by Danny Haiphong, published on Black Agenda Report, October 7, 2020
Trump and Biden avoided policy because neither had anything to offer the masses of people.
“Zero policy prescriptions were offered to the tens of millions of unemployed people in the United States.”
There wasn’t much to learn from the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election. Trump did his best to act like a bully while Biden attempted to make the label of “clown” stick to Trump. Both Biden and Trump blamed China for COVID-19 and for everything else wrong with the United States. But only one clear lesson emerged from the first presidential debate. That is, the 2020 election is nothing but a corporate thug-a-thon for who can finish first in satisfying the ruling class’ lust for austerity and war.
Biden and Trump expressed their loyalty to capital in competing dialects of American exceptionalism. Trump painted a picture of the exceptional United States as a society under siege from Antifa, China, and the movement for Black lives. Biden slammed Trump for being a divisive president who is unfit to protect the United States from its numerous so-called adversaries. Trump promised “law and order” and a U-shaped economic recovery. Biden promised to restore the “decency” of the United States.
‘”The 2020 election is nothing but a corporate thug-a-thon.”
The debate lasted ninety total minutes. In those ninety minutes, zero policy prescriptions were offered to the tens of millions of unemployed people in the United States or the nearly 150 million people experiencing economic insecurity and poverty. The issue of racist policing was firmly implanted in the “law and order” dog whistle which for the last two generations has justified the suppression of the Black liberation movement and the proliferation of the War on Drugs. Biden passionately declined to support community control of the police and doubled down on his support for additional federal funds to the same police departments responsible for 1,000 murders per year, including a disproportionate number of Black Americans. The only mention of U.S. foreign policy was made in passing whenever Biden or Trump decided to scapegoat Russia or China for the numerous ailments plaguing the United States.
Trump and Biden’s biggest concern was the optics of the debate, not its content. Trump wanted to remind his base that he remains an “outsider” who can bully the “fake news” media and the Democrats at will. Biden wanted to demonstrate that he could both defend himself from Trump’s attacks and reflect the “normality” and “decency” of the Obama-era that elite Democrats and Republicans are so hungry to regain. Neither candidate proved particularly effective in achieving their goal. Chaos reigned supreme.
“Biden doubled down on his support for the police.”
The chaos of the debate is a manifestation of the crises afflicting the United States’ imperialist system. Trump and Biden avoided policy because neither had anything to offer the masses of people. U.S. imperialism is a system in decay, and one that requires endless war, austerity, and racism to maintain the rule of a tiny class of corporate overlords. The executives of major monopolies such as Amazon, Boeing, Viacom, Exxon, and Goldman Sachs will be satisfied by the result of the election regardless of who wins. Chaos is a byproduct of the fact that the misery of the masses, especially the most oppressed sections of humanity, must intensify for the system of imperialism to work as constructed.
Yet the more imperialism works as intended, the more that the ruling class reserves a multitude of burial plots to dig its own grave. Biden and Trump put on a masterful show of what this looks like in the realm of politics. Trump called COVID-19 the “China plague” while Biden accused China of committing the “art of the steal” of U.S. jobs. Biden firmly declared himself to be the face of the Democratic Party while rejecting policies such as Medicare for All that over eighty percent of rank-and-file Democrats support. Unlike Trump, who punched his way through the debate to avoid difficult questions, Biden spent ample time waiting his turn to defend himself from Trump’s accusations that he and the Democratic Party were part of the “radical left.”
“The misery of the masses must intensify for the system of imperialism to work as constructed.”
The most obvious sign of U.S. political decay that emerged from the debate arose from questions about the legitimacy of the election itself. For four years, corporate media outlets and the Democratic Party have delegitimized the U.S. electoral process by claiming without any evidence that Trump stole the presidency with help from Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have stirred up a brew of uncertainty about foreign interference to the point where reports are issued routinely warning of Russian, Iranian, and Chinese meddling in U.S. elections. Trump has exploited the illegitimacy of Russiagate to serve his own ends by claiming that the Democrats are rigging each and every election against him. The fear of Trump rejecting a loss to Biden is now common among the U.S. liberal class. When Trump and Biden were asked about whether they would accept the election results, Biden’s affirmative was countered with Trump’s guarantee that the results would need to be “looked at” if he were to lose.
That the U.S. political system has resorted to delegitimizing itself to reinforce the broader imperial project is a clear indication of system breakdown. U.S. economic supremacy is waning and the global capitalist system is locked into a future of slow growth and permanent overproduction. The global working class is trapped in a Race to the Bottom of endless austerity brought about by financial and corporate monopolies seeking to maximize their private profits at all cost. Mass misery and unemployment means short term enrichment for individual capitalists from reduced labor costs but long-term decline for a system that relies on an abundance of labor to service its profits in the long-term. The U.S. has led the charge to prop up the system with massive amounts of liquidity in the form of debt—making the economic crises of 2008 and 2020 all the more painful.
“The global working class is trapped in a Race to the Bottom of endless austerity.”
This is the economic root from which the chaos of the Trump and Biden debate sprouted. The continued economic instability of U.S. imperialism guarantees that Trump and Biden must avoid all substantive policy debate in order to deflect form what the Democrats and Republicans must accomplish in tandem to keep the ruling class in power another day. Enemies must be created and then attacked with military repression fueled by racist ideology. China, Russia, Black Lives Matter, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, among many others must continue to be targets of the U.S.’ ongoing campaign of endless war. A well-armed, trained, and funded mass incarceration and surveillance state remains a priority for a society simmering with race and class antagonisms. The economic fallout from the pandemic will only generate more incentive for the ruling class to plunder what little is left of economic security itself in the United States as over 50 million people face the risk of homelessness and permanent joblessness.
Biden and Trump’s pitiful debate performance is a lesson to the masses all over the world that there is no salvaging the U.S. political system or its economic base of imperialism. American exceptionalism has not died, for it was never alive to begin with. Ideologies that rely upon idealism and mysticism are generally swept into the dustbin of history when the material basis for the legitimacy of the economic and political system that produced them erodes into dust. Expectations for Trump and Biden are essentially meaningless. Any positive development that emerges out of the 2020 election will be a product of the intense efforts of oppressed nations and peoples to organize a path out of the stagnation and decline of U.S. imperialism. The real debate is that which occurs amongst each other to convince those caught up in the obsession of U.S. electoral politics to engage in study and political activity that focuses on building the power of the people rather than the electoral prospects of the Democrat or Republican Parties every two to four years.
Danny Haiphong is co-coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace Supporter Network and organizer with No Cold War. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News–From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). His articles are re-published widely as well as on Patreon at at patreon.com/dannyhaiphong. He is also the co-host with BAR Editor Margaret Kimberley of the Youtube show BAR Presents: The Left Lens and can be reached on Twitter @spiritofho, and email at.