Biden, Trump and the Politics of Nostalgia

To be sure, many of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for President are people I’d wish to stay comfortably distanced from the Oval Office.

Please, not Joe Biden. To be sure, many of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for President are people I’d wish to stay comfortably distanced from the Oval Office. I cringe at the thought of the likes of Beto and Mayor Pete running in a general campaign. It’s already tough enough watching Beto jump on bar tops and brag about having been in a band.  Mayor Pete showing off his command of the Norwegian language, or referencing Joyce, save me. But, a Biden victory in the Democratic Primary would be a different sort of low, something so inescapably bleak. Their vapid emptiness is at least, albeit incoherently, pointed toward something like a future. Biden’s version is a depressing swirl of unreserved nostalgia and the sort of American exceptionalism that has been built by centrist Democrats to try to forgive all the heinousness done while they are running the show.
Indeed, it seems as though Biden, who polls suggest is something approaching the front–runner of this absurdly crowded race, has taken a look around his country these past few years and decided that every single problem can be explained by the presence of Donald Trump in the White House. Choosing to look at Trump’s victory and presidency as an aberration in American history, Biden’s main promise appears to be that America just needs to go back to ‘normal’. But, Trump is no aberration, but rather a tragically accurate reflection and culmination of American political and social life. Biden has taken years to reflect on what has happened since he was President Obama’s Vice President, and the best he seems to be able to come up with is to Make America Less Visibly Repugnant Again. A truly cynical approach, one in keeping with the centrist identity that has long fashioned the backbone of the Democratic establishment machine, but one that seems even more craven now. As people react to Trump and the exacerbation of capitalist stratification sent into hyperdrive by the current government, they have plainly stated that more of what used to be the same is no longer an option. They want public healthcare, Biden says he doesn’t have time to let them know what his healthcare plan is. They want genuine accountability and consequence for sexual harassment and Biden can’t even bring himself to truly be sorry. They want retribution for the evils carried out by the American Right. Biden wants the world to know he is perfectly chill with the likes of Dick Cheney. He is clearly out of step with the times, and that’s why he has to run away from them. Please, not Joe Biden.
A Trump–Biden election would be the nadir we thought Clinton–Trump was to be. It would be another affirmation of the sad reality that in American politics, there simply is no bottom. Four years after the campaign that brought us President Donald, America would choose between two aged white men, with aged white men politics. America would have no option but nostalgia. Either the evil and regressive myths perpetrated by Trump, or the soft and deceitful ones offered by Biden. America would have to pick between a hopelessly corrupted billionaire and a man who wants us all to know that hopelessly corrupted billionaires really aren’t all that bad. America would choose between hoping that giving rich people more money would, maybe this time, trickle down into the hands of those in need, or being told that any real and necessary redistribution of resources was simply unrealistic. President Trump, a genuinely stupid man who wants you to know he’s in fact the smartest man in the history of the world versus Candidate Biden, the self–professed adult in the room, who hasn’t at all bothered to grow up.
The next American presidential election ought to be truly consequential. But, in order for it to be so, for it to have a chance to reflect some of the good changes that have come about in response to Trump, a clear alternative must be offered. Instead, Biden appears bent on selling the American people a more appealing bill of goods. Rather than coming to grips with what Trump’s election victory told us, what his presidency has revealed, and the damage that has been done, Joe wants to assure people that it’s all the fault of one man alone. That a vote for Joe is a vote to brush all this rather uncomfortable stuff under the rug and get back to the business of refusing to accept the scale of the problems that face both America and the world. Either, this is some extraordinarily cynical political calculus that he and his team believe will get him the office he craves, or he actually believes this is the current state of affairs. Either way, he’s shown himself unworthy of the job. And, while many pollsters and party loyalists will tell you he’s most likely to win the nomination, my guess is he’ll do far worse than people think. There’s a real chance that the ground beneath the likes of Biden has shifted, and his support will never reach the depth and breadth required to win either a primary or general election. Biden may wish to hurl America back to some imagined time of civility, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are desperate to look for a markedly different future.

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