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Joe Biden, comforting the comfortable

Donald Trump is the worst president in U.S. history. I state that up front because I recognize the danger of his holding of the office. At the same time, Trump is not the only risk that we face. His incompetence has been a protection from his impulses, but the disquieting thought that stays with me is that there must be persons of similar moral emptiness observing from off the stage, biding their time until they can employ the methods that he has used instinctively. And to anyone who says that the country will surely have learned our lesson, I point out the language being used in reference to Joe Biden. The latter is seen as electable, and I am told over and over that his platform does not matter. Voters who are willing to accept anyone simply for not being the other guy are primed to support a sane and intelligent version of Trump. But that is not the only problem with Biden. It is precisely his aura of normality, his rejection of the Dionysian forces that make his his own kind of danger.

This is because Biden has declared his disdain for anyone who was not pleased with the neoliberal collusion between Washington and Wall Street, his contempt for anyone who seeks actual progress. He said in an interview in 2018 that he has no empathy for millennials, expressing the old man’s attitude toward those pesky kids and complaining that his generation led the country forward with the movements for the rights of minorities and women — as if there are not serious problems today that also must be solved. He has delivered the political platitude in speeches and tweets that there is nothing that Americans cannot do, but in private — when, I presume, he is being honest — he tells wealthy donors that nothing will fundamentally change for them. And with the Democratic Party’s continued opposition to Medicare for All, a policy that Biden promised to veto, despite high support among Democrats and Americans generally, it is clear that his leadership is meant to be in circles.

Biden’s citing of the civil rights movement to dismiss the concerns of young people now is indicative of his fundamental dishonesty. Yes, his generation achieved a lot, and he worked against much of it. He has been cosy with open racists in the Senate, which by itself could be dismissed as mere collegiality, and his hesitations on school integration could be seen as due to inexperience, but his support of the 1994 crime bill solidifies the impression that he views black voters as his property that he may exploit at will, whether that be using them to frighten whites or demanding that they give him their votes.

The reality is that Joe Biden is a repetition of Herbert Hoover, not of Franklin Roosevelt. He seems like someone who would be avuncular in person — though take care if you are a woman — one of the guys who will drink your beer and not ask you to think too much. But despite the media’s obsession with likability, what we need in politicians is leadership forward, not amiability.

Biden’s threat is stated openly: a return to the privileged normality of upper middle class and wealthy Americans. He may offer occasional crumbs to the rest — to the majority — but he intends to cover over the structural inequalities that hold down millions. America’s political elites value comfort over all else, and comfortable people have to be goaded into doing good. Biden will not do this. He instead offers them the opportunity to settle back into the calm of gated communities with manicured lawns and manicured people and nary a hint of suffering beyond.

If Biden were the FDR that Bernie Sanders would like him to be, the country could have the hope that we once again can navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of authoritarianism on the left and the right. America hung on the edge of communism and fascism in the crisis of the Great Depression, and today, we are equally at risk of seeking a dictator to save us from the consequences of a pandemic and a plutocratic economy. But Joe Biden asks us to go back to sleep.

This is the danger of Joe Biden. He is the sigh of the smug, a soporific for a nation that needs stimulus. At the moment, he appears likely to win, making it ever the more necessary for those of us on the left to maintain the pressure for progress, lest the Democrats feel themselves to have finally silenced the people.

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