Why The Difference Between Trump And Biden Matters

In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, left, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP Photos)
In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, left, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP Photos)

Last week, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders jointly announced the creation of several task forces to formulate policy that will, in Biden’s words, “… be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress and not simply turn the clock back to a time before Donald Trump, but transform our country." The leadership of each pairs leftist party activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with more establishment Democrats like her co-chair of the Climate Change Task Force, John Kerry.

Whether or not these initiatives will have a significant impact on Biden or the party platform is still to be determined. But for some, the outcome is already ordained. In a column titled “Don’t Pretend Joe Biden is Actually Moving to the Left,” David Sirota (a senior advisor and speechwriter for Sanders’ 2020 campaign) wrote, “Why do we have to insist that it’s some legitimately great victory that a few good people are on some random list of names on toothless task forces?”

His skepticism may be justified.

As he aptly notes, “… we know we don’t suffer from a lack of good policy ideas that require new task forces to litigate — we know that we instead suffer from a lack of political will and political power.” But it is not so profound as to lead him to argue that people should not vote for Biden.

Alas, not all progressives — at least not all young progressives — share that understanding. Some are announcing their intentions to vote for the Green Party candidate rather than a “neoliberal” like Biden. That’s a prospect that rightly alarms progressives far more than Republicans.

Last month, The Nation published “An Open Letter to the New New Left from the Old New Left,” in which 75 founders and leaders of the radical 1960s organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) took the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America to task for refusing to support Biden. While the letter’s authors did not endorse him, they argued that it was nonetheless crucial to work to elect him.

“Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts,” they wrote. “These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.”

But some in the generally thoughtful and valuable democratic socialist movement seem to feel a greater responsibility to expose the hypocrisy and corporate agenda of the Democratic Party’s leadership.

When Bhaskar Sunjara, publisher of socialist journal, Jacobin, announced on Twitter that he was planning to vote for Howie Hawkins (the Green Party candidate) for president, one of his supporters wrote, “The Dems have shown such disdain for our issues/movement and they must be shown a clear message.”

Really? The most crucial thing for progressive people to do right now is to punish the Democratic Party? Tell that to the caged children at the border, to the black, Latinx, Asian, and Jewish families who have lost loved ones to the increase in racist and anti-Semitic violence. That position is not only misguided, but reeks of precisely the privilege that these self-proclaimed progressives decry.

In arguing that people should not work or vote for Joe Biden in the upcoming election, Jacobin features editor Daniel Finn wrote of the “Democratic party machine” that, “Their main priority for this electoral cycle was to stop Sanders from winning the primary: beating Trump came a distant second.”

But it was voters, not the machine, that determined the outcome of the primaries, and in increasingly overwhelming numbers, they voted for Biden.

Besides perpetuating the persecution narrative in which the Democratic National Committee is omnipotent, Finn’s comment leads me to wonder if he actually spoke to any prospective voters. In the course of making phone calls and canvassing door-to-door (on behalf of Elizabeth Warren), I did. When I’d ask people what their primary concerns and issues were in the upcoming election, the overwhelming response I heard was “Beat Trump.” Many told me that they planned to vote not for the candidate they agreed with most, but for the one they thought had the best chance of winning the general election. And while I found their prophecies exasperatingly self-fulfilling, I empathized with the urgency that drove them.

What’s so shocking and frankly appalling to me is that a small but vocal segment of the left doesn’t share it. Some, like Finn, are cavalier about the prospect of four more years of Republican rule.

“Trump has been in power since 2016,” Finn writes. “If he had both the will and the capacity to crush his opponents in the style of Hitler, Franco, or Mussolini, he would have done so by now.”

To equate Trump’s nascent and accelerating fascism with Biden’s “neoliberalism” is to ... squander an important opportunity to influence the Democrats’ platform.

Finn’s an outlier if he’s not alarmed by Trump’s history of caging immigrant children, his defense of the “good people” among the Neo-Nazis who murdered and injured anti-racism protestors in Charlottesville, his incitement of armed anti-quarantine protestors to “liberate” states like Michigan that are led by his political opponents, his defense of criminally convicted political cronies, his firing of four inspectors general and retaliation against those who testified against him in his impeachment trial … and the list goes on.

To equate Trump’s nascent and accelerating fascism with Biden’s “neoliberalism” is to not only divert votes that can make a decisive difference, but squander an important opportunity to influence the Democrats’ platform.

Biden’s task forces may prove to be a diversion rather than a real force driving policy (though I doubt that bold new leaders like Ocasio-Cortez will allow themselves to be pawns). But it’s self-indulgent and flat-out dangerous to gamble that another four years of Trump will drive the electorate to the left. His first four years sent voters scurrying to what they still perceive as the safest spot — the middle of the road.
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Headshot of Julie Wittes Schlack

Julie Wittes Schlack Cognoscenti contributor
Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories and book reviews for various publications, including WBUR's Cognoscenti and The ARTery, and is the author of “This All-at-Onceness” and “Burning and Dodging.”



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