Joe Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris as his running mate will surely satisfy Democratic Party insiders who were hoping for him to balance the ticket. As a woman of color, Harris kills two birds with one stone by ticking both the gender and race boxes. But the prospect of her becoming vice president is nothing to look forward to. She’s overwhelmingly spent her career, both before and after entering politics, fighting for reactionary policies that completely obliterate the credibility of her claim to be any kind of progressive.
But there’s something deeper going on here. Because Harris represents not just the center-right policy positions of the Democratic establishment. She is also an illustrative example of the kind of empty, tokenistic brand of identity politics that this establishment uses to give its major figures political cover.
A new poll shows that support for former vice president Joe Biden is falling. The survey, produced by Monmouth University, shows Biden dropping from 32 percent amongst Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in June – when Monmouth produced its last poll – to below 19 percent now. The stats, meanwhile, place Biden’s two progressive competitors, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, ahead at 20 percent each.
It seems almost certain, therefore, that if one of them were to drop out and endorse the other, it would propel the remaining candidate well above Biden and into clear front-runner status. Given what it is at stake, it is imperative that one of them do so. The prospect of four more years of the reality TV conman buffoon in the White House risks not only a completely breakdown in functioning government, it would also embolden him to turn his second administration into an authoritarian one. He has already said that he might “stay longer” if his base “demand” that he do so. In July, an administration aide saidduring an interview with Fox News that Trump told White House staff that he is “not going to be beholden to courts anymore.” These are clear signs of an authoritarian fascist in the making.
The fact that Trump is an egomaniac hardly constitutes news. Before becoming president his professional life was characterized by a succession of attention-seeking vanity projects. Through his career as a property developer, he oversaw the construction of a series of gaudy buildings, which stand as monuments to kitsch in locations as diverse as Panama, Uruguay, the Philippines, Turkey, and India. Via his appearance on the reality TV show The Apprentice, meanwhile, he established himself as a vulgar showman and self-important bully.
During the campaign trail, his self-absorption had the chance to further flourish as he basked in the adulation of cheering fans. With friendly audiences lapping up practically anything he said, he took to making ever more outlandish statements, such as his claim that he could shoot someone and still win the election. On the primary debate stage, he showed off the skill in belittling and humiliatingothers that he had honed on The Apprentice, as he reveled in issuing cruel and juvenile insults at his opponents. When Hillary Clinton became the Democratic Party candidate for the general election, the insults morphed into promises to, if elected, use his position of power to imprison her (and, presumably, other political opponents).
According to recent polling data, former Vice President Joe Biden has a two-to-one lead over his next closest rival in the Democratic primary contest, Bernie Sanders. According to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, Biden has 34 percent support from registered Democratic voters compared to 17 percent who support Sanders. This will surely embolden those in the establishment wing of the Democratic Party who claim that a moderate, centrist figure like Biden stands the best chance of defeating Trump next year.
Of course, this is completely contradicted by the outcome of the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton’s association with the failed “New Democrat” policies of her husband and, above all, the corrupt Washington status quo of state capture by corporate and financial interests played right into Trump’s hands. He was able to (falsely) portray himself as an outsider standing up for the common man who, as an uber-wealthy billionaire, was not subject to these malign special interests. Of course, this was from the beginning, a transparent con job; once in office Trump has shown himself to be every bit as beholden to corporate and financial interests as any of his predecessors – whether it be his appointment of corporate crooks to positions within his administration or his shameless pandering to business interests via deregulatory legislation. In such a context, unless the Democrats offer a genuine progressive who really does represent an alternative to both Trumpism and the stale neoliberalism/imperialism-lite of the Democratic Party establishment, Trump may well be able again to channel enough disaffection amongst the benighted masses of Middle America into another narrow electoral college victory.
Ever since Bernie Sanders became a nationally known figure during the 2016 Democratic primary race, his proposal to bring European-style publicly-provided universal healthcare to the US has become firmly entrenched in the country’s political mainstream. Sometimes called “single-payer healthcare,” the idea is to take private healthcare companies out of the equation and have the government directly pay healthcare costs. The most simple way of doing this, of which Sanders is a strong advocate, is to expand Medicare – which provides public healthcare to over-65s – to everyone, regardless of age. Other candidates in the 2020 Democratic Party primary have latched on to this “Medicare-for-all” proposal and support for it has become something of an acid test to gauge their progressive credentials. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard have pledged their backing, though in spite of their best efforts, the policy remains most closely associated with Sanders and his brand of democratic socialism (more accurately described as social democracy.)
But for someone who has been such a champion of the issue for so many years, it is remarkable how Sanders occasionally demonstrates considerable misunderstanding of its intricacies, and in doing so, plays straight into the hands of his right-wing and centrist opponents. The latest example of this happened during the July 30 Democratic primary debate. Host Jake Tapper asked Sanders about whether the proposal would require an increase in taxes. Just days earlier, Tapper had put the same question to Sanders during a one-on-one interview aired on CNN on July 28. Tapper played a clip of fellow Democratic Party primary candidate Joe Biden. In the video, Biden says that his opponents who say they can implement Medicare-for-all without raising taxes on the middle class are living in a “fantasy world.”
On 14 July, US President Donald Trump sent out a series of menacing tweets directed at the freshman cohort of progressive House Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilham Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Utilizing his characteristic right-wing bully tactics, he accused them of hating the US and Israel and implored them to “go home,” in spite of the fact that all four of them are US citizens. The tweets have been met with strong backlash in the media and even from erstwhile allies on the international stage including UK prime minister Theresa May. The fact that Trump is a bigot hardly constitutes news, but when shone through the prism of things we already know about him the tweets provide the most decisive proof yet that Trump is at heart a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist.
Take, for instance, Trump’s own personal background. After all, he can hardly trace his entire lineage back to the landing of the Mayflower. His mother was neither born nor grew up in the States – unlike three of the four progressive congress members he attacked. She immigrated to the US from Scotland as a young adult in the 1930s and gained US citizenship in 1942 – presumably in large part because she married a US citizen, Fred Trump. But Trump’s father hardly could have traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower either. Both of Fred Trump’s parents were immigrants from the Kingdom of Bavaria, which is in modern-day Germany. So, Donald Trump himself is only first-generation US-born on his mother’s side and second-generation on his father’s.
The word fascism is undoubtedly overused in today’s political lexicon. It is used by figures from across the political spectrum as a shorthand for anything that one’s opponent does that is deemed sinister or disagreeable. This phenomenon has obscured the real meaning of the word, creating confusion and misunderstanding within the general public. One of the unfortunate corollaries of this has been a tendency to dismiss comparisons between today’s right-wing populists and early 20th Century fascism as facile and overblown. But this should not stand in the way of drawing parallels that ought to be drawn – those that do not fall into the category of this kind of lazy thinking. Historical comparisons should be evaluated on their own merits and not on whether the terminology surrounding them has been debased through overuse.
In the case of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the appropriateness of the word is now becoming self-evident through the emergence of one of fascism’s major distinguishing characteristics: the trampling over the judicial branch of the state.
On June 26, the Trump administration’s so-called “Special Representative for Venezuela,” Elliott Abrams gave a five-minute update to reporters about the development of the coup attempt against the government of Nicolas Maduro, followed by a brief Q&A session. The event, held at the US State Department in Washington, was textbook Abrams: full of lies, loaded language, double standards and breathtaking hypocrisy. Below, I deconstruct each of his points by providing rebuttals, context and regional comparison.
Visit from Michelle Bachelet
The first thing that Abrams mentioned was the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. From his remarks, one would think that the visit was entirely focused on condemning what Abrams repeatedly referred to as the Maduro “regime” – a classic of Washington’s Goebbelian dictionary used to delegitimize unfriendly governments. “We hope that her report, which is due out July 5th, will reveal the brutal truths that victims of the regime suffer every day,” he said. By using this kind of language, Abrams is sending a number of implicit messages to his audience. First is that the Maduro government is an authoritarian egregious human rights violator while so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido and his hardline opposition faction are whiter than white and, indeed, the sole hope of saving the country from this tyranny. The reality, however, is that Bachelet was there to hear allegations of human rights abuses from both pro- and anti-government actors, including the numerous credible reports of opposition violence such as setting perceived government supporters on fire.
On June 19, The Washington Post reported that Trump has apparently lost interest in the Venezuela coup attempt and taken to attacking members of his own administration for their failure to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro. The article quotes anonymous administration officials who claim that Trump believes John Bolton and other officials working on the Venezuela coup “got played” by both Venezuelan coup leaders and members of the Maduro government. Trump is said to have “chewed them out” at an angry meeting about the failure to topple Maduro. Apparently, Trump believed that doing so would be “low hanging fruit” and an easy win that he could “tout as a major foreign policy victory,”. This should come as no surprise, however. As Counterpunch reported at the time, the coup attempt was already stalling by late February – just a month after it had first been launched.
Like Trump, the coup’s cheerleaders in the mainstream press have been scratching their heads as to why Washington’s puppet – so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido – didn’t quickly succeed in seizing power. Certainly, the lasting popularity of the policies enacted by the late Hugo Chavez and the revulsion at the idea of US intervention held by most Venezuelans are major factors. But there is another more subtle, but also more significant factor at play – the decline of US power in the Trump era. Under his presidency, the US imperial apparatus has fallen into the hands of a child in an adult’s body who can’t stay on subject when talking, let along on point when acting. Indeed, Washington’s traditional foreign policy establishment – including Henry Kissinger – endorsed Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. She was the preferred option because she would be the more competent administrator of empire.
The beginning of this month saw the sorry spectacle of Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom. In spite of him hurling insults at London’s mayor and shamelessly intruding into British political affairs by endorsing Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership race, the UK government nonetheless rolled out the red carpet and spared no expense in kissing his derrière. Though only two members of his immediate family have official positions within his administration, Trump brought the whole clan along for the festivities, including a four-course banquet hosted by the Queen, which the UK government didn’t hesitate to accommodate. This nauseating act of sycophancy was, of course, funded entirely by public money. This is no small matter in a country in which a significant proportion of its population, according to a recent United Nations report, has been subjected to “systematic immiseration” as a result of a decade-long austerity program enacted by successive Conservative governments.
But none of this seems to matter to the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic, which waxed lyrical about the so-called “Special Relationship” between the two nations. Odes were sung to (now former) Prime Minister Theresa May’s jubilant talk of an “enduring partnership” and Trump’s promise that his administration will work to forge a “phenomenal” trade deal with a post-Brexit UK. The coverage got particularly gushing when May harkened back to the two countries’ cooperation on D-day during the Second World War, which forms part of the Anglo-American mythology that it was “us,” rather than the Soviet Union, that defeated Hitler.