WASHINGTON—Many people breathed a collective sigh of relief when Joseph Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20. They were relieved that the twice-impeached outgoing President Donald J. Trump no longer had the power to make mischief—like his scheme to replace the acting Attorney General with one of his sycophants and order him to challenge the election returns in four key states before the Supreme Court.
That scheme—two days before he incited the bloody insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6—was abandoned in the face of threats of mass resignations by Department of Justice lawyers.
But activists must not let down their guard, according to several scholars and activists who insist that White supremacy—the root of Trumpism—began before Mr. Trump’s election and will not go away with the advent of the Biden administration.
“Today, I’m going to celebrate, and I celebrate our people, I celebrate our movement, I celebrate Black and Brown and indigenous organizers across this country who, through so much pain and trauma and anguish at the hands of (the Trump) administration, still figured out a way to stand up, and figured out a way to defeat a fascist,” Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian and an organizer of the first Women’s March which protested the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration in 2017 told Pacifica Radio’s inauguration analysis, which this writer co-hosted.
“So, for me today, I’m thinking about the story I’m going to tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren that I lived in an era where I helped defeat a fascist,” she said, jubilant, even though Mr. Biden’s team denounced her views about Israeli apartheid when she addressed the Muslim Caucus at the virtual Democratic National Convention.
“As long as American mythmaking and the idea of American exceptionalism occupies the center of our problem-solving model, I think we’re always going to run up against the problem because it’s the heart of American exceptionalism in many ways,” Dr. Greg Carr, professor of African American Studies and Law at Howard University told this writer during the discussion.
“It’s just settler colonialism. And so laying wreaths at Arlington, blood sacrifice, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance, wrapping all this stuff in red, white, and blue, in some ways can become an impediment when we still try to get at those things that Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) raised, which brought him full up against the model for the country, which is probably the country’s fundamental structure,” said Dr. Carr.
“It is very important that we deal with White supremacy in an honest way,” retired Army Major Danny Sjursen told this writer. “And that includes the violent paramilitary wing of it, which has always been a part of our history, realizing that it is an inextricably linked and vital portion of empire.
“And of course, what we know historically and conceptually is that (the American) empire (spreads) from home (among the U.S. military) and that they are affected and that they are influenced by what happens at home. And then they take that overseas with them, the baggage that comes and then it boomerangs back,” said Maj. Sjursen, who taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point during his active-duty career.
“What we’ve seen over these last four years was a windfall in many ways for the extreme White nationalist element of what is in many ways a White nationalist, a racial capitalist society,” said Dr. Carr. “And when I say ‘windfall.’ They didn’t expect Trump to win, but they used him. Trump’s a symptom; he’s not the cause of this issue.
“But they’ve got 220 more federal judges,” Dr. Carr continued, “and we don’t even know the implications of that. We expect of course that they will continue to go back and sue about everything from a woman’s right to choose to immigration policy, to education, to even this mask mandate that the executive order went out today.
“All those things are going to be in federal court and ultimately they’ll be before judges that they have stocked over the last four years in this windfall.”
“I think that there are a number of things that the Biden administration can do through executive action,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Houston said. “Certainly, as long as you have this 60-vote threshold in the U.S. Senate to pass legislation, it’s going to be difficult for the Democrats even if they were positively intentioned to push through legislation. And so, we need to consider quite seriously eroding or getting rid of the filibuster, which therefore would help to erode that supermajority mandate.”
The path forward, according to Dr. Horne is for Mr. Biden to empower his allies, rather than trying to court his White, conservative opponents, who will likely never join him in order to support legislation which will benefit Black people, poor people, middle income people. “I think we need labor law reform because we need to unleash the power of organized labor so that the people themselves can make legitimate demands,” he said.
“But likewise, I think we need to expect from those who campaigned on certain promises to execute those promises, and that would include Mr. Biden, who, after his victory in November was solidified, (and) said that he owed a debt of gratitude to the Black community. We expect to collect on that debt.
“That would include not only what I’ve already mentioned with regard to not sending Pentagon excess military materiel to urban areas, but also having the solicitor general, who argues cases in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the administration, refuse to argue cases that further entrench the power of police departments, such as this archaic rule of qualified immunity, which makes it easier for police officers to escape penalty after executing one of our brothers and sisters in the streets,” said Dr. Horne.
Instead, Republicans have withdrawn back to what they were doing before the Trump election, which is engaging in the rhetoric of, “Oh, it’s not going to work. We have to work across the aisle. We have to meet each other.” Sadly, some observers fear, Mr. Biden has been persuaded by that rhetoric.
“The fascism that Donald Trump represented still exists here today,” said Ms. Sarsour. “Over 70 million people who aligned and agreed with Donald Trump and his policies and his platform still live amongst us.
“There are still little Donald Trump’s in state legislators, in governor’s offices, in city councils across this country. So, we have to understand that while we may have had the symbol, the demagogue is no longer in office. All of the ills and diseases that he exposed to the rest of the world still exists here today. So, I’m celebrating today, because I want our people to remember that we do have power, and that we have built a lot of power in the last four years.
“But all the ills and injustices still continue today, and will continue under a Biden administration,” she continued, “especially if we think that everything is going to be A-okay, and we’re just going to all walk away now because Joe Biden happens to be the President of the United States. And that definitely is not going to be me.”
Activists and those hoping for change must view the system as an interconnected whole. “That means domestic policy, foreign policy, racial class policy, not as a one-off, not as bad apples where a unity pledge can calm the whole thing, said Major Sjursen.
“I mean, we are ‘Through the Looking Glass, Alice,’ and it is long past time where that’s going to do if it ever would have in the first place. I mean, are we to believe that there’ve been 42, 43, if not 45 out of 45, (presidents) so far, bad apples running this imperial and, in many cases, largely forever White supremacist system?”
Progressive activists face the reality of hoping to take one step forward, but only having to take two steps back. The Biden foreign policy team is an example.
Though Mr. Biden has nominated several pro-Israeli advisers to his team and announced that the U.S. would leave its embassy in Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as the capital of the Jewish state, he has also expressed his desire to return the U.S. to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called Iran nuclear deal, and to ease sanctions on the Islamic state.
Robert Malley is a possible candidate for U.S. envoy, who CODEPINK Women For Peace believe will be good for that process. Mr. Malley helped organize the 2000 Camp David Summit as Special Assistant to President Clinton and was the lead negotiator on the White House staff for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal under President Obama.
He has called U.S. Middle East policy “a litany of failed enterprises” requiring “self-reflection and is a true believer in diplomacy,” the group said in a statement. During the Trump years, Mr. Malley was a fierce critic of Trump’s Iran policy. He denounced Mr. Trump’s plan to withdraw from the deal and refuted critiques about the deal’s so-called “sunset clauses.”
Mr. Malley’s Middle East foreign policy expertise and diplomatic skills “make him the ideal candidate to reinvigorate the JCPOA and help calm regional tensions,” said CODEPINK. “Biden’s response to the far-right uproar against Malley will be a test of Biden’s fortitude in standing up to the hawks and charting a new course for U.S. policy in the Middle East.”
The Biden agenda, and even Senate approval for his Cabinet nominees will have to compete for political oxygen with the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, and the second Senate impeachment trial of Mr. Trump.
House impeachment managers deliver an article of impeachment to the Senate Jan. 25, accusing Mr. Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” It’s the first step which kicked off the impeachment trial of the former president.
On Jan. 26, senators were sworn in as jurors for the trial, followed by a two-week period for pre-trial briefs, with the trial set to begin the week of Feb. 8.