Don’t sweat the election. We already lost.
A progressive meditation on the 2024 election.
Summary: Some of you are upset that I’ve targeted Biden so much lately given the threat of another Trump term. We’ve hashed and rehashed this on Show Notes but I did a little soul searching on my own to address this situation. We’re off to a strong start this year in terms of our editorial calendar but I’ve been finding it difficult to dig further into several topics knowing that there’s a growing sense of frustration with my intransigence. So I thought this was as good a time as any to work through this subject and have it out.
The time to panic is now, not November.
The time to agitate is always.
This is a recalibration. An interruption of our regularly scheduled program to contextualize the crisis the left faces in the United States. Much of this is a direct response to those in the core Unf*cking audience that have grown increasingly uncomfortable with my anti-Biden rhetoric on the pod. There seems to be a growing sense that I’m willing to burn the barn to get to the nails. That perhaps I’m an accelerationist.
I’ve been reminded of my responsibility as a leftist with an audience, small as it may be, not to contribute to any narrative that might support Donald Trump’s return to the presidency. I’ve been skewered by a handful of faithful listeners who claim that I’ve lost the plot in some attempt to stand on ceremony rather than deal with the existential threat another Trump term poses to the nation and to the world by extension.
So I feel like I owe it to our community to have it out and clarify a few things about our role as leftists, our aspirations as a nation and the looming threats on the horizon. If the motto of the show is to meet people where they are, allow me to suggest that we’re all actually in the same place.
We’ve already lost.
The Ballot as It Stands
I understand why it’s less offensive to some when I criticize past Democratic presidencies. Listeners have been pretty much on board when it comes to tearing into Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. But when it comes to the here-and-now under Biden, things get a little tense. But what good is it to study and learn from history if we don’t apply these lessons in the moment? Joe Biden is the president of the United States. Today. And he wants to keep being the president.
So let’s start at the end and work our way back. It’s safe to assume Trump and Biden will be the major party nominees. If the third party candidates are on the ballot in your state, we’re looking at Cornel West, Jill Stein and Robert Kennedy Jr. There’s talk lately of RFK switching allegiances yet again and moving over to the libertarian ticket, but that’s unsubstantiated at the moment. There’s also the possibility that No Labels puts forward a ticket yet they have only secured ballot access in 13 states thus far.
That’s what RFK is running into, by the way. He found out the hard way that gaining ballot access is really difficult and expensive. So he’s moved to a strategy of forming new political parties in battleground states to comply with each state’s election laws. West is doing something similar. The two-party duopoly has gone to great lengths to complicate ballot access since Ross Perot upended norms with two independent bids in the ‘90s.
So, again. All things being equal come election day we’ve got Biden versus Trump and three outside candidates in West, Stein and Kennedy. Let me say unequivocally before we move on that a Trump presidency would be the most catastrophic of all options because there are no options outside of the duopoly. No version of the multiverse where Cornel West is President. So again, Donald Trump is the worst outcome. But the animus toward my criticism of Joe Biden would seem to imply that any such critique is a tacit show of support for Trump. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Take off That Whig
The Compromise of 1850 was intended to stave off the dissolution of the Union, yet it merely deepened the split between free and slave holding states. A handful of important events over the next decade from the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the caning of Charles Sumner to John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 contributed to the formation of the Confederacy and multiple declarations of secession.
There are those who suggest that we’re heading toward another civil war in this country. To wit, we have renewed secession threats in Texas, Hollywood’s vision in the forthcoming dystopian film Civil War and Steve Bannon’s unrelenting attempts to dismantle federal authority over states, to name a few. The prospect of an armed internal conflict is beyond remote but the narrative is compelling enough to obscure a more practical, albeit mundane reality: the steady dissolution of principles among both major parties in this country and the total acquiescence and complete subservience to our corporate masters.
The decade following the Compromise of 1850 literally broke the country apart. When people talk about the conditions that led to the Civil War, this is the seminal decade. But an overlooked fact from this era is that it also broke apart the dominant political party in the country.
The Whig Party was established for the express purpose of fighting Andrew Jackson’s authoritarianism. Jackson, who served as President from 1829 to 1837 gave the United States its first real taste of autocracy. The ruthless leader slaughtered Native peoples, wielded the veto to govern from the executive branch, argued with and disposed of his Vice President, filled cabinet positions with unqualified sycophants and threatened the use of the military on states that bucked his will. Hence Trump’s decision to hang Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office.
The aggrieved professional political class responded with the creation of a new political party to oppose the man many referred to as King Andrew. And while figures such as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay attempted to give shape to the Whig platform, they ran up against the buzzsaw that was slavery. Northern and Southern Whigs split along pro/anti-slavery lines and folded into the Democratic and Republican Parties respectively. We’ve been living with this duopoly ever since.
The Whigs learned the hard way that if all you have to unite a party is the opposition, you build on sand.
Without much of a platform to stand on, the Democrats are hoping that Trump is enough to unite us all in November. Again. As for non-MAGA Republicans, they don’t have to buy into the cult of personality that is Trump, they just have to look the other way.
Whose strategy is this, anyway?
Dig this. I live in the 3rd Congressional District in New York. The famed George Santos district. If the mail to my house is a preview of the battle ahead, then there’s a twist. The candidates for the special election are conservative Republican Mazi Pilip and conservative Democrat Tom Suozzi, who held the seat before vacating it in the Santos election. Pilip’s me1ssage is simply that Suozzi voted with Biden 100% of the time. Meanwhile, Suozzi’s attack ads aren’t about Trump. They’re about abortion.
The calculus leading into the election is pretty cynical. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was enough to animate the core base of Democratic voters in the midterm elections. But whether it will be enough to persuade voters to turn out in a special election remains to be seen so it’s fair to view this district as a bellwether of sorts. But the obvious omission of anti-Trump literature tells me that this isn’t a strategic lock in a purple district. Anti-Biden sentiment might be more significant than anti-Trump sentiment at this juncture.
Right now Trump is crushing Haley in the polls leading up to Haley’s home state of South Carolina. If she gets trounced in her own state, Trump will ride that messaging through Super Tuesday and to its inevitable conclusion. The Democratic Party needs to notch some serious victories beyond stimulus bills and government spending from two years ago in what is already a de facto lame duck session. Running on abortion might not be enough considering the Democratic Party doesn’t have an answer beyond “we have to wait for more Supreme Court justices to die.”
The midterms might have been punishment for Roe v. Wade but you can’t just run against something that has already happened. If that’s the case, you’re asking voters to do some serious actuarial math. I mean, Thomas and Alito are the oldest at 75 and 73 respectively so it’s conceivable one of them dies in the next 5 years. But both? There’s a 6-3 conservative majority right now so at best we pick up a seat. We already know Biden won’t stack the court so that means we’re banking on taking the presidency and both Houses with a supermajority to codify abortion into law?
That brings us back to the DNC calculus: Biden beat him once, he’ll beat him again. Here’s the issue. Trump was an incumbent who gave the country extreme anxiety and bungled the response to a global pandemic. Now Biden’s the incumbent and people are still anxious given the inflationary pressures U.S. households have been under. Not many voters are going to blame Trump for that. And Biden has taken the youth and ethnic minority vote for granted whether establishment democrats want to admit it or not.
Dance with the One That Brought You
Let’s talk about the votes Biden is taking for granted right now. Here are a few vital statements of fact according to Pew Research:
- In 2020, four of every 10 votes for Biden were Black, Asian or Hispanic.
- Voters between 18 and 29 favored Biden by 24 points.
- Nearly half of Biden voters were under the age of 50 compared to 39% for Trump.
- Trump made gains among Millennials and ethnic minorities in 2020 compared to 2016.
The Democratic Party likes to talk about diversity. It likes to think of itself as the youth party as well. Let’s talk about the things that matter to young and ethnic voters. First off, homeownership is a huge issue and the stats aren’t great. With home prices stubbornly high, along with interest rates, homeownership rates have fallen since pandemic highs and still haven’t recovered to anywhere near where they were prior to the Great Recession. Student debt remains at crisis levels with recent relief efforts going mostly to service workers. But it remains to be seen what the impact will be on Black student debt holders who are disproportionately overburdened by this kind of debt. It’s all part of the toxic mixture that has led to the highest household debt ratio in U.S. history.
These economic pressures show up in the polling data. As PBS reports:
“Just 50% of Black adults said they approve of Biden in a December poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. That is compared with 86% in July 2021, with the gap fueling concerns about his reelection prospects.”
The fact that Trump actually made gains among Millennials between 2016 and 2020 should also be of paramount concern to the Biden Administration considering half of the popular vote came from people under 50 years of age.
These are the pure economic realities that are suppressing Biden’s favorability ratings among these key demographics. Then there are the softer issues, meaning indirect issues that are still meaningful. Abortion is certainly one of them, but like I said, you can’t build a campaign on something that has already happened unless you have a definitive plan to address it moving forward. It hasn’t stopped the Biden/Harris campaign from making abortion access a central issue in the reelection campaign. It was a centerpiece in a recent rally in Virginia and the campaign is pushing materials criticizing Trump and the Republicans for restricting access in several states. But if you read the materials and releases I defy you to find an actual plan.
And the Virginia rally was interrupted by protestors calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which leads to yet another problematic aspect of Biden’s reelection bid.
Forget Sleepy Joe, the nickname Genocide Joe is already sticking among angry young liberal voters and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Bringing about a ceasefire in Gaza and developing a humanitarian plan for displaced Palestinians is now officially Joe Biden’s problem. Young liberal voters and Black Americans alike are aligned on this issue because the genocide in Gaza is playing out in quarters the administration cannot control. It’s being live streamed on social media and there’s almost nothing that can be done to halt the images escaping Gaza no matter how hard the mainstream media tries to minimize it. Black voters in America see America arming and aiding what they perceive to be a white nation in the destruction of Brown people; the same Brown people who were very vocal in their defense of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Biden is also taking an increasingly hard line on border crossings signaling that he’s willing to shut down the border in the dispute between Texas and his administration. All this will do is make the situation look even more out of control, which plays directly into the hands of Republican strategists who are pouring accelerants on the immigration fire and tying up border funds with foreign aid and other spending measures to hamstring the administration.
So in addition to navigating the war in Gaza, Biden has to develop a plan at the border that doesn’t look inhumane all in the matter of a few months. But he’ll need more than that. This administration has to put forward an aggressive economic relief plan for the working class that incorporates down ballot initiatives to convince Americans that there’s more on the planning board than just waiting for funds from omnibus bills to pay off.
Otherwise, Biden’s one term might be more aptly compared to Millard Fillmore and the end of the Whig Party than Jimmy Carter’s time in office.
That Wasn’t the Deal
So where does this leave progressives? Why am I saying the election has already been lost? And how can I also say that you should go ahead and vote for Biden?
The fear of another Trump term is palpable and growing as Trump continues to clear hurdles toward the GOP nomination and no matter how much of a slam dunk most of the charges against citizen Donald appear to be, I think it’s hard for any of us to imagine him actually doing time in prison or, at a minimum being disqualified. And even if Trump is somehow prevented from actually running, Biden is polling statistically even with Nikki Haley so there’s no clear path to victory on that front either.
When it comes to the anger among liberal democrats toward progressives like me who are critical of Biden, you have to understand where we’re coming from. The things that made the Biden platform palatable, if not popular, were progressive in nature and contributed toward the turnout that made a difference in 2020.
Three years ago progressives did our job. We watched as the DNC circled the proverbial wagons around a man that previously sought and lost the nomination (1988 and 2008) because the establishment was threatened by the surge in support for Bernie Sanders.
One by one, the other avatars of the establishment fell in line to prevent Bernie from running the table in the primary. First Bernie took Iowa. (He trounced Biden but other delegates were later reapportioned.) Then New Hampshire. And then Nevada. A chill went down the spine of the DNC (metaphor since the DNC is spineless) and so Yang, Bennet, Patrick and Steyer jumped ship to support Biden. And when Bernie still put up admirable numbers in South Carolina, even after Clyburn threw his formidable base behind Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg fell in line before Super Tuesday, with the latter leveling an all out rhetorical assault on Bernie, the man he credited as his inspiration for getting into politics.
Bloomberg and Warren followed shortly thereafter with Warren petulantly holding back her endorsement until the death of Bernie’s campaign was a certainty.
And so we fell in line. We backed Joe Biden in his third bid to secure the nomination and pulled the lever for him to prevent a second Trump term. In return we made a few demands that he promised to address.
- The Green New Deal.
- Expanded health coverage.
- $15 minimum wage.
- Student debt erasure.
- End foreign wars.
- Continue direct child tax credit payments.
- Extended parental leave.
- Greater protection for workers.
In other words, the really popular shit that got him elected.
We understood that most—but not all—of these things were obtainable with the Democratic majority but he would have to act quickly. We knew Medicare for all was off the table. But everything else was attainable.
Here’s where the lines of communication begin to break down.
Most people assume that all politicians lie to get elected. So when Biden made strides in certain areas, some progressives were stunned and happily surprised. But let’s be honest, when he and Bernie had their fucking kumbaya moment our demands were clear. You don’t get the support of our guy unless you fight for these things. Now that we’re three years into it, we have receipts. And while Trump poses a grave threat to our democracy, marginalized people and the planet, Joe Biden is still the fucking president and we’d like a word.
The Green New Deal didn’t happen. We got a ton of investments into clean energy initiatives that will take time to implement but it’s a great start. But we’ve still done nothing to slow emissions in the meantime and, in fact, we’ve doubled down on fossil fuel production and opened up new areas for exploration.
That wasn’t the deal.
There were 29 million uninsured people in the United States in 2019. In 2022 that figure fell to 25.6 million. Is that enough for you? Are we supposed to settle for this? Sure, Biden extended provisions to cover prescription drugs for seniors but millions of people were dropped from Medicaid in 2023 so it’s likely that these gains were reversed despite the fact that unemployment remains incredibly low. So what happens when there’s a spike in unemployment?
That wasn’t the deal.
Biden issued an order to increase minimum wage just for federal workers to $15 in 2021. In 2022 it was blocked by a federal court. The federal minimum wage for all remains $7.25.
That wasn’t the deal.
Several organizations and policy groups have demonstrated how the Biden administration can eliminate all student debt lawfully without going through Congress. Instead, Biden chose to leverage pandemic relief rules to eliminate up to $10,000 of all debt and up to $20,000 in some cases. And it got shot down. Since then the administration has done a workaround to eliminate several billion dollars but most student debt holders don’t qualify.
That wasn’t the deal.
We asked Biden to end all foreign wars. He pulled us out of Afghanistan and he should be commended for that. (Unless you live in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, then you might want to have a word with him for the manner in which we abandoned the ship.) Since then, we have armed Ukraine and Israel for their war efforts, sold arms to nearly every country in the world and “strategically” bombed a handful of nations when we needed to remind everyone of what we’re capable of and are on the brink of an all out war in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Essentially, he outsourced war.
That wasn’t the deal.
We asked him to continue the direct child tax credit payments. He ended them.
That wasn’t the deal.
We asked for extended parental leave. Didn’t happen. Not even close.
That wasn’t the deal.
We asked for greater protection for workers. Biden made it easier to unionize, so that’s great.
That was part of the deal.
But also, union membership declined in 2023 anyway.
When you ask progressives to choose the lesser of two evils this is the mental tally we do. When you’re surprised by our tepid response to the election and call our criticisms of Biden irresponsible, now maybe you understand. Or maybe you don’t. But at least you know.
A clear conscience vote for Biden?
Now here’s why you should be both vocal in your criticism of Biden and go right ahead and vote for him come November.
Because we already lost the election. A long time ago. We lost the election when none of our demands from prior years even made it onto the ballot. I love Cornel West and he still has my vote because I live in Blue York. But his candidacy is a true protest and his campaign is muddled and directionless. If RFK’s vaccine stance doesn’t bother you as a liberal then his full throated promotion of free market libertarian ideals should. Or his rabid defense of Israel despite social media nods to known white supremacist code language. Or how he claimed he never said COVID-19 was genetically engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people even after a recording of him saying exactly that was released. Seriously, fuck this guy.
And Jill Stein? I mean, stop.
The election is a single day. Our activism has to be 24/7/365. Pulling the lever for Biden is just an acknowledgement that we failed to make our demands heard or make demonstrable change in a system designed by and in favor of corporate oligarchs. Progressives are back to the drawing board. It is what it is. And voting for Biden is the ‘lesser of two evils’ vote, by the way. There’s no reason to call it anything else.
In Show Notes and on a couple of episodes I’ve referenced the debate between Krystal Ball and Kyle Kulinski and Briahna Joy Gray so hopefully you’ve had a chance to check it out if this is a debate you care about or are tortured over having to make this decision come November. I’ve said many times that I thought Krystal and Kyle were well reasoned and rational in their defense of Biden over Trump but that it’s almost like they couldn’t see past their privilege to understand what Briahna was actually saying. It’s a privilege that I personally enjoy, by the way. And that’s as a white American in a safely blue state.
Without rehashing it yet again, the upshot of Briahna’s argument was that Biden may have prevented the utter collapse of democratic principles and norms but he broke almost all of the promises that were made to Black and Brown communities and the working poor in this country. That there was no material difference between the Trump years and the Biden years to most people on the ground, every day. If we continue to fall for the ‘lesser of two evils’ gag then eventually everything will just be evil. At what point do we draw the line? It’s a mild form of accelerationist theory but a sentiment we have to listen to closely. Because what you’re hearing is an absence of hope. And hope is what brings people out and gets them to vote.
They have to see themselves on the ballot.
So what’s the point of shouting at the rain? Nathan Robinson made an excellent point in conversation with Ben Burgis recently. The idea among liberals and the democratic establishment is that criticizing Biden serves to bolster Trump. Nonsense. If anything, we need to get louder at this moment. These are warning shots and wake up calls. If riots are the language of the unheard then let our protests and criticisms serve as policy beacons.
Expressing our displeasure at the administration by threatening to pull our support or to simply sit out the election is exactly the way you accomplish change. Remember, voting is one moment on one day of the year. You want our support, Joe? No problem. We’ll make it super easy.
Don’t just put your name on the ballot. Put us on the ballot. Don’t tell us that you’ve done so much already if we tell you we can’t feel it. Tell us the ten things you’re going to do to improve the lives of the working class, the marginalized, poverty stricken, homeless, downtrodden and the middle class. The student, the veteran, and the health care worker. The gig worker with three jobs taking care of her parents and trying to buy a home. Don’t just scare us by saying that you’ve laid the foundation so don’t let the other guy tear it back down. Whether it’s a dirt lot or a lot with a concrete foundation doesn’t matter to us. Can’t live there either way. It’s up to you to help us see the vision. Show us the plans to the house, Joe.
You have the power to get rid of punitive Private mortgage insurance (PMI). To do more on student debt and to refinance the rest of it. Stop blocking UN votes and demand a ceasefire in Gaza. Put a public option back on the table. Put minimum wage back on the table. Threaten to stack the court like FDR did or show us some legislative path forward to secure reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Go on the offensive and brow beat the Federal Reserve to reduce rates and simultaneously produce a plan to go after monopolies and price gouging if you really want to see inflation go down. These ideas poll really fucking well with the public. They perform less well with groups like AIPAC and others, which begs the question, “whose side are you on?”
In the Burgis/Robinson discussion Ben Burgis played a clip of Krystal Ball being asked by a viewer whether or not she still supports Biden and stands by her position from the debate with Briahna and here’s what she had to say:
“I cannot in good faith look at any person in this country and tell them you should vote a man who is supporting a genocide.”
Team Biden would do well to heed what Krystal is saying here.
This isn’t on us. We’re telling you what we want. We’re telling you that we’ll show up again even after the things we asked for never materialized.
But let’s say he does nothing to change course. I’ll give you two reasons why voting for Biden remains the better choice, all things being equal. Ketanji Brown Jackson and the trans community.
Even if Alito and Thomas live, what if Sotomayor doesn’t? People die. Stranger things have happened. A 7-2 conservative majority on the Supreme Court will take decades to unravel. Not to mention, KBJ may be Biden’s crowning achievement. She’s the most qualified and most progressive justice on the bench. Hard stop.
And then there is the beleaguered transgender community. If you have a trans person in your life—at work, among your friends or in your family, then you’re likely aware of the growing rates of violence against this community and the unprecedented amount of state and federal anti-trans legislation pending at the moment. A Trump administration would be catastrophic for this community.
Call it holding your nose. The lesser of two evils. Call it what you like. Most of what we want isn’t on the menu. That’s preordained. The selections won’t make a material difference to most of our lives because we’ve already handed the keys to our collective fate over to corporations who win either way in the grand scheme of things. But it will matter to someone you care about. So in that private moment when you pull the lever or mail the ballot, you can do so with a clear conscience and a loving heart.
Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).