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Liberal Pleas for “Unity” Legitimize the Virulent Politics of the Far Right

Unity isn’t the answer. Just because Biden’s in charge doesn’t mean we should be less alarmed about U.S. state violence.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House on August 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

In the time leading up to the 2020 election, many people throughout the United States mobilized with an unprecedented sense of urgency. Those in opposition to the far right presidency of Donald J. Trump went above and beyond to unseat the 45th head of state. The prospect of his reelection scared many following an atrocious four years of unchecked state violence, resurgent fascism and political asininity that climaxed with a pandemic. It was clear to many, even some in Trump’s own party, that a second term could have potentially disastrous consequences. As true as that was, there were also radical dissenters who argued people would settle back into the comfort of “politics as usual” if Joe Biden became president. The fear was that people would not “hold him accountable” if he was elected because they would be complacent yet again. Now, less than one year into the Biden presidency, we can already see why this concern was justified.

President Biden was never the ideal candidate. He was unsurprisingly victorious as one of the most conservative elements in the convoluted electoral process to choose the Democratic nominee. His establishment politics and record as the former vice president during the Obama administration made him a safe choice to some. He wasn’t too controversial, which in U.S. politics, means being just minimally outspoken about injustices. Biden was largely the opposite of controversial: He was another elderly white man presidential hopeful who worked to appeal to both sides of the aisle, just as Obama had. He worked to channel that same Obama “change” energy into his campaign with Kamala Harris as a running mate, while usually not even bothering to pretend he’d challenge the status quo. The widespread fear of war and other forms of violence under Trump, who openly courted white supremacists of all sorts, created a desperation within the Democratic base. This drove many to support Biden regardless of his specific policy positions. Knowing he was the alternative to Trump, Biden didn’t really have to try.

In October 2020 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden channeled President Abraham Lincoln: “Today, once again, we are a house divided,” he said. Biden drew upon imagery of Lincoln who he said “reimagined America itself” and “believed in the rescue, redemption and rededication of the union.” He also invoked former President Lyndon B. Johnson, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in his remarks.

The problem, however, as is always the problem with calls for unity, is that unity with white supremacists means death. The idea that white supremacists and fascists wanting to annihilate people who are not white is merely a “difference of opinion” feeds into a much more insidious issue: the unrelenting shift to the right. Time and time again, the liberal politics that have sought to address increasing white violence with pleas for unification have pushed the country further right. This happens because their coalescence is one that legitimizes the virulent politics of the far right.

President Biden and the Democratic Party’s politics are not serving as the counter and oppositional force some imagine them to be. Biden and Vice President Harris themselves illustrate as much. Biden’s segregationist history and “tough-on-crime” politics make it unsurprising that he’s so unabashedly pro-police. He made as much clear at the same aforementioned Gettysburg speech, stating, “I believe in law and order — I’ve never supported defunding the police — but I also believe injustice is real.” Biden even went as far as saying he wanted to fund the police more so than Trump.

Harris, a former self-proclaimed “Top Cop” prosecutor herself, didn’t have any stunning record for policing the police. A New York Times article recalls, “Since becoming California’s attorney general in 2011, she had largely avoided intervening in cases involving killings by the police.” A photo of Harris with the Border Patrol also raised concerns about her positions regarding immigration. Decrying the border policy of Trump, in an MSNBC interview in June of 2019, Harris said, “When that child arrives, to say, ‘Go back where you came from’ — it is inhumane. It is irresponsible. And it is contrary to who we are, to our nature, and who we say we are.”

But by June 2021, she was sounding like an echo of Trump: Addressing migrants who were being treated inhumanely, Harris told them: “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders.” Months later, the Biden administration shocked many by showing just how much they meant this.

When thousands of asylum seekers arrived at the U.S. border, the Biden administration quickly engaged in mass deportation without hesitating. It did so after having fought to keep a Trump-era policy that allows for the quick removal and expulsion of would-be migrants. Title 42, a public health order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowed for this rapid deportation process without giving those in need the chance to apply for asylum. Images of Border Patrol officers brutalizing Haitians who were trying to find safe haven didn’t stop any of this, despite Biden saying the officers responsible for these atrocities would be punished. This wasn’t the first incident of this type showing the political connection between Trump and the new Biden administration.

Again, at the border, Biden has confused many liberal voters with continuations of Trump’s border wall projects, though now they’re being called “levees.” The Biden administration also extended the Trump travel ban to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The federal response to the February 2021 winter storm that pummeled several states was lackluster and inspired little confidence for many. And Biden’s response to this catastrophic weather — the first major natural disaster of his tenure — left much to be desired with many people relying on mutual aid and community organizing when state and federal officials were nowhere to be found. All of this is intensified by the disturbing lack of transformative change needed to address the ongoing crises related to housing and poverty that have been compounded by crisis.

And it shouldn’t be neglected that Biden has “quietly extended a policy that critics call a betrayal of his campaign promise to end mandatory minimum sentences.” A new law about “class-wide scheduling of fentanyl analogues” makes it easier to punish low-level offenders in ways that mirror the crack/cocaine disparity. Due to this, fentanyl analogues, which are chemical relatives to fentanyl, can be punished more harshly than fentanyl itself. It’s been noted that this will, of course, fall on Black people who are already disproportionately punished in this regard.

These many examples of “betrayals” by Biden are not really betrayals when you observe them in the larger context of the rightward political shift in the U.S., which seems almost inescapable. Let’s not forget that someone has to actually be on your side to betray you.

People who believe in electoralism and sincerely object to families in cages and the turmoil that the Trump administration inflicted have a responsibility here and now. They should be a relentless part of the effort to confront the continuations of state violence that occur under Biden’s presidency.

This means more than petitions and casual protests; these “betrayals” should elicit the same intensity that similar policies elicited under Trump. If this doesn’t happen, then Biden’s presidency will continue to aid the growth and legitimacy of right-wing policy and sentiment throughout the country.

The next version or iteration of Trump will be far worse if moderates and liberals have consistently further enabled unacceptable far right violence by deeming it acceptable when it happens on their terms.

Trump was not as unique as his opponents tried to make him out to be. He was a figurehead for the white supremacy and oppression that this country has long stood for. Ruling political parties have always played into upholding the status quo put forth by a violent foundation. What’s wrong is wrong, no matter what president it happens under, and the fact that this has to be said reveals the failure of electoral politics to bring us closer to liberation.

It feels as if we’re at a crossroads. The exhaustion of the public is palpable. Organizers and activists of all sorts are trying to circumvent burnout, and people who believe all we need to do is vote blue may currently be feeling placated by a false sense of comfort. But we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and increasing inequality, and U.S. imperialism is still waging war.

As tiring as this all is, we have to remember things can still get worse. Plenty of us can look back to moments in recent years where we thought we’d reached the pinnacle of exhaustion and, in hindsight, see it wasn’t as bad as things can get. The road toward recovery must be filled with uncompromising demands for a stop to injustice and oppression. This is a fight to stop having to fight for those of us who, as Fannie Lou Hamer once said, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”