Democrats Win in Georgia — Now What?

Photo by Thomas Cizauskas

W.J. Astore

The Democrats have carried both Senate seats in Georgia, meaning the Senate is now effectively tied at 50-50, eliminating Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and leaving it to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be the Senate’s tiebreaking vote.

The question is: What will Democrats do with this (very weak) majority? Or, as Greg Laxer put it here, “BUT…do the Dems have sufficient internal discipline to pass any legislation remotely progressive or to seat a SCOTUS nominee deemed controversial?” Good question.

Of course, it’s not just about “internal discipline.” Joe Biden, a mealy-mouthed corporatist, is on the record as saying that nothing will fundamentally change under his administration. I don’t see him or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer pushing for a progressive agenda. These “leaders” are DINOs, Democrats in name only, and it will be interesting to see if Biden & Co. even come through on their promise to elevate relief checks from $600 to $2000.

I’m glad Democrats won in Georgia, but not because I expect great things and transformative change from them now. Just look at what Obama/Biden produced in 2009 with a “supermajority” in Congress: a bailout for banks and corporations and Romneycare without a public option, later rebranded as Obamacare. Obama/Biden also saw the failed Afghan surge, the Libyan disaster, and a major escalation in drone strikes, among other warmongering acts.

So, why am I glad about Georgia? Because now Biden and Pelosi and Co. can’t blame Mitch McConnell for blocking all their “noble” efforts in the Senate. Now we’ll really see the priorities of Biden/Pelosi laid bare. And they both have very long and strong records of serving elite interests at the expense of regular people.

It’s good to see awful Republican candidates lose in Georgia; even better to see Mitch McConnell removed from his position of power and obstruction. Now what, Democrats? Care to help the poor while ending war? Or will you continue to serve the rich while making war?

These next two years will be interesting indeed. If Democrats don’t go big, they will go home, as in losing both houses of Congress in 2022. If past performance is indicative of future gains and losses, I’m not bullish on Biden/Pelosi producing big gains for Main Street USA. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Early Returns on 2021

No bread? Let them eat ice cream!

W.J. Astore

So far, 2021 is looking much like 2020. Nancy Pelosi is once again Speaker of the House, with progressive leaders like AOC extracting no meaningful concessions for their votes. Jimmy Dore had suggested progressives could use their leverage over Pelosi to force a vote in the House on Medicare for All, but of course the progressives caved and cravenly supported Pelosi, who like Joe Biden is against Medicare for All.

America, you will never get a single-payer, publicly-funded, health care system. If you can’t even get a vote on one during a pandemic that will soon kill 400,000 Americans, you will never get a vote. America’s health care system is a wealth-extraction system that profits off the sick and dying. That system simply will not change because politicians like Pelosi and Biden are bought and paid for. Short of a revolution or a truly progressive third party, Americans will continue to suffer bankruptcy and death due to our for-profit wealth-care system that puts profit before patients.

Trump, meanwhile, is conspiring along with a dozen or so sycophantic senators to contest the election he lost. Trump, who has the virtue of saying the quiet part out loud, pressured the Georgia secretary of state to “find” about 12,000 votes for him so that he could be declared the winner. This circus is the lead story in U.S. media today, as if Trump has finally put his foot in it. But he’ll soon pardon himself, I’d wager, and even if he doesn’t the incoming Biden administration won’t do anything to prosecute him on any charge.

In other news, Americans will have to be satisfied with means-tested $600 checks (don’t spend that all in one place), instead of the $2000 checks that Trump advocated for. Interesting, that princess of virtue, Nancy Pelosi, was perfectly satisfied with $600 checks until Trump demanded $2000. Only then did Pelosi mount a weak effort for the higher figure, which was quickly killed by Scrooge himself, Mitch McConnell. Suck on that, America.

Speaking of Trump failures and revealing moments in Congress, Trump’s veto of the NDAA (the Pentagon budget) was easily overturned, as America’s representatives professed their bipartisan support of “our” troops. I’ll believe in that “support” when Congress finally acts to end America’s disastrous wars overseas. Perhaps on the twelfth of never?

Finally, it was good to hear that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the U.S., though the judge’s ruling in the UK was made on the narrow grounds that the U.S. prison system is so oppressive that Assange would likely commit suicide here, given his current mental state. Of course, the U.S. government doesn’t care that much about prosecuting and imprisoning Assange. Assange, like Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and other whistleblowers, has been made an example of. This is all about intimidation of journalists and other potential whistleblowers, and it’s working.

Readers, what’s caught your eye in the opening week of 2021?

Biden’s Motto: Same As It Ever Was

Biden: A scold with no vision and no new ideas

W.J. Astore

An old friend and faithful reader sent me this query: Biden’s Defense/National Security Team looks like a tired Obama 2.0 retread. Iran nuclear deal back? Middle East entanglements/deployments suddenly fashionable again? Drone strikes? Russia fixation? Averting eyes from China?

He’s right about the retread. As Biden himself promised to his corporate sponsors, nothing would fundamentally change under his administration. Think about that for a moment. He’s been running for president off and on for 30+ years, and yet when he finally wins, he’s got no vision. None. He just wants to occupy the Oval Office and change nothing.

What’s the point of running for president and being a leader if you want to do nothing? I don’t see the point, but I understand Biden’s corporate sponsors who profit from the status quo. They like America and the way rich people are gaining even more money and power — why change a good thing?

We see this with America’s military-industrial-Congressional complex. A retired general who works for Raytheon is announced as the next “civilian” defense secretary. Men who were for the Iraq war, a disastrous decision that you’d think would be disqualifying, are those who get high positions as national security advisers or as secretary of state. Not a single progressive or skeptical voice against war gets hired, even though the last 20 years of endless wars have been disastrous.

The “defense” budget at $740 billion remains untouchable. It recently passed with strong, veto-proof, bipartisan support in Congress. The main American enemy of the moment is Covid-19 and the collateral damage of deaths, loss of jobs, bankruptcies, and forthcoming evictions and foreclosures, yet Congress can’t pass a stimulus bill to help the working classes. Yet a stimulus bill for weapons makers is easily passed — we just happen to call it the NDAA, or the national defense authorization act.

Remember when there were serious Congressional debates about guns and butter? We settled those in favor of the guns. Domestic issues take a back seat to the need to fund the Pentagon and its global network of bases and installations. We’re so busy exporting money and violence that we don’t even see how we’ve become our own worst enemies.

Biden didn’t have much of a slogan when he ran for president. It was something like “build back better.” It really should have been “same as it ever was,” as in the same “legalized” corruption, the same misguided priorities, and the same stale ideas.

Imagine running for president with no new ideas … forgive me for repeating myself, but how sad is that?

Ten Observations on the 2020 Election

No mandate except that nothing will fundamentally change

W.J. Astore

In no particular order, here are ten observations on this year’s election:

  • Trump lost the election more than Biden won it. Trump lost mainly because of the pandemic and the economy. Biden ran on little other than “not being Trump” and squeaked by on that weak message. Sure, he’s president, but he has no mandate.
  • 74 million Americans didn’t vote for Trump solely because he’s racist, sexist, bigoted, and ignorant. Sure, some of them voted due to White supremacy and so on, but some pro-Trump votes reflect the bankruptcy in ideas from Biden/Harris. The Democrats simply offered little to the working class, e.g. the total rejection of Medicare for All during a pandemic. Biden was quoted as saying nothing would fundamentally change in his administration. How’s that for inspiration?
  • To establishment Democrats like Biden, the Republicans may be rivals but Progressives are the real enemy. So far, Biden’s announced staff and cabinet has zero Progressives in it. “Diversity” for Biden and the DNC does not include diversity in policy views. “Good” policies are those that favor the donors and owners. Anyone to the left of Biden need not apply.
  • If the Democratic Presidential primaries taught us one thing, it’s that voters have no say. The DNC has the only say, and they pick the candidate who will best protect their sinecures, in this case Joe Biden. Voters were told, take him or vote for Trump. Or go pound sand.
  • The DNC exists to defeat Progressive challengers like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. Both Sanders and Gabbard refused big cash from big donors, and that is simply not allowed. A “respectable” candidate must be beholden to the big donors, else the DNC simply won’t support you. Indeed, it will do most anything to stop you.
  • Surely one of the most despicable acts I’ve seen in politics was the smearing of Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset by NBC News and Hillary Clinton. They essentially denounced an Army major and Congresswoman as a traitor, or at the very least a useful idiot, a tool of the Kremlin. What was Tulsi’s main message again? Oh, she was against America’s wasteful and wanton regime-change wars.
  • The big winners of the 2020 election were predictable: Big pharma, private health insurance companies, the military-industrial complex, fossil fuel companies, and so on. Biden/Harris will continue to serve their interests.
  • When the senior leaders are Biden, McConnell, and Pelosi, you know Washington is bereft of new ideas and innovative leadership.
  • Even more ignored than climate change in this election was any serious talk of ending America’s wars overseas. Look for them to continue at least until 2024.
  • America remains a country of two parties: A Republican Party increasingly in Trump’s mold, and a Republican-lite Party (otherwise known as Democrats) in service to business and the moneyed interests. In a “pay to play” system, how could it be otherwise? The results of 2020 prove America needs a new party. Call it the Workers’ Party, the Progressive Party, the People’s Party, what-have-you, but recognize that, without campaign finance reform and public funding of elections, 2024 is likely to produce yet another round of a Trumpist candidate against a DNC corporate tool/Republican-lite. And they dare call it “choice”!

Readers: What did you learn from this election?

Biden Rounds Up the Usual Suspects

Biden: Plenty of flags, but no change

W.J. Astore

Surprise! President-elect Joe Biden isn’t listening to progressive voices in his party. Instead, he’s been rounding up the usual suspects for his cabinet and staff. Turns out, progressives, that if you give your support and vote to a Democratic establishment tool like Biden without making firm demands, you won’t get anything in return. Who knew?

Here are a few good articles on Biden’s staff and cabinet:

At TomDispatch.com, Danny Sjursen gives a sharp-eyed summary of the typical Biden operative in the realm of military and foreign affairs. Here’s what Sjursen has to say:

In fact, the national security bio of the archetypal Biden bro (or sis) would go something like this: she (he) sprang from an Ivy League school, became a congressional staffer, got appointed to a mid-tier role on Barack Obama’s national security council, consulted for WestExec Advisors (an Obama alumni-founded outfit linking tech firms and the Department of Defense), was a fellow at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), had some defense contractor ties, and married someone who’s also in the game.

It helps as well to follow the money. In other words, how did the Biden bunch make it and who pays the outfits that have been paying them in the Trump years? None of this is a secret: their two most common think-tank homes — CNAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) — are the second- and sixth-highest recipients, respectively, of U.S. government and defense-contractor funding. The top donors to CNAS are Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and the Department of Defense. Most CSIS largesse comes from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. 

With the news that Tony Blinken will be Biden’s Secretary of State, Caitlin Johnstone makes the following salient point:

Blinken is a liberal interventionist who has supported all of the most disgusting acts of US mass military slaughter this millennium, including the Iraq invasion which killed over a million people and ushered in an unprecedented era of military expansionism in the Middle East. So needless to say he will fly through the confirmation process.

Meanwhile, Julia Rock and Andrew Perez note the incestuous nature of this process, or how the national security revolving door keeps spinning:

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that Biden has chosen his longtime aide, Tony Blinken, to serve as Secretary of State and will name Jake Sullivan, his senior advisor and a former Hillary Clinton aide, national security adviser. Former Obama Defense Department official Michèle Flournoy is considered the favorite to be Secretary of Defense. 

After leaving the Obama administration, Blinken and Flournoy founded WestExec Advisors, a secretive consulting firm whose motto has been: “Bringing the Situation Room to the board room.” Flournoy and Sullivan have both held roles at think tanks raking in money from defense contractors and U.S. government intelligence and defense agencies. 

Biden has been facing calls [Ha! Ha!] from Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups to end the revolving door between government and the defense industry. One-third of the members of Biden transition’s Depart­ment of Defense agency review team were most recently employed by “orga­ni­za­tions, think tanks or com­pa­nies that either direct­ly receive mon­ey from the weapons indus­try, or are part of this indus­try,” according to reporting from In These Times.

Meanwhile, defense executives have been boasting about their close relationship with Biden and expressing confidence that there will not be much change in Pentagon policy. 

Please forgive the “Ha! Ha!” parenthetical, but all this was predictable based on Biden’s record and his statement that nothing would fundamentally change in his administration.

Progressives have essentially no power in the Democratic Party. Look at who the Speaker of the House is! Nancy Pelosi, once again, the ultimate swamp creature.

Expect no new ideas from this bunch, meaning grim times are ahead. Isn’t it high time that progressives take the plunge and start their own party? They are voiceless and powerless within the Democratic Party. Failing that, they had better discover their spines and model themselves on the Tea Party in outspokenness, else they will remain utterly irrelevant.

Bernie Sanders who? Elizabeth Warren who? Progressive reforms? Not with the usual suspects that Joe Biden is selecting and empowering.

Biden the Republican

Gerontocracy, here we come

W.J. Astore

The predictable headlines are here: “Biden plans to reach across the aisle” to solicit Republican support. Even though he just won the popular vote by more than five million and a clear electoral victory as well, Biden must compromise with Republicans. Just because.

Remember when Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million in 2016? And eked out electoral victories in three states? Did he feel the need “to reach across the aisle” to Democrats? Of course not. Trump and the Republicans took no prisoners. They got the tax cut they wanted. They did their best to overturn Obamacare. They got three supreme court justices. No reaching across the aisle required.

If Biden were a real Democrat, and the Democratic Party a real party, there’d be no premature talk of aisle-reaching and bipartisan handshaking. But Biden and the DNC are essentially moderate Republicans, as Barack Obama himself admitted in an interview. You might say they’re DINOs: Democrats in name only. Dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs, remember when Americans made fun of the aging leaders of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s? “Gerontocracy” is the word I remember back then. Joe Biden will be 78 when he takes office; Mitch McConnell, likely to remain the Senate majority leader will also be 78, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is 80. I have nothing against senior citizens, but it’s not a coincidence that the three most powerful people in U.S. government are 80 or pushing 80. They are all creatures of a system that is all about sustaining a status quo. A status quo in which two parties, one that’s center-right and the other far-right, work to ensure that money keeps flowing into the usual pockets, irrespective of world-changing events like climate change.

With respect to Biden’s cabinet, early reports are that we’ll see a lot of Obama and Clinton retreads espousing the usual neoliberal or neoconservative positions. They’ll be more “diverse” voices,” i.e. more women, more people of color, even an openly gay guy (Mayor Pete!), but the song will remain the same. I’m guessing not a single prominent progressive voice will be added to Biden’s cabinet. None.

With respect to action, I don’t see Biden even trying to expand the Supreme Court. I see a lot of half measures: a weak attempt at a “green” economy, a weak attempt at reforming Obamacare, perhaps an expansion of Medicare to cover people 60 and older, and so on. These and similar half measures will be consistent with what the donors and owners want. And if Biden fails even with this tepid plan, he can always blame Mitch McConnell and those obstinate Republicans who just can’t seem to reach across that same aisle that Biden is so eager to cross.

Of course, there is no “aisle” to reach across. There’s plenty of bipartisan consensus already in Washington. One clear example is at the Pentagon and the Defense budget, which continues to soar no matter which party is in power.

The only “aisle” Biden truly needs to reach across is the progressive one within his own party — and I can almost guarantee you it’s the one he’s least likely to cross.

Black and Blue in America

I started writing for TomDispatch.com in 2007. I really thought I had one article to write, focusing on the disastrous Iraq War and the way in which the Bush/Cheney administration was hiding its worst results behind the bemedaled chest of General David Petraeus. Here we are, in 2020, and my latest article is my 75th contribution to the site, which truly amazes me. Special thanks to Tom Engelhardt for publishing my first piece back in 2007 and for setting a stellar example of what alternative freethinking media can be.

We Could Use A Leader Like George McGovern Again
By William J. Astore

As I lived through the nightmare of the election campaign just past, I often found myself dreaming of another American world entirely. Anything but this one.

In that spirit, I also found myself looking at a photo of my fourth-grade class, vintage 1972. Tacked to the wall behind our heads was a collage, a tapestry of sorts that I could make out fairly clearly. It evoked the promise and the chaos of a turbulent year so long ago. The promise lay in a segment that read “peace” and included a green ecology flag, a black baseball player (Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, who had died that year), and a clenched fist inside the outline of the symbol for female (standing in for the new feminism of that moment and the push for equal rights for women).

Representing the chaos of that era were images of B-52s dropping bombs in Vietnam (a war that was still ongoing) and a demonstration for racist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace (probably because he had been shot and wounded in an assassination attempt that May). A rocket labeled “USA” reminded me that this country was then still launching triumphant Apollo missions to the moon.

How far we’ve come in not quite half a century! In 2020, “peace” isn’t even a word in the American political dictionary; despite Greta Thunberg, a growing climate-change movement, and Joe Biden’s two-trillion-dollar climate plan, ecology was largely a foreign concept in the election just past as both political parties embraced fracking and fossil fuels (even if Biden’s embrace was less tight); Major League Baseball has actually suffered a decline in African-American players in recent years; and the quest for women’s equality remains distinctly unfulfilled.

Bombing continues, of course, though those bombs and missiles are now aimed mostly at various Islamist insurgencies rather than communist ones, and it’s often done by drones, not B-52s, although those venerable planes are still used to threaten Moscow and Beijing with nuclear carnage. George Wallace has, of course, been replaced by Donald Trump, a racist who turned President Richard Nixon’s southern strategy of my grade school years into a national presidential victory in 2016 and who, as president, regularly nodded in the direction ofwhite supremacists.

Progress, anyone? Indeed, that class photo of mine even featured the flag of China, a reminder that Nixon had broken new ground that very year by traveling to Beijing to meet with Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong and de-escalate the Cold War tensions of the era. Nowadays, Americans only hear that China is a military and economic threat; that Joe Biden and some Democrats are allegedly far too China-friendly (they aren’t); and that Covid-19 (aka the “Wuhan Flu” or “Kung Flu”) was — at least to Donald Trump and his followers — a plague sent by the Chinese to kill us.

Another symbol from that tapestry, a chess piece, reminded me that in 1972 we witnessed the famous Cold War meeting between the youthful, brilliant, if mercurial Bobby Fischer and Soviet chess champion Boris Spassky in a match that evoked all the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War. Inspired by Fischer, I started playing the game myself and became a card-carrying member of the U.S. Chess Federation until I realized my talent was limited indeed.

The year 1972 ended with Republican Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over Democratic Senator George McGovern, who carried only my home state of Massachusetts. After Nixon’s landslide victory, I remember bumper stickers that said: “Don’t blame me for Nixon, I’m from Massachusetts.”

Eighteen years later, in 1990, I would briefly meet the former senator. He was attending a history symposium on the Vietnam War at the U.S. Air Force Academy and, as a young Air Force captain, I chased down a book for him in the Academy’s library. I don’t think I knew then of McGovern’s stellar combat record in World War II. A skilled pilot, he had flown 35 combat missions in a B-24 bomber, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for, at one point, successfully landing a plane heavily damaged by enemy fire and saving his crew. Nixon, who had served in the Navy during that war, never saw combat. But he did see lots of time at the poker table, winning a tidy sum of money, which he would funnel into his first political campaign.

Like so many combat veterans of the “greatest generation,” McGovern never bragged about his wartime exploits. Over the years, however, that sensible, honorable, courageous American patriot became far too strongly associated with peace, love, and understanding. A staunch defender of civil rights, a believer in progressive government, a committed opponent of the Vietnam War, he would find himself smeared by Republicans as weak, almost cowardly, on military matters and an anti-capitalist (the rough equivalent today of democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders).

Apparently, this country couldn’t then and still can’t accept any major-party candidate who doesn’t believe in a colossal military establishment and a government that serves business and industry first and foremost or else our choice in 2020 wouldn’t have been Trump-Pence versus Biden-Harris.

Channeling Lloyd Bentsen

As I began writing this piece in late October, I didn’t yet know that Joe Biden would indeed win the most embattled election of our lifetime. What I did know was that the country that once produced (and then rejected) thoughtful patriots like George McGovern was in serious decline. Most Americans desperately want change, so the pollsters tell us, whether we call ourselves Republicans or Democrats, conservatives, liberals, or socialists. Both election campaigns, however, essentially promised us little but their own versions of the status quo, however bizarre Donald Trump’s may have been.

In truth, Trump didn’t even bother to present a plan for anything, including bringing the pandemic under control. He just promised four more years of Keeping America Trumpish Again with yet another capital gains tax cut thrown in. Biden ran on a revival of Barack Obama’s legacy with the “hope and change” idealism largely left out. Faced with such a choice in an increasingly desperate country, with spiking Covid-19 cases in state after state and hospitals increasingly overwhelmed, too many of us sought relief in opioids or gun purchases, bad habits like fatty foods and lack of exercise, and wanton carelessness with regard to the most obvious pandemic safety measures.

Since the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and especially since September 11, 2001, it’s amazing what Americans have come to accept as normal. Forget about peace, love, and understanding. What we now see on America’s streets aren’t antiwar protesters or even beat cops, but Robocops armed to the teeth with military-style weaponry committing indefensible acts of violence. Extremist “militias” like the Proud Boys are celebrated (by some) as “patriots.” Ludicrous QAnon conspiracy theories are taken all too seriously with political candidates on the Republican side of the aisle lining up to endorse them.

Even six-figure death tolls from a raging pandemic were normalized as President Trump barnstormed the country, applauding himself to maskless crowds at super-spreader rallies for keeping Covid-19 deaths under the mythical figure of 2.2 million. Meanwhile, the rest of us found nothing to celebrate in what — in Vietnam terms — could be thought of as a new body count, this time right here in the homeland.

And speaking of potential future body counts, consider again the Proud Boys whom our president in that first presidential debate asked to “stand back and stand by.” Obviously not a militia, they might better be described as a gang. Close your eyes and imagine that all the Proud Boys were black. What would they be called then by those on the right? A menace, to say the least, and probably far worse.

A real militia would, of course, be under local, state, or federal authority with a chain of command and a code of discipline, not just a bunch of alienated guys playing at military dress-up and spoiling for a fight. Yet too many Americans see them through a militarized lens, applauding those “boys” as they wave blue-line pro-police flags and shout “all lives matter.” Whatever flags they may wrap themselves in, they are, in truth, nothing more than nationalist bully boys.

Groups like the Proud Boys are only the most extreme example of the “patriotic” poseurs, parades, and pageantry in the U.S.A. of 2020. And collectively all of it, including our lost and embattled president, add up to a red-white-and-blue distraction (and what a distraction it’s been!) from an essential reality: that America is in serious trouble — and you can take that “America” to mean ordinary people working hard to make a living (or not working at all right now), desperate to maintain roofs over their heads and feed their kids.

It’s a distraction as well from the reality that America hasn’t decisively won a war since the time George McGovern flew all those combat missions in a B-24. It’s a distraction from some ordinary Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake being not just manipulated and exploited, but murdered, hence the need for a Black Lives Matter movement to begin with. It’s a distraction from the fact that we don’t even debate gargantuan national security budgets that now swell annually above a trillion dollars, while no one in a position of power blinks.

Today’s never-ending wars and rumors of more to come remind me that George McGovern was not only against the Vietnam conflict, but the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, too. Joe Biden, meanwhile, voted for the Iraq War, which Donald Trump also spoke in favor of, then, only to campaign on ending this country’s wars in 2016, even if by 2020 he hadn’t done so — though he had set up a new military service, the Space Force. Feeling the need to sharpen his own pro-war bona fides, Biden recently said he’d raise “defense” spending over and above what even Trump wanted.

If you’ll indulge my fantasy self for a moment, I’d like to channel Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee who, in a debate with his Republican opposite Dan Quayle, dismissed him as “no Jack Kennedy.” In that same spirit, I’d like to say this to both Trump and Biden in the wake of the recent Covid-19 nightmare of a campaign: “I met George McGovern. George McGovern, in a different reality, could have been my friend. You, Joe and Donald, are no George McGovern.”

Prior military service is not essential to being president and commander-in-chief, but whose finger would you rather have on America’s nuclear button: that of Trump, who dodged the draft with heel spurs; Biden, who dodged the draft with asthma; or a leader like McGovern, who served heroically in combat, a leader who was willing to look for peaceful paths because he knew so intimately the blood-spattered ones of war?

A Historical Tapestry for Fourth Graders as 2020 Ends

What about a class photo for fourth graders today? What collage of images would be behind their heads to represent the promise and chaos of our days? Surely, Covid-19 would be represented, perhaps by a mountain of body bags in portable morgues. Surely, a “Blue Lives Matter” flag would be there canceling out a Black Lives Matter flag. Surely, a drone launching Hellfire missiles, perhaps in Somalia or Yemen or some other distant front in America’s endless war of (not on) terror, would make an appearance.

And here are some others: surely, the flag of China, this time representing the growing tensions, not rapprochement, between the two great powers; surely, a Trump super-spreader rally filled with the unmasked expressing what I like to think of as the all-too-American “ideal” of “live free and die”; surely, a vast firenado rising from California and the West, joined perhaps by a hurricane flag to represent another record-breaking year of such storms, especially on the Gulf Coast; surely, some peaceful protesters being maced or tased or assaulted by heavily armed and unidentified federal agents just because they cared about the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.

And I suppose we could add something about sports into that collage, maybe an image of football players in empty stadiums, kneeling as one for racial equality. Look, sports used to unite us across race and class lines, but in his woebegone presidency, Donald Trump, among others, used sports only to divide us. Complex racial relations and legacies have been reduced to slogans, Black Lives Matter versus blue lives matter, but what’s ended up being black and blue is America. We’ve beaten ourselves to a pulp and it’s the fight promoters, Donald Trump above all, who have profited most. If we are to make any racial progress in America, that kind of self-inflicted bludgeoning has to end.

And what would be missing from the 2020 collage that was in my 1972 one? Notably, clear references to peace, ecology, and equal rights for women. Assuming that, on January 20th, Joe Biden really does take his place in the Oval Office, despite the angriest and most vengeful man in the world sitting there now, those three issues would be an ideal place for him to start in his first 100 days as president (along, of course, with creating a genuine plan to curb Covid-19): (1) seek peace in Afghanistan and elsewhere by ending America’s disastrous wars; (2) put the planet first and act to abate climate change and preserve all living things; (3) revive the Equal Rights Amendment and treat women with dignity, respect, and justice.

One final image from my fourth-grade collage: an elephant is shown on top of a somewhat flattened donkey. It was meant, of course, to capture Richard Nixon’s resounding victory over George McGovern in 1972. Yet, even with Joe Biden’s victory last week, can we say with any confidence that the donkey is now on top? Certainly not the one of McGovern’s day, given that Biden has already been talking about austerity at home and even higher military spending.

Sadly, it’s long past time to reclaim American idealism and take a stand for a lot less war and a lot more help for the most vulnerable among us, including the very planet itself. How sad that we don’t have a leader like George McGovern in the White House as a daunting new year looms.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Joe Biden Wins!

United, but for what causes?

W,J. Astore

I’ll admit it: I never saw Joe Biden as president. Not when I remembered his abortive presidential run in 1988, when he lied about his college record and plagiarized speeches of Bobby Kennedy and Neil Kinnock.

He made an effective vice president for Barack Obama, mainly at first because he reassured White America that the Black guy was OK. Being vice president is an “It must have been cold there in my shadow” kind of job, but Joe handled it pretty well, and even catastrophically deferred to Hillary Clinton as Obama’s rightful successor in 2016.

After that debacle, Joe persisted, and in the campaign of 2020 he found a Democratic establishment that loved his pro-business and pro-banking record, his strong support of high military spending and overseas wars, and his past calls for cuts to Social Security as well as his steadfast opposition to Medicare for all. Our kind of Democrat, the owners and donors said, and with a big push from Obama, Biden found himself anointed as the candidate to defeat the Orange Ogre.

But Biden didn’t defeat Trump; Trump defeated Trump. Trump’s response to Covid-19 was so incompetent, so reckless, and so tone-deaf to lives lost that even the usual spin about fake news and alternative facts didn’t work. Indeed, Trump first said the pandemic would magically disappear, then tried to blame it all on China, then said the media was covering it only because it hurt his chances for reelection, then persisted in holding rallies that turned into super-spreader events for the virus.

Despite all of Trump’s flaws, despite all of his lies, he still almost defeated Biden, a stunning achievement when you really think about it. To my mind, the closeness of this election, the narrowness of Biden’s victory, is as much a reflection of the weaknesses of Joe Biden as it is the strength of the Trump cult.

What kind of president can we expect Biden to be? He won’t be anything like Trump, which in some ways is a bad thing. What I mean is this: Trump turned the narrowest of victories over Hillary Clinton into mandate-level deeds. He got the big tax cut Republicans covet. He got to pick three Supreme Court justices and to redefine lower-level courts for a generation. He served his base and made no apologies.

What is the likelihood that Biden adopts a progressive agenda? That he takes no prisoners, that he rides roughshod over Republicans, that he calls them traitors and dictates terms to them? Unlikely indeed. Even if Democrats win a majority in the Senate, which we won’t know until January and runoff elections in Georgia, Biden will likely position himself as a centrist, i.e. a moderate Republican, a man willing to reach across the aisle for bipartisan accord.

It’s likely Biden will even appoint Republicans to his cabinet. I’m betting we’ll see more Republicans in his cabinet than progressive Democrats.

I won’t shed any tears when Trump departs, perhaps into a new self-named media empire. Because for Trump it’s Trump now, Trump tomorrow, Trump forever. Biden, unlike Trump, has at least some experience with public service, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The question is: Which publics will Joe Biden serve with the most passion?

Too Close to Call!

W.J. Astore

Who knew that choosing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, two pro-business, pro-establishment, anti-progressive tools with limited charisma, would result in an election that is currently too close to call?

Meanwhile, Trump has made his own call. He won! Here’s what he had to say earlier this morning:

Trump falsely declared himself the winner around 2:30 a.m. Eastern. He said he would call on the Supreme Court to stop counting ballots in states where he led, while urging more counting in states where he was behind. He claimed “fraud” (for which there is no evidence) and he called the election an “embarrassment to the country.”

My wife and I had a good if grim laugh at this. Trump is like that ten-year-old bully in a class election who says: “Let’s count the vote until I’m winning, then we’ll stop.” Every kid would shout that that’s unfair and wrong, until the bully threatened to slug them.

It’s truly astounding that so many Americans think Trump is a competent and desirable president. Again, though, it didn’t help matters when the DNC tilted the table in Biden’s favor, then picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, another establishment tool who faded fast after her fifteen minutes of post-debate, that-little-girl-was-me, fame.

Of course, Biden/Harris may yet prevail, assuming Americans can muster some patience and that the Trump-leaning Supreme Court doesn’t intervene. But if they lose, the loss is truly on them and the DNC operatives who went all-in on them.

Thoughts on Election Day

W.J. Astore

Some thoughts on this presidential election day:

  1. Trump isn’t running against Biden/Harris. He’s running against a caricature of the Democratic Party. The usual lies: the “radical left” is coming to take your guns; they hate America; they want open borders so that America will be flooded with non-white foreigners; they’re godless socialists; they favor abortion on demand; they want to turn your kids against you by controlling education; and so on. The truth is entirely the opposite: Biden/Harris are in fact the darlings of Wall Street and are without a radical bone in their bodies.
  2. Trump and the Republicans are running without a platform. It’s rather remarkable that the Republican Party is totally subservient to Trump. Meanwhile, Trump’s “platform” is more of the same, including yet another capital gains tax cut. And if Trump wins, you can count on the “radical” Democrats approving that tax cut.
  3. Trump still wants to overturn Obamacare during a pandemic, which could lead to 20 million people losing their health care coverage. It’s no surprise that repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps the rich the most, as their taxes will decrease. (As an aside, polls show Americans favor the ACA more than they do Obamacare: they are, of course, the exact same thing.)
  4. Trump’s rallies have served as super-spreader events for Covid-19. In short, the president is a pandemic vector, yet his supporters continue to love him and defend him. Death cult?
  5. Way back in April 2019, I picked Biden/Harris as the Democratic dream ticket. You know: an elder white guy balanced by a younger black woman, sort of like a network news team that is supposed to show inclusion and diversity while broadcasting steadiness. Yes, the fix was in from the beginning. Biden has said nothing will fundamentally change under his administration, the one promise he will be certain to keep.
  6. Compared to Biden supporters, Trump supporters are more fired up, more committed to their man and how he makes them feel. Meanwhile, Trump is at pains to show how many people cheer for him at his rallies. If Trump loses, how will these supporters process that loss?
  7. I can’t remember a presidential election in which foreign policy has been so infrequently discussed. Presidents possess the most latitude in dealing with other countries, yet rarely did Biden or Trump answer any questions in detail about world affairs. The impression from their “debates” is that China and Russia are enemies and that a new cold war is essentially inevitable. Neither candidate talked about defense spending except to stress it probably would go up. The U.S. dominance of the world’s trade in weapons went unremarked upon. America’s wars they pretty much ignored.
  8. A final thought: If you think your vote is worthless, you’re wrong. If it was worthless, various forces wouldn’t be trying to buy it, or block it, or otherwise restrict it. The choices may be depressing, but I’ve found voting itself to be uplifting. Get out there and vote!