’re about to find out how a status quo politician manages the end of the world

Joe Biden in front of an out of control forest fire
Wilson Belshaw

Most people reading this can probably agree that Donald Trump being out of power is an optimal situation. I imagine many enjoyed seeing him lose, too – the protracted vote count making it like watching a hideous slug being salted one grain at a time.

Of course, Trump being the worse candidate doesn’t make Joe Biden a good one. The president-elect is a veteran of a Democratic establishment that exists largely to defend the status quo on behalf of its wealthy donors. This could be a problem for Biden, because like it or not, the times they are a-changin’.

The question is how the hell does a status quo politician govern when the world is collapsing?

A cavalcade of crises

Most US presidents had to deal with crises. What they didn’t have to deal with was every crisis at once.

A far from definitive list includes:

  • The climate crisis.
  • Capitalism run amok.
  • Structural racism.
  • Coronavirus (Covid-19).
  • A privatised health service that co-functions as a privatised bankruptcy machine.
  • The rise of the far right.
  • A nation that’s shown it will vote in a potential despot, should it lose faith in the political establishment.

So yeah – America has more problems than you could shake a bald eagle at.

Going off what we know about Biden, will the new president have answers?

Status no

The biggest issue facing humanity is the self-perpetuated destruction of the planet we all live on. Biden has made promises to tackle the climate crisis, one being that he’ll sign America back up to the Paris Agreement. That’s preferable to the alternative, but bear in mind that in 2019, AP reported:

[UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres] lauded the Paris climate accord, but said even if its promises are fully met, the world still faces what he described as a catastrophic three-degree temperature rise by the end of the century.

And that’s if we implement the measures – something countries are already failing to do.

Biden does have a plan to tackle climate change, but there are a few problems:

  • He’ll struggle to enact it if he doesn’t control the Senate.
  • Ambitious targets for “quality public transportation by 2030” and “net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050” sound great; they’re just less impressive when you realise their success will be measured long after Biden can be held accountable.
  • Harris and Biden seem reluctant to even suggest they’ll ban fracking, let alone go through with it.
  • He could be paying lip service to something he has no intention of following through on (something the ‘Yes We Can But No We Won’t’ Obama/Biden administration did a great deal).

Failure to get on top of the climate issue will cause problems for him. In 2024, few will believe his new climate plan if he’s made zero ground on the first one. Many Republican voters might not care, but those who desire an environment/future will.

If that happens – and people believe the worst case climate scenarios – why vote at all? It’s this fear of voter apathy that may force movement on the issue.

On the record

Can we expect Biden to deviate from the status quo elsewhere?

CAPITALISM

Biden has referenced ending “shareholder-driven” capitalism, which would basically mean ending the system of corporations primarily answering to shareholders. The replacement to this would be “stakeholder capitalism”, in which businesses are equally as responsible to workers and customers.

Is he likely to shake things up like this? Given that capitalism is failing and people are noticing that, the status quo is becoming increasingly unmanageable. The question is whether Biden will rock the boat given that he sailed into power on a wave of billionaire donations. This is especially pertinent given that – surprise, surprise – replacing shareholder capitalism is already drawing criticism from Wall Street.

It’s also worth noting that a more equitable form of capitalism is still capitalism – a parasitic system that many argue is incompatible with fighting climate change.

STRUCTURAL RACISM

During the Black Lives Matter protests, Biden said that the solution may be to train police to shoot people “in the leg” rather than the heart. So let’s not beat around the bush: there’s a clear lack of understanding here – especially when factored in with his “problematic” record on racial justice (and Kamala Harris’s “controversial” record on racial justice (and the Democratic Party’s “destructive” record on racial justice)).

At some point in the next four years, the police will figuratively lynch another Black person and people will take to the streets. When that happens, Biden will have to respond. Unlike Trump, he can’t afford to ignore or belittle these people and their pain. The question is if he responds like a human being or like someone with the political record of Joe Biden.

HEALTHCARE

Biden has plans to “build on” Obamacare – a mess of a system that improved on the previous mess but still benefits a vampiric insurance industry at the expense of patients/decency. What you may not realise is that ‘Medicare for All’ – a proposed national health service – is the preferred option of 69% of voters. On election night, Fox News ran an exit poll that actually found 72% of people support a “government-run health care plan”.

The US health care system isn’t just unpopular; it’s also the cause of two thirds of bankruptcies. Will Biden be able to maintain this obscene, life-ruining injustice-machine?

Only if nobody gets seriously ill in the next few years.

Or mildly ill.

They’re basically ruined either way.

CORONAVIRUS

Donald Trump has left a pretty low bar on the coronavirus front, but that won’t stop the right-wing press criticising any move Biden makes. This will prove especially true if a sizeable majority decides to flout safety measures. It’s worth remembering, though, that ‘business as usual’ responses don’t exist in a once-in-a-century pandemic. The question is if he makes moves that benefit the people or the power.

DIVISION

The rise of the far right and a divided nation both have the same solution – Biden has to make people’s lives better. It won’t be a quick fix, but it could stop the problem getting worse – the problem ‘not getting worse’ representing a big improvement on America’s current status quo.

There are deeper issues that won’t be fixed by class politics alone, of course, but Biden may not be the best person to end – or even oppose – the American colonial project.

Shifting sands

There is no doubt that Biden is a status quo politician. There is reason to believe his inclinations in that regard can’t survive the next four years.

Whether the establishment likes it or not, there’s a great wave of change coming. Either Biden’s timidity will get swept away by it or he will, but there’s no avoiding it – there’s no standing still. The 46th president will be remembered as a reluctant agent of change or he won’t be remembered at all. Possibly because he ends up being a footnote between Trump and the competent despot who comes next; or possibly because there’s no one left to remember him.

You’re welcome to find this sort of talk dramatic, of course, but I’d advise you remember this moment. Much like with Biden, I imagine these next four years are going to change how we all feel about a lot of things.

Featured image via Jeff Head – Flickr / Gage Skidmore – Wikimedia

Get involved

  • Wilson Belshaw’s latest novel is Game of Plagues – a satire of the UK establishment’s disastrous, corrupt, and contemptible response to the coronavirus (with zombies). You can get it in paperback or eBook here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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  • Show Comments
    1. I suppose this means war with Iran, then. And maybe Russia, China?

      There should be no celebrating Trump gone if the election was stolen from him, as a stolen election is always the bigger danger. But still, that’s the second time an election which went against what The Canary supports – Brexit and Trump – it finds it acceptable the result be ignored. That’s not democratic, more like Stalinist. It is certainly the authoritarian left and it is ugly.

      1. Authoritarian left? Whut da hell??? Where? Is that even a thing? Cause I’m pretty sure it isn’t. And anyway, even if the election was won unfairly, and I’m not saying it was, is that such a bad thing? Is kicking a madman like Trump on his arse, in an offhand way or not, not worth doing if that’s what it takes to steer the world into calmer waters? Maybe the left are just sick of being the nice guy who always gets kicked around because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe it’s that simple. Wotcha think?

    2. Hopefully it means war with the Republicans in Name but not in principle. There are many issues that Slow Joe Biden can take a swing at quickly that will pour calming oil on American troubled waters. There are a few he can address that will begin to repair the relationship damage Trump has done with other countries. But what Biden must do quickly is get started on correcting the damage the Rethuglicans have done to the electoral process. The money must be removed from American politics. Publicly funded elections and proportional representation are essential in the USA is ever to become an actual Democratic Republic.

    3. I’d say the resentment of the US populace against what has happened to their country is why they even voted for Trump. $780 Billion on defense is seldom mentioned as a reason for the dissapation of the ” dream” for a new world. These politicains recreated the old world where millions emigarted out to search for an enlightened place to raise their children.
      We’re getting the idea these politicians Have no Vision at all, and are totally out of their social depth to deal with the challenges facing us. Like immigration is the problem , not the war causing it.
      But people within recent memory were convinced Heaven was a real place, but one had to wait until after death to find out about it.
      Few want to wait now.
      I think we’re on the upswing about our reality even though Planet B isn’t a possibility at all.
      Trouble is coming with our well found restlessness.

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