No respite with Joe Biden

15 November, 2020

We are living in a time of media bombardment in the United States. We are told that the election of Joe Biden is a return to normalcy, that it will save the soul of America and allow it to heal. We are told amidst hiccups and tears that the American people are sighing for relief.

And amidst excited babbling they claim that the election result holds special meaning for black voters who, according to them, brought Joe Biden to victory.

As the story seems set to become official, the disastrous effects of the pandemic are blamed not only on Trump’s mismanagement, but also on his lack of empathy. Biden, on the other hand, we are assured, is an empathetic man who will take charge of the pandemic and the needs of the American population, supporting the middle class, bringing justice to minorities, and protecting the health and living conditions of workers.

Will the Democrats bring an end to precariousness and austerity?

The standard of living of the average American needs to fall [to counteract inflation]. I don’t think there is any escape from that.

Paul A. Volcker

A cursory look at the policies of past Democratic administrations makes it clear that the Democratic Party is no less committed to precarization than the Republican Party since Jimmy Carter’s days.

Paul Volcker, a Democrat who was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board during the Carter presidency, was one of the first to praise Ronald Reagan for taking a strong stand against workers’ strikes.

Just after taking office, he appointed a bipartisan deficit commission (the National Fiscal Responsibility Commission) filled with deficit hawks and co-chaired by Social Security “reformers” Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. This commission, as expected, issued a report in December 2010 calling for raising the age of eligibility for Social Security, reducing the increase in Social Security benefits based on the cost of living, and, less predictably but outrageously, reducing personal and corporate tax rates for higher level groups. Even more ominously, Obama appointed a Rubin and Summers protégé, Timothy Geithner, as Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, had led the rescue of the big Wall Street banks during the subprime crisis and the panic in the financial markets in 2008.

The difference between Democrats and Republicans never revolved around whether to precarize workers’ lives or not. Precarization was a shared goal… the difference lay in the Republicans’ strong opposition to tax increases on the large fortunes of the ruling class and corporations. The Democrats, on the other hand, were willing to increase taxes for the capitalists, although not by much, while continuing to impose measures which increased the exploitation of workers in order to revive the economy, that is, capital accumulation.

The way to enforce it was to put the focus on the deficit of the federal accounts and introduce generalized automatic cuts that would make up for any shortfall if new taxes were not to be approved.

If Congress were unable to come up with a bipartisan plan to reduce the budget deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years – including the $2.5 trillion already agreed upon – then about $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary, across-the-board cuts would take effect in FY 2013. Obama bet that the draconian consequences of inaction would persuade Republicans to accept the tax increases he suggested as part of a bipartisan deficit reduction plan. But he misjudged their anti-tax fervor. No agreement was reached, and the automatic cuts began.

Thus, public spending, including Medicare, would be cut by 10% from 2013 to 2021. It is within this context that we must understand what ObamaCare was.

U.S. cities and states are considering withdrawing their retirees, and in some cases their active employees, from city-funded benefits. Neil Bomberg, program director of the National League of Cities, said in an interview with Bloomberg News, “Cities and towns will be looking at ways to reduce those costs, and [Obamacare] exchanges can provide a very viable mechanism. Washington state is considering sending its entire active workforce to Obamacare exchanges.

That is, Obamacare, although touted as an egalitarian way to help uninsured workers, is designed to extract an amount greater than the cost of their health care from the workers.

Most U.S. workers were covered by company insurance, which is cheaper for workers than private insurance plans. Obamacare’s goal was to get more workers into private insurance plans.

Health care coverage for their employees will no longer be the accepted norm for large and medium-sized businesses. Instead, workers will be left to their own devices, forced to face giant health insurance companies as individuals, with minimal subsidies from the government or their private employers who will do little to offset the huge increases in premiums, co-payments, and deductibles. In essence, a voucher system is being instituted, and the principle will inevitably extend to Medicare and Medicaid, the government’s health programs for retirees and the poor, respectively. This will provide the means to privatize and dismantle these basic social programs.

Will the Biden government be different from the government in which Biden was vice president?

There seems to be no doubt that Biden’s lukewarm election promises about austerity will not be fulfilled.

The Wall Street Journal reassured its readers by turning to one of Biden’s closest politicians, who expressed himself in quite clear terms:

Former Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman, a Biden henchman who succeeded him in the Senate, predicted during a live Wall Street Journal interview Tuesday that a large increase in federal spending by 2021 would be difficult to achieve.

“When we go in, the pantry will be empty,” said Mr. Kaufman, who leads Mr. Biden’s transition team. “When they see what Trump has done with the deficit… forget about Covid-19, all the deficits he built up with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited”.

This automatically brings us back to the Obama administration and its deficit reduction policies at the expense of workers. In fact, they are already preparing excuses. Not surprisingly, a likely Republican majority in the Senate and a narrow Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will prevent Biden from advancing his so-called progressive agenda. Of course, it would not be the first time a politician made a promise that never intended to keep.

But, most importantly, it is not about that. Even if progressive legislation were passed, we would not be any closer to a world guided by human needs. It would only change the way in which we are sacrificed to increase the profitability of capital investments.

It is for capital that the Democrats and Biden reserve the best of their celebrated empathy. Just look at the vaunted expert group with which Biden pretends to be on the move against Covid. There was also a nice malthusian who considers that living over 75 years is an aberration… to be avoided. With such experts, it is not surprising that instead of lockdowns and school closures the battle against Covid is reduced to projecting a lot of empathy, tracers -useless when there is community transmission- and the recommendation to buy masks.

What are the Democrats playing at?

Neither is it a matter of Democratic or Republican majorities. Despite all the rhetoric, Republicans are the Democrats’ antithesis. In fact, Biden and the Democratic Party would be in an advantageous position when facing a Republican majority in the Senate

Consider the alternative. Biden is the president while his old friend McConnell is the Senate majority leader… Biden can credibly make the case that there is no point in pushing certain legislation through the House because it will be dead on arrival in the Senate. While progressives might detest that, they would have a hard time denying the obvious political reality.

That is, the Republican majority will help to establish more easily that touted unity. The attacks on the workers would be justified in order to maintain this unity… and at the same time they will tell us that we must forgive them because, in order to avoid the greater evil of Trumpism, they will have to arrive at imperfect compromises. To their regret , of course, let no one doubt their empathy.

In fact, they already told us, at least since the Democratic Convention: this is not about being for or against austerity, universal health care or the precarization of working conditions. It’s about, we are told by the Democrats, building a coalition with decent people from the Republican Party.

The Democrats want unity in order to come up with an excuse in front of the workers without becoming worn out in front of them, but also to appease the left petty bourgeoisie with the Trumpist bogeyman, and to divide the Republican Party base, which includes an increasingly delusional and angry petty bourgeoisie.

The overall result of that strategy would strengthen the ruling class in two movements. The first would confront the various facets of the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie: atomizing and dividing the one that uplifted Trump, appeasing the black petty bourgeoisie that the Democratic Party itself stirred up in order to dislodge him. Thus, in a second move, it would increase its capacity to stifle the ability of the working class to resist the attacks they are already preparing to revive the accumulation.

Because, let us not forget, racialism and identitarianism are not only interested movements of the petty bourgeoisie, they also are weapons to divide us… which trade unions intend to exploit ad nauseam. And the Green New Deal, above all, is the technological and regulatory form of the greatest transfer of income from labor to capital since the last world war.

Sighs of relief and the soul of America

Seeing what saving the soul of America consists of, we can get a pretty clear idea of what this soul is. It is nothing more than a cheesy way of calling for a patriotic spirit, the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the interests of national capital: ignoring Covid danger, accepting even more precarization and austerity (that is, accepting a worsening of the general conditions of our own exploitation), and, ultimately, closing ranks with the bourgeoisie when the needs of capital encourage the state to go into new trade and military wars.

We cannot accept such a soul, a soul which kills our bodies. We can only reject any claim of having a homeland. We are not Americans, we are workers who live and are exploited in the United States. We have the same interests as workers everywhere else in the world.

And they, the ruling class, know it. That is why they say we are sighing with relief. Actually, that is something even they can’t do.

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