SINCE WORLD WAR II, American power has dominated our lives in every sphere: from Hollywood blockbusters to inward investment to nuclear weapons and wars in far-off lands. Their influence only grew after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. And social media has multiplied cultural Americanisation, particularly among young people, and especially among activists, many having abandoned traditions of social democratic and working-class solidarity for US campus liberalism.
Joe Biden’s inauguration yesterday thus had the feeling of a global event, with all of us vicariously participating. Much of the media, including our state broadcaster, put objectivity to bed and resorted to fawning, like Nicholas Witchell narrating the birth of a Royal baby. It helps that Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump is such an obvious ogre, that he degraded himself and his office, that he whipped up a posse of meatheads to attack democratic proceedings when the election went against him. Trump’s obvious badness permits journalists to let their guard down and revel in great power.
The mainstream media was proud of its lack of deference towards Trump. You can feel BBC journalists beaming at their own courageousness every time they relate that a Trump claim is “false” or “baseless”. But this only raises doubts about what they were doing before. American Presidents have routinely lied over the years, and all the more dangerously for the fact that those liars were convincing, whereas even Trump’s own supporters knew he was, as we say in Scotland, at it. And mainstream media was complicit in more dangerous lies, which, among other things, took the UK into a succession of brutal wars.
The dangerous thing about Biden is that he is untested, and nobody really knows what he stands for. Or rather, we know all too well: a return to the old “centrist” consensus of anti-terror panics, authoritarianism and post-democratic trade deals. He has already reversed Trump’s most odious measures (though not the most odious of all, on Palestine), but even a standard right-wing Republican would have done the same. Essentially, Biden’s whole appeal is negative: he is not Trump.
More subtly, he is not Bernie Sanders. But this factor is just as crucial in all the elite’s grovelling over Biden-Harris. Their historical role, during this crucial crisis, was to insulate ruling classes worldwide from any type of anti-establishment challenge. They promise a restoration of the American world supremacy that sustained generations of rising wealth and power for elites everywhere. The result, for working class Americans, is that they have missed their greatest opening to impose such revolutionary demands as universal free healthcare like our NHS. Some halfway house will be concocted to keep the left quiet, but a crucial opportunity has been missed: “never let a good crisis go to waste” is a useful rule in politics.
Meanwhile, the short window where liberal journalists criticised American claims as “false” and “baseless” will be over for the foreseeable future. The standard protocols of deference will resume, strengthened, not weakened, by the memory of heroic “resistance” to Trump. Our broadcasters will return to treating American Presidents as Royals, and Royals who, unlike the inane Windsors, exercise non-trivial power over our lives.