As the brash, Trumpian brand of politics bloviates its way through the remainder of the year, the world is preparing to get reacquainted with a more familiar style of rule in the incoming Biden administration. Make no mistake: while the in-your-face moral depravity of people like Mike Pompeo and Elliot Abrams will not be missed, they are going to be replaced by the slick smiles and silver tongues of established liberal war hawks, humanitarian interventionists, and quietly shady defense sector executives.
Many liberals and even leftists are welcoming the arrival of a more tactful imperial court, but the Biden White House will glut itself on the blood of innocents around the world just as much as Trump’s did. The individuals at the center of speculation around the president-elect’s cabinet picks are evidence of this fact.
Let’s start with the State Department. Susan Rice has been floated as a potential shoo-in for the position of Secretary of State. Progressives rejoice: a woman of colour may be the face of America on the world stage again! Hold fast on that. In addition to having millions of dollars invested in oil production—including with TransCanada, the company behind the potentially catastrophic Keystone XL pipeline—she is just as violently militaristic as some of the most vulgar Trump toadies, and will likely continue many of the previous administration’s most destructive foreign policy strategies. Just look at Libya. Along with Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, Rice aggressively pursued NATO bombing in 2011 against internal opposition from some factions within Obama’s White House, propagating lies in order to create a casus belli for humanitarian intervention and subsequently sending that country hurtling into an almost decade-long inferno of suffering.
It is worth noting that it was during Rice’s tenure as National Security Advisor that the US committed $38 billion in military aid to Israel over a ten-year period, a deal which represented “the single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.” Does anyone actually think she would walk back America’s thuggish (to use the US’s favoured word for non-subservient leaders around the world) protection of apartheid in the Middle East?
In her remarks at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in June 2016, she described the relationship between Israel and the US as an “ironclad bond” and asserted that “for four and a half years at the UN, I did battle every day to defend Israel… I was proud to lead that fight… Moreover, when Israel’s adversaries seek to isolate and boycott Israel economically, we forcefully combat these efforts.” In truth, the entire speech is one of the most cloying, obsequious celebrations of the “ironclad bond” that one would ever read. It is genuinely Trumpian in character. Read it on an empty stomach.
Other ‘Blob’ monsters in the running for important State Department positions are:
- Antony Blinken, a former Obama official and a founder of WestExec Advisors, is widely expected to get a key foreign policy role. WestExec is an opaque “strategic advisory firm” whose purpose has been described as “selling influence and connections” acquired by its founders while they were in government. An attempt to parse the unbearably dense Washington-ese of the company’s website led this writer to the brink of mental disintegration.
- Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a notorious friend of Republicans in Congress who has been called “the GOP’s favorite Democrat.”
- Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. About as “progressive” as Biden is willing to go, Murphy has called for a re-evaluation of US-Saudi relations but praised the Trump administration’s efforts to normalize Israel-UAE relations. When Israel banned Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting the country, Murphy offered some paltry criticism while assuring his followers that “I don’t like the way these members often talk about Israel.” Unsurprisingly, he is also one of the Democrats’ many self-described “progressives” who refuse to support Medicare for All.
- William Joseph Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy secretary of state. He was speculated to be one of Hillary Clinton’s choices for Secretary of State in 2016.
As for the Defense Department, Biden’s top pick is reputed to be Michele Flournoy, who co-founded WestExec Advisors with Tony Blinken (shocker). She helped Obama craft his Afghanistan policy, which saw a huge increase of violence in the country, and recently penned an op-ed calling for the US to maintain its confrontational military stance in the South China Sea. Activists have reasonably expressed concern that she will continue or even expand Trump’s aggressive military policies in certain parts of the world. A recent Nation of Change article appropriately speculated that if Flournoy is named Secretary of Defense, she will become an American “angel of death,” continuing America’s suicidal military spending with all its accompanying pollution while imposing miserable living conditions on millions around the world (as well as an increasing number of lower-income individuals within the US itself).
To be sure, Biden’s election is not a victory for progressivism. What it represents is a new chapter in the infighting between certain camps within the American ruling class, most of which had galvanized in recent years in support of or in opposition to Donald Trump. There will be no serious dialogue around issues like Medicare for All, police divestment, the abolition of ICE, wealth redistribution, or military disengagement around the globe. The Biden administration’s only response to progressive demands will be “at least we aren’t Trump.”
Over the course of this year’s presidential campaign, I often found myself contemplating David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome. The movie is about the insidious role of television media in reforming peoples’ relationship to reality. The eponymous TV channel at the center of the film offers the continuous gratification of its viewers’ basest impulses while slowly severing them from the material world in which they live (I needn’t name the networks I have in mind). As the character of Brian O’Blivion states, this creates a world in which “television is reality, and reality is less than television.” He continues:
The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.
In the absence of political debate around material redistribution, partisan disagreements have become pure theater. The political and economic realities which have ensnared so many Americans are, in actuality, less than television. Celebrations around Biden’s victory have therefore made me feel like I inhabit a slightly less horrific version of Cronenberg’s film. The spectacular schadenfreude of Trump’s loss has provided enough of a visceral vindication for so many people that they are now willing to disengage from broader analyses of America’s bipartisan meat grinder of endless war.
The truth is, Biden offers nothing beyond this visceral vindication. A quick overview of his potential foreign policy picks confirms that there will be a continuity of right-wing economic and military policy under his administration, and a total commitment to the old brand of awful that reigned in pre-Trump America. Biden’s campaign slogan might as well have been Death to MAGA! Long live the old flesh!
Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. His areas of interest include post-colonialism and the human impact of the global neoliberal economy.