Joe Biden is getting ready to rule. Forty agency review teams have been appointed to “ensure a smooth transfer of power ... to hit the ground running” on 20 January. The 500 appointees confirm what progressives should already know: Biden will be a president for the corporations, the banks and the generals.
Where to begin with Biden’s dream team to “restore the soul of America”? Scrolling through the list feels like looking up at billboards in Times Square: Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Disney, PepsiCo, Airbnb and Dropbox are all bringing their soul restoration know-how. Visa credit cards and investment bank JPMorgan Chase are back to advise Joe for old time’s sake. The new squad even includes Republicans, such as Cindy McCain, chair of Hensley & Co. and widow of John “Bomb Iran” McCain, and billionaire Meg Whitman, touted as a potential commerce secretary.
Leading the transition for the Department of Defense is Kathleen Hicks from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These people discuss mass murder over breakfast. In September 2020, the think tank composed four “plausible, differentiated scenarios” for the world order over the next decade. In its ideal scenario, in which a US vaccine reboots American power, the following would happen:
“China declines the US vaccine, touting its own version, and offering it to countries in its Belt and Road Initiative. Unfortunately, China’s vaccine carries a range of serious health complications ... The Department of Defense seizes on emerging technologies to increase lethality, reduce costs, and reset the balance of forces in key theatres. NATO alliance commitments strengthen along with defense spending.”
Biden has also confirmed several members of his permanent senior staff. Congressman Cedric Richmond will serve as senior adviser and director of public engagement. The only Democratic representative in Louisiana, Richmond has taken US$350,000 in donations from fossil fuel titans such as Chevron and Exxon. His congressional district includes a stretch along the Mississippi river known as “Cancer Alley” for the toxic by-products of its chemical plants.
A 2020 study by researchers at Tulane University found that air pollution declined dramatically in Louisiana in 2000-15, before increasing “throughout much of the south”. It was in 2015 that Richmond voted to expand crude oil refining in the state. Residents are much more likely to die from cancer or COVID-19 as a result. A plastics plant opening in 2022 will triple the concentration of carcinogens breathed in by the poor and Black residents of Louisiana. “He’s never liaised with any environmental justice groups”, campaigner Darryl Malek-Wiley told Gizmodo, a science and technology news site. “He might have liaised with business, but he hasn’t talked with us.”
The president-elect seems to be passionate about giving people cancer. His transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency includes Michael McCabe, who left Biden years before to work in public relations for DuPont chemical company. DuPont had just been forced to settle a case for dumping the carcinogenic substance C8 and poisoning the drinking water of an entire city. Expressing outrage at his appointment, Erin Brockovich—whose legal battle for victims of the chemical industry was depicted in the 2000 film—writes in the Guardian: “McCabe’s work inevitably contributed to staving off costly clean-up and additional regulation headaches for the company”.
This is the smooth transfer of power we are all meant to sigh in relief over. It’s smooth, all right. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, Brockovich writes.
Biden hasn’t forgotten the window dressing. Friendly-sounding organisations such as the Healing Justice Project, Earthjustice and the Solidarity Center are token gestures to progressives and will have zero influence. These groups are useful idiots at best, or just self-serving opportunists grateful to be close to power.
There is an almost complete overlap between those who advised Barack Obama and now Biden. Of his seven confirmed senior staff—those who will work closely with the president-elect throughout his term—only one did not work in Obama’s White House. This fact has been met with liberal establishment approval. But let’s not forget that Obama promised to end the wars, close Guantánamo Bay prison and provide decent health care for all. Instead, his administration sent far more troops to Afghanistan, kept the torture camps open and passed an Affordable Care Act that left the private healthcare companies in control. He made full use of his executive powers to kill and spy on US citizens, locked up whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and massively expanded drone warfare.
The first Black president stared down the Black Lives Matter movement, allowing police to be armed with military hardware and admonishing activists for “yelling” at politicians. When the big banks crashed the world economy, the Democrats—who controlled the White House and both houses of Congress—bailed them out with trillions of dollars. When the auto industry asked for the same, they again obliged on the condition that Big Auto sack hundreds of thousands of workers. Wages for auto workers plummeted by 25 percent.
This is the type of administration the Biden presidency hopes to restore. The appointment of many more women and people of colour to Biden’s transition team and White House staff is a cynical attempt to resuscitate illusions in a progressive American capitalism. “A diverse Cabinet will provide Biden with better advice and encourage more Americans to feel invested in his presidency”, writes Lindsay Chervinsky in the Washington Post. Eight years of Obama’s wars and corporate rule—swept under the rug by adoring liberals—is what it looks like when the oppressed feel “invested” in the leader of the US empire.
Progressives and leftists who campaigned for Biden are unhappy with some of his picks. They believed that by backing his campaign wholeheartedly, they would receive something from the president-elect in return. Reacting to a Department of Defense team packed with weapons manufacturers, anti-war activist Ramón Mejía asked in the monthly magazine In These Times: “Has Biden already forgotten who put him in the position he’s in?” Biden’s memory issues aside, the answer is no. The president-elect is surrounding himself with exactly the sort of people who put him in office: billionaires, state functionaries and military officials who run the capitalist system day-to-day between elections.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto described modern executive government as little more than “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. It does not exist to realise the democratic will, nor protect the weak from the powerful. It is the means by which the powerful coordinate their minority rule over society. The Biden presidency is already shaping as a remarkably straightforward example of this. Just about every interest group with a stake in the status quo is represented on the committee.