Many liberal and mainstream media sources have fallen into the analytical dead end of repeating the need for “unity” and a return to a “pre-Trump” America, which is no surprise considering this was the rhetoric that Biden relied on so heavily throughout his campaign. But to take a critical approach; to truly analyze what a Biden presidency means for people in the United States, people in Colombia, and people around the world, we must look past the empty slogans and rhetoric and to the actual policies being supported.
Published on Diaspora Tribune, Jan 20, 2021
As eyes around the world turn to Washington D.C. to observe the transition of the presidency from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, many are wondering what to expect from the incoming Biden presidency. Many liberal and mainstream media sources have fallen into the analytical dead end of repeating the need for “unity” and a return to a “pre-Trump” America, which is no surprise considering this was the rhetoric that Biden relied on so heavily throughout his campaign. But to take a critical approach; to truly analyze what a Biden presidency means for people in the United States, people in Colombia, and people around the world, we must look past the empty slogans and rhetoric and to the actual policies being supported.
There’s a popular saying; “actions speak louder than words”. I agree, but with respect to politicians, I feel a more apt phrase would be “policy speaks louder than platitudes”. A politician’s job, more or less, is to make and vote for policy; that is, for laws. And just as we would judge a baker on their ability to bake bread, we should judge a politician based on their actual policies, not on empty platitudes given in speeches to win support. And fortunately (or unfortunately) for us, Biden has had a long history in government, so we have a great deal to work with.
Biden in the United States
Biden’s history of racist and repressive policy proposals is well known throughout progressive and left circles in the US, but in the interest of providing a more compelling argument and informing those who aren’t aware, let us review some of his “highlights”. Biden first rose to prominence as a Senator in the 1970s for leading the opposition to bussing; that is, the practice of integrating schools through public transportation (i.e. buses). Biden’s leaning towards segregationist tendencies did not stop there. He maintained a close relationship with infamous segregationist Strom Thurmond, who once stated that “all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation”. Biden described Thurmond as “one of my closest friends”, even providing the eulogy at Thurmond’s funeral in 2003.
Biden would go on to support a number of repressive policies aimed at increasing domestic policing and surveillance, all of which disproportionately targeted and affected Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. Biden criticized both Regan and Bush from the right for not taking strict enough measures in regards to policing policy. This would culminate in what Biden described as his “greatest accomplishment”, the infamous 1994 Crime Bill. Biden boasted that this bill would mean that, in his words, “we do everything but hang people for jay-walking”. It instituted a number of new policies, which included providing exorbitant amounts of funding to police departments and to the construction of new prisons, introducing harsher sentencing requirements, and increasing the number of offenses for which the death penalty could be applied. In short, it laid the framework for the disaster of mass incarceration that the US still experiences today, due to which the country detains over 20% of the world’s prisoners despite only representing roughly 4% of its population.
Biden in Latin America
While Biden’s domestic policies may be well known and rightfully criticised, his history of repressive foreign policy, specifically directed toward Latin America, often evades the same level of scrutiny. Toward the end of the Clinton Administration (1992-2000), while serving as member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden championed the legislation that would become the notorious “Plan Colombia”. The plan was a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at providing the Colombian government with the tools and funding to fight “narco-terrorism”. Biden’s personal contribution to the legislation was lobbying to ensure that 80% of the $7.5 billion allotted to the program would be provided directly to the Colombian military. While Plan Colombia failed to accomplish its stated goals, it succeeded in a massive militarization of Colombian society, the poisoning of rural land and natural resources, and an increase in state violence and repression that is still felt to this day. When asked about Plan Colombia in an interview with the Des Moines Register earlier this year, Biden not only reaffirmed his support for the measures taken, but bragged; “I’m the guy who put together Plan Colombia, straightened out that government for a long while”. If “straightening out” includes providing weapons and funding to right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels, then the future of US-Latin American policy looks grim.
Biden’s recent nomination of Anthony Blinken for Secretary of State does not bode well for the future of Latin America either. Blinken has told members of the US Senate that the Biden administration will continue to recognize the failed US puppet Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela. This is the same Guaidó whose supporters have been known to beat, burn, and murder Afro-Indigenous Bolivians, and who attempted to storm the Venezuelan capital building with these same supporters. While the Biden camp may be quick to decry the failed January 6th occupation of the US Capital as an attack on democracy, they were all too quick to support the Venezuelan “opposition’s” attempts to do so in their own country. Furthermore, Anthony Blinken reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to using sanctions as a means of economic warfare, going so far as to say that the incoming administration would seek to, “more effectively target the sanctions… so regime enablers really feel the pain”. What does it mean for the rest of Latin America if Biden’s support for continued imperialist military intervention is so blatantly obvious before he has even stepped foot in office?
A Return to Normal?
Many pundits and supporters have stated that Biden will return the United States to “normal”, arguing that Trump’s presidency was a mere abnormality and not a product of the racist, capitalist system that allowed him to garner as much support as he did . But what “normal” are they hoping to return to? Before Trump’s presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic, “normal” in the United States consisted of poverty, homelessness, ever-widening wealth disparities, racist policing, mass incarceration, children locked in cages at the border, state repression of Black, brown, and Indigenous movements, shrinking public health spending, thousands of deaths each year due to exorbitant healthcare costs, illegal military interventions in foreign countries… I could continue, but for the sake of brevity I feel my point has been made. Those who support Biden on the grounds that he will “bring back normal” might be revealing more about themselves than they realize — that their opposition is not directed toward the inherently racist, violent nature of the capitalist system, but only toward the public exposure of this system’s nature.
Now, before I conclude, I want to emphasize that I am not criticizing all of those who voted for Biden. There are many people and communities which have been directly harmed by Trump’s violent, racist rhetoric. My criticism is not directed toward those individuals or communities, as it is completely understandable why they would want to see Trump removed from office. My indictment is of people of the predominantly white, upper and “middle” classes, many of whom could be described as members the “bourgeoisie” and “petty-bourgeoisie” in Marxist terms. This is a group that faced no significant material change under Trump’s presidency. It is a group whose primary opposition to Trump was directed toward the rhetoric that he used, and not to his policies. It is a group that will emphasize the need to “return to normal” while ignoring the numerous problems that have always plagued American society and the American political system because they did not affect them personally.
Perhaps a Biden presidency will be better than we expect. Perhaps he will experience a massive change of heart and implement numerous progressive domestic and international policy initiatives. Perhaps… but as historical materialists, we mustn’t look to the realm of hopes and dreams — we must look to reality and history as our guide. We must recognize that Biden truly does embody a “return to normal”, and that his presidency will be nothing more than an extension of the centuries of normalized colonial, imperialist, and capitalist policies that have treated Latin America and the entire Global South as nothing more than the United States’ and Europe’s playground.