After a year in and out of quarantine, we have emerged, like a latter-day Rip Van Winkle, into the light of day, scratching our heads and wondering what was that dream we were having, of a new way of life emerging from the prolonged miasma of contagion and death?
Some of us thought – I was one – that the pandemic’s unprecedented disruption of our global society was making room for that new creation, and we spent some of our quiet hours imagining what it would be. Zoom conversations like Vicki Robin’s series of interviews, What Could Possibly Go Right? were fuel for imagination’s flame. Worried though we were, lonesome and tired of being locked up, this visioning time between bicycle rides and spurts in the garden was precious.
Now, vaccinated and tentatively stepping out, relieved to hug a friend, share a meal, we found ourselves in the same old world, the same commutes, the noisy traffic, chemtrails in the sky, and the miasma of climate change, whose grim consequences if left unattended will be far longer lasting than any pandemic.
Joe Biden, our president, is stepping forward to let us know that he’s in charge. At his first speech before both houses of Congress commemorating the first 100 days of his presidency, he told the world, “America is back” – and the empire, though friendly, is dangerous.
He spoke before an audience of 200 in a room that holds 1600, partly to create the necessary distance from the lingering contagion, but also because most Republicans had stayed away, allegedly to attend a secret meeting of their fellows. And the press has not said boo.
Behind the President were two masked women in suits, Vice President Kamala Harris, seldom heard from, and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Biden bragged that this was the first time in history that the president had two women behind him, and “It’s long overdue”, was met with wild cheers, but the position of one woman, or two or four, behind a man, does not seem so revolutionary to me; I’ll get excited when the woman is in front.
The same week, The Intercept, an investigative online news journal, posted extensive online documentation by Jeremy Scahill on the 50-year political career of Joe Biden called Empire President. The Intercept also released a video about the project, which Amy Goodman showed on her KPFA morning show just hours before the speech.
I can’t begin to narrate all the incidents recorded in this presentation of events that occurred before I was politically aware, all the way up to when I was finally compelled to pay attention, but I encourage you to watch that video at democracynow.org and explore Scahill’s Biden exhibit when you have time to revisit Biden-under-Nixon, Biden-under-Reagan, Biden-with-Obama and so forth. It’s a haunting story that will leave you a little unsettled, depicting an ambitious man willing to change his story according to political expedience and one who always favors a war.
It’s the latter that makes me nervous. Biden’s forays into foreign policy have had me worried from the start. It’s not just war, nor the threat of war – Biden probably doesn’t want to have a nuclear exchange with China or Russia – but the Call to Power, as I like to call it, the summoning of American exceptionalism, the take-no-bullshit promises, the reverberations of competition with all its shouts and cheers in the background, its claim to primacy, and, incongruously, its scolding other countries over their human rights violations when ours are finally splattered all over the pavement.
He’s been quite explicit, in his few appearances to date, that America is the best, and that it’s going to “dominate” the world. Those words, to compete and dominate, worry me. They speak to me of our colonial past, our patriarchal tradition, our capitalist exploitation of nature and the world, and our enormous military investment in weapons of destruction.
In this talk, while alluding several times to the need to compete with the rest of the world, he tied the need-to-win with his domestic program. Here, if you didn’t catch it, are the few bits:
We’ll see more technological change…this next 10 years than we saw in the last 50…And we’re falling behind the competition with the rest of the world…China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future.
President Xi…[is] deadly earnest on becoming the most significant, the most consequential nation in the world…To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and children…[12 years of public education]…made us the best-educated, best-prepared nation in the world…But the world’s caught up, or catching up…Twelve years is no longer enough today, to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century. That’s why my American Families Plan guarantees four additional years of public education…
We need access to healthcare for the same reason, so it’s odd in this hearty competitive context to address climate change as something which requires a global consensus.
The investments I propose tonight advance a foreign policy, in my view, that benefits the middle class. That means making sure that every nation plays by the same rules in the global economy, including China. In my discussions with President Xi, I told him we welcome the competition. We’re not looking for conflict. But the boundary between competition and conflict is not always easy to discern.
Finally, towards the end of his speech, Biden declared, “And the future belongs to America.” Why? Why do we have to own the future?
To be clear (as politicians are forever saying), I’m fully in support of all these programs. Having Biden in office after Trump is like a miracle, and I hope he’ll continue to rise to the challenges. I just had no idea that we were doing them in order to win some sort of imagined or presumed competition with the rest of the world. And I see no reason to believe that President Xi has the same attitude as Joe Biden. I just don’t trust that one.
Rather, I would have liked to hear that we need to take care of all our people because that is the responsibility of good governance, and as a global leader we would serve those less fortunate while collaborating with those most responsible for the mess.
It’s not about words; it’s about attitude. It’s about the shift in awareness we so desperately need to make the changes in society that filled our dreams during the long sleep of the pandemic.
We’re looking at the end of the world. Right? We’re still on course for a three-degree rise in temperature that will make this planet unlivable for humans. And it’s so clear, or should be, that this disastrous situation was brought on by selfishness, violence, competition, racism and lust for dominance – that old patriarchal thrust. Right?
So let’s give it up, and get on with the show.