Lady Gaga, Joe Biden, and the Next Four Years
Back to Normal is Not Enough
After four years of the Trump Administration’s knuckle-dragging descent into anti-government fear-mongering, race-bating, and corporate pandering, the bar in US politics is low. With a sense of cautious optimism, I tuned into the inauguration of President Biden on Wednesday. Father Leo O’Donovan began the ceremonies with a discussion of American patriotism, which he said is born “not out of power and privilege, but of care for the common good.” As if to provide a counterpoint to those words, power and privilege were on display as Lady Gaga emerged to sing our national anthem. The hypocrisy only increased when Jennifer Lopez, with an annual salary of $40 million, sang “This Land is Your Land,” a song originally written by the leftist Woody Guthrie as a commentary on the inequalities and suffering of the Great Depression.
As I watched the above, I was tempted to be cynical. In the deeply disturbing book Who Rules America, author G. William Domhoff lays out that this land is hardly our land, but remains the land of the corporate rich, exemplified by the super-rich celebrities whose appearance at the inauguration was a crass appeal to the analgesic effects of popular culture. Joe Biden has been part of the political establishment for decades and his policy platform does not promise anything particularly new, but rather a return to the safe predictability of the Obama years. This is itself a good step, as almost anything after the Trump Administration must be, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough. The cynical leftist is, however, an ultimately counterproductive stereotype. Our task must be to inspire and to lay out a path forward. In this vein, I would like to reflect on some of the hopes raised by the speakers.
President Biden urged Americans to take a moment to stand in each other’s shoes, in the hopes that we might envision what life is like under the conditions that shape our views and opinions. President Biden, I urge you to stand in the working people’s shoes just for a moment and remember us. Remember that medical debt accounts for 62 percent of bankruptcies in the US. Remember that the average college graduate owes $37,584 with interest driving that amount up to unreachable levels. Remember that 63 percent of Black Americans fear police using deadly force against them or their loved ones. Remember that women earn 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, while facing sexualization and harassment normalized in the United States. And remember that a creeping sense of powerlessness is growing, especially at lower income levels.
President Biden, the people, not the corporate rich through their donations, must be sovereign. The democratic state you profess to support must be truly democratic, whereby the people are sovereign through their voice and votes, which cannot be drowned out by the billions of dollars corporations can throw into election coffers. As you strive, President Biden, to protect democracy, you must attempt to limit the impact of corporate money in American politics. This money, far from being the protected speech the Supreme Court determined it to be, dilutes the voices of the working people to nothing and allows companies to buy and sell policy and law as if they were stocks. That is not democracy. If you truly value democracy, all people’s voices must be equal, regardless of the amounts in their bank accounts. Reverend Silvester Beaman concluded the ceremony with a prayer in which he proclaimed that “we will share our abundance with those who are hungry.“ Rev. Beaman urged Americans to share their abundance with the less fortunate as a means of healing the deep divisions that have fractured our society. The inequalities of our society have led to the concentration of wealth and therefore political power in the hands of a tiny fraction of the population.
The consequences of this situation are both political and material. Politically, the vast majority of the working people are without political power because access to political power requires access to massive amounts of money. Materially, the lack of political power relegates issues like secure housing, accessible healthcare, and affordable education to tertiary significance, creating conditions of poverty in the midst of plenty. President Biden, take the words of Rev. Beaman to heart and share the abundance. Let the holders of astronomical wealth contribute that wealth to the public good, to the raising up of their fellow citizens, and to the benefit of the nation.
President Biden said we have much to build, much to heal, and much to gain. Prominent among those calls to action were racial justice and healthcare for all. These words should be a cause for hope and optimism, especially for women and minorities, whose voices must be elevated beyond the marginalization they suffered under Trump. I am hopeful that President Biden will help heal the wounds and ease the suffering of the working people. But will his corporate masters allow it?
The Washington Post called the inauguration one unlike any other. The hygiene measures and the presence of 25,000 troops in the capital offer a striking departure from past ceremonies, but the rhetoric and the hopeful promises to the working people are the same as they have been for decades. So let President Biden give it a try, but I urge the working people of the United States to watch and take note. This country needs workable and egalitarian solutions to strengthen democracy and bring all of us onto the path of self-actualization through economic security and equality of opportunity. Do President Biden and the Democratic Party measure up? When will this land be remade for you and me?