By Luis Meiners
It has been 100 days since Joe Biden took office. That ceremony took place in the immediate context of the assault on the capitol, of a pandemic that reached peaks of 300,000 new cases a day, and against the background of a historic rebellion that shook the foundations of the imperialist power. The central task of the new president was clear: a return to normal. In other words, rebuilding the legitimacy of the political regime and the capitalist system and restoring the battered imperialist hegemony.
The first days of the new administration were marked by a rush of executive orders to reverse some of the most irritating elements of Trump’s policies and contain the pandemic. This had a strong symbolic content that sought to generate the feeling of having turned the page.
However, the depth of the multiple crises that shake the US, whose effects have accumulated for more than a decade and are now aggravated by the pandemic, combined with a rebellion of historical characteristics, mean that symbolic gestures will not be enough. These elements condition Biden’s agenda, as it has been advanced by his main initiatives in these first 100 days and reaffirmed in his speech before the joint session of Congress.
Imperial restoration is not free
One of the central elements of Biden’s agenda has been the announcement of an economic package worth 4 trillion dollars, split into two bills, one focused on investment in infrastructure called the “American Jobs Plan” valued 2.3 trillion. and the 1.8 billion “American Families Plan” that includes investment in education, tax cuts for middle and salaried sectors, and subsidies for families. These are in addition to the pandemic rescue package approved in March and valued at 1.9 trillion dollars.
This expansion of public spending finds support in sections of the ruling class, even when they express reservations about having to contribute to pay the bill. The Business Roundtable, an association representing CEOs of large corporations, said in a statement about Biden’s announcements: “Business leaders strongly support the effort to reinvigorate the U.S. economy by upgrading the nation’s physical infrastructure—including broadband—a vital investment in America’s economic future that would result in tangible economic benefits for American families. We would not support increasing taxes on corporations, which would slow economic recovery and hurt American job creators and employees.”
This is because there is a growing consensus in the ruling class around the idea that measures need to be taken to stimulate an economy that comes from a decade of slow recovery after the crisis of 2008/9. This need is exacerbated by the growing inter-imperialist competition with China. In this sense, there is a clear connection between a domestic policy marked by some expansion of public spending, with a foreign policy of strengthening the US hegemonic position in the face of growing inter-imperialist rivalry. In the words of the Business Roundtable: “Leading U.S. employers also support increasing access and affordability to childcare and college, training our workforce, sparking U.S. investment, accelerating innovation, addressing climate change, modernizing the immigration system and empowering the United States to out-compete China and other countries.”
In line with this, the foreign policy outlined by the Biden administration in its first 100 days has been oriented towards this competition with rival powers. At the same time, it has sought to restore the image of the United States in the world, returning to the Paris Agreement and the WHO and strengthening ties with its traditional allies
The economic and health crisis and the declining imperialist hegemony are only part of the multiple crises that are combined in the US. The 2008/9 crisis inaugurated a decade of radicalization and political polarization that shook the consensus of the neoliberal “center” and the bipartisan regime. Trump, being an expression of this process, in turn contributed to deepening it. The final expression of this was the campaign against the alleged electoral fraud that culminated in the assault on the capitol, an event that pushed the bourgeoisie and the establishment to close ranks in defense of the institutional order. On the other side, the immense rebellion against racism and police violence demonstrated the depth and extent of a radicalization to the left, sparking warning signs in the regime.
Faced with this scenario, Biden and the Democratic Party are trying to regain legitimacy to return to the “normal” functioning of the system. That is why he took a position in favor of the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, and speaks of the need to advance police reform. While at the same time, he condemns the protests as “violent”, defends the institution of policing and continues to transfer military grade equipment to police departments. Something similar happens in immigration policy, an element in which he has already turned his back on campaign promises. Despite having repealed some of the elements of Trump’s policy (the ban Muslim for example), he maintains the closure of the border that has caused a humanitarian crisis, has expelled tens of thousands of people and sent 19 thousand children to detention centers.
Biden’s orientation is, in this sense, clear. He seeks to discursively establish a distance with Trump and smooth out some of the most irritating elements of Trump’s policy in order to regain legitimacy to continue with the fundamental aspects of the policies put forward by both parties of the bipartisan regime.
Beyond 100 days
Moving away from the conjuncture, Biden’s proposed normalization agenda faces enormous challenges. The conditions that fueled the polarization, radicalization and instability of the last decade are still there. In terms of the economy, the current accelerated growth is tied to conjunctural causes such as the gradual end of pandemic restrictions and the cash injection through the economic stimulus packages. As Michael Roberts points out, it is a “sugar rush”, that is, a moment of acceleration that does not reverse structural trends. Roberts points out: “the multiplier effect of the fiscal stimulus will soon dissipate and then the US economy will depend, not on consumers’ pent-up demand but on the willingness and ability of the capitalist sector to invest.” And this depends on the rate of profit, whose tendency to decline and stagnate has not been reversed. So, Roberts concludes: “These underlying forces suggest that the ‘sugar rush’ will be just that – a short burst followed by slumber at best.” Even if Biden’s economic plan succeeds in being fully passed and implemented, it will not be able to counteract the underlying dynamics that have produced the crisis. In this framework, the Biden administration is unlikely to rebuild long lasting foundations for the legitimacy of the regime to guarantee a return to capitalist stability. The social force that won the streets in the 2020 rebellion is still there. Thus, it is essential that the socialist left be politically independent from the Biden government. For this, it will not only be necessary to organize the fight for all the demands of the working class and all the oppressed sectors, but also to advance in the key task of building an independent socialist party.