Weeping Tears of Joy in my Beer: Biden-as-Harm-Reduction and our Divided U.S. Electorate
We watch the pretty colors, the blue and the red, the dizzying backdrops and pretty graphics.
The dance of numbers and data, the ticker tape, a constantly-refreshing menagerie of digits crunched by 3,141 United States counties.
We listen to the authoritative words, the tough tone from guys and gals alike, as the smart, well-dressed “talking heads” work beautiful jaws beneath carefully tweezed brows and ever-heavier makeup, recalling the past, speculating on the future, keeping the ball dancing past exhaustion.
It’s addictive. It’s galvanizing. It can be better than any video game or movie. The stakes seem sky-high—fascism, democracy, the future of the globe—and the horse race becomes impossible to break from.
150 million Americans just cast votes in this election, as likely winner Joe Biden noted today, “even in the face of a pandemic.” It’s not a “blue wave,” and Republicans seem sure to keep control of Supreme Court and Senate—but it’s a remarkable repudiation of the worst president in United States history.
I am proud of my fellow Cheeseheads, of Michiganders, Arizonans and Nevadans. This morning I was hollering loud enough at my TV to scare my cat away, getting all tearful in my non-alcoholic beer.
I want to believe in the People, you see. Where the United States is concerned, for me, hope springs eternal.
As a journalist who thinks—perhaps too much—about our shredded safety net; as a father and a Portlander and former Milwaukeean and a human being, I am feeling huge emotions about this election.
As a professor friend put it, “I need hope.” Many do. People who aren’t rich, white, male, cisgender, straight, educated, Protestant, housed and insured need to have a say, and a shot, in America. That’s what small-d democracy is about, in the end, and journalism too, despite our “news” fetishism.
But we shouldn’t be in denial about a Biden-Harris presidency: Biden’s no populist, despite what he implied in his speech today.
“Power can’t be taken or asserted, it flows from the people,” Biden said. Well, that’s the theory, anyway.
The reality? Biden is best viewed as a harm reduction candidate.
Harm reduction? In electoral politics?
The idea of “harm reduction” comes from social services, public health and specifically alcohol and drug addiction recovery. It means giving intravenous drug users free clean needles and places to dispose of them, so they don’t spread diseases like HIV or hepatitis. It’s a progressive, research-supported concept, but it makes Republicans and even many centrist Democratics shudder.
It’s an idea that’s relevant for our electoral system, because democracy is messy: it means no single person or group automatically gets to control shit. That the people who rule are those the people vote for. That we have to talk with, deal with and find compromises with people who don’t think (or look) like us, after they beat our ass in elections.
So, in pursuit of electoral victory, it may mean accepting the “lesser evil,” not letting the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.”
That’s Biden. 70 million Americans seem to be agreeing.
Yet to many of the Left political persuasion here in my home city, the “People’s Republic” of Portland, Oregon, Biden and Harris are “Republicans” in disguise because they’re centrist. They won’t stop fracking. They hang out with Big Ag and lobbyists and Big Pharma and, well … Big Everything. They’ve supported get-tough-on-crime, law-and-order policies. And on and on.
But it’s all relative, except when you live in a bubble or echo chamber like Portland can sometimes be. If you listen to crazed Trump and his fellow white-supremacists-in-hiding, “Sleepy” Joe is a lifelong bureaucrat who never changed a thing, who is “deep state” all the way, sure to keep D.C. a “swamp.”
Bernie Sanders bowing out and endorsing Biden turned out to be necessary, because a Bernie third party candidacy would have reelected Trump. Here in Portland, there’s a relevant parallel: centrist Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler appears to have won reelection over progressive challenger Sarah Iannarone by a margin that’s roughly half the 46,000 write in ballots (most supporting activist Teressa Raiford).
So it’s fair to say that by hewing to an independent, third party write-in candidacy, Raiford, who leads a key Black Lives Matter movement group, and her supporters unintentionally reelected their nemesis, Ted Wheeler. So the election is a highly ironic moment for the activists who have been dedicated to opposing the policies of Wheeler, the city’s police commissioner, who a broad group of local critics believe has done little to rein in police violence here.
As the final states lean blue, no one should be surprised that President Donald Trump’s team—and supporters—are turning to frivolous lawsuits in multiple states to try to invalidate the hard work of a lot of little old ladies and gentlemen of all political persuasions. It’s what this guy has done, for decades: used weaponized lawyers like Rudy Giuliani to intimidate, bully and get (or try to get) his way.
He’s proof positive that the States are not, in fact, always “United.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of law: the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett shows yet again, plutocrats like President Trump often get their way in legal arenas. It’s possible our highest court has become an illegitimate institution—if “legitimacy” is defined as popular acceptance—and will be ruling in favor of a tiny sliver of socioeconomic elites and against the interests of We the People for decades.
The Supreme Court simply does not look like, think like, or share many basic social, economic and life realities with everyday Americans. Meanwhile, the nation continues to become younger, browner, less-married, more immigrant-heavy and more unequal in terms of income. Will Justice Amy Barrett be forming rulings via pillow talk with the “head” of her family, her husband, another Notre Dame law product? Imagine a “town hall” with all nine Supreme Court justices actually sitting down and talking, just having a conversation, with a bunch of randomly chosen Americans.
It’s almost impossible to contemplate, isn’t it?
We are a divided nation. This is shown, ironically, in Biden’s words, “What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.” Why? Because these words came in the very same speech in which Biden laid his initial claim to electoral victory.
Trump barely won in 2016. Did Democrats accept that? Not so much. People on the political left whined about how shitty the electoral college is. We lodged some very real concerns about Trump’s xenophobia, racism, misogyny and policies that make ours an even more unequal nation. I think history will show that we took the words and tweets of the man way too seriously—but we progressives sometimes have trouble lightening up.
Will Trump supporters and Republicans accept a Biden win this time? Given Trump’s history of infantile and inflammatory rhetoric, it’s highly unlikely.
“Once this is behind us, it will be time to lower the temperature, to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation,” Biden says. “We are not enemies.”
I hope not.
“There will be no blue states and red states when we win, just the United States of America”
I’d like to believe that.
But first we have to get through the next, and si dios quiere final, wave of Trump Tantrums. May no one die in the process.