Republicans are using economic and imperialist failures to undermine Joe Biden. (Photo: Marc Nozell)
On Thursday this week it will be a year since Joe Biden was inaugurated as president of the United States.
It was an unusual inauguration
—25,000 National Guardsmen, armed to the teeth, were deployed to make sure there was no repetition of the far right attempt to seize the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January.
Nevertheless, Biden’s presidency raised high hopes. He unfolded an ambitious economic programme. Its aim was to rebuild the infrastructure of the US economy, reduce economic inequality, and enhance the competitiveness of US capitalism.
If successful, this programme would address three threats—climate change
, the Chinese challenge to US global hegemony, and the far right whom Trump had advanced within the Republican Party. But now all this is running into the sand. Biden’s legislative programme looks as if it will fall victim to deadlock in the two houses of Congress.
In 2020 the Democrats were able to win only a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and half the seats in the Senate. This gives exceptional power to two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The media describes them as “moderates”. In reality, whether out of conviction or opportunism, they accommodate the ascendant right within the Republicans.
They forced Biden
to whittle down his “Build Back Better” bill, which is designed to bring the welfare state in the US closer to west European standards. Then Manchin vetoed the bill altogether.
So Biden switched his focus onto voting rights. The Republicans
have reacted to their defeat in 2020 by accelerating their efforts to disenfranchise poor people of colour, who tend to vote Democrat.
But it looks as if Sinema and Manchin have scuppered voting rights as well, by refusing to support overturning the procedural device that allows the Republicans in the Senate to block the two bills backed by Biden. And then, making it a triple whammy, the conservative dominated Supreme Court voted six to three to strike down Biden’s attempt to instruct large employers to make their employees either get vaccinated or show they had a negative test.
Meanwhile the talks between the US and Russia, to ease the Ukraine crisis
went badly. The Washington Post commented, Biden “had received multiple reminders of the limits of his office—and the fragile state of his presidency”.
Biden’s vulnerability has been developing for a while. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan back in August saw his opinion poll ratings drop. They are stuck around 43 percent positive and 50 percent negative.
Meanwhile inflation is rising and has reached the highest level since 1982. The Republicans and their Democratic allies such as Manchin blame this on Biden’s high spending, ignoring the fact the biggest stimuli took place under Trump.
Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times, “You do not need to be over 50 to see today’s parallels with the US of the 1970s. That decade offers an instantly recognisable meme of rising inflation, political drift, spiralling crime and ominous geopolitics
He implies Biden could end up like the hapless Democratic president Jimmy Carter, whose re-election bid in 1980 was swept aside by the Republican landslide for Ronald Reagan.
Luce warns, “Change is moving closer to impossible in the United States.”
As he notes, the fetishised constitution adopted in 1789 is designed to prevent democratic change. But the more immediate problem is that the dynamic force in US politics today is a Republican Party dominated a year after the storming of the Capitol by Trump and his followers.
Their plan is obvious—to sabotage Biden’s programme and win back control of Congress in the mid-term elections in November. Then they can regain the presidency two years later, probably for policies similar to Trump’s but possibly more dangerous because more coherently and efficiently implemented. Who can stop them? Not Hillary Clinton
, despite attempts to talk up her chances in 2024 by her supporters.
Only a genuinely left-wing alternative to both Republicans and Democrats can begin to combat the far right advance.