The Trump years were many things; exhausting, frustrating, disheartening, alarming and almost always bizarre. But, despite all of this — despite the objectionable Supreme Court nominations, immoral immigration policies and unhinged Twitter rants — the Trump years never felt hopeless; even as Trump himself rendered any hopes of the GOP being a reasonable, moderate party hopeless.
For as awful as Trump’s Presidency was, it was accompanied by the rising up of the rightfully-angry; students standing up for gun control, young people fighting against climate change and, Black Americans and their allies protesting against police brutality. By fanning the flames of the already raging fire of injustice, Trump woke up millions of Americans to the societal rot of their country. It was a rude awakening; the political equivalent of being woken up by having a bucket of ice water thrown onto you, but it was a necessary one for a country who had fallen asleep at the wheel as they headed towards disaster.
The danger of course is that the feverish, insomnia-inducing chaos of the Trump years, that awoke millions of Americans, can — as quickly as it was created — be snuffed out by the soothing, sleepy siren song of unity, calm and normalcy; all of which sound desirable until you realise that they created the conditions that created the perfect storm of dissatisfaction that allowed Trump to prosper.
All of these qualities are personified in Joe Biden; a man whose entire appeal can be reduced down to one word, ‘familiarity’. It’s what made Biden the perfect candidate, electorally, for 2020 — yet also more unsuited for the realities of the modern political age than any of the other many, many Democrats who sought to go up against the 45th President. The familiarity of Joe Biden, when juxtaposed with the unnerving unpredictability of Donald Trump, was so obviously comforting it hardly bares further explanation. Yet, Joe Biden’s familiarity is intrinsically connected to his familiarity with, and acceptance of, a political system so unjust it led to the election of Donald Trump; the embodiment of everything wrong with American politics — the corruption, the narcissism, the egotism and, exploitation.
The Democratic Party feel less inspired and visionary than at any other point in modern history
The desperation-inducing depravity of the Trump administration made it tempting to look for saviors in any politician who seemed sane, compassionate and even-tempered; perhaps the reason so many clung to Cuomo as their knight in shining armour during the start of the pandemic — even as his handling of the virus led much to be desired.
In a historically crowded primary, two-dozen-or-so Democrats attempted to pitch themselves as the man or woman who could save America from Trump. Many candidates would, in some form or another, propose some program of change radical enough to perhaps correct some of America’s systemic problems; Sanders proposed a democratic-socialist economic program that would include ‘Medicare For All’ and a ‘Green New Deal’, Warren promised to save capitalism from itself; with policies like a wealth tax and the breaking up of monopolistic tech companies. Pete Buttigieg promised a radical overhaul of the Supreme Court that, if implemented, could finally de-politicise America’s most powerful court. For his part, Biden promised none of the above and instead relied on Obama nostalgia to carry him to the nomination. Think of him as something of a reverse Nanny McPhee — arriving when he is wanted, but no longer needed.
Still, the Biden administration — which has been accompanied by Democratic control over both branches of Congress — has been an improvement over Trump’s; just last week Senate Democrats — alongside Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski — defeated a transphobic amendment by the grace of just one vote. Yet the Biden administration has, unsurprisingly, lacked the radicalism needed to confront the current moment; having all but given up on securing a $15 minimum wage and universal healthcare.
The Democratic Party — having based much of it’s identity over the last four years on nothing more than Trump hatred — feel less inspired and visionary than at any other point in modern history. The worst excesses of the 45th President’s reign have been curtailed, but the Democratic Party isn’t even pretending to have a plan to address the systemic unfairness at the heart of America. While it’s refreshing to not wake up to angry Tweet storms from the Commander-In-Chief, the first two months of the Biden administration have led me closer to hopelessness than Trump ever did. For good reason, I never expected very much of Trump, but seeing the people who were meant to “restore the soul of America” do little more than uphold a broken system is uniquely dispiriting.
The desperation-inducing depravity of the Trump administration made it tempting to look for saviors in any politician who seemed sane, compassionate and even-tempered
What’s worse is seeing those who rose up in opposition during the Trump administration, quiet down during the Biden administration as if everything is suddenly okay now — even as kids remain separated from their parents, millions live below the poverty line and the world continues to burn. The well-meaning, but misguided hopes that Biden could save America have now transformed into a dangerous blind trust. Many a ‘Resistance Democrat’ have now sacrificed their values and desire for change at the alter of partisan loyalty. The same people who were rightfully outraged at Trump’s handling of the Khashoggi slaughter have looked the other way as Biden lets a murderer walk and have thrown the values of ‘Me Too’ under the bus to stand behind an embattled Governor Cuomo. Republicans never really went to any effort to seem virtuous and principled, but Democrats did and when Democratic leaders and supporters abandon these values in favor of blind loyalty, movements like ‘Me Too’ collapse under the weight of collective hypocrisy.
The Trump years were a reckoning moment for many liberals, but it was never really hard for those on the left to reckon with the fact that Trump was a corrosive force to American society; he made no qualms about his bigotry and divisiveness. Where many would’ve employed a dog-whistle, Trump used a fog horn. To reckon with the idea that politicians like Biden, Cuomo and Kyrsten Sinema might be barriers to, and not purveyors of, progress is understandably difficult to digest. When the people who were meant to fix America don’t, it’s easy to become nihilistic and wonder hopelessly, ‘who’s going to save us now?’ When the overlapping injustices of racism, economic inequality, sexism and climate crisis feel suffocating and without any prospect of resolution, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the idea of politics as a vehicle for change all together.
Yet, while everyday seems to bring a new reason to become hopeless — the $15 minimum wage receiving bipartisan Senate opposition, an eleven year old freezing to death after the Texas storms — I still can’t help but cling to the activism of the last four years as reason for hope. Many of the more tribal, blindly loyal Democrats may employ an “ignore everything” attitude to Democrats wrongdoing, but I suspect the same thing can’t be said about the millions of people who took to the streets last summer after George Floyd’s murder, or the students who rose up against school shootings and, took the lead of Greta Thunberg and her school strikes. In the place of unwavering partisan loyalty, the new generation of activists understand that no one party or politician can single-handedly save us from the intersecting injustices we face. They understand that the answer to ‘who’s going to save us now?’ has been, and always will be, ourselves.