ELECTION 2020: ‘Sleepy Joe’s’ Task Is to Put Liberal America Back to Sleep

After four years of Trump and in the midst of a pandemic, the idea of sleeping through the next presidential term probably sounded pretty appealing to liberals, writes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook

At birth, all of us begin a journey that offers opportunities either to grow – not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually – or to stagnate. The journey we undertake lasts a lifetime, but there are dozens of moments each day when we have a choice to make tiny incremental gains in experience, wisdom and compassion or to calcify through inertia, complacency and selfishness.

No one can be engaged and receptive all the time. But it is important to recognise these small opportunities for growth when they present themselves, even if at any particular moment we may decide to avoid grasping them.

When we shut ourselves into the car on the commute to work, do we use it as a moment to be alone with our thoughts or to silence them with the radio or music? When we sit with friends, do we choose to be fully present with them or scroll through the news feed on our phones? When we return from a difficult day at work, do we talk the issues through with family or reach for a glass of wine, or maybe bingewatch something on TV?

Everyone needs downtime, but if every opportunity for reflection becomes downtime then we are stagnating, not growing. We are moving away from life, from being human.

Dried-Out Husk

Biden. (Wikimedia Commons/ Gage Skidmore)

This week liberal Americans reached for that glass of wine and voted Joe Biden. Others did so much more reluctantly, spurred on by the fear of giving his opponent another four years.

Biden isn’t over the finishing line quite yet, and there are likely to be recounts, court challenges and possibly violence over the result, but he seems all but certain to be crowned the next U.S. president. Not that that should provoke any kind of celebration. The rest of the world’s population, future generations, the planet itself – none of us had a vote – were always going to be the losers whichever candidate won.

The incumbent, Donald Trump, miscalculated, it seems, if he thought dismissing his opponent as “Sleepy Joe” would be enough to damage Biden’s electoral fortunes. True, Trump was referring to the fact that Biden is a dried-out husk of the machine politician he once was. But after four years of Trump and in the midst of a pandemic, the idea of sleeping through the next presidential term probably sounded pretty appealing to liberals. Most of them have spent their whole political lives asleep.

Four years ago, however, they were forcibly roused from their languor to protest against Donald Trump. They grew enraged by the symptom of their corrupt political system rather than by the corrupt system itself. For them, “Sleepy Joe” was just what the doctor ordered.

But it won’t be Biden doing the sleeping. It will be the liberals who cheerlead him. Biden – or perhaps Kamala Harris – will be busy making sure his corporate donors get exactly what they paid for, whatever the cost to the rest of us.

Anger and Blame

In this analogy, Trump is not the opposite of Biden, of course. He represents stagnation too, if of a different kind.

Trump channels Americans’ frustration and anger at a political and economic system they rightly see as failing them. He articulates who should be falsely blamed for their woes: be it immigrants, minorities, socialists, or the New World Order. He offers justified, if misdirected, rage in contrast to Biden’s dangerous complacency.

But however awful Trump may be, at least some of those voting for him are grappling, if mostly unconsciously, with the tension between stagnation and growth – and not of the economic kind. Unlike most liberals, who dismiss this simplistically as “populism”, some of Trump’s supporters do at least seem to recognise that the tension exists. They simply haven’t been offered a constructive alternative to anger and blame.

Ritually Disappointed

Trump supporters. (Wikimedia Commons/Whoisjohngalt)

Unlike the liberals and the Trumpists, many in the U.S. have come to understand that their political system offers nothing but stultifying stagnation for ordinary Americans by design, even if it comes in two, smartly attired flavours.

They see that the Trump camp rages ineffectually against the corporate elite, deluded into believing that a member of that very same elite will serve as their saviour. And they see that the Biden camp represents an ineffectual rainbow coalition of competing social identities, deluded into believing that those divisions will make them stronger, not weaker, in the fight for economic justice. Both of these camps appear resigned to being serially – maybe ritually – disappointed.

Failure does not inspire these camps to seek change, it makes them cling all the more desperately to their failed strategies, to attach themselves even more frantically and fervently to their perceived tribe.

That is why this U.S. election – at a moment when the need for real, systemic change is more urgent, more evident than ever before – produced not just one but two of the worst presidential candidates of all time. We are looking at exactly what happens when a whole society not only stops growing but begins to putrefy.

Enervating Divisions

Not everyone in the U.S. is so addicted to these patterns of self-delusion and self-harm.

Large swaths of the population don’t bother to vote out of hard-borne experience. The system is so rigged against them that they don’t think it matters much which corporate party is in power. The outcome will be the same for them either way.

Others vote third party, or consciously abstain in protest at big money’s vice-like grip on the two-party system. Others, appalled at the prospect of Trump – and before him the two Bushes, and before that Ronald Reagan – were forced once again to vote for the Democratic ticket with a heavy heart. They know all too well who Biden is (a creature of his corporate donors) and what he stands for (whatever his corporate donors want). But he is slightly less monstrous than his rival, and in the U.S. system those are the meaningful electoral options.

And among Trump’s supporters too, there are many desperate for wholesale change. They voted for Trump because at least he paid lip service to change.

These groups – most likely a clear electoral majority – could redirect the U.S. towards political, social, even spiritual growth, if they could find a way to come together. They suffer from their own enervating divisions.

How should they best use their numerical strength? Should they struggle to win the presidency, and if so should it be a third-party candidate or should they work within the existing party structures? What lesson should they draw from the Democratic leadership’s sabotaging – twice over – of Bernie Sanders, a candidate offering meaningful change?

Is it time to adopt an entirely different strategy, rejecting traditional politics? And if so, can it be made to work when all the major institutions – from the politicians and courts, to the police, intelligence services and media – are firmly in the hands of the corporate enemy?

Terrible Reckoning

Roman ruins in Palmyra, Syria. (Wikimedia Commons/James Gordon)

There is no real way to sleep through life, or politics, and not wake up one day – usually when it is too late – realising catastrophic mistakes were made.

As individuals, we may face that terrible reckoning on our death-beds. Empires rarely go so quietly. They fall when it is time for their citizens to learn a painful lesson about hubris. Their technological innovations come back to haunt them, as ancient Rome’s lead water-pipes supposedly once did. Or they over-extend with ambitious wars that drain the coffers of gold, as warrior-kings have discovered to their cost through the ages. Or, when the guardians of empire least expect it, “barbarians” – the victims of their crimes – storm the city gates.

The globe-spanning U.S. empire faces the rapid emergence of all these threats on a planetary scale. Its endless wars against phantom enemies have left the U.S. burdened with astounding debt. Its technologies, from nuclear weapons to AI, mean there can be no possible escape from a major miscalculation. And the U.S. empire’s insatiable greed and determination to colonise every last inch of the planet, if only with our waste products, is gradually killing the life-systems we depend on.

If Biden becomes president, his victory will be a temporary win for torpor, for complacency. But a new Trump will emerge soon enough to potentise – and misdirect – the fury steadily building beneath the surface. If we let it, the pendulum will swing back and forth, between ineffectual lethargy and ineffectual rage, until it is too late. Unless we actively fight back, the stagnation will suffocate us all.

Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.

This article is from his blog Jonathan Cook.net. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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15 comments for “ELECTION 2020: ‘Sleepy Joe’s’ Task Is to Put Liberal America Back to Sleep

  1. Nathan Mulcahy
    November 8, 2020 at 09:13

    I am with Yanis Varoufakis. What is also very interesting is that compared to 2016, this time Trump has gotten more votes from blacks and Latinos!!



  2. Nathan Mulcahy
    November 7, 2020 at 11:23

    Just as the world is not two dimensional, so are not issues simple left/right. But the Uniparty has successfully brainwashed Americans to see the world in two dimensions. It is the Demoplican party which has been more successful in brain washing their sheeple – many of whom are otherwise quite intelligent! Two of their outstanding strategies are (1) convincing the sheeple to vote for the “lesser” evil, and (2) replace issue politics with identity politics.

    The future looks bleak. Most people cannot think critically, prioritize petty individual economic interests (I know I’ll get hammered for saying this) over morality, are brainwashed, etc. I hope I am wrong.

    November 7, 2020 at 10:18

    ‘Sleepy Joe’s’ Task Is to Put Liberal America Back to Sleep”

    I think that just about sums up the heroic task ahead.

  4. November 7, 2020 at 05:03

    A cogent and accurate view of where the USA and the UK are today. What should the Left do? It must awaken from its own sleep of timidity. The Right achieved its powerful positions around the planet by confidence, by having plans and making them happen, by not being cowed by opposition. Far too often, as we’ve seen in this election, the Left (Chomsky, I see you) lets the centrists make all the running and gives up at the slightest obstacle. The Left needs to get into power. That’s really important. I was once an EU election candidate for the Greens here in the UK and my deepest frustration was with the behaviour of the local party I was standing for, which acted more like an apolitical pressure group of weak liberals than what was needed: a focused, emotionally committed group with the aim of taking power away from the wealthy. That local party no longer exists.

  5. PEG
    November 6, 2020 at 19:19

    Agree fully with Jonathan Cook: “this U.S. election – at a moment when the need for real, systemic change is more urgent, more evident than ever before – produced not just one but two of the worst presidential candidates of all time.”

    All this reminds me of the end of the great Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket, where – referring to the president – the troops sing “Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me… M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E”

    The American political consumer is forced to choose between only two alternatives – like Coke and Pepsi – while other drinks may be better for the waistline, dental health, and general well-being.

    Cook has described the current dilemma perfectly. But how to escape from it? A third party? For this to succeed, within the system as we now know it, there needs to be a driving force either in the form of a very prominent and popular politician like Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (there doesn’t seem to any politician today with his independence) or a maverick billionaire – like Ross Perot in 1992 (regrettably, without much money, possibilities are limited). Some had misguidedly hoped that Donald Trump would bring “hope and change” but as Cook says he mainly carried out the establishment agenda. Those without an independent “base” – like Tulsi Gabbard – are simply crushed by the powers that have a lock on the system.

    • November 7, 2020 at 05:08

      I’m not sure your examples inspire confidence in the value of independents.

      In 1914 Teddy Roosevelt said that, “criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them.” It was, of course, no mystery as to who the “citizens of the wrong type” were. Roosevelt once referred to Africans as, “ape-like naked savages, who…prey on creatures not much wilder or lower than themselves.” In a 1905 statement he asserted that Caucasians were “the forward race” destined to raise “the backward race[s]” through “industrial efficiency, political capacity and domestic morality.” Whites, he felt, needed to reproduce in abundance or else risk “race suicide.” Black people were not the only targets of his racism. He had this to say about American Indians: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th.”
      Alternet, December 2014

      • PEG
        November 7, 2020 at 17:50

        Point accepted – T. Roosevelt was a rather extreme imperialist. But we do need independents with the ability to get something done…

  6. Cash
    November 6, 2020 at 15:35

    The division of the American populace into two opposing camps is deliberate and by design. The purpose is to prevent the so-called “left” and “right” from joining together to face the real enemy. Both sides agree that they have been abandoned by the institutions that are supposed to serve them: specifically government and the media.

    • November 7, 2020 at 05:10

      How could the left and right join? That makes no sense unless you believe that there’s no difference between socialism and fascism. There is all the difference in the world.

      • Anne
        November 7, 2020 at 13:33

        Mr Simpson – There is no – as in NO – difference twixt the Blues and the Reds aside from a little lipstick (i.e. those “identity” wotsits). The whole of the political apparatus in the US – as it stands/exists – is in obeyance to and allegiance with the corporate-capitalist-imperialist plutocratic ruling elites. Only those in the top 10% matter to the Politicos in DC (probably also with the states’ politicos too). No one else – not in country or beyond its borders, even less if they have brown skins and are, guess what, Muslim.

        The last time this country had a really existing Leftie – and he wasn’t as really left as communist or anarcho-syndicalist – was Eugene Debs…and look what happened to him.

        This country needs, needs, a wide variety of parties all with the ability to enter Congress, to be elected to the presidency (and their ability to do so not decided by the Janus Party). And it needs even more an end to the supremacy of what Mr McGovern calls the MICIMATT – and I would add a total end to $$$$$ in elections. Free “party political broadcasts” on TV – by law; no more slaughtering of trees to fill our mailboxes with large (or small) high sheen adverts. No Electoral College.

        The Bourgeois will, once Biden-Harris (can one imagine even greater pieces of work as a combo) are chosen, return to their kips. They do not care, do not giving an F*** about the lives we slaughter, destroy, destruct around the world, the election interference, meddling we engage in…they likely expand their pensions on the former and care less about the latter….

        Conscience? Nowhere here so far as I can detect.

  7. Aaron
    November 6, 2020 at 15:27

    Indeed, we are at a watershed. I’ve been taking the opportunity driving to listen to my Pink Floyd CD’s and wonder if the milieu and ethos now will be a choice between 1) Comfortably Numb, or 2) Coming Back to Life, or, most likely I’m afraid – 3) Welcome to the Machine. It is up to us I suppose.

    • Miranda M Keefe
      November 7, 2020 at 14:19

      Out of the way, it’s a busy day
      I’ve got things on my mind
      For want of the price of tea and a slice
      The old man died

  8. a.z
    November 6, 2020 at 14:46

    the new trump might be the same bad orange man standing for election in 2024 unless the deep state actually retire him with heart attack.
    hillary didn’t fix 2012 democratic primary because she and her people didn’t think its possible for obama to win so 2016 fix was on so as the entire establishment see trump comeback a real possibility they might act to save the empire.
    one thing from the outside 2020 primary was not a fix u cant call every opponent of sanders banding together and throw their support behind joe a fix. stop with the hyperbole these types of statements help the ruling elite to carry out actual fix and no one listens to people who r always crying foul

  9. Carolyn L Zaremba
    November 6, 2020 at 14:25

    This is why I joined, support, and vote for the Socialist Equality Party, the party of revolutionary socialism. We–like Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky before us–realize that capitalism has to go before any change can occur. Capitalism cannot be “reformed”. It’s entire purpose is exploitation and profit at the expense of humanity and the planet. It must be overthrown.

    Good article.

  10. November 6, 2020 at 13:12

    Yes, we will continue to see the pendulum swing, even as we continue to sink into the muck. The neoliberals will flaunt their “victory” and allow the further deterioration of our planet and what is left of our “society.”
    It’s tragic when you think of what would be possible if we could stand up to the powers that are destroying us.

Comments are closed.