Biden’s Democracies

The U.S. had close to 200 years to inculcate its biases and shape its rule of law accordingly, writes Lawrence Davidson.

(Thomas Hawk, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Lawrence Davidson

On Aug. 30, President Joe  Biden gave a speech at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He was angered that many Republicans were predicting politically motivated violence as a result of the legal proceedings being taken against former President Donald Trump.

Biden argued that “a safer America requires all of us to uphold the rule of law. Not the rule of any one party or any one person .… The idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such and such happens, there’ll be blood in the street. Where the hell are we?’ “

He ended by declaring, political violence “is never appropriate. Period. Never. Never. Never.”

It has often been noted that the White House can provide a rarified atmosphere that separates the occupants from reality and this might, to some extent, be the case with Biden. So, here is a big, big, big hint. Biden is in the United States — a place with quite a history of civil strife, assassinations and large sections of cities periodically going up in flames, and most of this is politically motivated violence.

And, that emphatic “never” so belies U.S. history as to suggest an embarrassing naïveté. Ask many of the nation’s police chiefs. They apparently believe that “blood in the streets,” when produced by those supposedly upholding the rule of law, is very appropriate. So what is Biden really trying to say? Here is an educated guess.

First, Biden is inferring that the United States is a mature democratic society and the days of political evolution under street-based pressure are over. Those who try such pressure don’t understand this and so are acting “inappropriately.” 

Second, “mature” here means that the rule of law is in place as part of a social contract respected by a large majority of citizens. The concept of the “rule of law” is paramount for Biden. It is living by rules that keeps society stable. There is a lot to be said for this position. The question that logically arises is, what sort of laws are we considering?

Third, Biden seems to believe that, because the U.S. is a democracy, its laws are, or at least should be, liberal in nature. Liberal democracy promotes equity and undermines bias. It makes possible Biden’s version of the “American Dream.”

And fourth, it is because he believes that U.S. society can still successfully respond to changing needs through the current system of creating and enforcing law that he gives us the “never, never, never.”

Defining US Democracy

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. (Peter Pettus, Wikimedia Commons)

So, for the president, there is a set of sacred American values (equity, tolerance, diversity, etc.) that can be best maintained by a democracy regulated through a rule of law and designed to support a liberal agenda.

On the face of it that sounds great, but we should be honest and recognize that democracy does not automatically mean such an agenda. Part of the present political crisis in the U.S. stems from a cultural and religious reaction to the liberal agenda that has defined American democracy only for the past 60-odd years.

Go to Florida, Texas and other such “red” states and a majority of voters, or close to it, question the value of equity for a whole list of minority groups, and want to nationally resurrect a version of American democracy that makes discriminatory practices legal. 

Biden interprets this as an attack on what he believes the U.S. is all about, and he is quite right to do so if he is dating U.S. democracy and laws from the 1960s. That is why the president insists that “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards.”

On the other hand, Biden is not correct to see it as an attack on American democracy per se. It is not, as he claims, an attack on “the very foundations of our Republic.” But then House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is also wrong when he claims that, “In the past two years, Joe Biden has launched an assault on the soul of America, on its people, on its laws, on its most sacred values.” So sorry, but McCarthy is 50 years out of date here. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking with supporters President Donald Trump at a reelection campaign rally in Phoenix, October 2020. (Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

You would think that both parties would agree on some basics, like democracy requires honest and open elections. This is not the case. American elections can be really shady: there are gerrymandering and other forms of vote rigging as well the corrupting influence of money on elections at almost every level.

From the point of view of tradition, limiting the pool of eligible voters is also American. Both Democrats and Republicans will take advantage of these corrupting practices when and if they can. The Republicans, however, have lately been the most relentless and ruthless in this regard.

So, for about 60 years there have been two Americas, one more inclusive than the other. The problem is that the less inclusive one is much closer to the original, “traditional” America — and here we are talking about a nation that had close to 200 years to inculcate its biases and shape its rule of law accordingly.

Spillover into Foreign Affairs

This confusion over just what American democracy is all about — is it liberal and inclusive or is it conservative and exclusive — has spilled over into foreign relations.

According to a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “Biden Puts Defense of Democracy at Center of Agenda, at Home and Abroad,” defending democracy is “the element of President Biden’s foreign policy that overlaps most significantly with his domestic agenda.” So much so that, “the White House is expected to announce a second multinational Summit for Democracy. And the National Security Strategy, which could be released this month, will highlight reinforcement of democracies as a policy priority.”

What does this really mean? Is the old claim that the U.S. supports and encourages democracy around the world (and don’t forget about freedom) actually true? Well, while this claim allows for an apparent connection in kind between domestic and foreign policy political ideals, what we really support abroad in the name of democracy is just as varying as what the term represents at home.

Take, for instance, Biden’s repeatedly demonstrated devotion to the “democratic” state of Israel. Those who disagree with him on this issue, and say that, actually, Israel is an apartheid state, are dismissed by the president as simply “wrong.

Despite their being able to support the charge of apartheid through documented evidence that has been put into the public record by multiple human rights organization in both the U.S. and Israel, Biden will have none of it. He is right, and those others are just “making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend.”

U.S. President Joe Biden signs guestbook at the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem, July 14. (White House, Adam Schultz)

Thinking that Israel is a democracy is made all the easier by the fact that Israel does have a limited and peculiar democratic nature. However, it is one based on religious identity and therefore, almost by definition, promotes bigotry, and practices discrimination and segregation. This sort of flawed democracy is not all that different than the older, “traditional” American democracy and its discriminatory policies toward minorities.

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Of course, on the home front, Biden is supposed to stand against these older U.S. practices, yet here he is expressing uncritical praise for Israel. “The United States is proud to stand with the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and with its people, whose uncommon courage, resilience, and spirit of innovation are an inspiration to so many worldwide,” he said.

It is as if, in his mind, the flaws don’t exist, or if they do, it just doesn’t matter.   

Unfortunately, such blind spots are not that unusual, particularly in relatively closed groupings as one might find among political elites. That insular White House environment mentioned above has contributed to many wrongheaded decisions and tragedies, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the decision to oppose efforts to unite North and South Vietnam.

Some 50 years ago, in 1972, the Yale professor Irving L. Janis published a book titled Victims of Groupthink to explain how this happens.

Janis describes groupthink as a “concurrence-seeking tendency.” In other words, among members of, say, a president’s inner circle, emphasis will be placed on maintaining a consistent and agreed-to position on an issue, even if the result is a “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.” 

In the case of this president’s devotion to Israel, Biden told the Zionist officials gathered at an April 2015 Israeli Independence Day celebration, “I’ve worked with many of you in this room for up to 40 years. You know me. You raised me. You educated me.”

The result is a groupthink scenario when it comes to the alleged shared democratic principles that underlie the U.S.-Israeli alliance — practiced over decades by Biden and those foreign policy aides he keeps close to him. This position ignores, indeed defies, the fact that Israel’s democracy is of a kind with the type of democracy Biden sees as a threat on the home front.

Democracy has built into it an element of choice. The question is how many get to choose and on what range of subject matter. The answers are likely to be reflected in the law and its enforcement. Thus democracy can mean different things to different people. It certainly means different things to different Americans.

As a recent Washington Post opinion piece pointed out, “the unfortunate truth about America is that it has always harbored a segment of people who want to redefine the country by race or religion or lifestyle.” It is not just bigoted Americans who want to do this. Groups of citizens of the limited number of democracies all over the world periodically attempt it.

And, in the vast majority of cases, democracy had its beginning as just such a limited system — limited by some form of elitist bigotry. Getting past those limitations is a sign of progress in the realm of politics, but for many it can feel like turning your back on the teachings of tradition. 

Domestically, Biden has chosen his side in this struggle. In terms of foreign policy he is confused and plagued by blindspots and alleged national interests. However, if Biden’s liberal position wins the latest round in the domestic struggle for the meaning of American democracy, it may well become harder to ignore the bigotry of those democracies we seek to support abroad. 

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from his site,

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

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16 comments for “Biden’s Democracies

  1. robert e williamson jr
    September 16, 2022 at 13:20

    I’ll try again here. But I refuse to support Biden simply because he got elected POTUS, he needs to show the little guy with nothing that he supports his efforts to get a fair shake. I an not holding my breath.

    All I have to know about about Joe is that he buys into the Israeli right wing theory of obtaining peace by continuing the slaughter of innocents.

    At 73 I cannot buy into that type of BS coming from any president. Never have. I feel no desire to support the endless death brought about by either country’s incessant whining about national security.

    The only reason Joe got elected is because Hillary got beat by the MAGAT’s,” Make America Great Again Trumpism”. Democrats let Hillary run in 24 and we all lose again.

    All this reporting on how many women are becoming first time voters has me thinking very bad thoughts about America’s future .

    A pathetic state of affairs all around.

    Thanks CN

  2. LeoSun
    September 16, 2022 at 02:09

    Awh, the wolf speculates “there will be blood in the streets.” The fox knows, he’s got “blood on his hands.”

    For someone who’s been in DC for 6 decades, Joey Biden doesn’t seem to have any idea how to create a distraction from his failures; AND, “WAR Is NOT Answer!”

    ”The past year and a half of “progress” has been a year and a half of mass death.”

    And, the science fiction flick rolls on w/the Funeral Director posing as POTUS, masquerading as Human, yap’n & yell’n about DJ Trump.

    IMO, Biden-Harris, The White House, et al., are “so ripely symbolic of everything that is unchanging, hopeless,” UNHINGED; and, f.u.b.a.r., about our political system.

    Consequently, “Julian Assange faces extradition and state murder while the war criminals he exposed walk free.”

    No doubt about it, The Nation is In Extreme Decline!!!

    “The descent is pathetic to watch.” Hence, China’s advice to Biden, “He who ties the bell around the tiger; Needs to Untie It.”

  3. r2rv
    September 15, 2022 at 09:06

    So, is he advising his own base that the street warrior politics must end?

    Or, is he trying to delegitimize future grassroots movement against total control by the Democrat party

  4. Ivan Molly
    September 14, 2022 at 14:26

    ” I believe some powerful American politicians are unlike him in that they may not be bigots.”

    Unfortunately, you are wrong. When looking at the American political class, it is bigots as far as the eye can see. If their are any non-bigots around, they keep it well hid.

    American politicians do vary on the targets of their bigotry. But all American politics in the 22nd century is built upon hatred and bigotry. The American voter only gets a choice as to whom is regarded as sub-human.

    You can spot this by noticing what is absent. There is nobody talking of Peace and Love. There is nobody talking helping everyone. Every politician must hate somebody … its the American Way, at least in the 22nd century.

    As an old person, this was very noticeable in the recent Supreme Court appointment. I remember a day when there would be lengthy discussions of judicial records, and analysis of their writings. This time it was just decreed that it will be a Black Female. That was the first decision. Then a pool of people who fit this was collected, and one was chosen who met the most important criteria of being a Black Female.

    Given that this was Biden, I assume that she is a Black Female that loves corporate power and supports the police and does not object to unconstitutional wars abroad. But, we know nothing about any of this from the process …. only that she is a Black Female.

    I don’t have any problems with a Black Female on the court. But the appointment and confirmation reeked of bigotry. As does the rest of American politics.

    • Gordon Hastie
      September 15, 2022 at 02:27

      The hypocrisy – especially of the Democrats – is sickening. Not that we don’t have a lot of that here in the UK.

  5. Ivan Molly
    September 14, 2022 at 14:10

    To begin a war between “Democracies” and “Authoritarians”, first the Democracies would have to vote on it.

    Shouldn’t there be a public referendum on the question of World War III? After all, we are a democracy, aren’t we?

    Only an Authoritarian government would go to war entirely on a President’s decrees.

  6. Ivan Molly
    September 14, 2022 at 14:02

    The number one place where Joe Biden could strengthen ‘democracy’ is within the Democratic Party. Traditionallly, the President is the leader of the party. The party apparatus responds to the commands of the party leader. Usually the President has their own hand-picked people in the positions of Party Chair and other high command positions.

    Thus, the place where Joe Biden could by decree and bully pulpit strengthen Democracy in America is within the Democratic Party.

    For instance, the far-right Democrats always view Progressive primary challenges as both a threat and an insult. There are cases where prospective Progressive challengers suddenly get job offers if they don’t run. The far-right Democrats view the perfect primary ballot as where the appointed corporate Democrat is the only name on the ballot.

    What if Joe Biden told his people in charge of the Democratic Party to change this? What if Joe Biden started giving speeches from his Bully Pulpit that said that within the Democratic Party there will be Democracy and that a field of multiple primary challengers is a sign of a healthy democracy and a healthy Democratic Party?

    Also, Progressives used to call for more ‘money limits’ in primary races. To move from One Dollar – One Vote primaries to One Person – One Vote primaries. Joe Biden could support this as a measure of democracy within the Democratic Party.

    There are other ways this rather undemocratic Democratic Party could move closer to Democracy. And, as Party Leader, this is the place where Joe Biden could have had the biggest impact in advancing Democracy in America.

    I used the past tense, because it of course has not happened. In my state, I received a Democrat primary ballot by mail, and it was one corporate Democrat per position. Period. No Choice. No Democracy. You will accept the representatives that are appointed to rule you.

    Joe Biden is of course from the far-right wing of the Democratic Party that has always hated Democracy within the Democratic Party. And it shows, as the Democratic Party has made zero moves under Biden towards improving Democracy within the party.

    And thus you know how much Joe Biden really cares about Democracy, in the place where he could strengthen democracy just by saying so.

  7. mgr
    September 14, 2022 at 12:49

    Good points. But I suggest that Biden is not spouting naivete but bullshit. It’s all the same to him. His behavior now is not fundamentally different than it has ever been, just more damaging. Made in elite America, he is “American” to the core.

  8. Dienne
    September 14, 2022 at 10:41

    “So, for the president, there is a set of sacred American values (equity, tolerance, diversity, etc.)….”

    Why do you give Biden so much credit? What has he ever done that suggests to you he cares a whit about equity, tolerance or diversity? He been best friends with segregationists, including eulogizing Strom Thurmond. He opposed school busing. He passed the most notoriously racist crime bills and the bankruptcy bills that predominantly impact Blacks and other minorities. He said he didn’t want his kids going to school in a “racial jungle”. He says you “ain’t Black” if you don’t vote for him. He supported DOMA and opposed gay marriage as long as he could until it started to cost him politically. He has still never said anything about trans rights.

  9. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    September 14, 2022 at 10:20

    Jusqu’à maintenant Washington ne voulait pas dévoiler médiatiquement sa participation officielle en Ukraine, de même pour l’Otan. Mais l’opération blitzkrieg sur Kharkov a démontré officiellement que c’est Washington et l’Otan qui montait la charge, et avec des soldats Britanniques, Américains, Polonais, Canadians, Français et avec quelques unités ukro-nazis. “Ce n’est pas notre armée, ce sont des mercenaires” disent-ils. Ils invoquent le vice de forme. Dans les faits, c’est l’armée washingtonienne-otanienne. Même le New York Times précise que la charge a été menée par les officiers de Washington et de l’Otan.

    Nous ne sommes plus dans des affrontements particuliers, ici et là, c’est une guerre conventionnelle impliquant officiellement plusieurs pays, c’est une guerre mondiale. Les stratégies se feront maintenant en considération de cette réalité.

  10. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    September 14, 2022 at 09:01

    Le Nazgul sénile psychopathe washingtonien Biden sera l’affidé de la BÊTE IMPÉRIALISTE OCCIDENTALE qui aura assisté la Bête à sa mise bas de sa troisième guerre mondiale.

    • michael888
      September 14, 2022 at 15:42

      Well put hyperbole, particularly if it goes nuclear. I see Biden as a megalomaniac plagiarist, intent on wiping out the untermenschen, who in the ’70s and ’80s (and maybe later) of Biden’s career were Black Americans, and now are Russians, which seems to translate into “cockroaches” by the Ukrainians and State/ CIA/ think-tanks/ State Media (many from the former Soviet Union).

      Libya is the model “American Democracy” according to people like Hillary, John Bolton and Joe Biden. America no longer can build, but rather like a four year old with a hammer, only can destroy.

      • Gordon Hastie
        September 15, 2022 at 02:33

        The first I heard of Joe Biden was when he plagiarized a speech by UK Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, who said he was the first Kinnock to go to university. To plagiarize is one thing, but to be found out adds stupidity to the mendacity and hypocrisy.

  11. torture this
    September 14, 2022 at 07:44

    Biden’s whole existence can be summed up by three words, “corruption,” “bigotry” and “hypocrisy”. I believe some powerful American politicians are unlike him in that they may not be bigots.

  12. Ian Stevenson
    September 14, 2022 at 07:05

    Constitutional change is difficult for reasons which probably seemed sound in the 1780s.
    It needs any changes voted on by two thirds of both houses of Congress and it to be ratified by three quarters of the states ‘ legislatures -or conventions.
    One quarter of the states -13-could represent as little as 20% of the population. Change could be denied to even a large majority of the people. To get a better system requires a constitutional change and a massive sea change in public opinion.
    In the Senate the 50 Republican Senators represent about 40 million fewer people than the 50 Democrat Senators. According the 2020 census 50% of Americans live in nine states and two thirds in fifteen states who have 22 Democrat Senators and 8 Republican.
    The other third, currently has 42 Republicans and 28 Democrats enough to use the absurd filibuster.
    Even a really liberal President supported by a majority of the popular vote, is going to find change almost impossible as things stand.

    • Caliman
      September 14, 2022 at 15:53

      Yes, because the US was supposed to be a federal system, as I’m sure you know, with most decisions consequential to people’s everyday lives happening at a state, or city level. The federal gov was supposed to carry out foreign affairs and coordinate states internally to cooperate in trade and national infrastructure as needed. Congress tends to be pretty consensual on those kinds of issues.

      The fedgov was not supposed to be this behemoth we have today that decides local school decisions, local marriage laws, local development processes, etc. etc. … such a large and powerful national gov naturally breeds distrust and extreme competition in a diverse nation like this and the system was not set up for it. We need to go back to 50 experiments in democracy.

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