A Tsunami of Continuity
This coming Wednesday January 20 will see the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president of the United States. The supporters and the opponents of these two will quickly tell you that a great change is going to occur. A new day will be dawning, and America will have turned a corner. Whether that is a good or bad corner depends upon your political persuasion. Mr. Biden’s speech will be full of such flowery language as will the (mostly fawning) press corp. This is what political mythology demands, you see. It is all a part of the ideology used by the governing classes to justify themselves and to set themselves up as change agents. It also serves to marginalize their opponents and perhaps to demonize them as well. As with all such displays of pageantry and mythology, it is all smoke and mirrors, meant only to befuddle and obfuscate the much uglier truth.
The general public should strap themselves in and prepare for what can best be described as a tsunami of continuity. The reality of all this is that very little will change and almost nothing of substance. Let me put it this way in terms of just the last 6 presidents: Bush= Clinton= Bush= Obama= Trump= Biden. There is a consistent and as I have described, excremental continuity to all these administrations. This phenomenon is true even of the “outsider” Trump. Trump has not been quite the sump pump his supporters had hoped for, nor has he been the disrupter that his opponents feared.
In terms of actual policy, which is all that really matters, Trump has governed like a typical Republican. He has pushed tax cuts, ignored the impending fiscal implosion due to the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare; he has moved regulation toward a more pro-business (pro-market would be dismantling the regulatory apparatus) position, defense spending has continued upward, and the Federal Reserve is still manipulating interest rates and distorting the capital markets. These are all policies that have consistent bipartisan support and have been enacted by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Trump’s judicial appointees, while certainly different than Democratic ones would have been, have been well within the Republican mainstream, most of them vetted by the conservative Federalist Society. As has been seen by the decades long continuity of polices, judicial appointees scarcely matter anyway., except to enable the growth of state power.
As regards foreign policy Trump has been well within the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy since WWII. The empire grinds on, the U.S. continues support for odious regimes around the globe, Trump did not move to pull the U.S. out of NATO, and in fact moved closer to placing NATO troops directly on the Russian border. Speaking of Russia, Trump’s policy was even more antagonistic than Obama’s in that the U.S. has provided the proto-fascist government of Ukraine with modern weaponry as well as continued the sanctions. If Putin bought Trump, he got a lousy bargain. All these policies are well within the bipartisan consensus of U.S. foreign policy and a continuation of a long string of policies that have run through multiple administrations. Regarding China, Trump moved the administration closer to open conflict with that nation, which had full bipartisan support. The only real Democratic criticism was that the U.S. was not being aggressive enough; this, however, should be taken as just a political talking point rather than a serious policy disagreement. We have seen that Trump’s actual polices represent continuity, now how about Biden?
Joe Biden’s positions should be clear enough at this point, given that he has been in public office for over 50 years. In his Senate career and his time as Vice President Joe Biden has been a consistent and reliable tool of the political establishment. He has voted with the mainstream of U.S. political consensus for his whole career. He has supported the ever-growing U.S. empire and, military establishment; he has always supported the growth of the welfare state. He has supported the clear U.S. government support for Wall Street and financial class interests; this includes backing the Federal Reserve as well as “deregulation” (in scare quotes because this just means letting Wall Street take any risk but agreeing to cover their losses). Two of his most notable achievements are his staunch support for the drug war in the 1980s and the vastly enhanced criminal justice penalties of the 1990s. This, of course, stoked up his white base to the clear detriment of communities of color. Never mind his sounding all woke during the 2020 campaign, which do you think will better predict his actions, what he has said over the last year or what he has done over the last 50?
Additionally, there is nothing in Joe Biden’s policy proposals to significantly separate him from Donald Trump or the Republican party. Military spending will continue upward, there will be no addressing of the insolvent entitlement programs and he will propose large amounts of extra spending (just as Republicans did) to address the needs of his clients. All of this will of course be funded by the Federal Reserve and not coincidentally in the process line the pockets of the 1%.
That Biden poses no threat to the establishment can be seen by looking at who gave him money. As can be seen here (this is just to the campaign, not allied PACs), Joe Biden is financially beholden to big money. Corporate America is usually parasitical, but they are not stupid, they only give when they safely expect a return on their money. There is no safer bet for corporate America than Joe Biden.
Another way to look at Biden’s lack of a threat to the ruling classes is to look at his appointees. There is Anthony Blinken at defense, a veteran of the private capital world, Janet Yellen also a financial services hero, who like Blinken has reaped millions of late in speaking and consultancy fees from corporate America. There is Tom Vilsack at Agriculture (again) a favorite of large agribusiness; Merrick Garland as Attorney General who has always supported law enforcement over civil liberties; Gina Raimondo at Commerce, also from the private equity world and let’s not forget Pete Buttigieg at Transportation, who hails from McKinsey & Company, a famous corporate consultancy. Yes, there are a few progressives sprinkled about at less important agencies like Housing and Urban Development, but they are vastly outnumbered by corporatists at the key policy making departments. To round this out one should mention the “cabinet-level” agencies that are centered in the White House itself that will be populated by career corporate lackeys like Katherine Tai as trade representative (who will carry on the managed trade restrictions that Trump continued), John Kerry as special envoy for climate affairs and most awfully Clintonista Neera Tanden as head of the Office of Management and Budget.
What we can make of all this is that the interests of corporate America will be safeguarded as always. Forget the talking points and the claims of a radical change in policy. These are claims made by supporters and detractors of every administration for obvious reasons. Standing behind the shills and their politically hypocritical verbiage is a virtually monolithic corporatist apparatus that supplies the money and the personnel to ensure that they get what they desire from their ownership of the U.S. government. Policy toggles between a slightly left of center and a slightly right of center orientation that does not threaten the power structure. This was evident in the Trump years as the Democratically controlled Congress kept reauthorizing the national security laws and intelligence capabilities, even though an “unhinged” Trump was the one wielding those powers. Those “out of power” will bide their time, as always in think tanks and lobbying firms (reaping large financial gains), waiting until power toggles back their way. In the meanwhile, those who have no access or influence will continue to pay the price for a party only the well to do are invited to.
All of this may sound excessively cynical, especially for a Christian. However, Jesus wants us to be as “wise as serpents” (Matt 10:16). Therefore, we should be clear-eyed and forthright about the way the world is. God wants us to acknowledge the way the world is and in faith proclaim the way it should be and work toward that goal. Like a 10-step program, step one is to admit you have a problem. Well, we have a problem, and it is a bipartisan problem born of the creation of too much political power. Let us work diligently toward a world in which there is no King but Christ.
Praise Be to God