At the time of writing despite various legal challenges and a lack of a concession by the the incumbent President it appears that Joe Biden has defeated Donald Trump to become President-Elect in what has been an, at times, fitful battle for the presidency which saw certain jurisdictions won by just a handful of votes.
I, like perhaps many on the left, remain unconvinced of the potential of Joe Biden who on many issues appears to be positioned well on the right of the candidates who campaigned for the democratic candidacy, offering instead of a single payer healthcare a public option1 and rather than aiming for the ambitious reforms set forward in the much mooted green new deal, Biden’s plans call for carbon adjustment fees on goods2 which fail to meet emissions target and during the debates failed to clarify on whether he would ban fracking, only for Kamala Harris, his running mate to confirm that fracking would not be banned under a Biden presidency3. In contrast with 2030 zero emission target set out by the IPCC Biden appears to be committed to the much less ambitious target of 20504.
What has also been somewhat dispiriting is that Biden’s victory appears to be being held up as a victory for centrism and a repudiation of the “extremes” by the same liberal commentators who appeared so shocked by Trump initial victory. This, in my opinion is wrong-headed for several reasons. The closeness of the result still reveals a deeply divided nation one still ultimately riven by divides of class, race and gender5. The story of this election in some ways is still being written however perhaps one clear narrative that appears to be emerging is that it was as much a repudiation of Trump’s obvious cruelty, than it was an embrace of lukewarm liberalism with many American’s rejecting the President’s law and order approach to the protests that sprung up in the aftermath of the high-profile murder of several people of colour6.
This does not mean however there are no causes for joy. The cruel rhetoric of the Trump administration in many ways was not as disturbing as the policies which sanctioned horrific abuses of refugees7, attacked the rights of trans* people8, the legal rights of immigrants9 and a degradation of the poor10 appeared to be sanctioned by a significant proportion of the population which granted them, at least to an outside observer, a legitimacy they did not deserve. The groundswell of joy erupting in protests outside of polling centers in this light deserves recognition. The groups partaking in them often, particularly in comparison to the republican rallies, young, disabled, gender non-conforming11 perhaps realizing that whilst their battles are far from over a significant blow has been struck in the repudiation of the bare-faced lies and structural violence of the incumbent president and whilst Joe Biden may not be a savior he does perhaps allow more of a space for struggle and solidarity.
Whilst I’m somewhat reluctant to partake in the politics of spite, I’ll also admit to feeling an element of schadenfreude in observing the reaction from Trump supporters who in the run up to the election often described themselves often as the ‘silent majority’12. This rather than being a reality turned out to be yet another spectacle constructed to give cover to the embrace of a movement that appeared to turn a blind eye to over 230,000 of their fellow Americans dying of a disease their president insisted was an invention of their political opponents13. This schadenfreude does come with a warning however, with many refusing to accept the results the discontent will need to find a resolution and if I were to offer any advice it would be to use this moment to refocus this discontent on the actual targets of what in some cases is rightful not simply, as Tucker Carlson would suggest, merely the elite classes but rather the social and economic structures, incentives and systems that degrade, impoverish and denigrate the lives of so many that live under them.
By coincidence a few days after I started writing this I ended up watching Dave Chapelle’s latest stint on SNL, filmed just after the election. Following a series of jokes around Trump, local politics and COVID he paused for a brief moment of reflection and said the following, which to some extent, police apologism aside touches on much of what I’ve tried to express here. To quote:
I would implore everybody who’s celebrating a day to remember, it’s good to be a humble winner. Remember when I was here four years ago? Remember how bad that felt? Remember that half the country right now still feels that way. Please remember that. Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, that man, they think nobody cares. Maybe they don’t. Let me tell you something. I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels. You’re a police officer. Every time you put your uniform on, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back. You’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have when you would risk your life to save them. Oh, man. Believe me. Believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you. You guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through. You got to find a way to live your life. Got to find a way to forgive each other. Got to find a way to find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling. And if you can’t do that — come get these n*****lessons..