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Critiquing Biden’s Worldview, Democratic Party Tactics and America’s Destiny

This tendency to ignore the world should be more troubling to American voters than even Biden’s refusal to leave the presidential stage in light of his thinly deniable disabilities of age and mental health that have put his 2024 candidacy in peril.

Photo by Tim Mossholder

The Democratic Party is waging its 2024 electoral campaign by focusing on two themes: first, a denunciation of all that Trump proposes to bring to the presidency, centering on the destruction of American democracy if elected, and secondly, a positive domestic record of the Biden years with several notable benefits for the American people including jobs and wages, climate, energy policy, social protection, gun control, and a stock market at record highs.

What is missing from this rosy picture of America and even more so from Democratic Party advocacy is neither claims nor explanations of foreign policy, only a deafening silence. It is as if the leadership of the Democratic Party wants the voting public to forget that there is a world out there beyond national boundaries. And it has good reasons to adopt this evasive approach, especially in an election year.

And yet this national posture seems strange as the US has so heavily invested in military capabilities to secure its global dominance in the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union over 30 years ago.  And as a consequence, finds itself currently engaged controversially in the wars raging in Ukraine and Gaza. It appears that even Biden is reluctant to claim credit in national settings for US support of Israel and Ukraine, and prefers to speak in generalities about the greatness of America as a country whose future is bright except to the extent dimmed by the threat advent of Trump and Trumpism. This tendency to ignore the world should be more troubling to American voters than even Biden’s refusal to leave the presidential stage in light of his thinly deniable disabilities of age and mental health that have put his 2024 candidacy in peril. Such an evasive pattern gives voice to absurdly grandiose, yet distorting, assessments of the present broad political situation.

Biden’s speech on the 3rd Anniversary of the January 6th Insurrectionary attack on Congress is a typical example. After a lengthy, persuasive recital of warnings about the Trump menace, Biden offers some unhinged general remarks, starting with his oft-repeated startling expression of personal faith in the future of America: “I have never been more optimistic about the future of our country.”  No explanation is given for why this is so, and there could not be one even if Orwellian tropes were relied upon. No mention of the dubious wars, massive homelessness, dangerously large inequalities, an epidemic of mass shootings, growing migrant tensions, backsliding on carbon emission and the related rise of extreme weather events, or numerous signs of rising risks of future major wars with China and Russia, quite possibly prompting the use of nuclear weapons, of deeply disturbing erosions of academic freedom often accompanied by punitive encroachments on dissent and freedom of expression, as well as the bitterest and most divisive societal polarization since the Civil War. I confess that I have never in my life felt more pessimistic about the future of the country. At least one would have expected a self-professed liberal such as Biden to be forthright about addressing the unmet illiberal challenges that have been rampant during his years in the White House, and a program to do so if Democrats are given a mandate to govern in November.

Biden also was immaturely boastful on the same occasion. “We’re the greatest nation on the face of the earth.” And possibly betraying his uncertainty immediately added these words but no specifics, “We really are.’ Then proceeded to display the kind of hubris long associated with the twilight period of past declining empires. Counter-historically Biden observed that “We know America is winning. That’s American patriotism.’ It underpins the broader claim that evokes doubt and opposition outside the West: “There’s no country in the world better positioned to lead the world than America…Just remember who we are. We are the United States of America, for God’s sake.’ Remembering who we are, or have become, is the ideological leader of the (il)liberal democracies of the West who mostly lent a helping hand to Israel while it in recent months carried out a genocidal assault on the helplessly vulnerable 2.3 million civilian population of the tiny Gaza Strip. This American-led complicity in what much of the world’s peoples perceived as a transparent genocide was even proclaimed as such in the rationale articulated and policies pursued by Israel’s political leaders and put into deadly practice by its armed forces. While claiming to be “defending the sacred cause of democracy” Biden doesn’t respect the citizenry sufficiently to acknowledge Israel’s policies face unprecedented challenges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), offering neither an explanation nor an apology. We must ask ourselves whether such a failure to include the citizenry in evaluating foreign policy that much of the public dissents from is in keeping with an existential commitment to democratic styles of governance. Or for that matter, whether cooperative security arrangements and friendly relations with the governments of India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others can be reconciled with the goals of promoting a democratizing world.

US democracy has from the founding of the republic almost 250 years ago been associated with a constitutional arrangement that stresses the division of and balance between the three principal branches of government as supplemented by the guiding idea that even the acts of the president are not above the restraints and accountability procedures of law. Currently, both of these vital pillars of a functioning democracy are crumbling, and near collapse. The US Supreme Court has never been so out of touch with the values of society and the defense of its democratic character, not only by its denial of women’s reproductive rights but in relation to upholding the rule of law in relation to the behavior of the president and the regulation of corporate wrongdoing. Congress, in many vital sectors of public policy, has become captive to well-funded lobbying pressures and the interests of the wealthiest American leading commentators to argue that plutocracy has become a more accurate description of the form of government than democracy, To be optimistic in the face of such developments has all the appearances of playing the role of the fool.

For me, an unmistakable indicator of the alienation of the governing process from the citizenry is the extension of a bipartisan invitation to the embattled Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress later in July. This bestowal of such a signal honor on a foreign leader for whom ‘arrest warrants’ have been recommended by the habitually cautious ICC, will be further enhanced by a meeting with the President in the White House undoubtedly accompanied by a TV moment exhibiting harmony between these two leaders that includes unconditional support and a profession of shared values. Such an inappropriate gesture of approval is a slap in the faces of those many American opponents of Israel’s policies in Gaza over the course of recent months, especially a show of disrespect toward young Americans who protested on university campuses across the country, and for their activity experienced police brutality and professionally harmful punishments from educational administrators, themselves under pressure from donors and politicians. The Netanyahu invitation is an edifying metaphor that confirms the dark foreboding of skeptics like myself critical of the US global role since the end of the Cold War and deeply pessimistic about the future of the country. From such an angle, Biden’s off-the-wall optimism and the tactics of the Democratic Party establishment are not reassuring. Rather I find these patterns as strong evidence of dangerous forms of escapism from the uncomfortable realities of national circumstances and stubborn show of a failing leader’s vanity.

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global law, Queen Mary University London, and Research Associate, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB.

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