Cause for Optimism, Not Glorification

For all of our enthusiasm for the new administration, we must not lose sight of the wrongs they helped to perpetuate and are now in a position to correct.


photo courtesy of Carolyn Kaster / AP

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are enjoying widespread approval from progressives, but their past records must not be forgotten.

Quinn Volpe, Staff Writer

After Joe Biden became the official Democratic candidate at the party’s national convention last year, I hesitantly stood behind the “settle for Biden” mantra, as I felt it was too late at that point to do anything else given the current state of the country. 

I even volunteered for him from time to time, making calls and sending texts on behalf of his campaign, although it pained me to help someone with such a blatantly oppressive record. The only thing that truly kept me going was the harm reduction that would come with Donald Trump’s loss. 

Celebrating Trump’s loss after everything he did in his four years in power is completely acceptable. Everyone in the United States, especially marginalized groups like Black people, LGBTQ+ citizens, Asian Americans, and Muslims who have been harmed by Trump’s rhetoric and actions, deserves to be happy that he has left the White House. 

On the Saturday after the November election, when Biden became the projected winner, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed at the news of near-confirmation of Trump’s loss. I was volunteering at a local food bank with my friends, and everyone there cheered when we found out. It was a good day. What I noticed on January 20th, though, was that many people seemed to be celebrating the Biden/Harris win rather than Trump’s departure. What happened to the “settle for Biden” motto that so many of us had preached for months?

courtesy of @makerswomen on Instagram

Posts that read “Madam Vice President” flooded social media feeds. Sentiments along the lines of “our work here is done” seemed to be prevalent. 

It all reminded me of the phrase that was thrown around primarily by white liberals after Trump won in 2016: “If Hillary had won, we’d be at brunch right now.”

This point of view terrifies me the most because, although it is used as satire in some cases, it’s probably true. I can’t help but wonder if in an alternate reality where Trump never became president, the issues that many are now paying more attention to would have barely been brought to a similar light. Would people be pretending that everything was fine, even more than they do now, just as they did under the comfort of previous charismatic leaders?

Police brutality and institutionalized racism have always been serious issues in our country. Not only that, but they have been upheld by politicians like Biden and Harris. So when people attempted to label their win as a success for marginalized groups, I felt the need to reckon with what could even be considered success for these groups.

I won’t say that Harris’s involvement on the ticket was not historical, or that her position will not inspire young women and people of color. When it comes to real change, though, action for the people who are being represented is more important than representation alone. 

Her identity does not determine her ideas. Her identity alone will not change the fact that her work as Attorney General and Senator for California served to further the oppression of marginalized people.

As Attorney General, she seemingly attempted to avoid dealing with police killings, despite it being part of her job to deal with such cases. She was known throughout her career for acting too carefully when more urgent and bold action was necessary. She called herself a “top cop,” and reinforced, or often did little to work against, the criminal justice system that harmed marginalized people in California. 

In her memoir entitled The Truths We Hold, Harris said “The job of a progressive prosecutor is to look out for the overlooked, to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard.”

Her lack of action while in power, though, reflects a direct contradiction against her words.

This was not the only example of hypocrisy in the memoir.

She also claimed, “The job of a progressive prosecutor… is to recognize that not everyone needs punishment.”

In spite of this, as Attorney General, Harris fought to keep nonviolent prisoners incarcerated and withheld evidence that would prove an inmate on death row’s innocence. 

Biden, too, has carried out a multitude of policies and ideas throughout his career that have harmed underprivileged people.

As Harris mentioned at a Democratic primary debate in 2020, Biden played a leading role in the fight against desegregation in the seventies. At this time, many judges made orders to use busing to send Black students to white-majority schools. Biden worked to limit judicial authority to order busing, arguing that it wasn’t working and even proposing to amend the Constitution. 

While he did attempt to focus on desegregation of housing, and there may have been other, more adequate methods to desegregate the United States, Biden’s harsh stance against the federal desegregation of busing and schooling is more than concerning.

Even better known is the 1994 crime bill, or the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, authored by Biden. Because policing was targeted, especially during Bill Clinton’s presidency, towards majority Black and urban areas, Black people and communities were disproportionately and unfairly affected by increased law enforcement. 

To this day, the legislation continues to do harm, especially for marginalized communities, and it makes it more difficult for legislators to make change. 

Electing somewhat likable Democratic leaders to curb a Republican leader that was openly against positive change for disadvantaged people is a step in the right direction, but it is not a step that should have been necessary in the first place.

The act authorized the death penalty, something that affects people of color at a disproportionate rate, for sixty new offenses, created mandatory life sentences to people with three or more felony convictions or “three strikes,” and hurt youth involved within the justice system.

Because of this legislation, it is exceptionally difficult for legislators to work towards a more rehabilitative justice system rather than one that focuses on punishment. In many cases, it also disallows political leaders from working towards a future in which Black and other marginalized people are not targeted by law enforcement behind a facade of crime reduction.

The Biden/Harris administration has already done objectively good things with their time in office. They have reversed the Muslim ban, rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, established a family reunification task force, and extended assistance to people who are struggling as a result of the pandemic.

But all of these solutions, even the ones regarding COVID-19, were indirectly or even directly necessitated by Barack Obama’s administration.

While the Obama/Biden administration served as a major turning point for the rights of minorities, it upheld the system that gave us Trump. It shed a light, for some leftists, upon how easy it is for Democratic leaders to hurt the global south and support harmful aspects of the status quo in America while hiding behind a mask of supposed equality and justice.

I would have been slower to criticize the Biden administration if they had attempted to make visible changes to this structure, but Biden’s new cabinet is strikingly similar to that of Obama. In fact, 75% of his cabinet members were also Obama appointees. 

Because the system that they upheld necessitated mass movements and mobilization for racial justice across the United States, it should have been a priority of the new admin to try something different, but they failed to do so. 

Electing somewhat likable Democratic leaders to curb a Republican leader that was openly against positive change for disadvantaged people is a step in the right direction, but it is not a step that should have been necessary in the first place.

Biden and Harris are far from perfect, and we must not forget that they have much to correct and accomplish if they want to earn our praise.

Otherwise, glorifying the new administration is merely reflexive and will do nothing except allow them to continue oppressive behavior without consequences.