Our Weekly Discontents, 11/9/20

I hope we don't go back to the way things were.

Glitter and trash on the street at an election-celebration block party in Williamsburg this weekend.


Well, Joe Biden won. The race got called Saturday, now it’s Monday, Trump hasn’t conceded yet and probably won’t.

Hi everyone, this is Jack Crosbie from Discourse Blog.

This weekend we had a great time celebrating a few friends’ birthdays. Everyone was high off the election win, the weather in the city was incredible, and my girlfriend had to repeatedly plead with me not to start yelling about how disastrous the election actually was and how Biden and Harris’s most historic role will be as the last captains on the S.S. Neoliberalism as it sinks into the Fascist Ocean in 2024. 

Because it’s true: Democrats are already rushing to blame the left for their piss-poor showing downballot, Trump’s lame-duck period has the potential to be one of the most destructive in history, and even after he is eventually dragged out of office in January his insane, destabilizing presence will continue to fuck everything up for years to come. 

All of that, weird as it sounds, doesn’t scare me all that much. What scares me is a return to apathy. For the past four years, and the past summer especially, we’ve seen that an engaged, pissed-off electorate can force even the entrenched forces of the status quo into making some concessions through direct action and protests and organizing and yes, voting. What scares me is the tired and not at all original thought that everyone really will go back to brunch after this. That the broad swathes of largely comfortable people who have not been touched by the President’s policies will no longer be confronted with a reality that they cannot accept. That the children the Biden administration will put in cages will be obscured enough that their photos do not disrupt daily life for most of us. This is what Biden explicitly ran on: a presidency that you no longer have to think about. I think it’s too early to tell how this will pan out. But I hope for all our sakes that the change in political energy we’ve seen over the past nine or ten months can survive our return to normalcy.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

The worst of all possible outcomes have yet to come to pass! I say this with genuine joy and cautious optimism. While the United States remained a nuclear-armed dagger pointed at the rest of the world, there’s now a set timeline for the handoff of the nuclear football to, at minimum, a less impulsive set of hands. This is the only good kind of nuclear exchange.

Over at Wars of Future Past this week, I talk about the handoff of the AUMF-authored wars to a fourth president, a truly staggering feat, and what new technology these old wars will see. Predator drones, which Bush armed and Obama made iconic, have retired from service, though their successor Reaper drones still fly. I expect we’ll see the battlefield debut of drone swarms before the 2030s. (My optimism can only hold out so long).

Before the election, I made the prediction in this space that police violence would be common and under-covered following the votes. Police attacked protesters in New York City on Tuesday night (the New York Times comically framed it “Police and Protesters Clash In New York City”), as well as in DC, Los Angeles, Rayleigh, and Portland, and possibly elsewhere. It’s not as flashy as militias, though it’s no less fashy. An inability (or simply disinterest) from democratic leaders asserting control and restraint over the very armed agents they employ and equip is likely to be a fault line of the coming Biden era, and one the party would do well to anticipate and preempt.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

From a foreign policy standpoint, the election (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn it, I guess) of Joe Biden is in many respects a return to normalcy. That’s welcome in some ways—as Kelsey noted above, taking the nuclear football away from Donald Trump is probably a good thing. But in others, it’s not. FX columnist Daniel Bessner explained this this very well in his post-election analysis:

Finally, Biden subscribes to an ahistorically rosy picture of twentieth-century history. As he puts it, “for seventy years, the United States … played a leading role in writing the rules, forging the agreements, and animating the institutions that guide relations among nations and advance collective security and prosperity.” Here, Biden engages in nostalgia for the “liberal international order” that the United States supposedly constructed and led after World War II. Unfortunately, outside of the North Atlantic core of the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany, the liberal international order was neither liberal, international, or an order; rather, it was premised on the domination, exploitation, and, sometimes, invasion, of countries in the Global South. Abandoning the Pollyanna shibboleths of establishment history and confronting the realities of what US “leadership” actually meant for most of the world is crucial if the nation is ever to help chart a positive, democratic, and genuinely global path forward. Biden, it appears, has little interest in doing so.

I also began to write up my thoughts about what Biden’s election is likely to mean on a range of issues, including those where I think he’ll mean a change for the better (climate change, the potential for international cooperation, arms control) and where I fear he’ll mean a change for the worse (welcome back, liberal interventionism).

A Lonely Impulse of Delight

Connor Wroe Southard

Annnnnnd we’re back! I took last week off because [gestures around]. I stole the [gestures around] rhetorical device from an iconic college football fan blog for which I’m a peripheral contributor. It’s proven useful, because [gestures around].

Anyway, I will again have a newsletter for this week. I’m not sure yet what it’ll be about. Candidates include the latest season of The Mandalorian, or perhaps Ulysses, or perhaps something else. The last time I did a newsletter, in the forgotten days of October, it was about settling in for winter, through the lens of The Thing (1982). There are currently a couple inches of snow outside my window. It’s going to be a long winter. Sign up and we’ll get through it together.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

I wrote on Schrödinger's ballot count just before it was called for Biden.

It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Joe Biden and he’s not going to improve many of our lives in any material way but watching Donald Trump the worst man we have trapped in a constant state of having just lost and always being just about to lose is very funny and we should appreciate it while we can.

We also heard from Joe Keohane on our country’s inevitable failure to contend with the pandemic.

James Baldwin wrote this about cops during a protest march: “There they stood in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with most American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club, or a fist, or a gun.” The coronavirus crisis was incompatible with American hero mythology, with our idea of action. We simply did not have the psychological tools to cope with something that would not respond to violence, threats, or bombast. You couldn’t kick its ass, or root for the army to kick its ass, or even console yourself with fantasies of kicking its ass yourself--that sad but enduring Walter Mitty man-saves-the-day fantasy that I suspect provides much of the drive of the American male’s love for guns. No, with Covid there was no comfort in violent fantasy. You couldn’t do anything. You really could only do nothing. In fact, for the vast majority of us, nothing was the thing you had to do. And the country failed spectacularly, and 2020 feels like the year that will never end. 

Elsewhere this may or may not be newly relevant:

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Cruel and Usual

Shane Ferro

As far as this newsletter is concerned, the two most important questions for a Biden administration are 1) who will be running DOJ, both the Attorney General and the individual U.S. Attorneys in each district, and 2) what are they going to do about “executive detention” (immigration jails)? I wish/hope that the answer to #1 could be interesting and radical, but I’m not expecting much out of Crime Bill Joe Biden or Kamala The Cop Harris. I hope that we get U.S. Attorneys who at the very least do not obstruct the prosecutorial experiments going on at the city and state level.

On the immigration front, obviously Trump radically reshaped what was a nightmare years before he took office. Some damage will never be undone, but immigration policy is almost entirely at the hands of the executive at this point. The new administration should take advantage of that. I am working on a longer post about this, which will be up later this week (great time to sign up!). I’ve previously written about how expedited removal, or immediate deportation without a hearing, is unconstitutional, and very briefly about the trauma of immigration detention.

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

This past week, I avoided anything election-related; instead, I wrote about the Proto-Indo-European language - the tongue ancestral to those used by more than 3 billion people today, everywhere from Bengal to California - and the people who spoke it thousands of years ago. Thanks to a combination of comparative linguistics, archaeology, and genetics, we can pinpoint the Indo-European homeland on the endless grasslands north of the Black Sea more than 5,000 years ago. This coming week, I’ll have two pieces: one on Ötzi, a man who was murdered and froze into a glacier around 3200 BC, where he remained until 1991; and another on national identity and ethnonationalism in the Trump era and beyond.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

This week we’ve got an election breakdown with Benjamin Dixon of the Benjamin Dixon Show, and his return to Insurgents Global HQ couldn’t have come at a better time. While we’re somewhat concerned with the possibility that the Democrats will not be able to flip the Senate and thus will not be able to accomplish anything at all for the next several years, setting themselves up for a disastrous repeat of the Obama era, Benjamin showed up with a much more optimistic view of whether the party will go in the direction of John Kasich, Rahm Emanuel and the Lincoln Project or the direction of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and the activists who delivered the election to Joe Biden.

BORDER/LINES

We didn’t know who won the presidential election when we wrote last week’s newsletter, by which I mean we knew/assumed/hoped Biden had it in the bag but it hadn’t been called yet. With that in mind, instead of writing about things the Trump administration had done with regards to immigration that week, we decided to take a look back at the last four years and ahead at what a Biden administration could do—and what it could un-do, which is obviously a lot. It feels kind of weird to celebrate a Biden win knowing full well that Biden was part of a presidential administration that detained families and deported millions. It feels even weirder to watch people talk about how the Biden era will mean the end of “kids in cages” despite that inconvenient truth. But it’s very possible that Biden will not only undo all the new horrors introduced by Trump—Remain in Mexico, expedited deportations, the near-total shutdown of asylum, ridiculous limits on legal immigration—but also if pushed, build an immigration system that’s less punitive and exclusionary. Fingers crossed.