On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will assume the presidency from Donald Trump. To many Americans, this transition marks the end of their having to care about politics. In their view, Trump disrupted the civility of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, but once Biden is in office, civil discourse will be restored and the average American can go back to their apolitical existence.
This perspective is incredibly flawed. I’ll be the first to admit that a Biden presidency is preferable to another four years of Trump, but acting as though Biden and the Democratic Party are a panacea to the issues America faces is naïve. To actually better America, we need far more leftward aspirations than a Biden presidency. It’s good that Biden won, but we’ve got to move beyond the narrow limits of American political discourse and continue to fight for progress.
On almost every key issue, Biden fails to go far enough with his solutions to have a significant impact. Regarding climate change, I wrote in the past about the insufficiency of the Green New Deal in adequately reducing emissions, and Biden’s climate plan doesn’t even go as far as that.
In fact, Kamala Harris clarified directly that a Biden administration won’t even ban fracking, the elimination of which is an essential first step in limiting fossil fuel use and reducing harm to ecosystems. Overall, according to Greenpeace, Biden only has a B+ rating on environmental issues, and I don’t know about you, but I think our planet deserves at least an A.
Biden’s foreign policy is also problematic. In recent months, Biden criticized Trump for not being harsh enough on China, which should worry those of us that oppose American warmongering. Moreover, like Trump, Biden plans to raise military spending in each of his first three years in office, demonstrating little commitment to lessening harmful and racist imperialist practices abroad.
The fact that the entire conversation around military spending is limited to how much we should raise it and how often we should intervene in other countries’ affairs is emblematic of the narrowness of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. The Iraq War, for instance, was championed by Biden and ultimately led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Having any sort of left voice in politics entails a rejection of American chauvinism and a recognition of the destructive effects America’s wars have on the populations of other countries.
Most of this should be unsurprising, though, given that Democratic presidents generally have a poor track record on foreign aggression. From drone strikes to Guantanamo Bay, Democrats, while admittedly less hawkish than Republicans, historically have done little to minimize human rights abuses and war crimes — see the Kunduz hospital strike, for instance — and Biden doesn’t appear to be a departure from the norm.
Instead of ramping up American war-making capabilities even further — remember that the United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined — we could perhaps use that money to improve health care, the environment or just about anything not dedicated to ending human lives. Unfortunately, as long as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are allowed to continue exerting their moneyed influence over Democrats and Republicans alike, that’s unlikely to happen.
Domestically, Biden fails to strike at the core of the problems America faces. On health care, for instance, Biden suggested that on the off chance that Medicare for All makes it through Congress, he will exercise his presidential veto to kill the bill if he feels it has too high a price tag.
Biden’s campaign has said that while their health care plan will include a public health insurance option, it will still leave millions of Americans uninsured or underinsured, which is catastrophic given the significantly heightened mortality rate of uninsured people. Sure, Trump’s health care plan is an even bigger dumpster fire, but that’s no excuse. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for universal health care is clear, and every year we waste not passing it means tens of thousands of more dead Americans.
Over the course of the last six months, the Black Lives Matter movement has also come to the forefront of American politics, as demands for changes to the criminal justice system escalate. Biden’s history on criminal justice, however, is poor and includes a prominent role in the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — as well as several other crime bills during his time in the Senate — that contributed to mass incarceration. He also currently supports even more funding for police departments, which comes off as at least a little tone-deaf in the current conversation about criminal justice.
Economically, Biden has proposed few real changes to the way corporate America functions and has made it clear to moneyed backers that they should not feel threatened by a Biden administration. Biden himself put it best when he told wealthy donors, “No one’s standard of living will change, nothing will fundamentally change,” under his presidency.
Now is not the time for moderacy. When climate change is rapidly accelerating, income inequality is reaching unparalleled heights and racial inequity is worsening, we don’t have time for another four years without fundamental change. Nothing fundamentally changing in the next four years should be absolutely terrifying, because we’re not on course for positive outcomes.
Furthermore, this entire article was written assuming that Biden will fulfill his campaign promises, but Politifact found that Barack Obama fulfilled less than 50 percent of his campaign promises during his presidency, in part because of a Republican Congress and in part because those goals became politically unsavory. During Trump’s term, the percentage was even lower. Even if Biden has a higher success rate than his predecessors, it seems as though the next four years will look even more like the status quo than he purports.
Throughout the election season, liberals have been quick to stifle criticisms of Biden by arguing that levying the above accusations will only serve to help Trump get re-elected. Although I can see where this idea comes from, I think that this train of thought falls a bit short. If we only criticize Democrats when they aren’t up for election (read: when they aren’t actually vulnerable), they have no reason to change.
The problem isn’t even that Biden has these policy proposals or that people support these ideas; it’s that to most people, Biden represents the political left in America. If we can’t look to anything more progressive than a continuation of the neoliberal paradigm that has dominated the last 40 years of American politics, we can’t be surprised when the same societal ills persist.
The American left is chronically underrepresented in our politics, such to the extent that the average citizen sees Bernie Sanders and universal health care as the radical left of the political spectrum. It’s time to look beyond America’s narrow spectrum of acceptable political positions for meaningful solutions to the systemic issues America faces and consider ideas outside the American political norm.
To be absolutely clear: Yes, it is good that Biden won the election. I even voted for him. But viewing him as a sign of meaningful progress is a mistake. To quote Malcolm X, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made.” To heal America’s wound, we’ve got a lot further to go than President Biden.
Sam Hernandez PO ’24 is from San Antonio, Texas. Ideologically, he would prefer to vote Green, but the US electoral system usually says no.