Let’s turn away from the grotesque spectacle that is Trumpism and ponder the challenges confronting our new administration. It’s heartening that Joe Biden already has signed a flurry of executive orders addressing some of our most knotty problems — the pandemic, the climate crisis and immigration, for example. It’s a promising start, to be sure. But does the Biden administration have the moral will and political muscle to deliver long-term relief to millions of suffering Americans?
The New York Review of Books raised the question in a lengthy article on Jan.14 entitled “Orthodoxy of the Elites”. A passage from the piece is below. I can’t link you to the entire article, but the Review’s website — nybooks.com — allows access to one complete article for free if you want to read the whole thing.
“The Democratic Party’s turn toward market-driven policies, the bipartisan dismantling of the public sphere, the inflight marriage of Wall Street and Silicon Valley in the cockpit of globalization — these interventions constituted the long con of neoliberal governance, which enriched a small minority of Americans while ravaging most of the rest. [emphasis mine]
“In 2020 the Democrats made little attempt to distance themselves from that calamitous inheritance. As early as 2019, Joe Biden himself made clear to the donor class that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he were elected and reassured the medical-industrial complex by dismissing any discussion of single-payer health care. But he has made no substantial attempt to reassure the millions of Americans who have lost jobs, or homes, or health care in recent months.”
The author, Jackson Lears, clearly fears that the Biden administration will follow the leads of both the Clinton and Obama administrations and not profoundly benefit, through policy, citizens living on the margins of society — the poor, the sick, the weak, the lonely. Electing a Democratic administration has not been sufficient to foster change.
Lears has good reason to be skeptical. Consider:
Who thrived during the last two Democratic administrations?
- Sectors such as banking and financial services, Silicon Valley, the military-industrial complex, and large corporations of all sorts including, notably, oil and gas companies.
- Individuals who populated the top of the economic pyramid — investment bankers, hedge fund moguls, CEOs, board members of large corporations, the investor class writ large.
Who struggled to make ends meet during the last two Democratic administrations?
- The working poor.
- Those without employer-provided health insurance.
- Refugees seeking asylum.
- Undocumented immigrants — no matter how law-abiding, no matter how long they’ve lived here.
- Unemployed and under-employed victims of globalization.
- Non-violent prisoners serving years for minor drug offenses.
Yes, the new Democratic administration has said and done some good things so far. Biden’s three dozen executive orders are commendable first steps for cleaning up the messes Trump left behind. But before celebrating, let’s be sure we don’t settle for less than we should get. We must demand results for those whose very lives and livelihoods depend on it.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of bare minimum accomplishments — actual results the Biden administration must achieve if our country is to take its place among the more compassionate nations. These reforms will help desperate people finally realize the benefits that are supposed to come with living in the United States. They won’t be free, though. There will need to be some cost-cutting where possible – the Defense budget and the billions spent on housing asylum seekers in for-profit prisons come to mind. And there will need to be some revenue raising. Some taxpayers at the top who have seen their rates plummet thanks to Trump’s tax cut bonanza for the wealthy will have to give some of their windfall back. Suffice it to say, this country can easily afford to do the right thing. And here are six “right things” that the Biden administration needs to get done.
1. Increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
2. Return to a humane refugee admission program.
3. Make health care available to all as opposed to rationing it according to wealth.
4. Reverse the Trump administration’s tax cuts for wealthy individuals and thriving corporations.
5. Adopt concrete plans to employ millions by fixing our broken infrastructure and greening our economy.
6. Give settled, non-violent immigrants a path to citizenship
(I didn’t include ending the pandemic because the new administration and the media are all over it, so you don’t need my input.)
Some of these results — I use the word because merely trying isn’t good enough — shouldn’t be difficult to achieve. Biden can take a big step forward in reversing the cruel refugee policy of the Trump/Steven Miller gang without new legislation. That can happen right after the pandemic is reined in. Likewise, there may be bi-partisan support for immigration reform and an environmentally conscious infrastructure bill..
However, the other three results ($15 minimum wage, healthcare for all and reversing Trump’s tax cuts) will face huge opposition from the usual suspects. The new administration will have to hold fast to its mission to get them done. The opposition will scream “socialism.” And because as a country, we’re not sophisticated enough to have an intelligent conversation about the relative merits of different economic choices, we will hear all sorts of draconian predictions about how we’ll turn into Venezuela in no time flat..
We need to understand that socialism and capitalism are general terms for socio-political systems that operate differently in different countries. Right now, Americans practice an extreme and oppressive form of capitalism, one that values corporate profits and wealth accumulation over the common good and creates and tolerates vast inequality of wealth and income. That must change.
I hope that over the next four years the Biden administration will make Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren proud. I really mean it. Those two progressive leaders have laid out repeatedly and eloquently what this country can and should do to lift up the working poor. They aren’t moderate Democrats; they raise the hackles of the donor class — even the Democratic donor class. But maybe we shouldn’t be quite so cozy with the donor class. If that’s the price to pay for universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, so be it.
Putting it another way, I won’t be proud of the Biden administration if it doesn’t raise my taxes.