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In June 2019, Joe Biden promised wealthy so-called donors that nothing would fundamentally change. At this moment hundreds of millions of people — from those shooting off fireworks to those ranting as though they will soon shoot up public places in their MAGA hats — seem convinced that everything will fundamentally change. Biden was wrong. Everybody else is right. Either everything will change for the better or one or both of the twin dangers of environmental and nuclear apocalypse will change everything for the worse.
What should someone who cares about ending war think? How can we get from the euphoria of electing a warmonger to mobilizing people to end war? How should we talk with the people who are celebrating? And how with the people who are outraged?
With those who are celebrating, I see no reason to oppose their joy and happiness. I happen to love joy and happiness, as long as people can work hard while celebrating. The trick is that working hard implies that a holy and infallible emperor has not been enthroned, that something more is needed. The trouble is that lesser evilists upon selecting a lesser evil candidate often adopt the position that their candidate is actually great and glorious, that in fact it’s part of their duty to learn only good bits of information about their chosen one. One thing we could try is reminding people of the wisdom of their lesser evil election choice in a manner that restores to their consciousness exactly how evil was that lesser evil choice, or — even better — exactly how evil is the society that only allows us such choices.
It may help to tamp down the offensiveness of our truth-telling about Biden to speak of representative government, of the goal — if not often the reality — of elected officials moving their positions in response to public demand. It’s our job to move Biden not because he is Biden but because he is president-elect. It would have been our job to move Bernie too.
Before we can talk about any of that, we have to be granted standing, we have to qualify to speak. That requires that we explain to people at some length our awareness of how evil Trump is and how delighted we will be to be rid of him. One reason for this is the common perception that there are two types of being in the universe, Biden backers and Trump backers. Uttering a discouraging word about Biden will instantly transform you into a maskless, mouth-breathing, minion of the Moronic One, unless you’ve prefaced it with numerous basic facts about Trump and your feelings about him. Another reason is that corporate media has sometimes painted Trump as a peacemaker, and peace as a threat to all that is good including, rather strangely, to peace. This logic has made enemies of Trump into fans of NATO, the CIA, foreign bases, and a cold war with Russia, so we have extra motivation to unravel it.
If your record is anything like mine, you should be able to succeed in gaining standing. I worked for Trump’s impeachment for numerous clear-cut offenses since before his inauguration. I’m now pushing to see him prosecuted for those political offenses that have also been criminal, which appear to include incitement of violence, violation of immigration laws, election fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, refusal to comply with subpoenas, proliferation of nuclear technology, illegal departure from the INF treaty, and of course various wars, coups, and murders by missile. Trump spent four years creating (along with Congress) record military spending, record drone killings, escalation of numerous wars, major base construction, major nuclear weapons construction (and threats to use them), unprecedented shredding of disarmament treaties, heightened hostility with Russia, more weapons in Europe, more weapons on Russia’s border, larger war rehearsals in Europe than seen in decades, record weapons dealing around the globe, greater military spending and investment in NATO by its members, and — of course — no end to the war on Afghanistan that Trump promised to end 4 years ago, or to any other war.
The media-induced specter of Trump withdrawing all troops from Europe and disbanding NATO and ending the war on Afghanistan was a fantasy we should all have supported if real. Trump the peacemaker and Biden the socialist were the best candidates in the recent election, but they were 95% fictional. Still, the lack of any major new war in the past 4 years is huge, unprecedented, and a trend we desperately need to continue — which might be easier if we are aware of it.
So, hip hip hurray, the witch is dead, the prize is won. Why would we now want to stomp on people’s joy? Do wars and wildfires and floods and lack of basic resources not stomp on people’s joy a hell of a lot more than honest assessments of what needs doing? Can we not apply a little lesser evilism to that choice? Aren’t we allowed to speak, having qualified ourselves as anti-MAGA-ites?
But what can we say to our MAGA-hatted brothers and sisters? I think we can stand on our record if it’s a fair one. When Trump stopped threatening to nuke North Korea and proposed to speak with its leader, but Democrats freaked out and worked to forbid any U.S. troop ever leaving South Korea, some of us denounced the Democrats for that. Same on troops in Germany. If we can show that we’ve been for peace regardless of party or politician, and for peaceful actions regardless of insane rhetoric and motivations, we may get farther. Most importantly, we should remain respectful and open to collaboration, but not imagine that we need to win over 100% of the public. Winning over a majority for peace is not hard at all. Mobilizing a good fraction of that majority to engage in the necessary activism to make it happen — that’s the trick. Biden Republicans seem to be little more real than unicorns. Trump won more of the Republicans in 2020 than in 2016. And if Biden Republicans existed, they probably wouldn’t be leading peace activism.
A basic fact that we need to figure out how to turn to our advantage is that all questions of foreign policy, federal budget, weapons, bases, wars, treaties, and international law are virtually absent from most elections. The country has not just suffered through a bitter years-long disagreement over war and peace, but rather one over the other 40% of the federal discretionary budget that pays for everything else, and more than that over cultural differences that only marginally impact on policy. Like most Democrats running for public office, Biden had a website with lots of issue statements but no foreign policy. He formed several policy task forces, but none on foreign policy. To my knowledge, no candidate in history for president or Congress, with the exception (so I’m told though nobody has produced proof) of Jesse Jackson Sr., has every proposed even an approximate federal budget. So, people didn’t vote against or for Trump principally because of his foreign policy. And people certainly didn’t vote for or against Biden because of his.
Beyond Biden’s absent foreign policy there’s his record. He was the most important Congressional backer of the war on Iraq. The Democrats controlled the Senate. He controlled the hearings. He pushed every lie. He defended those lies long afterwards. He now lies about all that. He’s been an advocate for war for decades. The weapons dealers put more money into him than into Trump, and now publicly proclaim they have nothing to worry about. Based on past behavior and recent statements, we can expect Biden, if left to his own devices, to reclaim the military spending record from Trump or come close to it, to end no wars, to close no bases, to continue to increase the use of murderous drones, to continue to increase the use of secret agencies and special forces, and to continue the increased sales of weapons to horrible governments all over the world.
Some of these things require Congress. Some of them it would only take one chamber of Congress to prevent. If the House alone refused to pass a military budget that wasn’t reduced by 50 or 10 or 1 percent, then such a budget wouldn’t be passed.
Importantly, when two candidates for an office are both pretty bad, they aren’t actually identical in every way. Where Biden has said anything positive, even if he’s tried to hedge on it, we need to hold him at his word. This means that we need to do the following:
We need to demand that Biden come through on restoring better relations with Cuba and move beyond that to ending the brutal blockade of that island.
We need to demand that Biden come through on ending U.S. participation in the war on Yemen — something already passed by Congress but vetoed by Trump. We need to build on that to a repeal of the AUMF, a restoration of the power of war to Congress, and beyond that the effective incorporation into U.S. politics of the criminality of war — which denies the power of war to anybody, including Congress.
This will mean dropping all vindictive measures against officials of the International Criminal Court, supporting the ICC’s investigation of the war on Afghanistan, and encouraging that court to end its practice of prosecuting only Africans.
We need to demand that Biden come through on ending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, something already passed by Congress but vetoed by Trump. Then we need to extend that model to an end in weapons sales and gifts to oppressive governments the world over, including Ukraine (which could boost Biden’s anti-corruption credentials and be labeled the restoration of the Obama-era policy). In general, the decades-long bipartisan practice of arming the world and both sides of most wars should be something we can tackle without any partisan rancor. It should lead into a program of economic conversion, and — for that matter — a Green New Deal with actual funding in it.
We need to demand that Biden come through on ending the war on Afghanistan. Both candidates promised this. One of them was promising it for the second time. The media could hardly have cared less, few took it seriously, and both candidates hedged and fudged and wobbled. But we need to hold Biden to it. We can remind him how much love Obama got just for pretending to do it.
We need to celebrate bringing troops home from places like Afghanistan — and if possible Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, etc. And we need to raise the question of keeping troops in South Korea against the will of South Korea (not to mention the bipartisan bill in Congress that would finally end the Korean War), keeping troops in Iraq against the will of Iraq, and so on around the world. With all the spirit of even-a-stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day, we need to pick up Trump’s proposal to pull some troops out of Germany, drop the insane notion that to do so is to punish Germany, end the warmongering policy of finding somewhere else to send them, and try asking what the people of Germany and the world and the United States want and need.
We need to hold Biden to re-joining the Iran agreement, and demand U.S. compliance with it, demand an end to murderous sanctions, demand a halt to all the hostility, celebrate not an era of “holding Iran accountable,” but one of ceasing to threaten Iran with war.
We need to insist on an era of re-joining treaties that Trump claimed to shred, most importantly disarmament treaties with Russia. New Start expires on February 5th.
Decreasing the risk of nuclear apocalypse needs to replace increasing it as the proper good humanitarian position, putting the insanity of Russiagate behind us. Globally we need to be working toward the day that all nations join the new treaty on the prohibition of nukes. Locally we can do this through divestment and education.
We need to hold Biden to re-joining the Paris agreement and immediately push beyond that for a serious green new deal as well as a serious pandemic response as well as a serious jobs program, all of which work together very well, and hardly work at all separately or separate from taxing the rich, and certainly not separate from moving funding out of the military.
The Green New Deal is the greatest opportunity to move money out of militarism. Moving money out of militarism is the greatest opportunity for a successful Green New Deal.
But shouldn’t everyone get a day or a week or a month to celebrate and bask? Sure. Ya ’bout done now? The corporate lobbyists are lining up the new cabinet as we speak or fail to. The newspapers are running stories on how confident the weapons dealers are in their rising fortunes — and no stories on what proponents of peace think of anything. Yet it’s our side that’s supposed to pause and have a drink or three? We just dumped perhaps $14 billion into elections. I think we got three new clearly antiwar Congress members, bringing the total to 15 or so, out of 535. In a few weeks, on Giving Tuesday, people will donate perhaps $60 million to good (and not so good) causes. These priorities are upside down!
It is activism that changes the world — and the elections. It was BLM activism — not electoral tokenism — that pushed racism back another step, and registered huge numbers of new voters. Now elections in Georgia are going to continue to suck out all energy and resources.
The Senate excuse matters, no doubt. Whether you’re convinced that Biden actually wants the Senate excuse (as a basis for failing on all things progressive) or longs to remove it, it matters. But it also matters that the course the Democrats are on will cost them more seats in two years and likely install another Trump in four or eight. If anything, this is a moment in which we should all publicly commit to conditions on future lesser evilism. Two, four, six, and eight years hence, we will only support candidates who are dedicated to taxing the rich and the corporations, demilitarizing, investing in a major Green New Deal, establishing Medicare for All, making college public, and ending mass incarceration. If you want our support, you’ve got until your election to evolve. If you don’t, forget it. We have no time left to waste before insisting on the greater good.