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Indybay Feature
What could change with Biden and Harris?
by Stephanie Odenwald
Thursday Jan 28th, 2021 10:05 AM
The next few years will be all about democracy in the U.S., about the social cohesion of a diverse population, about stopping environmental destruction, and about a successful structural change of the economy that goes hand in hand with the creation of sufficient, well-paid jobs and humane working conditions. The opponents of democracy are waiting in the wings.
What could change with Biden and Harris?
A Change of Course Toward a New Green Deal?
by Stephanie Odenwald
[This article published on Jan 24, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Sozialismus: Kurswechsel in Richtung eines New Green Deal?]

With newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris taking office on January 20, 2021, there are high hopes that rationality will return to American politics.

Will the New Green Deal, proposed by the left wing of the Democratic Party, have a chance to serve as a guide? 1] Whether the hateful actions of Trump supporters can be stopped, and whether a policy to overcome the dangers of the pandemic and the economic crisis, against impoverishment, unemployment, racism, destruction of the environment, towards the ecological reconstruction of the industrial society can be realized, depends not only on the leading persons Biden and Harris.

Even if it depends on their political positioning and readiness for conflict, it also counts whether the social movements for a different policy are strong enough and hegemony can be won for a change of course. It is possible that Trump's would-be coup has caused his insanity to lose supporters and that insightful Republicans and their voters are ready to cooperate with the new administration. Skepticism is appropriate - see the Obama administration with its reform blockade on the part of the Republicans.

Many were alarmed by the fact that the storming of the Capitol could have ended in disaster: Trump's declaration of a national emergency, thereby preventing the appointment of a new president, to the horror of American fascism. The danger has not been eliminated that the U.S. will spiral into violence if right-wing Trump supporters continue to fight the new administration to the death. The level of hatred, lies, incitement is frightening.

The process of detoxification will not be easy. Indeed, it is about overcoming a deeply damaged and divided state of American society. For centuries, it has failed to defeat the virus of racism, which has had a disastrous effect on many people. Slavery was abolished in the United States in the 19th century, but it was never punished as a crime against humanity, let alone compensation was decided for all the deaths and atrocities.

From the time of slavery to the present, it has been about white supremacy, "white supremacy," that is, by implication, the inferiority and subordination of non-whites. This legitimizes the stark inequality of life situations when comparing white and people of color. "Whiteness is more than a skin color; it is a social position, attitudes, and interpretive patterns. White dominance is evident in the consumption of resources, in economic power and financial flows, in the interpretation of conflict, in the writing of history. In all these fields, a new age is dawning. The West no longer determines the order of the world, and we can no longer impose our definitions of progress, development, and feminism on others."[2]

The old order is eroding on both a small and large scale, and this provides fuel for conflict. The fact that there had been a black president for eight years was seen as an extreme affront by the defenders of "white supremacy" and led, among other things, to the emergence of the Tea Party, this ultra-right mass movement. With the insult to Obama, Trump had launched his first election campaign. He denied that Obama was born an American ("birtherism") and continually disparaged him. Obama has responded coolly to the hostility of his opponents. He has been rather restrained on the issue of racial discrimination, as Coates criticizes in his analysis "We Were Eight Years in Power. An American Tragedy."[3] As a "president for all," he wanted to avoid confrontation, to adopt a "color-blind policy," which did not prevent racial conflict from intensifying.

This intensification has to do with the fact that white supremacy is inexorably coming to an end, if only for reasons of population structure. Especially in the big cities, persons of color will predominate in the foreseeable future, as in multicultural New York. So it is advisable not to avoid this confrontation, even if the reckoning with the us typical racist structure and history means a hard conflict, a snub of the mythical narrative of the free world and the greatness of America.

Trump's populist slogan "Make America great again" is a reminiscence of past transfigured times, a road to fiasco. The evocation of an idealized past is what Amos Oz, the Israeli writer and peace activist, calls "reconstruction." The process of reconstruction, he says, prevents realistic effective solutions in political disputes and can become a great danger. "Reconstructionitis, however, is a dangerous disease," Oz formulates.[4]

The myth of the most powerful man in the world

The myth that the American president is the most powerful man in the world, capable of performing miracles of healing in a messianic way, should also be questioned. A former president formulated this in all clarity, namely Henry Truman, first vice president, then successor to President Roosevelt in 1945. Truman, who came from a simple farming background, was interviewed by a journalist for 300 hours after leaving the presidency and asked, among other things, what it felt like to sit in the Oval Office as the most powerful man in the world.

His blunt tomboyish answer: "My goodness, so if there's really a guy sitting in the Oval Office who thinks he's the most powerful man in the world , that guy is in big trouble and with him the whole country and the whole world." Truman continues, "Your only privilege when you're in the Oval Office , is that it's an excellent position to convince people to do things that they know in their deepest hearts they have to do, but they don't feel like doing."[5]

The author quoting him, Amos Oz, considers Truman's words quite brilliant, for neither coercion, ingratiation, nor bribery would characterize good leadership. Rather, he says, it comes down to telling people they have to do something they have long since realized deep in their hearts but don't want to do, such as pay taxes. So much for Amon Oz, who finds this kind of leadership lacking in Israel.

Truman's insight is related to the fact that in the period after the Great Depression, he had seen New Deal policies gain widespread support. There were tough conflicts that could be fought successfully only because the government was not isolated. It was able to rely on the hopes and actions of many people. Can this be transferred to today? What was true then as now is a deep social crisis, which is of course different in 2021 than it was in the 1930s. Still, it is helpful to reflect on why the New Deal was able to succeed.

Roosevelt's New Deal as a Lesson: Courage to Conflict and Broad Support

The experience of the New Deal at the time is a valuable resource for today, as Steffen Lehndorff points out in "New Deal Means Courage to Conflict."[6] What is impressive is how Roosevelt dared to pursue the New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression. This was truly not an easy time, either in the U.S. or around the world. The economy was down, a social tragedy of gigantic proportions that plunged many people into misery. In Europe, fascist forces were gaining strength with global impact.

The core of the New Deal was: a Keynsian program, high public investment with the effect of creating millions of jobs, thus boosting consumption and the general standard of living. Public infrastructure was improved, i.e. electricity, schools, transport and the welfare state were expanded. To finance this, a high level of government debt had to be ventured. There was no elaborate detailed plan behind this, but one thing emerged from another, supported by countless grassroots activities.

This movement to support was crucial. People drew new hopes to get out of their miserable situation. This process should be understood as a dialectical development. The will from above and from below reinforced each other. Roosevelt initially placed a lot of emphasis on the economy, but then noticed the resistance from this side and had the courage to conflict, to push through measures even rejected by the economy, such as minimum wage, limitation of working hours, higher taxation of the rich, and so on. He had, among others, a very energetic labor minister in his government team, Francis Perkins, in the U.S. the first woman in a ministerial office, whose declared goal was to socially transform the world of work, to make a better life possible for all people. Unions became aggressive, grew in membership, organized many strikes. The women's movement was behind the New Deal and actively supported it.

Unlike today, racial conflict was largely taboo during the New Deal period because it was feared that support for reform would fall away in the completely segregated society of the time. White dominance was more or less a given at the time, whether among the elite, middle class, or working class. In the 1960s, the civil rights movement broke this taboo and its famous spokesman, Martin Luther King articulated, "...the evils of racism, economic exploitation and mitlitarism are all tied together....." His demand was "a radical redistribution of economic and political power."[7] This legacy deserves to be taken up today, especially since Vice President Kamala Harris, as a child of color, still experienced the discrimination of segregation against which her parents took to the streets. Also different from then is the aspiration to bridge the gap between social and ecological issues, because environmental problems have now become so existentially urgent.

What are the hopes for the new government?

First and foremost on the agenda is overcoming the pandemic and its consequences. But how to overcome? Will the proposed New Green Deal, with its ecological, economic and social consequences, prove to be a viable path? That is, prevention of climate catastrophe, a livable environment, jobs, social security, a good education and health care system? Will an end to racial conflict and everyday violence, real equality for women be set in motion? The ailing public education system demands reform; among other things, the unspeakably high tuition fees should be abolished, as Kamala Harris expressed. And what about getting away from the world policeman role in foreign policy and the insane spending on it?

The situation has become acute: On the one hand, because of the ecological catastrophes, the pandemic, the immense social tensions and divisions between rich and poor, and also because of the many sources of conflict in foreign policy. China, Korea and Iran are just a few examples. The American peace movement criticizes the gigantic expenditures for military and foreign missions. On top of that, right-wing to fascist forces are trying to gain the upper hand in domestic politics, supported by ultra-conservative media, such as FOX, which recently refused to support Trump. On the other hand, movements such as "Friday for future," the feminist movement, the movement against racism "black lives matter," environmental initiatives, union struggles have strengthened.

The decline of public education has provoked resistance. Unions in the education sector are now the strongest and most willing to strike in the United States. On the occasion of the election, civil mobilization against right-wing populists intensified. This was directed not only against Trump, but also against the Tea Party movement that supports him, as well as against other extreme right-wing violent organizations armed to the teeth.

Recent events have shown how ruthless the right-wing masterminds and their henchmen are. They put democracy at risk, their racist and sexist violence hurts and destroys lives, as does their ignorance of the Corona epidemic and denial of the climate crisis. Pushing back these right-wing forces certainly won't happen overnight in a sweep of the hand; it will take time.

The foreseeable end of centuries of white supremacy is triggering irrational fears, aggression, and harsh confrontations. Any step of change will face enormous opposition. Be it restrictions on gun ownership, be it the elimination of discrimination based on gender and origin, which will be felt in employment, housing and education, be it a humane immigration policy or an end to environmental degradation by imposing clear requirements on business. Last but not least, a tax policy that serves the redistribution from top to bottom as well as the financing of public tasks will meet with resistance.

The next few years will be all about democracy in the U.S., about the social cohesion of a diverse population, about stopping environmental destruction, and about a successful structural change of the economy that goes hand in hand with the creation of sufficient, well-paid jobs and humane working conditions. The opponents of democracy are waiting in the wings and are already speculating on a victory in the next elections.

There is some evidence that a historic situation has now developed in which a New Green Deal could find broad support. The New Green Deal is associated with hopes, especially among young people. They do not want to let the world and their future be destroyed any further, and they know that considerable conflicts will have to be fought out. It is not without reason that Greta Thunberg became a worldwide icon of young people with her school strike against environmental destruction and climate catastrophe.

Another argument in favor of a New Green Deal is the experience that during the pandemic trillions could be raised to support people in need, the unemployed and companies. The dogma of the black zero (zero deficit) has been discredited. The pandemic has shown that a strong state capable of acting is needed to protect people and take effective measures. A strong state, as it is meant here, is by no means in contradiction to a democracy, but its task is to protect social human rights and freedoms. Such a state is, of course, highly controversial, especially in the USA. For many U.S. citizens, a "strong state," or "deep state," is something frightening, a communist threat instead of civilizational progress. It is feared that individual freedom will be undermined.

However, the notion of limitless individual freedom has been disenchanted by the Corona epidemic. The record number of 350,000 people who died of Covid 19 in early 2021 is a stark reminder that individual lives must be protected by fellow human beings, solidarity with one another matters, and responsible government action is required. The experience of the Corona epidemic, whose economic and social consequences are being cushioned by enormous government aid programs, could become a learning process that contradicts the long-standing neoliberal zeitgeist.
Notes
[1] "A motion for expert hearings on the Green New Deal in the Senate failed on March 26, 2019, with Republicans allowing a vote without debate. Fifty-seven of 100 senators voted against it, including all Republicans and three Democrats; the remaining 43 Democrats abstained in protest." From: wikipedia, keyword: New Green Deal USA.
[2] Wiedemann, Charlotte, The Long Goodbye to White Dominance, Munich 2019, p. 10.
[3] Coates, Ta-Nehisi, We Were Eight Years in Power. An American Tragedy, Berlin 2018, first published New York 2017.
[4] Oz, Amon, The Last Lesson. A guide to the future. Berlin 2020, p. 28.
[5] Ibid, p. 52ff.
[6] Lehndorff, Steffen, New Deal Means Courage to Conflict. What we can learn from Roosevelt's reform policies of the 1930s today, Hamburg 2020.
[7] Source: Howard Zinn. A people`s history of the United States, New York 2015, p. 644.

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