In 2008, before the Large Hadron Collider was switched on, fracturing reality and trapping us in this lunatic timeline in which we find ourselves, much was being made of the Democratic nomination for President. The candidates were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and many wondered whether America was ready to have either a black or female president.
Eleven years later, it’s safe to say that the results are in. No.
America was not ready for a black President.
Not all of the people who hated Obama were simple bigots, however. A recent piece exploring families who have lost members to the conspiratorial echo chamber of Fox News contained several testimonials from people who claimed that their parents (and it was almost always their parent) had been liberal for most of their lives, until Obama got in and something changed.
A good chunk of the baby boom generation seemed to automatically dislike Obama, and none of them could quite put their finger on why.
Psychologists and neurologists have long known that human beings are not, fundamentally, rational creatures. Whilst many people would like to believe that their conclusions are arrived at from careful examination of the evidence, the truth is often the other way around. Most people, in most circumstances, arrive at a conclusion and then cast around for evidence to support it. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the internet can provide supporting evidence to basically any idea you come up with, be it a flat earth, the link between vaccines and autism, chemtrails, lizard people, or secret Muslim socialist Kenyans in the White House.
A lot of the people who didn’t like Obama knew that they didn’t like him – that was their starting point – but to examine that instinct too closely might have meant confronting their own prejudices. It was much easier to start at the conclusion that there was something wrong with Barack Obama and then trawl for what that something might have been.
Some people settled on socialism. That an attempt to get a universal healthcare system in place in the US and bring it up to speed with every other developed country in the world was somehow the work of the kind of far out political lunatic normally found writing for Liberal Resistance. He was some sort of communist! That’s what was wrong with Obama. This wasn’t about colour, but if it was, it’s that he was Red, not black.
Or maybe it was that he was dishonest. Like every president and every politician, he lied to the public on occasion, but for some reason when Obama did it, people took umbrage.
Or immigration. Obama, a president who deported a record number of immigrants and refugees, was somehow soft on border control and this was a catastrophe.
It would be pointless and exhausting to list all of the awkward non-issues that dogged Obama during his years in office. People said that he wasn’t “Presidential.” People were convinced that he wasn’t an American citizen – and furthermore that this meant his nationality was the key issue, not his skin colour. People were sure he was a secret Muslim because his name wasn’t something more palatable – Jim Crow, maybe, or Rochester Van Jones – and in the process implied that only Christians could be President. An act of prejudice, certainly, but one that was religious rather than racial. People complained about any aspect of Obama, perceived or real, except for the obvious one that set him apart from every other President.
The plain truth, of course, is that some people didn’t like Obama because they genuinely were old and stupid and racist…
…but there’s another thought that has nagged at me since that article on Fox News viewers. Maybe a significant proportion of the people who disliked Obama on sight weren’t specifically bothered by his race, but by his whole existence. Obama broke the unwritten rules of The Way Things Are. Specifically, the President of the United States should always be an old white guy. For the first time in their lives, the baby boom generation had a president who was younger than them, infinitely cooler than them, and also, as a minor point, the wrong colour.
It feels entirely possible that many of the boomers took such an instant dislike to Obama because he reminded them of their encroaching irrelevance. Clinton and Bush had been their peers, all previous Presidents had been their parents’ age (very literally in the case of Bush Snr) and now suddenly the man in the White House was a youthful forty-seven and knew how to use Twitter.
Watching Obama get elected must have felt like a forced retirement for many boomers. The rug had been pulled out from under them. Their time was really up. The world was moving on without them and they didn’t even have Bruce Springsteen on side to write a song about it.
Et tu, Boss?
They hated Obama without ever confronting why he made them so uncomfortable, but if they had it may have turned out that Obama’s greatest crime wasn’t his race, but his youth.
Clearly, the only way to fix this was to elect another old white man. Or at least an orange one. In the same way that Obama’s youth and relevance may have been what turned so many against him, an under-appreciated part of Trump’s appeal may have been that he was an old man and had been around long enough that boomers felt comfortable with him. He was a touchstone – something they recognised and that made them feel included – and that was enough to secure votes, never mind how dumb, racist or corrupt he was as a person.
History Repeats Itself (For The Hard Of Hearing)
The Big Question facing America in 2020 seems to be: Which elderly, mentally-addled sex pest will be put in charge of the world?
In the red corner (because America has never understood the political connotations of colour, but also because he’s sponsored by the Russians) we have Donald Trump, increasingly appearing senile, cartoonishly corrupt and currently accused of 22 different sexual assaults. He’s seventy-three and his hobbies include golf, incest fantasies and angry Tweeting.
In the blue corner, we have Joe Biden, who has reportedly confused Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher twice in recent weeks and who has a long trail of video evidence of him creepily fondling women and girls. He has also had two brain aneurysms, although in fairness, they were thirty years ago. Alarmingly, this was when Biden was in his forties. He’s seventy-six and his hobbies include being statistically surprised that he’s still alive, because he’s seventy-fucking-six and had two brain aneurysms.
Bernie Sanders is 78, in case anyone is keeping score, but he’s not included in this game because there’s no evidence of sexual impropriety or dementia in his case.
It’s genuinely hard to say whether Trump will retain the White House in 2020. Incumbents have a huge advantage, but there are numerous reports of his support base receding faster than his hairline and polls suggest that the top five Democrat candidates would tie or beat Trump if the election were held tomorrow, let alone in a year.
All this does, however, is make it more baffling that Joe Biden is still the front runner. Brand name recognition is a big deal, especially in a country ravaged by late stage capitalism and underfunded education in the way that America has been, but is Joe Biden really going to win the Democratic nomination just because he’s the candidate people have heard of?! Or, more troublingly, is it that he’s an old white man and that “an old white man” is what the President is “supposed” to be?
The Democratic party could field household appliances that would do less damage to America and the world than a second Trump presidency, but they’re sticking with a man whose history on race is questionable, whose life expectancy hovers around zero, and who may or may not be losing his marbles under the kind of stress that will wear out any human of any age.
There’s a reason the phrase “aging like a President” exists. Abraham Lincoln was an exceptional wrestler in his youth and known as a gifted weightlifter – an exceptionally strong man who assumed the office at fifty-two looking like this:
…and within four years looked like this:
Granted, Lincoln had arguably more stress than any other President in history. There was a civil war during his time in office (it was in all the papers), but that’s still a shocking rate of decline, and the effects of the Highest Office on the men who attain it are brutal, Civil War or not. Many people think George W. Bush was essentially left to play with his Legos while the cabal around him ran the country, and he still visibly wilted in the eight years of his tenure.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Bush was a born again Christian, and those with religious faith tend to age better than the average. Being President, it would seem, was much harder on George W.’s constitution than his years as a coke-fueled alcoholic. These are not facts that augur well for Joe Biden, a man already looking frail at the campaign stage.
The truth, however, is that Joe Biden’s health and the possibility of his death in office* aren’t the biggest problems that his candidacy raises. The biggest issue with Candidate Biden is that it would mean, yet again, that the Baby Boom generation refuse to relinquish their death grip on the world. A choice between Biden and Trump is a choice between two white men who were born in the 1940s. And white men born in the 1940s have been running the world for what seems like forever. A Biden candidacy, like a Trump Presidency or the Brexit vote, represents the last agonal gasps of a culture trying to keep things The Way They Should Be, where there’s no global warming, black people stay in the black neighbourhoods, everyone goes to church, a little light fondling of a woman is just being playful, the Rolling Stones are on tour, and the President is an old white man.
In truth, a quick glance at the corner of whatever screen you’re reading this on should be ample evidence that it’s 2019 – there is a catastrophic climate crisis, people are sick of racism and sexism, gender roles can be whatever people want them to be, the fastest growing religious group is atheism and the last thing that can fix the myriad problems of this modern world is more of the same thinking from more of the same old white men.
The Stones, admittedly, are still on tour.
The best way to beat an old man voted in by other old men isn’t to run another old man against him. It’s to show people a better way, through innovation and youth and inspiration instead of endless infighting amongst a dwindling group of pensioners who have declared themselves The Only People That Matter in perpetuity, and who will continue to squabble amongst themselves as the world burns around them and the ashes choke their grandchildren. If young people came out to vote in the same numbers that old people do, America would never have another Republican President, Congress or Senate again, but they don’t because they don’t feel that their voices matter in a cultural landscape still dominated by the elderly.
Surely, for the Left, it’s worth it to swallow some pride and let new voices in if it means a chance at progress rather than just getting our tired old candidate to the top of the heap? Obama was a step in the right (leftwards) direction, and Trump is a backlash against Obama – as discussed, against his youth as much as his race. The Democrats got a young black man elected, and old people and racists weren’t happy about it, but that’s no reason for the Democrats to turn tail. Half the reason Hillary Clinton lost was that she was an emblem of the Old Guard when the left wanted someone new. Would it not be better in 2020 for the left to be brave and push on instead of retreating to safer ground behind old faces and exhausted positions?
*Fun fact: Being POTUS is statistically one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Eight out of forty-five presidents have died in office. Four were natural causes and four were assassination, meaning the chances of going out either way are even, and almost every sitting President has been the subject of attempted-but-failed assassination plots. Woodrow Wilson, meanwhile, survived his term much diminished having overworked himself to the point of a debilitating stroke.
Lyndon Johnson was probably the most scatalogical president. Whilst Grover Cleveland was allegedly fond of peeing out of the White House window, Johnson would reportedly talk to reporters whilst sat on the toilet as a show of dominance, and frequently ended arguments by waggling his penis at lesser-endowed critics. Perhaps as a result of his obsession with excretory function, he was also fond of pointing out that in politics, it’s “a lot easier to be inside the tent pissing out than it is to be outside the tent, trying to piss in.”
He had a point. Complaining from the sidelines is all well and good, but if you want change, you have to be in a position to affect it.
This is the argument in favour of Joe Biden. Sure, he’s old and far more conservative than most people are aware (Cody Johnston’s assertion that his best course of action would be to run as a Republican candidate is well observed and tragically unheeded) and he has no charisma and he makes women uncomfortable and he might be going senile and all of the other criticisms, but if people know who he is they might vote for him and give the Democrats a win, and then it would all be worth it.
This has been the Republican strategy all along. Almost nobody actually likes Donald Trump. He was a joke candidate, he’s personally unpleasant, and many doubted that he would even get the party nomination. But the Republicans are nothing if not pragmatists – morally bankrupt pragmatists, maybe, but they saw that Trump was their best chance to win and so they backed him.
This even filters down to the individual level. If you’re, say, a religious zealot whose whole identity revolves around the banning of abortion, it won’t matter to you whether an oil company gets a tax cut. So long as Mike Pence is on the ticket, you’ll vote for it. Meanwhile, if you’re an oil executive, you don’t care how many young women will die in back alley abortion clinics so long as your wage packet gets thicker and environmental legislation is rolled back. And if you’re a flat-out racist, none of that stuff matters but at least you know the candidate agrees with your views.
In this way, probably by accident more than design and in a fluke of Trumpian luck, the Trump campaign assembled a loose coalition of the worst people in society and gathered them all under one tent. It didn’t matter that it was a freak show tent – it only mattered that they had enough people under it to win, and win they did.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to say two things: Joe Biden is a terrible, outdated candidate and might be the worst possible choice in the crowded race for the Democratic nomination.
Also, liberals in America should vote for Biden if he gets the nod.
The world doesn’t need another old white man to be President. The world doesn’t need to still be held hostage by the ideas of their parents’ or grandparents’ generation, forced to view everything through a distorting lens clamped mercilessly to their faces by people who can’t let go of the sixties. The world sure as shit doesn’t need Joe Biden.
But when the alternative might be a literal fascist state in America, headed by an incompetent and increasingly senile demagogue who will be ever-more-tempted to cling on to power if he is encouraged by a second term, the people need to vote for Biden. It’s a shitty move, but it’s a blocking move, and that might be the best that can be done in November 2020.
As for those of us on the lunatic, leftist fringe? Our job will be to get Biden into office and then force the decrepit bastard to the left as hard and as often as we can. Because the best thing the Democrats could do would be to pick someone fresh, and interesting, and young. Maybe even black or gay or female or any combination thereof. Business-as-usual politics is what put us in this mess in the first place. But we’re sure as hell not getting OUT of this mess through another Trump term.
The only thing I want more than people to vote for Biden in 2020 is for the Democrats to put someone else on the ticket.