Unpacking the Progressive Shortcomings of New President Biden

Design by Emma Lehman

Image Description: An illustration of Joe Biden over a blue background with stars, similar to the American flag. Biden is wearing a blue tie and his teeth are very bright and sparkling.

The 2020 election was marketed as the most important election in our lifetime. Across both sides of the aisle, journalists and celebrities alike emphasized how it was “the most consequential election ever.” Even former President Donald Trump called it “the most important election in US history” at the Republican National Convention of 2020. We were given two options, both presented as vastly different from the other, and both presented as their party’s saving grace.

Then, after what felt like a month long election night (it was actually just four days, but that in itself was already unusually long), news networks across the country broadcasted Joe Biden as the projected 46th President of the United States. For many of the 81 million or so who voted for him, there was a palpable sigh of relief. Kamala Harris recorded her infamously languid “we did it Joe” phone call, celebrities posted tearful and celebratory social media posts, the streets of Washington D.C. flooded with fanfare, and the resounding sentiment was that we had done it. The big work was done and things could return to “normal.”

In a lot of ways, that sentiment was correct. So much of Joe Biden’s campaign rested on returning to a sense of “normalcy” opposed to the hellish political nightmare former President Trump had cultivated. Joe Biden was introduced as the moderate savior to America’s tense political climate. He proposed an 100 day pause on deportation in an attempt to reverse President Trump’s immigration policies, $2000 stimulus relief checks, 150 million COVID-19 vaccinations in 100 days, a diverse administration, and an above all affable attitude. Like most presidents, Joe Biden racked up a wide variety of campaign promises that will most likely not all be met within the 100 day timer set to ding on April 29, 2021. The “normalcy” the Biden administration promises is not just returning to political systems run by qualified candidates working both sides like in the pre Trump days. Our return to normal is a return to cloaking the discriminatory nature of our political systems behind self-proclaimed progression.

Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration’s proposed moratorium on deportation did not pass. In fact, the moratorium was actually prepared as a means to prioritize the deportation of “undocumented immigrants deemed a threat to national security or public safety, or who recently crossed the border illegally.” Within 2 weeks of the Biden Presidency, hundreds of immigrants had been deported. 

And what have the Biden administration’s ‘progressive’ immigration policies done to help the “kids in cages” that were so essential to defining the cruelty of the Trump administration’s immigration policies? The Biden administration still expels all children who arrive with their parents on the border, in line with the pandemic-related restrictions enacted by Trump. By February 2021, there were approximately 4,730 children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. By March, the ORR facilities reached full capacity and the Biden administration maintained it had no choice but to reopen the temporary overflow facilities they had once disavowed. This is not particularly surprising considering Joe Biden’s long history of complacency with enthusiastic deportation policies. According to a Department of Homeland Security report, more than 390,000 immigrants were deported under the Obama-Biden administration in the Fiscal Year 2009 . The American political scape has an inclination to romanticize its past with idyllic callbacks to a Pre-Trump era. This Obama-esque swag era the Biden administration is desperately trying to revert to (enough with the White House catwalk photos) uses the decidedly silly Presidential media controversies like tan suits to deflect from harmful policies. 

Press articles  about the Biden era’s new overflow holding facilities have images of  decorated classroom settings with ribbons and bows and report the plush of new facilities opposed to ones ran by the preceding administration. America’s energy is not directed towards dismantling Biden’s regressive step backwards or acknowledging the possibly early foreshadowing to future pitfalls of this admin because Biden has marketed himself on “restor[ing] humanity and efficiency to the immigration system.” 

This version of kids in cages –– kids in cages with a smile ––  is what distinguishes the Biden administration’s policies from the Trump administration’s kids in cages with a frowny face. The American news circuit seems to only consider something worthy of outrage if it is presented in an unpalatable manner. This begs the question of whether Donald Trump was vilified more for his policies or the lack of decorum he had when presenting them. If Donald Trump had run migrant children overflow facilities with a better toupe and Mitt Romney-esque smile would he have received the same backlash? How can Joe Biden get away with regressing so backwards from the promises he had made before? Now that the face of the United States is an affable one who hugs his wife and tells long winded anecdotes with character names that sound fresh from the pages of a 1950s Archie comic (who is Corn Pop?), his shortcomings can be shrouded by his calming politically moderate demeanor. 

The amiable middleman posture comes at a cost. As we continue in the “at least he’s not Trump” atmosphere of discourse, the “pushing Biden left” front moves further from reality. In a last ditch effort to incentivize Georgia voters in the Senate runoffs last year, Biden promised immediate $2,000 coronavirus stimulus checks if Georgia voters sent Democrats Ossoff and Warnock to the Senate. Since then, the proposed $2,000 checks turned into a $1400 check proposal under the guise of being in addition to the previous $600 relief. This is all despite the $600 relief being issued in December of last year — a rough 9 months into the global pandemic. The one time $2,000 promised check was already a compromise on the left’s effort to receive relief, and the reduced relief bill still did not receive any House Republican votes. Where is the pushback so many left leaning spaces promised to uphold? Where are the calls for accountability?

On the front of vaccine distribution, Biden pledged 150 million COVID vaccinations within his first 100 days. Seeing as we hover the 50 day line (as of March 10) and are at an approximate 80 million doses delivered, I will not delve into the plausibility of 150 million vaccinations from a statistical standpoint. Instead, the focus will be on how despite the fact that communities of color are experiencing the effects of the virus more, white communities are most likely to have access to vaccinations. When asked on his opinions and prioritizations in regards to the racial disparities in vaccination access during a Town Hall, Joe Biden answered that the dissonance between white communities and communities of color’s access to vaccines was because “not everybody in the Hispanic and African American community knows how to get online to determine how to get in line for the COVID vaccination.” It feels a bit insulting to have the President of the United States say that the reasons white, wealthy communities have higher access to vaccines is because Black and/or Hispanic people don’t know how to get online. What does this say about the trajectory of Biden’s presidency if Black and Brown communities’ lack of public health resources is attributed to their own doing and assumed lack of education? 

The closest the Biden administration has come to accountable criticism from Democrats, self proclaimed leftists, and center left alike thus far is when U.S. ordered military airstrikes hit Syria on Thursday February 25, 2021, where various members of Congress criticized Biden for being “the fifth consecutive US president to order strikes in the Middle East” and authorizing “a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization.” Tweets with hundreds of thousands of likes popped up across timelines with jokes about the Biden administration prioritizing bombing Syria over the dispersion of coronavirus relief money. Unpacking the levity people take to death and the effects of American imperialism in the Middle East would be a whole nother article of its own. However, the takeaway from this surprise is that the Biden team –– as progressive as they marketed themselves –– have followed in the footsteps of every other presidential administration’s predisposition towards using violence to maintain American imperialist efforts. It’s foundational. This emphasizes the need for people to remember the presidential role is always one of an oppressor. 

Joe Biden won the election with a campaign rooted in a return to tradition. A return to tradition in this country does not just mean dogs in the White House and an affectionate family taking photos on the White House lawn. It means upholding the racist, capitalistic, imperialist foundation this nation was built upon.

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