Vijay Prashad: How seriously will Biden take ‘the squad’?

  • In this file photo, House Oversight and Reform Committee members, from left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listen during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, in February 2019. AP

Published: 11/9/2020 12:51:08 PM

Donald Trump has lost the election. A weight seems to have lifted off the planet. Browsers were being refreshed from Bangkok to Santiago, as people who had no vote in the United States presidential election of 2020 looked eagerly for confirmation that the man had been defeated.

To those of us on the left who remember these things, the news that Trump had lost came on the anniversary of the October Revolution in 1917, when people began to take to the streets to bang pots and carry homemade signs in certain parts of the United States. It had the feeling of a revolution, although most people recognize that this is not the end of an era but only half-time.

Trump lost, but he also gained at least 70 million votes and won a considerable swath of the country. Biden didn’t exactly win by a landslide, and his victory should not affirm confidence in a system that requires serious open-heart surgery. Questions are once more on the table about the Electoral College and voter suppression. When you see a doctor, you don’t want the doctor to use an 18th-century medical manual to guide the treatment, so why would you want to use an 18th-century political manual to guide the affairs of a country in the 21st century?

Bipartisanship canmean surrender

Those 70 million voters? If Trump had prevailed, he would not have cared one bit for the political sensibility of the more than 75 million people who voted for Joe Biden. Trump would have taken any victory as a mandate and governed from the standpoint of money, military and moralism. The Democrats are a funny breed. They have none of the fire of the far right, which only talks about bipartisanship when it suits them. Biden is already on track to “bring the country together,” which means to adopt parts of the right-wing agenda, to bring Republicans into his administration and to distance himself from the authentic left that has been growing in the Democratic Party (shaped around “the squad” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, now with the addition of Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush and Marie Newman).

Cori Bush, a leader from the protest movement in St. Louis, was on Michelle Martin’s show on NPR and was asked if the left — people like her — had cost Democratic moderates their seats. Martin was channeling Biden’s surrogate, the Republican leader John Kasich, who will likely be in Biden’s cabinet, and who recently said that “the Democrats have to make it clear to the far left that they almost cost him the election.” Bush answered, “I call bull on that because the thing is, we were elected to represent our people, to represent what is needed in our communities.”

When does a Democratic administration come out and fight boldly for a Democratic platform that represents the very people who elect them to office? Why do Democrats come to power thanks to the efforts of working-class people — the focus on Black women is appropriate — and then hand over the reins of power to bankers and Republicans in the name of conciliation? It tells you a lot that the Republicans went all out to block Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, months before Obama left office, but the Democrats put up no resistance to the nomination and eventual seating of Amy Coney Barrett — Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment — to the court.

The haste with which the Democratic Party surrenders the hopes of its own base once it takes office is ghastly. Biden will immediately do several sensible things — return to the WHO, return to the Paris deal, return to the Iran deal, cut the Muslim Ban, revive DACA. But he is on track to abandon the issues that are so central to the Democratic base — notably to fight for a higher minimum wage, to fight for a proper distribution of income, to fight for less military spending and for more spending on health, education and elder care. The squad will be kept at arm’s length, whereas the “moderate” Republicans will be taken seriously.

Take one example: the squad’s People’s Housing Program, seven laws that frontally challenge a culture that allows homelessness to be normal. These laws would enhance funding for public housing, replace the business-friendly Opportunity Zone program with a Community Benefits Fund, increase funding for medical and mental health treatment in the Housing is a Human Rights Act and constrain real estate speculation. This program speaks directly to the base that came out bravely to vote out Donald Trump.

As a gesture to exorcise the presence of Trump — the real estate speculator — from the White House, a Biden administration could burn the incense of this program from the United States Capitol to the Oval Office.

Vijay Prashad is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the author of “Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations” (Monthly Review Press, 2020). He lives in Northampton.
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