By Alex Callinicos
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The three phases of Biden’s presidency

This article is over 2 years, 10 months old
Issue 2765
Joe Biden speaks at a rally outside his campaign office in Iowa.
Joe Biden speaks at a rally outside his campaign office in Iowa. (Pic: Matt A.J./Flickr)

Six months into Joe Biden’s presidency, I would say attitudes towards him have gone through three phases—relief, surprise, and increasingly, disappointment.

Relief was motivated by two things—Biden wasn’t Donald Trump and he became president of the US on 20 January. The latter wasn’t a sure thing.

Trump ran Biden very close in the election, and then his fascist followers seized the Capitol in Washington on 6 January to force Congress to reverse the result. They failed miserably, but the US ruling class viewed that day as an example of the social and racial polarisation they had created.

Surprise, Biden set out to address that polarisation. In his first weeks in office, he unveiled a series of programmes.

These included state investment, designed to improve physical infrastructure, social welfare and increase economic opportunities for the poorest. This higher expenditure is to be funded by a mixture of borrowing and taxation of the rich.

Beware of Biden’s empty promises
Beware of Biden’s empty promises
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Biden’s ambition is both to heal social division and to enhance the competitiveness of US capitalism, especially against China. He’s also attacked the way the Big Tech corporations dominate markets. He said, “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation.”

Biden doesn’t get the capitalist system that he’s served all his life. The pressure of competition forces firms to cut costs by increasing the level of worker exploitation.

If he wants to make US capitalism more efficient against its rivals, workers will be squeezed more, undermining his efforts to reduce social polarisation.


So now, not surprisingly, we’ve reached the stage of disappointment. This arises partly because Biden is continuing Trump’s foreign policy.

This means not only maintaining the hard line against China but also continuing the blockade against Cuba that Trump intensified. Biden introduced new sanctions last week.

This is the reverse of the policy that the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, pursued to improve relations between the US and Cuba.

One explanation for this shift is that Biden is trying to appease the powerful right wing Cuban lobby in Florida. He wants to shore up the Democratic Party in this important state and to win the votes of its Republican senators and congresspeople for his programme.

This brings us to the most important reason for Disappointment. Biden makes much of his skills at negotiating deals with the Republicans.

This is how he is trying to get his programme through Congress, which the Democrats only very narrowly control.

The problem is that the Republicans have very little interest in negotiating. Trump remains hugely popular among the party’s base. And the Republicans in Congress and the state legislatures are doing what they can to sabotage Biden’s programme and to prevent poor people of colour from voting.

They hope in this way to repeat what they did to Bill Clinton in 1994 and Obama in 2010—win enough seats in the mid-term elections next year to deprive the Democrats of control of Congress.

We would be back to gridlock in Washington, but this time with the Republicans radicalising to the right.

But gridlock is in many ways the default position set by the oligarchic, racist Constitution of the United States. It is designed to make it easy for representatives of the 50 states to block legislation.

Currently, the Republicans completely control 23 states, with governors and both houses of legislatures. They also have an effective veto, via what is called the filibuster, over legislation in the Senate. Biden has refused to challenge this.

Biden models himself on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Ira Katznelson shows in an important historical study, Fear Itself, that Roosevelt was only able to get economic and social reforms through Congress by a deal with racist Southern senators and congresspeople.

He left the segregationist Jim Crow system in their states untouched. Change came 25 years later with the Civil Rights Movement.

So what will come after Disappointment with Biden? Maybe anger will be next.

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