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Biden or Trump? The dilemma facing democratic socialists in 2020

I’m not a US citizen. I do not have a vote in the upcoming presidential election. For some, that is enough to disqualify me from commenting, but I have passionate opinions and a beguiling interest in stateside politics. More pertinently, I have a say in this debate by virtue of America branding its commander-in-chief Leader of the Free World. Some will dismiss my views as irrelevant, uninformed or inflammatory, but whatever. Such is the polarised nature of politics – and life – in 2020, so here are my thoughts as a British progressive.

Is Joe Biden the best America can do?

Analysed in a vacuum, this iteration of Joe Biden is, in my opinion, one of the worst presidential candidates ever afforded a ticket. He is a 77-year old Democratic functionary with little to say beyond tepid mainstream platitudes designed to placate through choreographed populism. He is a mumbling, bumbling, incoherent charade, quite frankly, and he is far more part of the problem – a white, privileged spoke in the Washington machine – than he is part of the solution.

When Biden speaks, you are waiting for the lights to go out. You can almost see him forgetting his lines and clutching for context. Perhaps that is to be expected of a pensionable grandfather, but any recourse to sympathy is delegitimised by his own decision to run for the White House at an age that is incongruous with the acuity demanded of such a position. If Joe Biden seems lost and unreliable now, imagine him in four years’ time, when he will be 82, the oldest president in US history. One has to question his fitness for the task.

Aside from advancing age, Biden is also plagued by a tendency to make verbal gaffes of such hilarity that they often elicit laughter. Forgetting names. Forgetting states in which he presently stands. Forgetting titles and campaigns and policies. Biden once even conflated poverty and lack of education with blackness. He struggled to recite famous lines from the Declaration of Independence, and he recently covered one brain fart by referred to Mitt Romney, among the most significant politicians of our age, as ‘the Mormon.’

Biden is a robot operated by the Democratic old guard. He is a puppet controlled by the establishment. He is a martyr for the vengeful political class, chosen as the safest and blandest candidate most likely to restore diplomatic equilibrium. Biden will break the neoconservative code, we are told. He will be the one to take back control and restore the pleasantries of liberalism to American life. Joe Biden is the bridge, according to some. The bridge to a new way of governing that is really just the old way bedecked in post-Trump triumphalism.

Why Joe Biden is part of the problem, not part of the solution

Painted as somehow anathema to Trump, Biden does not say anything that could cause offence. Instead, he regurgitates rehearsed lines and spews curated soundbites, often written down by conspicuous strategists or typed on a nearby teleprompter. Far from being unique, however, Biden is actually part of the same entitled cabal that saw Trump become president in the first place. His total lack of spontaneity or enthusiasm is a tactical ploy, because Democratic spin doctors know that, if unleashed, Biden would quickly out himself as uncomfortably similar to Trump – optically and semantically, if not ideologically.

You see, Biden is simply a metonym for the Democratic establishment. He personifies the Pelosi theorem for winning control of governmental infrastructure in the most unimaginative way possible. In this regard, Biden has triangulated himself into a position of utter baselessness, satisfying donors and soft-centrists more than representing any one group – or ideal – vociferously. By trying to stand for everything, he ultimately stands for nothing, and Americans are therefore left to choose between a vapid bureaucratic shell and an outlandish consular landmine as their leader for the next four years.

When you drill through the marketing veneer, Joe Biden is still another white septuagenarian who has spent billions of dollars attempting to become president for the past 35 years. He is still another career politician who has roamed the Washington citadel for almost a half-century, somehow remaining inflammable despite using institutional elitism as a tool of personal development. He is still a remote-control leader bankrolled by private organisations and capitalist companies. There is very little to be excited about when it comes to Joe Biden.

Can a democratic socialist vote for Donald Trump?

Personally, I was a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter. I still am. It remains a source of befuddling disappointment that he threw in the towel so soon in the race for Democratic nominee. The world needs Sanders’ innovative message. More importantly, America needs his refined socialist ideology if it is to ever escape the treadmill of decline perpetrated by a string of faceless dilettantes.

On many topics, I’m an ideological socialist, but the ultra-woke, hyper-liberal cancel culture trivialisation of modern leftism has pushed me more towards the centre. In terms of pure political theory, I veer more towards the Sanders-Corbyn-AOC strain of democratic dogma, but on certain issues – such as freedom of speech and political correctness – I have gleamed wisdom from the conservative right, from people like Toby Young and, yes, the Trump family.

While, ideologically, I should detest Trump for a litany of reasons – his racialism, narcissism, sciolism, egotism, misogyny, megalomania, vainglory and mistrust of science, to name a few – I struggle to muster hatred for him, in all honesty. Unlike many on the left, I’m not afraid to admit that Trump has some characteristics and tics – if not necessarily policies – that speak to more secluded parts of my belief system. It would be wrong to deny that fact.

I err with Trump on certain scintillas of law and order, traditionalism, patriotism and self-motivated enterprise. However, in this regard, it could be said that I agree more with an iota of Trump’s undergirding proclivities – self-sufficiency, social responsibility, freedom of expression – than with the xenophobic, autarkic, parochial and meritocratic policies they typically spawn.

In continuum, for all the liberal handwringing, Donald Trump does have some empirical utility, but it is all too frequently diminished by the extent to which he pushes his more plausible positions to ridiculous and incendiary extremes. Trump sees populist decency as a transient portal to egotistical omnipotence. The president will occasionally propose something that seems reasonable, but there is always an ulterior motive to his journey across the aisle. Whenever he lurches to the left, mixing with the mainstream, there is usually an insidious cause buried underneath the rhetoric.

Trump rarely espouses views I explicitly concur with, but the net effect of his phenomenon – the unspoken zeitgeist of his serendipitous iconoclasm – certainly makes me think in unconventional ways. Somewhat strangely, the bluster with which Trump operates makes me more inclined to misread the actual content of his worldview. This is the Great Man myth of leadership. It is the Erdoğan fallacy of strength. It is evocative iconography masking political ineptitude, and true willpower is required to avoid the mesmerising force as it attempts to brainwash you.

Who is more presidential, Biden or Trump?

On a superficial level, Trump is truly fascinating. Sure, it is mostly a morbid fascination, but rarely has a more captivating figure entered public life. Hey, I’m a writer, and Donald Trump is just about the most absorbing, entertaining and unbelievable character ever devised. To what end, and at what cost, are different debates entirely, but this is a deeply important figurehead in world history – for good or ill. We must learn from Trump, and we must not necessarily dismiss all that he has to say.

In my mind, Trump is bolder, stronger and more authoritative than Biden. If not more presidential, Trump is certainly more statesmanlike. Whereas Biden embodies neoliberal stasis, Trump is the extravagant caricature of what many blinkered outsiders consider American. Trump has conviction in his ideas, even if they are rooted in fictitious self-aggrandizement. There is something to be said for his loquacious, heartfelt opinionism. There is an ineffable importance to his showman charisma.

How Trump destroyed the traditional political spectrum 

Of course, for a democratic socialist to admit such views is sacrilege nowadays. This is the problem of our disjointed era, largely created by Trump himself: you cannot state an opinion without being shot down from all sides. Today, you can even be cancelled and mauled for failing to embody mainstream orthodoxy with enough vigour. The art of intelligent conversation is dead, replaced by an immature tit-for-tat and reductio ad absurdum.

If, as a scion of the left, I state my appreciation for Trump’s patriotism, I’m ten seconds away from a vitriolic Twitter annihilation with references to the Vietnam war and bygone draft-dodging. We have fallen into a pattern of dredging up narratives from 50 years ago to support our contemporary agendas. That is nonsensical, and it serves only to destabilise our cultural moment and stoke the devolution of social progress.

If Trump has taught me anything, then, it is that the old political spectrum of left and right is outdated, one-dimensional and unfit for our complex age. We cannot explain or solve an unprecedented force using precedented technology. Yes, the linear axes of economic and interventionist ideology are important, but a more immersive model is needed to separate modern leaders from mere scholars. The traditional political spectrum is a theory machine. It does not account for optics, values, energy, faith, background, skill, acuity, leadership, dexterity, diplomacy, oratory, conviction or aura – essential facets of our current existence.

By eschewing the outmoded schematic of tribalism, we can be freed from the debilitating shackles of obstinate dogma. We can travel beyond the labels of socialist versus conservative, communist against fascist. A deeper, more nuanced political taxonomy allows a socialist to admire a centre-right leader for his presence and conviction without the stifling pang of existential guilt. Only by encouraging such triangulation and bipartisan reasoning can we deconstruct the labyrinthine walls of credenda and begin to unite. Begin to heal. Begin to repair the polarising, abusive discourse that has infected our planet.

Who should democratic socialists vote for in the 2020 US election?

As I see it, the choice at this election represents – in abstract terms – the difference between a leader and a policymaker, between a commander and a politician, between a president and an idealist. It takes a whole lot more to occupy the Oval Office than empty bromides and textbook strategy. It takes personality, in the broadest strokes, and that is where Joe Biden is severely lacking.

Many democratic socialists have been harangued into supporting Biden, falling in line with the big-tent mandate. However, in reality, Biden is probably just as close to Trump’s base as he is to pure democratic socialism, so the instinctive calls for cohesion breed disgruntlement among activists like me. Joe Biden does not represent my views, nor does he embody the values I want from a powerful leader. Therefore, why should I support him?

Trump is running a desperate campaign that presents Biden as a socialist beholden to the radical left. That is deeply incorrect, speaking to an embattled president clutching at straws. Biden is a centrist, and not even a left-leaning one on many issues. He does not support the Green New Deal. He is not pursuing free universal healthcare. He will not major on cheaper student finance. The uncomfortable truth is that, ultimately, Biden is a lot more similar to Trump than is convenient for both candidates to admit. The only way Trump can differentiate himself from Biden, therefore, is to depict him as residing way further left than he ever truly has.

Essentially, many democratic socialists will side with Biden because he is just ever so slightly less awful than Trump. Ever so slightly less dangerous and pernicious. Ever so slightly less volcanic. However, there is a counter argument that says Biden is so terrible that his inevitably disastrous premiership will simply increase the odds of a reactive Republican victory in 2024, precipitating a fresh new era of capitalist hegemony.

Thinking in big picture, realpolitik terms, then, may it be more beneficial for democratic socialists to wince through four more years of Trump, all but guaranteeing progressive victory in 2024, when the Republican record will be so decimated as to make the case for true change all the more profound and logical? We are frequently told to hold our noses and vote for Biden for the general good, but can a case be built that, by doing the same in support of – or indifference to – Trump, a more long-lasting foundation can be fashioned for democratic socialism to flourish as a governing force?

Is Joe Biden really the lesser of two evils?

Alas, the pain, suffering and death of another Trump term may be too costly to comprehend, and this understandable urgency to reverse America’s degradation is the driving force behind democratic socialists supporting Biden. The US has lost more than 217,000 people to coronavirus, while cases have spiralled over 8 million. Therefore, a narrative of governmental ineptitude has been spun, casting Trump as a sinister villain who wanted this to happen. However, even the president’s response to this global health emergency has been tarred by biased dystopian fantasy from the left, and Americans should be careful what they wish for.

Yes, Trump’s politicisation of mask-wearing is abominable. Yes, his mistrust of science is alarming. And yes, the rate at which US citizens find themselves jobless and devoid of health insurance at such a vital time is deplorable. But contrary to the prevailing narrative, Trump has not been a total disaster on coronavirus. Like every leader around the world, he was dealt a bad hand, and his response thereto can best be described as meh. Most world leaders fall into that category, though, so is it really that horrific?

Sure, there have been missteps and delays. There have been fumbles and errors. Discrepancies at state level – many are way above the national test positivity rate – illustrate the systematic inequities of American life. But, by the same token, we have never faced anything like this before. To a large extent, the control measures imposed by any politician will, by definition, be experimental, reactive and hopeful. Until we find a vaccine, the outlook will continue to be grim, regardless of ideology from the top.

Furthermore, while Trump occupies the White House during this pandemic, the deleterious effects thereof have more complicated geneses than his solitary signature. As a nation, and as a ruling class, the US has failed to address intrinsic injustices for generations, perhaps forever, and it is those injustices that are now mutating into chronic problems under duress from a killer disease. Trump certainly contributed to those injustices, and perhaps disproportionately, but he alone did not create them. No, that was a collective effort.

Barrack Obama played a role. George W Bush did, too. Bill Clinton and George HW Bush also helped. Heck, every damn president in history has failed to solve the elementary dichotomies of demography that have now exploded into deep suffering and relentless disquiet. Trump holds the presidential Bunsen burner, but the great coronavirus fire required a smorgasbord of chemicals – from all political persuasions – to ignite. The failure of Trump to tackle coronavirus is the failure of a political ecosystem that has remained largely unchanged for generations. It is a failure of the same tired network that underpins Joe Biden. 

Thus, are we really holding Biden aloft as the pandemic panacea? Do we seriously believe that, by simply electing one party over the other, we will suddenly figure out a disease that has so far baffled humanity? Biden may well improve America’s response to coronavirus. I happen to think he will. Yet expecting him to make anything more than an incremental impact, when fighting an evolving virus, is absurd. More pertinently, it is unfair to hoist such lofty expectations on Biden, a cautious bureaucrat in cognitive decline.

Who should Bernie Sanders' supporters vote for in 2020? Biden or Trump?

Ultimately, the fact that Biden is the only antidote the Democrats can muster when faced with the most divisive, hostile and disruptive president in US history is a sad polemic of the party’s anachronism. Though most do not see it, every criticism of Trump for exacerbating coronavirus pain is simultaneously a call for democratic socialism, which is the only mode of governance that promises to solve the fundamental imbalances in American society – racial, financial and philosophical – that fuel disproportionate struggle in the first place. Maybe the Democrats will never accommodate our views, after all. Maybe we are movements headed in different directions. Maybe the change we desire must come at party level before it can sweep the nation. 

Was America ready for Bernie Sanders in 2020? It is easy to say no, but I think yes. The nation was ready, but the weight of political expediency and resource was skewed towards Joe Biden, an altogether safer representative. Ironically, the need for Sanders’ transformative vision has arguably increased since he withdrew from the primary race in April. Right now, America is a country riven with inequality and angst. There is a fury out there on the streets, and rightfully so. It is a crying shame, therefore, that moderate paranoia defeated progressive ambition when we needed it most.

While there are obvious chasms in the Democratic party, the debate among leftists now centres on the extent to which a Biden presidency would further our revolutionary cause. Joe could certainly lay the groundwork of transformative liberalism, but he will never extend beyond the cushy means of his curated echo chamber. He will only go so far, and for me, his genteel comfort zone is not far enough.

The final thoughts of an undecided (and unqualified) voter

Right now, FiveThirtyEight, the platform of polling guru Nate Silver, gives Biden a 10-point lead in its scientific collation of polls. That is significant. However, the polls were incredibly wrong in 2016, when Trump shocked Hillary Clinton, so it is difficult to ascertain the degree of certainty in this regard. Nevertheless, we can generally agree that Biden seems to be ahead, perhaps by a lot in some key battleground states. You just wonder whether that lead can stand up until 3rd November, and whether we should be rooting for it to do so anyway.

“I write to find out what I think,” Stephen King once said. Indeed, this piece started as a column on why the US can do better than Joe Biden, but how it must do better than Donald Trump. I intended to explain why those on the left should pinch their nose and vote for Biden in optimistic incrementalism. However, like everything in these troubling times, that plan mushroomed out of control, and we now have a wide-ranging think piece on a complex choice facing the American electorate.

For too long, genuine progress has suffered from binary associations of Democrats as generally good and Republicans as generally bad. There are elements of truth to both tropes, and they are baked into our psyche for a reason, but somewhere in between, cast in multiple dimensions, there has to be a different way of doing things.

These days, there is no end to political analysis, which creates infinite wrinkles of nuance amid entitled censorship. Ultimately, however, the extent to which a democratic socialist even considers voting for Donald Trump in the national interest says everything about Joe Biden’s ineptitude. Maybe I’m glad I do not have a vote after all.


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