Writer’s Note: This piece was originally published in October of 2020. Slight adjustments and updates were since made to reflect the results of the presidential election.
As Inauguration Day approaches and Joe Biden is poised to become our 46th President, many on the Left are concerned that a Biden presidency will usher in an era of liberal complacency and neoliberal normalcy - the exact things, they would correctly argue, that led to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory in the first place. They’re worried that the Left was “asleep under Obama” and that they’ll go back to sleep under Biden, killing any momentum for key progressive reforms like Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, debt forgiveness, etc. These same Leftists often argue that a silver lining of the Trump presidency is a reawakened progressive movement that formed in response to it, and they are nervous that replacing Trump with a moderate like Biden will cause their movement to fizzle into obscurity. I’ve heard these points made literally hundreds of times online; I’m sure you have as well. But I’ve never found them particularly convincing, and I especially don’t right now.
For one thing, their timeline is off. The progressive movement, as it is currently constituted, did not form in response to Donald Trump. This incarnation of the progressive movement was inspired by the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, which, of course, ended several months before Trump’s victory and subsequent inauguration. Bernie’s campaign is what created a national consciousness around single payer healthcare, a living wage, and tuition-free college, and Leftists fought for those ideas on his behalf long before anyone took seriously the possibility that Trump would actually become president.
There was indeed an organized backlash to Donald Trump’s victory, but that took the form of the “#resistance,” which is hardly a Leftist movement. In fact, I would argue that this liberal “awakening” which occurred after Trump took office was controlled opposition that did far more harm than good to the progressive cause. Besides spreading the new McCarthyism of Russiagate, cheering on an utterly pointless (first) impeachment proceeding, electing a bunch of ex-CIA officers to Congress, and catapulting a failed mayor of South Bend, Indiana to national stardom, what has this #resistance movement accomplished? The most significant thing to come out of it was the inaugural Women’s March in 2017, when the now famous photo was taken of a protester holding a sign that read “If Hillary was President We’d Be at Brunch.”
Leftists who worry that a Biden presidency will temper their commitment to continue the struggle for a progressive agenda are making the mistake of conflating two entirely different political phenomena. One formed before Election Day 2016, and attempted to highlight systemic failures that we feared would lead to Trump’s election. The other formed in response to the result of the 2016 election, with the goal of re-legitimizing and restoring that same failed system so that they could go back to their daily lives without fretting over who the president is.
The #resistance was never an asset to the Left, and it never will be. Therefore, the disbanding of their movement after Biden’s inauguration is something to be welcomed rather than feared.
After all, our main gripe with mainstream liberals from day one is that they were protesting Donald Trump, the man, when our contention is that Trump is merely a product of a corrupt and predatory system, and its decades-long rot. We tried to correct course before Trump was elected, and we’ll keep trying after he’s gone. It’s they, the #resistance, who need Trump as their foil to keep their movement alive. Without him, they’ll go back to brunch (assuming their favorite spots ever reopen), and our work will continue.
And we should be happy about this. I, for one, look forward to the day when I can advocate for single payer healthcare without some brainwashed paranoid lunatic calling me a Russian asset for it. I look forward to critiquing Biden’s measly and means-tested debt relief plans without being labeled a closet Trump supporter, and criticizing Nancy Pelosi without being branded a toxic, sexist Bernie Bro. These cheap, inane arguments are all the #resistance has ever been good for. They’re of no use to the Left - if anything, they’re a hindrance. But lucky for us, they don’t aspire to be a political force; in fact, they want the opposite. They long for a return to “normalcy” so they can go back to their blue pill reality (no pun intended) in which all is well in the world so long as Democrats are in charge.
And after January 20th, they’ll be back in that little bubble of theirs, and most importantly, they’ll be out of our way. Sure, we’ll get the occasional snarky replies from them on our social media feeds whenever we criticize the Biden administration: “So I guess you want Trump” will become “So I guess you wanted Trump.” “We can argue about policy after the election” will become “The midterms are coming up and we need to keep the party united.” “Push Biden to the left once he’s in office” will become “He inherited a mess, he needs time to clean it up.” And so on, and so forth. While they won’t completely disappear, they’ll be placated enough to keep them from politically engaging beyond their insipid, boilerplate defenses of the status quo.
This should be cause for celebration on the Left. We don’t need the #resistance to be activated, because they were never on the team in the to begin with. Four years ago, it was reasonable to assume that perhaps Trump’s victory would spark a mass progressive uprising, but we ran that experiment, and it yielded a Joe Biden nomination. Neoliberal hegemony created the conditions for Trump, and the response to Trump from the #resistance liberals was to double down on neoliberal hegemony by voting in someone to the right of their previous candidate. To be worried that these people will disengage if Biden wins is to grossly miscalculate the affects of their engagement in the first place, which has been disastrous for the progressive movement. Sadly, we can’t beat them yet; there are still, despite our best efforts, too many of them, and too few of us. We also can’t join them - obviously. So the best we can do in the short term is to distract them. Let them eat brunch. Give em a couple mimosas and a stack of red velvet pancakes and tell em everything’s fine. Keep them out of our way for a few years. We’ll elect more down-ballot progressives without mainstream liberals following primary races as closely. We’ll build broader support for our policy programs without the general public being turned off by the nauseating aesthetic of modern liberalism. And to the extent that pressuring a Biden administration is even possible, we’ll do so much more effectively if our centrist opposition is too hopped up on prosecco and strawberry syrup to bother pushing back against us.
So if you fear that a President Biden will lull the liberals to sleep, I can assure you that there’s nothing to be afraid of in this respect, because these liberals are too far gone to be of any use to us when they’re awake. The end is near for the #resistance era, and this is good news for the Left.
Photo: Cindy Simms Parr