What could possibly be more tragically fitting a metaphor for the fall of the American Empire than the election of a man who seems to be falling apart himself? A man, who, during the renaming of swimming pool, recounted in full the dreamlike tale of him fending off a gang leader by the name of “Corn Pop” with a razor blade. It reeks of fatalistic symbolism. Here president Biden is grasping onto a glorious story from his youth in much the same way that, after the Trump years, the United States is grasping onto any glory it once had.
From the outset, there was nothing inspiring about Joseph Robinette’s story. A politician as establishment as it is possible to be, most Europeans recognise him as that guy who was friends with Obama. A forgettable campaign secured the office for him against an opponent who had never won a popular vote to begin with. It is an amazing critique of the two-party system, that the world’s oldest man can stumble up onto the debate stage and simply declare that “I’m not that other guy” and win. (Good luck Starmer!).
We all now sit here with mouths agape, wondering how we’ve let another year pass us by. The beginning of 2022 concludes Biden’s first year in office, and it thus falls to yours truly to give a neat summary of it all. And sure, the man has done a lot of good which defied expectations of the American progressive camp, but, as someone who will not be affected by new infrastructure being built in Nebraska, I think it is more appropriate to focus on a few of the events that have left their mark on his term so far.
Things got off to a farcical start when incensed Trump supporters “stormed” the Capitol Building on the 6th of January. A bizarre spectacle that somehow escaped the knowledge of any domestic intelligence agency – makes you wonder what everyone’s emails and texts are being read for. But this “insurrection” did not have that revolutionary elan found in revolts that achieve anything. This is mainly because it was not an insurrection. Can we really pretend that a couple of thousand people wandering around the Capital was a serious threat to democracy? Yes, it was horrible for those few who lost their lives, but the official story does not make any sense. Images of stereotypical Trump-supporting Americans traipsing about aimlessly as if on some kind of xenophobically-charged field trip somehow fails to incite any existential fear. As an outside observer, it all seemed like an unnecessarily hyped event. This narrative that America is on the cusp of a civil war falls apart quickly when, as we saw, even the most fervent partisans forget to bring their guns to the revolution. A year has passed. The official memory of the event has been used to provide an incredible foundational myth for the Biden story, namely that he is some stalwart defender of democracy. Does that have any truth to it? Perhaps it does, but only because he has the air of being more truthful and respectful towards democracy than his predecessor, not because of January 6th.
In the late summer of 2021, US troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan after twenty years of presence in the country, fulfilling a long-term commitment of the new President. It was the immediate collapse of the US-backed government and swift Taliban takeover that made us realise that even after all this time, two trillion dollars and, sadly, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, nothing had been achieved. It is a startling but worthwhile exercise to look up old headlines related to the war and see how many contain the words “drone strike” and “civilians” and “killed”. Biden was stubborn in his defence of the hasty withdrawal in front of commentators who decried the move. These opponents demanded that the women and children of Afghanistan be protected at any cost, as if that had ever been a priority of the US army. However, if you unfortunately saw your Lockheed Martin stock drop after the retreat, do not fear! The military-industrial underbelly of the American Empire will undoubtedly continue to be profitable by opening up new conflicts somewhere else. Ukraine is looking delicious but a new cold war with China could be fun too. Biden may be blue but, on this front, do not expect anything new.
Kamala Harris, who, if you didn’t know or had perhaps forgotten is the Vice President, has absolutely tanked in her approval ratings. Labelled “the incredible disappearing Veep”, Harris, who started her term shadowing Biden at every official event, has become harder to spot nowadays. Rumours of bitterness between her office and that of the President’s have been widespread. Some in Harris’ circle believe that she is being side-lined as Biden’s team prepares their 2024 bid. I am going to make the claim that this is probably true, my evidence being that the first policy over which Harris was given control was that of immigration, specifically the southern border. A sage move by the President, to offload on Harris a seriously challenging and heavily mediatised domain of governance to distance himself from the whole issue. She may have subsequently failed to show strong leadership or direction over this issue, but who can blame her? We also thought that Biden would be dead by now and she would be beyond all of this.
Let us now look to the future, something that Biden may be reluctant to do. Quickly approaching are a set of vital midterms wherein the loss of a few Democratic senators would lead to a Republican-controlled senate, stymying further Biden’s already weak ability to pass legislation. His falling popularity has room to fall further if he is to bungle the current inflation crisis and his response to Russia – just as he was perceived to have botched the Afghanistan withdrawal. A concerted effort by Republicans to attack Biden over rising gas prices could have a serious effect upon his electability, especially among car-dependent suburbanites whose votes were pivotal in 2020.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the man from Scranton, however. Politically speaking, 2024 is very far away and Biden does have some notable achievements to pride himself over, such as his COVID recovery and infrastructure bills. He may have also just been given respite from the wave of bad news with the announcement of Justice Breyer’s retirement from the Supreme Court. A new nomination would allow Biden to positively influence the headlines once again and momentarily distract American people from his half-delivered election promises and media gaffes.
However, there are greater threats to come which are to challenge the Leader of the Free World. A rampantly ascending China, rising sea levels and a wealth gap (more of a chasm) mean Joe Biden may become either the guardian or the pallbearer of what we know as the United States today. A world without this form of western hegemony is an uncertain place but will definitely be interesting to write about. So, see you next year.
Image courtesy of The White House via Wikimedia Commons