Biden, Progressive Idealism, and the Problem of Anger

Our world stands upon the blade of a knife. We sway but a little to the ruin of all.

Biden, Progressive Idealism, and the Problem of Anger
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why am I not particularly angry that Biden and Harris are failing to live up to their campaign promises? Because they’re doing what I expected them to do: I didn’t think that they would be bastions of progressive policy, at best, I hoped we could collectively force them to do some good things. And you know what? We did.

I see a lot of anger foisted toward those at the peak of power. Rightly so, in many cases. Even if Biden is limited by our outdated political system, he does have actions available to him (like the legal ability to cancel all student debt) that could transform the world. He also has a platform upon which to preach a different ideology than the harmful corporatocratic one that’s become the norm of world politics. Given his failure to fully utilize the tools he has, then, it makes sense to be both disappointed and angry. But not because he’s failed to live up to our expectations.

Let me explain.

We elect leaders, too often, as if we were electing paragons: we have a hero-worship problem in our world, and the disparity between our idea of the mythic hero, and the reality provided by the leaders we have access to, is a frequent source of great cognitive dissonance.

We feel that our leaders should be good, moral people. Unfortunately, more often than not, we get a real human being instead of a mythic hero. Real human beings are flawed and complex. Add a real human being into something as insidious and complex as the political landscape, and it all gets even harder to parse into “good” and “bad”.

Biden has done some truly awful things during his political career. Likely, he believed that some of those things were just and good — within the limitations of his worldview. Others were, likely, made for simple political expediency. This is the same for most people who operate in politics.

The degree to which they capitulate to negative ideas may change, but the fact remains that nobody is going to make it through the political process without either bending to pressure, or coming to new realizations about how to eventually fulfill their goals (ideas which include compromise).

When it comes to Biden, I knew enough about his political career, and him as a human being, to be certain that he would make choices as President that I abhorred. I voted for him anyway, in the end, because doing so provided the best chance to create a delaying action in our messy political landscape. It’s become a bit of a trope to point out the signs of growing extremist authoritarianism in the world, but the sad fact remains that the United States had a literal Nazi-supporter in the highest office. The decisions that Trump made, that he allowed his appointees to make, were decisions that drove our whole world closer to the brink of self-destruction.

Doom (which is fate) comes to us all in time, but I’d rather forestall this darkest path in favor of one that brings peace and light. I think most would agree with that.

So, for me, voting for Biden was a simple matter of creating a temporary bulwark against further regression. Trump’s policy was to roll back legal gains as quickly as possible. Due to our convoluted legal system and antiquated political system, it’s far easier to tear down good laws than it is to reinstate them. Therefore, the goal had to be to limit their removal by voting in a Party less likely to openly destroy our past gains. Not to say that they aren’t still intent on destroying our natural landscapes, enacting problematic immigration policies, actively deriding progressive platforms, and moving so slowly on pandemic response that tens of thousands of lives have been unnecessarily lost.

This brings us to the two-party problem, as well as the problem of our entire political power structure. We know that having just two parties is bad, because it’s led to a softening of baseline policy between the parties: that is to say, both parties actually operate off many of the same base principles regarding economic and social theory. We have also seen a shift in the middle ground of our country’s political spectrum, to the point that our current “moderate” in the Democratic Party is a hard-line conservative by any other point of view.

But simply adding in a 3rd party would not solve our problems. The power structure our government is built on is too complex for that as a sole solution. Rather, it needs to be part of a total solution, a package for totally reforming the United States governing structure.

Such a massive change is not unprecedented. Thomas Jefferson fought tooth and nail his entire political career to enact a reoccurring Constitutional Convention that would enable us to update our country’s laws to suit its growth and the changing times ahead.

But these significant changes won’t make it through the entrenched power systems we already have… not without bottom-up change.

Republicans have become a violent dominating force in American politics because of decades of grassroots action and back-room conniving by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. But anyone can play that game.

From the Occupy movement, to Bernie Sanders, to the gigantic rise in DSA membership, to the massive string of union wins during 2021, we’ve been seeing a progressive march toward a better future take shape. It’s slow, but it is occurring.

What does any of this have to do with hating on Biden?

Beyond the point that our anger and fear lead to hate, and hate leads to darkness, this sort of outburst simply isn’t helpful. We don’t need to demonize to enact change: we just need to enact change. We don’t need to rally behind violent rhetoric to make the world better — and, in fact, I doubt that any movement which embraces such rhetoric can enact lasting positive change.

Call out our elected leaders for their failures. Pressure them constantly, and replace those who are entrenched as frequently as possible with those who carry on the progressive idealistic mission. But save your hate for more worthwhile causes, like the bad writing in the last season of the Game of Thrones.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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