Trump, Biden and Choosing The Lesser Evil
Too many Progressives are willing to accept prima facie the argument that Biden, while not the ideal candidate, is still better than Trump. This case is made constantly, both by the Democratic Party establishment (including Bernie Sanders) and their allies in the mainstream media. Indeed, the entire Democratic National Convention seemed to coalesce around the one simple message expressed by Jill Biden during the primaries: that Democratic voters would have to “swallow a little bit” and vote for Joe.
Now, I am not here to tell anyone how they should vote. But I know that despite the fire hose of public pressure being trained on them, many Leftists, Progressives and Berniecrats are still on the fence when it comes to “swallowing” their principles, ignoring their policy goals and voting Blue come November.
This article is meant to provide some context and some food for thought as people chew on their decision before swallowing a little bit.
As I see it, there are four (4) major areas that deserve consideration when trying to decide whether Joe Biden truly is the “lesser evil” in the 2020 Presidential Election:
- Is Trump really “the most dangerous President in history,” as Bernie Sanders tells us?
- Would Trump be actually better than Biden on foreign policy and ending the “endless wars” as he has promised?
- Would Trump be more easily influenced than Biden by Progressive demands coming from mass protest movements and/or a Democrat-controlled Congress?
- What are the consequences for 2024 and beyond in the case of a Biden win versus a Trump win in 2020?
I will dive into each one of these areas in a way that I hope will be both informative and helpful for anyone who has not yet “swallowed a bit” as Jill Biden instructed.
Is Trump “the most dangerous President in history”-?
The short answer is, of course, no. I say this because it is obvious and demonstrably true that George W. Bush was worse than Trump by almost every objective measure. Indeed, Trump is also less dangerous than Obama in many areas. I have written an entire article elucidating this fact, but here are the highlights:
- Unlike Bush, who launched wars in two countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) and Obama, who inherited those two wars and promptly expanded them to seven (adding Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan), Trump has not started any “new” foreign wars while in office.
- In terms of deaths and casualties of both US military personnel and civilians around the world, both Bush and Obama’s records are orders of magnitude worse than Trump’s.
- Obama, having promised to be “the most transparent” Administration in history, nonetheless prosecuted ten whistle blowers and journalists, 8 of them under the Espionage Act, more than all other US Presidents combined. Despite his open derision and condemnation of the mainstream media however, Trump has only invoked the Espionage Act once so far, and even that was in a case he inherited from Obama (Reality Winner).
- Much has been made of Trump’s sending Federal troops to Portland and other US cities to combat protesters, but it should be remembered that Trump and Barr used as their model the Obama /Biden use of Federal forces to crush the (100% peaceful) Occupy Movement, which Trump hailed as “beautiful.” Indeed, for those who worry about Federal overreach, Obama and Biden were much more aggressive than Trump in using Federal agencies like the DOJ, FBI and DHS to monitor, spy on and ultimately attack and arrest peaceful protesters,
These are just a few examples, but there are many others. In fact, when one ignores the rhetoric, the bluster and the bloviating, we see that most of Trump’s track record in office is not deviant or unique, and in fact in many ways is actually less dangerous than those of his predecessors when it comes to militarism both at home and abroad.
On Foreign Policy, Trump is less hawkish than Biden
There is a very strong argument to be made that Joe Biden will be much more hawkish on foreign policy than Donald Trump.
Bringing the troops home
Yes, I know that Trump has not brought the troops home as he had promised in 2016. But that is because whenever he even floats the idea of drawing down troops he is attacked by both Democrats and Republican neocons as “reckless” and “endangering America” and so on. Look at the uproar over Trump’s removing 10,000 troops from Germany. Look at the scorn that was heaped on Trump for taking US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan:
“Trump unexpectedly announced in December that he would pull thousands of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, a move that prompted bipartisan backlash from lawmakers and his own national security team.”
I believe that Trump is more interested in pleasing his white working class base — the source of the US military’s cannon fodder — than in pleasing the Military Industrial Complex. But Joe Biden has a long and pronounced track record of being a war hawk: he supported not just the Iraq War but every instance of military adventurism over the past 40 years. As explained in this Jacobin article:
The liberal establishment is desperate to return a centrist to the White House in November and reestablish the country’s more stable military dominance of the world order, disrupted only briefly by Donald Trump. Joe Biden’s terrible track record on foreign policy — including his championing of war in Iraq — suggests a return to Obama-style strong military interventions abroad.
“Personnel is Policy”
They say that”personnel is policy” and if that is true, then it is clear that the return to the “Obama-style strong military interventions” is in the cards under a Biden Administration.
In a sign that managing and expanding the Empire is high on his to-do list, Biden has already made clear whom he would have advising him on foreign policy, and those advisors include Susan Rice, Tony Blinken and Michèle Flournoy — three war hawks who advocated military intervention under Obama (most notably the Libyan war). The drumbeats of war are already being heard among the DC elite, and major outlets like Axios have published the short lists of cabinet picks.
Even Bernie Sanders delegates to the DNC have signed a letter openly expressing their outrage and alarm at the hawkish neocons that Biden has picked to advise him on foreign policy:
A widely circulated message promoting the letter, which is already signed by more than 275 delegates — almost all of whom were pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — says Biden’s current circle is “a horror show” of advisers with track records of supporting “disastrous” U.S. military interventions.
Those picks all consist of National Security hawks from the Obama Administration as well as possibly some of the Bush Administration’s architects of the Iraq war. Indeed, hundreds of Bush 43 “alumni” have officially endorsed Joe Biden.
Remember, Trump has repeatedly decried the Iraq War as “a big fat mistake” whereas Joe Biden was a major supporter of the Iraq War and has been very equivocal and contradictory in admitting that it was a mistake. Indeed, most of the record shows Biden praising George Bush and the war as righteous and necessary. It is no wonder, then, that so many Bush officials are supporting Biden over Trump.
Trump the Peacemaker?
Trump has been mercilessly attacked for his desire for rapprochement with America’s nuclear-armed adversaries, particularly Russia, China and North Korea. You would think that this would be greeted with support and optimism among the ruling elites, when in fact, the opposite is true.
**Trigger warning: if you believe in the Russiagate conspiracy theory, then you may want to skip this section.
During the 2016 race, Trump openly stumped on the idea that better relations with Russia would be “a good thing”. Unfortunately, his anodyne musings were seized upon by hawkish Democrats like Joe Biden, who said Trump’s desire to “do business” with Russia made him “Putin’s Puppet” etc. The Democrats even went so far as to assert that Russia had interfered on behalf of Trump in the 2020 election. All of these attacks, however, only served to make Trump more bellicose with Russia even than Obama had been.
Likewise with China. Trump has cultivated a warm relationship with President Xi, China’s autocratic leader, despite his being tough on China economically. This, too, has earned him nothing but criticism from Biden and the Democrats.
And finally, Trump’s efforts to strike a peace deal with North Korea have been opposed, condemned and ridiculed by Biden and other warmongering Democrats from the very beginning. Indeed, the vitriolic opposition by Biden to any attempt at peace, as well as Biden’s hawkish history in general, has led the North Koreans to likening Biden to “a rabid dog” that must be beaten to death because of the inflammatory things Biden has said.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of this wide divergence on foreign policy was on display during the parties national conventions. At the DNC, we were treated to a cavalcade of warmongers and militarists like John Kerry, John Kasich and even Colin Powell, the man who lied to the world and led us into the Iraq War. There was no talk of ending the wars or bringing the troops home; on the contrary, the speakers all hammered on the theme that Joe Biden was “tough” and that he would “get respect” and that our adversaries “would know he means business.” And Cyndi McCain’s proxy endorsement from her late husband, the greatest warmonger ever, was just the icing on Biden’s neoconservative cake.
By contrast, the RNC featured Rand Paul, who dedicated most of his speech to praising Trump for condemning the “endless wars” and promising to “bring our troops home.” A far cry from the tough talk at the DNC.
On policy changes, Trump can be swayed more easily
This is an extremely important point to consider, because virtually every Progressive that is considering a vote for Biden is doing so under the assumption that “we can hold his feet to the fire” after the election and pressure Biden to adopt more progressive policies.
This idea is, alas, COMPLETELY DELUSIONAL.
There is nothing in Biden’s history to indicate that he would be amenable to moving Left after the election. Indeed, Biden revels in sticking his finger in the eye of progressives, and has literally built an entire career on steadfastly opposing the progressive elements of the Democratic Party, even when those elements were in the majority. Biden has consistently been on the wrong side of every debate — and moreover, he has always been proud to be so.
Biden is a neoliberal ideologue
Joe Biden does not practice Realpolitik. Like Bernie Sanders, Biden has been consistent in his political convictions throughout his career. And those convictions should outrage and terrify every Progressive.
The video below encapsulates Biden’s disdain for his own party and his extreme hawkishness not just on entitlements but on all budget issues. Note how he crows about his having bravely stood up to “the liberals in my party” (1:01); listen to how he stresses the need to “pay as you go” (1:25) and how he is willing to make the hard conservative choices even if it will hurt him with his constituents “back home” (1:35).
THIS is Joe Biden. This has ALWAYS been Joe Biden: the hard-bitten, clear-eyed realist who is willing to make the tough decisions even if it means going against his own Party.
But it is no coincidence either that all those “hard decisions” consistently benefit the wealthy and the corporations and hurt working families, the poor and people of color.
Every Progressive should also remember the great ideological battle that catapulted Elizabeth Warren into the public spotlight: the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005. This horrible Republican bill was Biden’s dream piece of legislation, and he was fanatical in his efforts to get it passed. Known among the DC elite as the “Senator from MBNA” for his passionate devotion to defending the consumer banking industry, Biden whipped a group of Democratic defectors in order to pass this unmitigated disaster for working families.
Indeed, the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill made it much more difficult for working people to get out from under their credit card debt, and also made it virtually impossible for people to discharge student loan debt — a law that has led directly to the student debt crisis we have today.
But that is Joe Biden’s ideology: the classic neoliberal belief that the System is not responsible for your problems, you are. And if you find yourself in debt, that’s too bad; it’s your problem. If you cannot afford housing, it’s your problem. If you cannot find a good job, it’s your own fault. Because the Market dictates everything with a clear, unbiased, pristine righteousness that cannot be questioned.
Biden & Pelosi, the deadly duo of PAYGO
A central tenet of the neoliberal credo is the idea of “balancing the budget” and adopting, as Joe Biden said in the video above, “the old conservative discipline about paying for what you spend”.
This conservative principle has been embodied in a neoliberal policy called “PAYGO”, which was introduced by Bill Clinton and the DLC as a means to force Congress to accept their policies of neoliberal austerity, such as cutting social services and “ending Welfare as we know it.” This is because PAYGO requires that every new spending program be offset either by increased taxes or cuts to other parts of the budget.
Although PAYGO was abandoned under Bush, when Obama and Biden took office, being the good little neoliberals they are, they quickly re-introduced the policy in 2010. And, just as it did under Clinton, this statutory law provided “cover” and an excuse for Obama and Biden (as well as the Democrats in Congress) to get little to nothing done in terms of a Progressive agenda.
Unsurprisingly, when the Democrats recaptured the House in the “blue wave” of 2018. Nancy Pelosi re-introduced PAYGO as one of her first acts as Speaker. This move met with outrage from House Progressives like AOC, Tulsi Gabbard and Pramila Jayapal and others who had run for election on a Progressive platform.And the reason that these Progressives oppose PAYGO is clear: if there is no ability to deficit spend, then the entire Progressive agenda is dead on arrival.
With Joe Biden in the White House and Nancy Pelosi running the House, PAYGO will become the guiding principle of the entire government and all Biden’s promises of a move towards progressive accommodation and large scale spending programs will be exposed as the lies that they are. Indeed, Ted Kaufman, Biden’s top advisor, recently announced their austerity policy in an interview:
Former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Biden confidant who succeeded him in the Senate, predicted during a Wall Street Journal Newsmakers Live interview Tuesday that a large increase in federal spending would be difficult to achieve in 2021.
“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” said Mr. Kaufman, who is leading Mr. Biden’s transition team. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”
Yes. They will be “limited” because they will have conveniently and cynically handcuffed themselves with the self-imposed rules of PAYGO.
Biden would VETO Medicare For All, he said so.
I know this may sound like heresy, but I honestly believe that there is a greater likelihood of getting Medicare For All from a President Trump than from a President Biden.
First, with Biden there is ZERO chance of getting M4A signed — because he has said so. I believe in the maxim, “when people tell you who they are, believe them.” Joe Biden spent the entire Primary trash-talking Medicare For All, and since the onset of COVID-19 he has repeatedly said that he would VETO such a bill if it came across his desk.
This should be obvious, given Biden’s aversion and suspicion towards government spending and entitlement programs. We all know by now that he has practically spent his career trying to cut Social Security and Medicare, and he continued to attempt to cut these programs even while he was in the Obama White House. You will not get the man who spent 40 years trying to cut Medicare to agree to expand it. THIS IS WHO HE IS.
It should be noted that Biden’s grand “concession” to Bernie Sanders on Medicare was to agree to lower the age of entitlement from 65 to 60. This he did knowing full well that Hillary had offered to lower it to 55. He is deliberately going backwards in order to make a point.
Indeed, Biden’s earlier promise to expand the Affordable Care Act and add a “Public Option” also appears to be going by the wayside a we get closer to the election. As Biden and his team feel more confident about winning without the support of working people, the young and the Left, they are backing away from their initial compromises with the Sanders Wing of the Party.
And as I mentioned above, Biden’s life as an inveterate budget hawk, combined with his almost religious belief in PAYGO, will simply not permit him to approve Medicare For All or a Public Option. And with Nancy Pelosi in the House to back him up, there is just no way in hell that any Progressive policies will be allowed through under a Biden Administration — let alone something as massive as Medicare For All.
Trump is NOT an ideologue
Unlike Biden, Trump has no firm ideology, no coherent worldview, no political North Star to guide him in all things. He has no qualms about deficit spending; he has no fears of “moral hazard” in giving people what they want and need — as long as they love him in return.
Trump is an egoist, and if he perceives that something will make him more popular, will strengthen his position, embellish his legacy, or gain him the adoration of The People, he will do it, including offering government paid healthcare to all. Indeed, he already has.
The COVID response tells it all
Remember when the pandemic was raging, and everyone was wondering how to pay for the uninsured people to get treatment for the virus?
Trump’s plan would shift the bill from insurers to hospitals, channeling all the costs for uninsured COVID-19 patients through a single payer (the federal government). Hospitals that take the funds will be banned from sticking uninsured patients with any of the remaining balance — making COVID-19 treatment free for uninsured patients. One senior official defended the proposal with a line that could have come straight from Sen. Bernie Sanders, “People want care, not coverage.”
By contrast, the Democrats, including Biden and Pelosi, doubled-down on the Affordable Care Act and proposed to expand the enrollment period for Obamacare — with a complicated system of vouchers and subsidies to enable the poor and uninsured to BUY health insurance during the pandemic. The plan was just one big give-away to their friends in the insurance industry.
It is all about Obamacare
Indeed, this is the fundamental difference between Biden and Trump when it comes to healthcare: Biden is determined to maintain and expand Obama’s legacy by strengthening and expanding the ACA; Trump, on the other hand, is determined to eradicate Obama’s legacy and if the only way to finally “repeal and replace” Obamacare is with a Single payer system, he will probably agree to do so, especially since 2/3 of all Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want Medicare For All.
Biden is a creature of Washington. He is one of the swampiest figures in DC, and he listens to lobbyists. In fact, Biden has already collected more than twice as much in donations from lobbyists as Trump has. Biden is a neoliberal ideologue who is convinced that he and his cohorts know better than the American people when it comes to policy and how to run the government — including healthcare. He will be unswayed by the public opinion of the unwashed masses. More than anything, Biden wants to return to the status quo ante, to go back to the “normalcy” of the Obama Administration, and that includes reinforcing the Affordable Care Act and ensuring that his boss’s signature policy achievement remains in place for the foreseeable future.
Trump, on the other hand, is a narcissistic sociopath and the polar opposite of an ideologue. Trump is guided by two simple imperatives: first, do whatever will make him personally popular and famous. Second, do whatever it takes to destroy everything that Obama achieved and thereby erase his predecessor from history. If Trump perceives that by signing a Medicare For All bill he will achieve both those goals, then he will do it. He may ask to be put on Mt. Rushmore for having done it, but he will do it.
What about 2024 — and beyond?
Whoever wins in November will be pulling the country out of the grips of a deadly economic depression as well as a pandemic. As I write this, 40 million Americans are about to be evicted from their homes; 31 million Americans have become jobless; 20% of of small businesses have closed permanently.
Whichever candidate wins in November, they will most likely be regarded more as a Herbert Hoover than an FDR. Neither Trump nor Biden has the inclination, the energy or the resolve to drive a “New New Deal.” The US will most likely limp along with a minimum of stimulus and continue to be plagued by COVID-19 as less than half of Americans will agree to get any vaccination that may be developed.
With these two massive and historic emergencies facing us, we must consider what the longer term consequences are of voting either for Biden or for Trump. To simply say that “Trump must go” is to shirk your responsibility for making an informed and intelligent choice. We must consider what the election of each candidate will most likely mean for the next four years — and beyond.
Biden’s Austerity Plan
We are facing an economic depression that dwarfs even that of the 1930’s. Massive government spending is needed, deficits be damned. If government does not step in and create demand in the market, then our economy will never rebound. And yet such significant deficit spending is anathema to the likes of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who are already signalling that they will impose austerity once Biden is elected.
As I have indicated above, both Biden and Pelosi are neoliberal ideologues who cannot under any circumstances justify substantive deficit spending. So what does this mean? It means that, to offset the spending needed to fight COVID-19 and the economic depression, Joe Biden will finally get to do what he always wanted: CUT ENTITLEMENTS. He will finally fulfill Obama’s dream of a “grand bargain” with Republicans that will include cuts to Social Security and Medicare in return for pandemic relief.
A Biden win could even mean the privatization of Social Security. Although Biden has voiced opposition to such a move in the past, privatizing Social Security cannot be discounted because it has been a neoliberal Democratic goal since Bill Clinton, and was something that Barack Obama seemed to favor, and it was something that Hillary Clinton was openly planning in 2016. So to the extent that the Clinton and Obama cohorts may hold sway over a Biden Administration, we could easily see Bill Clinton’s 1998 dream of Social Security privatization come to fruition.
The fact is, after another 4 years of Obama-style neoliberal austerity, Americans in 2024 will once more be faced with a choice: to either continue the downward slide that they thought they were rejecting in 2016, or vote once more for a change.
In short, if Biden is elected in 2020 we will go from Obama 2.0 to Trump 2.0 in 2024.
There is no reason to think that things will end differently. Reconstituting the Obama Administration, as Biden and his cohorts have promised, means reassembling the socioeconomic forces that enabled a Trump win in the first place.
(And no, it was NOT Russia that helped Trump win).
Moreover, all indications are that the next Trump will be 10x more dangerous than the current occupant of the White House. Imagine a psychopathic populist who had an attention span longer than 2 minutes, who was able to read something longer than 2 paragraphs, and who could actually give a coherent speech. Imagine a dedicated fascist who actually had the backing of the National Security state. Imagine a right wing ideologue who actually understood how the levers of Government work, and was able to avoid sabotaging himself through stupid blunders.
Voting for Biden now means that in 2024 you will be OK with a President Tom Cotton or a President Mike Pompeo or a President Ted Cruz.
Now ask yourself: is that really a strategic vote?