Our Biden Problem

Barbara Ransby

Posted October 2, 2020

One major party’s candidate is arguably a racist old-school misogynist, and the other is Donald Trump. What’s a leftist to do? (Design by Rachel K. Dooley / Photo via Getty Images)

This is a hard arti­cle to write. I wish our polit­i­cal land­scape were so much dif­fer­ent than it is, and I wish our polit­i­cal choic­es were bet­ter than they are.

To say Joe Biden is not an ide­al pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — for the Left or for Black peo­ple — is an under­state­ment. Of the myr­i­ad hope­fuls crowd­ing the debate stage at the begin­ning of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­maries, Biden is close to the worst. Recall Biden’s role in draft­ing and pass­ing the heinous 1994 crime bill, which con­tributed might­i­ly to the scourge of mass incar­cer­a­tion. Con­sid­er his dis­re­spect­ful and demean­ing treat­ment of Ani­ta Hill at Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion. Con­sid­er his lead­er­ship in plung­ing the U.S. into the bloody and unnec­es­sary war in Iraq. Con­sid­er the inap­pro­pri­ate hug­ging and hair sniff­ing and Tara Reade’s cred­i­ble and dis­turb­ing allegations.

Biden’s recent behav­ior digs him into a deep­er hole. Speak­ing at a Black church in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., ear­li­er this month, Biden’s response to the mas­sive protests over police killings of Black peo­ple was to sug­gest that police learn to ​“shoot ​‘em in the leg instead of in the heart.” He lat­er rolled out a list of pro­posed reforms made up of over­sight and train­ing mea­sures focused on root­ing out ​“bad cops” that fell far short of the defund­ing of police depart­ments called for by the Move­ment for Black Lives.

In a dis­as­trous per­for­mance in May on the syn­di­cat­ed ​“Break­fast Club” radio pro­gram, Biden told the Black host, Char­la­m­agne tha God, ​“If you have a prob­lem fig­ur­ing out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” The lev­el of arro­gance is breath­tak­ing: Biden is both tak­ing the Black vote for grant­ed (again) while appoint­ing him­self the arbiter of Black­ness; invok­ing (his notion of) Black ver­nac­u­lar adds insult to injury. A pre­sump­tu­ous, erro­neous and offen­sive notion that Biden has some kind of polit­i­cal inti­ma­cy with Black peo­ple has become an under­ly­ing mes­sage of his campaign. 

That said, if Biden is nobody’s dream, Trump is a night­mare. We know a sec­ond term of Trump will inflict enor­mous repres­sion, suf­fer­ing and death. So we face a dilem­ma: We can­not be cheer­lead­ers and apol­o­gists for neolib­er­al politi­cians like Biden, but we can­not endure four more years of Trump. Do we hold our noses yet again and sup­port a can­di­date so gross­ly out of sync with our val­ues, or do we sit on the side­lines and let an aspir­ing fas­cist hold power?

Four more years, I fear, would be a no-holds-barred grasp for the throne. GOP lead­ers are such spine­less and oppor­tunist syco­phants that they will tol­er­ate any­thing to main­tain prox­im­i­ty to the tyrant’s pow­er, or at least avoid his ire. Cou­pled with Trump’s reck­less incom­pe­tence and con­tempt for both demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tices and the suf­fer­ing of human beings, we can visu­al­ize a cat­a­stro­phe far beyond what we have wit­nessed thus far.

We do have a choice in Novem­ber, though it’s not good. The best option this time (unless you live in a very safe Demo­c­ra­t­ic state) is not to cast a sym­bol­ic third-par­ty vote. We have to, as polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Cathy Cohen puts it, ​“vote against Trump and orga­nize against Biden.” Even if Trump is oust­ed, we need to fight Trump­ism in all man­i­fes­ta­tions while chal­leng­ing Biden’s neolib­er­al poli­cies. This is about dam­age con­trol pol­i­tics, not to be con­fused with a Biden endorsement.

Con­ven­tion­al polit­i­cal wis­dom sug­gests we should mute our cri­tiques of Biden, that a blunt, crit­i­cal assess­ment of Biden will only help Trump. But I dis­agree. Peo­ple see through hypocrisy and are tired of it. Per­haps being hon­est about what we are ask­ing peo­ple to do will actu­al­ly bring more to the polls and get them involved in post-elec­tion activism. We are not vot­ing for a sav­ior — quite the con­trary. In fact, despite the the­atrics, pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are nev­er about sav­iors. As Rachel Gilmer of the Dream Defend­ers often says, elec­toral pol­i­tics, for the Left, is about choos­ing our oppo­nents in the next round of strug­gle. We have to orga­nize our com­mu­ni­ties under a ​“Dump Trump­ism” ban­ner — through vot­er edu­ca­tion, fight­ing for safe and acces­si­ble vot­ing by mail, vir­tu­al door knock­ing and mobi­liz­ing in key states.

But here is anoth­er incon­ve­nient truth. Vot­ing, though nec­es­sary, is insuf­fi­cient. Those who came before us did not fight and die sim­ply so we could vote; they fought and died so we could live in a more just world. That world will not occur with­in the bounds of racial cap­i­tal­ism; that marks the big­ger project. Mean­while, we have to vote — and organize.

We have to build social move­ment orga­ni­za­tions and coali­tions, rein­vig­o­rate our labor unions, protest in the streets and lob­by local offi­cials, and strug­gle for fun­da­men­tal and sys­temic change on mul­ti­ple fronts. Arund­hati Roy urges us to see this moment of cri­sis as a por­tal to a new soci­ety and ​“be pre­pared to fight for it.” Defeat­ing Trump and Trump­ism is only the beginning.

Bar­bara Rans­by is a pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois-Chica­go and the author of Ella Bak­er and the Black Free­dom Move­ment: A Rad­i­cal Demo­c­ra­t­ic Vision. She is a long­time activist and a founder of the group Ella’s Daughters.

This arti­cle is reprint­ed from In These Times mag­a­zine, © 2020, and is avail­able at inthe​se​times​.com.


One response to “Our Biden Problem”

  1. robert clarke Avatar
    robert clarke

    Why don’t you just join the communist party and be done with it.