Don't Make Your Voters Step Over Dead Bodies
Joe Biden's own recklessness is risking a return of Trump.
The biggest barrier to honest political analysis—one that the press and voters alike are susceptible to—is the natural tendency to hold our allies to different standards than our enemies. Most of us are inclined to view an action more favorably when it is done by someone from our political party of choice than when it is done by someone from the party we despise, even if the action is the same. Because the point of politics is the stuff that politicians do rather than politicians themselves, this tendency diminishes our ability to accurately assess how well elected leaders are doing their jobs. Avoiding this analytical pitfall means always trying to judge political actions by their substance, by their consequences in the world, rather than just by who is doing them. But it’s hard. It doesn’t happen automatically. We are obliged to expend some mental energy to ensure that we don’t replace critical thought with that easy shortcut.
Here is a little test of this point: Remember when Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose voters”? That was interpreted by those of us who dislike Trump as a shocking statement about his hypnotized fan base—a group of voters so worshipful and in thrall to his cult of personality that they would not even reassess their support if their candidate killed someone. What a pathetic, brainwashed crew! We tut-tutted in disgust.
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Joe Biden has directly facilitated, and is continuing to facilitate, the violent deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza. These deaths, or most of them at least, would not have occurred without Joe Biden’s direct support, both politically, diplomatically, and in the form of arms and military aid. It has, for the past two months, been fully within Joe Biden’s power to bring this slaughter to an end. Israel’s political and military leaders, from Netanyahu on down, have publicly acknowledged the absolute necessity of U.S. support for Israel’s ability to continue carrying out its brutal bombing campaign in Gaza. The Biden administration may not shrug or plead ignorance or claim that they are not responsible. Their leverage over Israel’s actions is, in practical terms, absolute. Joe Biden bears responsibility for what is happening, and what continues to happen every day there. It is a policy choice. It is, on balance, his preference. When American diplomats say that they wish that fewer civilians were being killed, it means nothing; unstated is the fact that the civilian death toll has not yet risen to the level that would make the US government decide that things had gone too far. What has happened so far in Gaza is, in the judgment of Joe Biden, acceptable. Though it is difficult now to keep a daily tally of deaths, we know that thousands of Palestinian children have been killed by Israel so far.
If you are opposed to a president who shoots one person in the middle of Fifth Avenue, how do you feel about a president who facilitates the violent deaths of six or eight or ten thousand children? I imagine that such a line of children would stretch for miles up Fifth Avenue. Joe Biden could calmly walk down each block, shooting one child after another in the head, his body count far exceeding Trump’s little daydream. This is a grotesque vision to imagine. But it is, effectively, what Joe Biden has done with his policy choices. Thousands of dead children—crushed, maimed, blown up with bombs that we provided. Joe Biden did that. He did not have to shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue. The deaths are his just the same. Whenever you hear people talk about how politically difficult the situation in the Middle East is, how difficult a position Biden has been placed in, ask yourself: Is Joe Biden in a more difficult position than a five year old child who has just had a 2000-pound bomb dropped on her head? Would telling our political ally that it must stop bombing civilians require more courage than it takes for an exhausted doctor in a hospital in Gaza to amputate the limbs of screaming children with no anesthetic? No? Then we are seeing an awful example of political cowardice in action. To make excuses for it is an insult to all of those dead kids. And all of those who die each day that this goes on.
Yesterday, Axios ran an anonymously-sourced preview listing who Donald Trump might be considering as his cabinet choices. With the caveat that these things are impossible to verify, the suggestions are plausible enough: Stephen Miller as attorney general carrying out Nazi-style immigration crackdowns, Kash Patel as CIA director ordering investigations into Trump’s enemies, Steven Bannon as chief of staff encouraging his boss to lean into the most vile right wing fever dreams. All in all, a terrible prospect. There is no doubt that Trump is an aspiring dictator, that his second term would be far worse than his first, and that he would staff the entire federal government with loyalists who would not stand in the way of his worst impulses. Truly, something for all of us to fear.
So here is my question for Joe Biden, the one man who has been anointed to save America from the terrifying notion of another Trump administration: Why have you decided to force American voters who do not want a fascist president to step over the bodies of thousands of dead civilians in order to vote for you? Why? What are you thinking? The Biden administration itself is subjecting all of us to this blood-soaked political kabuki, in which we are all supposed to grin tightly and talk about the CHIPS Act and investment in green energy and studiously ignore the thousands of dead children strewn all around us. It is as if the night before a big game, the New York Yankees went out and shot up an elementary school, and then turned to their fans and shrugged, “What are you gonna do—cheer for the Red Sox?”
Joe Biden, and his administration, and by extension the Democratic Party are responsible for this. The Republicans are not responsible for this. And, even moreso, the voters are not responsible for this. The impulse, which political pundits seem addicted to, to breezily wave this all away by saying “well Trump would be worse” is an utterly insufficient response, one that bizarrely exempts the most powerful man in the world from the full responsibility of his own decisions. The only reasonable way to view what is happening now is to understand that Joe Biden has decided that Israel’s ability to blow up thousands of civilians in Gaza is important enough to risk giving us all another Trump administration. He has decided that forcing everyone to step over all of those dead bodies on the way to the voting booth is acceptable. That is his own political calculation. That—and its consequences—are on him.
We already know that countless thousands of Muslim voters in swing states will not vote for Biden now. (And understandably so. If I murdered your family members and then demanded that you vote for me because I am better than the other guy, would you find that persuasive?) We know that millions of young voters are now disgusted by the prospect of voting for Biden. It is a certainty that the Democratic National Convention, which happens next August in Chicago, will be the scene of vicious street protests rather than a tableau of party unity. In today’s America, where the red-and-blue party divide is so sharp, presidential elections are largely a function of voter enthusiasm. The side with more enthusiasm has more voter turnout, and the side where voters on the margins feel less enthusiastic has lower turnout, and loses. Divided parties are weak. Which party do you think is more divided now? This is the problem. The staggering irresponsibility of the Biden administration to risk what everyone agrees is a threat to our very democracy in order to prop up a humanitarian slaughter boggles the mind.
Which of these paths seems more reasonable: That voters who care about labor rights and abortion rights and racial equality and climate change be told that, in order to get their preference on those issues, they must agree to the violent deaths of thousands of civilians; or, alternately, that the much smaller faction of voters who are hard-liners on Israel and do not care about civilian deaths be told that, for the sake of labor rights and abortion rights and racial equality and climate change and protecting our very democracy, they are going to have to accept that America is no longer going to facilitate this murderous military campaign? Because that, in essence, is where we are. Everyone in America to the left of Donald Trump is being force-fed a diet of death and told that we must swallow it because the alternative is worse. It is insane. Instead of lecturing voters not to complain about this state of affairs, the entire political universe should be applying pressure to the Biden administration to change course before it’s too late. You will have to forgive all the dead children if they don’t have enough sympathy for the White House’s tough political predicament.
I had a piece in The Guardian this week about the impressive ambition of the UAW’s organizing plans; I also appeared on The Rick Smith Show to talk about the same stuff. There are reasons to be genuinely excited about where the labor movement is today. A Trump win would make progress on that front much harder, which reinforces the point I made in the piece above. Rather than trying to ignore Gaza, unions should be working overtime to use their influence to get Biden to stop fucking up. (Some have, but not most.)
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