Some opinions and many questions regarding the incoming Biden administration
By Fernando M. García Bielsa
JANUARY 17, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
The new President of the United States, Joseph Biden, when he takes office will have to face numerous challenges, and in the immediate future he is obliged to pay attention to severe and serious problems such as the pandemic, the recession, climate change and serious fiscal tensions in order to solve urgent social and economic needs. It will also need to obtain some tangible results in its first months, especially in the economy and in the fight against the coronavirus, and show that once again bipartisan action is possible.
He is called to govern a country whose international credibility has been damaged by the ups and downs of its politics and the unstable management of the outgoing president. Likewise, the United States suffers serious structural problems, and is in a moment of serious political, economic and health crisis, with a very polarized society, the discredit and dysfunctionality of many of its institutions and the prospect of obstruction in Congress, where it has a tiny majority. In addition, given the loss of reputation of the electoral system and Trump’s sustained campaign on alleged fraud, part of the citizenry considers Biden’s presidency illegal.
In addition, President Biden’s powers may be somewhat diminished, as he may not be considered to have a strong “mandate” due to the narrow margin of his electoral victory. During this next four years he will face a strong Republican action to obstruct his administration, despite the fact that he and his government will not move away from the neoliberal political orientation shared by both parties of the system, the Democrat and the Republican.
A short list of the challenges facing U.S. society, along with the urgency and severity of the impact of the pandemic and the worrisome trends that are emerging, includes the endless wars that are bogging down the country, the economic crisis, the huge fiscal and trade deficits, a serious deterioration of infrastructure, persistent racial hatred and tensions, the flawed approach to immigration policy, the dangers of growing inequality, environmental degradation, the loss of citizen privacy and the loss of legitimacy of the institutions of the system.
But also the high degree of financialization of that society, which does not work for the real and productive economy, the big financial bubbles linked to an enormous public debt waiting to unleash a major disaster with dire consequences for society as a whole; a flawed and outmoded electoral political system and a two-party system that is full of divisions, far removed from the real problems of the people and overwhelmed by the fractures in society; the growing ineffectiveness and stagnation of the political and legislative game in Washington.
The situation is equivalent to a crisis of political representation.
Massive inequality has made the struggle for survival a central and daily component for millions of people. The public consciousness of many of them has become twisted by their own situation, by their fears and fanaticism, because they have felt repeatedly deceived and abandoned by both parties in the system, and by the manipulative action of the right wing media and their social networks.
Likewise, there is a widespread desire for change and the rebirth, expansion and ramification of forces and tendencies that feed the divisions in the country, while racial and other forms of violence, white supremacist hate groups and heavily armed militias and paramilitary groups with connections in the police and other security bodies are spreading. According to imprecise figures such groups have some 50,000 members.
This is a reality that the new President will have to deal with. He has no easy task ahead of him and in some areas he would have to confront the oligarchic elite and the entrenched interests in both parties, something that is highly unlikely given his political background.
The shameful episode of the violent takeover of the Capitol by the hordes of Trump sympathizers of a fascist nature has exposed the false illusions and cracks in the country. It is striking how little resistance, bordering on complicity, was encountered by the rioters among many of the security guards as they marched into the hall. Although unusual and logically rejected by the vast majority of citizens, according to some polls, these actions were viewed with sympathy by almost one in five respondents in the nation. Along with these events, hundreds of people demonstrated outside legislative buildings in several states across the country against Biden’s confirmation.
This episode shows the seriousness of the legitimacy crisis that has been eating away at the U.S. political system for decades. Political violence has been an enthroned feature of U.S. affairs since its inception, but in recent years there has been a renewed receptivity to it, along with an erosion of confidence in the institutions and in the supposedly democratic channels.
Such developments may be mere precursors of more serious events; of a violent and turbulent period. Clearly the institutional breakdown that is taking place is not resolved by Trump’s departure. Some analysts go so far as to say that the country has not experienced a crisis of this intensity and magnitude since the years before the Civil War in the second half of the 19th century.
At the same time, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted in conjunction with the Center for Policy at the University of Virginia, one-third of Americans believe that “the United States must preserve the predominance of its white European heritage. There has always been a wide range of resentment in the country, with political expressions that cannot tolerate the growing diversity in that society.
These and other problems are not only projected into the future, but are a present reality, including the great differences between regions of the country, the economic, ethnic, and cultural imbalances, and the sense of abandonment and hopelessness of tens of millions. Such problems are part of the explanation and conditions that made it possible for a demagogue like Donald Trump to become President in 2016.
Many of these problems and tendencies are derived from or related to the process of decline that is manifested in the economy and in the degree of predominance of the United States in the concert of nations, to a great extent derived from the negative impact accumulated by decades of gigantic military expenditures, of endless wars and the disproportionate over-expansion of imperialism in all corners of the planet, as well as the consequent imbalances and growing inequalities generated by neo-liberal globalization within that society.
In the immediate term, some recent events should presumably improve Biden’s possibilities for management and for promoting his legislative program to some extent. Among them, the loss by the Republican Party of its majority in the Senate and the many cracks that exist within it, catalyzed during the catastrophic end of the government of Donald Trump, stand out in the first place.
Despite this, it is to be expected that the magnate will dedicate part of his time to hindering the new President’s administration. Trump has had to leave the government but the latent weight of the 74 million Americans who voted for him is there. They will continue to be a tremendous political base, with tendencies to reject Washington’s elites and the status quo, destabilizing and potentially manipulable for right-wing political projects. What we now call Trumpism will remain even if Trump’s figure is ultimately damaged, to a greater or lesser extent, or discredited by his involvement in the unprecedented revolt at the heart of the Capitol.
Recently some notorious Republican politicians have been abandoning the ship driven by Trump, but mostly they do it measuring consequences with a view to eventually inheriting his mantle. They cannot disengage much from their agenda without alienating the eventual support of the tens of millions who fervently follow the former President.
Aside from the not inconsiderable spread and entrenchment of violent right-wing groups, the xenophobic agenda and rejection of political and financial elites that Trump has exploited remains extremely popular with his broad base of supporters. Many are following him, inside and outside the institutions. An imminent battle over the future direction of the Republican Party and even its eventual division is predicted, which could in the medium term generate consequences and even question the continuity of the two-party oligarchic system.
The electoral victory and the correlation of internal forces do not constitute a clear mandate
Despite all the hype of the US electoral process and the decisive impact of the money spent, there is no doubt that Joseph Biden was elected in 2020 largely because of the massive rejection of Donald Trump, further weakened by the economic and health crisis just before the election. The usual formula of voting for the lesser evil was imposed on millions of people.
The announced and expected blue wave (pro-democracy) did not happen. Biden’s victory was relatively narrow in several states, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was reduced, and although a functional predominance is assumed in the Senate, this body, which by its nature is eminently conservative, has been divided with its seats distributed equally, with 50 senators from each party. Its advantage is quite small and fragile, especially when both right-wing Democrats and liberal Republicans could occasionally join the opposing party in voting on measures that do not suit their preferences. This makes the projection of the legislative program more complex.
More than half of the states in the Union have Republican-dominated governors and/or legislatures. There is concern about the role that the Supreme Court and the judicial body can play at various levels, all of which are clearly conservative.
Given Trump’s role as a catalyst for many of the nation’s rifts, Biden made his point by emphasizing that he would, on the one hand, reverse Trump’s right-wing policies while, at the same time, promising the very difficult task of restoring unity in the nation and governing for all Americans, regardless of their partisan color.
This now appears to him as a straitjacket. The President will have to move between two opposing waters: between his alleged courtship with Republican sectors that supported him, and on the contrary he will have to avoid alienating himself from the combative progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the followers of Bernie Sanders and the traditional party base among workers, African Americans, environmentalists and others.
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, it became clear that it is the traditional elite who are in charge. Favored by it are the bulk of those chosen for the cabinet and the most important positions. For the moment, there is a great deal of ignorance and contempt for the progressive sector.
Biden is an accomplished politician of the oligarchic elite who comes into office with the remarkable gravitation of a class of billionaire donors from Silicon Valley and Wall Street. He was the most conservative of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in the recent election. He will have to govern a country in decline, with many tears, and during a long period of economic recession and fiscal stress. He will be governing with a divided Democratic Party and one in which reconciling differences with the progressive wing presents him with the challenge of not alienating other sectors of his coalition and avoiding a collapse in the parliamentary elections of 2022.
Maintaining the continuity of neoliberal capitalism and the corporate profit rate will be a central concern of the economic policy of the Biden Administration, in part due to the influence on it of the financial sector, the giants of advanced technology, the transnationals and the Democratic establishment.
Domestically, despite enormous levels of debt and an untouchable increase in the military budget, there is a marked need for increased federal spending on health care, aid for the unemployed and businesses, and support for troubled state and local governments. It is believed that given the existing level of inequality and the low dynamism of the economy, Biden could attempt to soften the edge of neoliberal policies through monetary manipulation, without abandoning the general neoliberal orientation characteristic of the spheres that control the Democratic Party.
Even after the pandemic is over, he is likely to face persistent economic weakness and a desperate need for more public investment. The massive injection into the economy of fiat money, of large issues of paper money without real backing, will surely continue, which would increase in the medium term the risks for the stability of the dollar and of the economy itself.
Several important analysts consider the orthodox centrist policies that the Biden administration is likely to adopt as anachronistic and unsustainable, given the growing fractures and conflicting trends in the country and the erosion of the credibility of neoliberalism. The next period of Biden’s government could well be a mere interval in the trajectory of continued ascent and empowerment of extreme right-wing positions in the country.
In matters of foreign policy there will surely be more space for multilateralism, diplomacy and some accommodation with allies, while continuing the United States’ claim to recover its global primacy and domination by threat and force. It is above all in this sphere that the new president has nominated some notorious neoconservatives and interventionist liberals. With Biden, the military budget will be increased, troops will be maintained in the Middle East and, in an adverse geopolitical framework, a hard line will be maintained towards China. The United States will continue to be the biggest exporter of arms, and new military and subversive interventions abroad could be expected.
At first sight, Biden is favored to begin his administration when he succeeds a government like that of Trump, which generated so much controversy, so much polarization and a mediocre performance in a period in which the divisions in the country were sharpened. However, the many expectations generated for a new administration could soon work against him.