So many cowards, so little time


The fact that Joe Biden is running for president at all, let alone leading the pack, is properly horrifying. It’s honestly kind of worse than Trump winning in the first place. Like, freakish things happen, but it’s always possible to respond to even the most grotesque of adverse events with intelligence and dignity. This has not been happening.

I’ll skip the rehashing of his record, especially since it’s completely irrelevant. Literally the only argument for Biden advanced by anyone at all, including his own wife, is that he’s “electable.” It’s firstly important to note how pathetic this obsession is given the actual situation. While Trump is certainly capable of winning again – both because he really does appeal to a lot of people and because simply being the Republican nominee automatically gets him almost all of the votes he needs – he’s a notably weak candidate. He has no accomplishments, no ideas, he doesn’t understand anything and he’s completely incompetent. Everything that’s happened under his administration has directly undermined the heterodox promises he made that gained him most of his non-base support: he’s transferred more money from the poor to the rich, he’s harmed working people with incompetent trade policies, he’s further stagnified the swamp, he’s preserved the endless war machine in its entirety and only made it more chaotic and dangerous, and now he’s even going after Social Security. If this is the person who has you running so scared that you’re willing to sacrifice everything you believe in just to not have to think about him anymore, you really need to step your game up. Literally anyone is perfectly capable of beating him through mere competence, so we might as well make it someone good. Furthermore, since creating media spectacles is literally the only thing Trump does, counter-programming him with a more boring spectacle is extremely poor strategy. If there was ever a time to cast vanity to the wind and stand up for real values, this is it.

More than that, though, the idea that the “most important thing” right now is to “defeat Trump” is the sort of thing that sounds like a rational strategic calculation, but is actually quite the opposite. Trump’s grotesqueness is itself proof that nothing about him is sui generis – someone like him could only have gained power through extremely strong support from underlying conditions. As long as all that stuff stays the same, the next president is all but guaranteed to be succeeded by another Trump. We’re actually pretty lucky that the person doing this stuff right now is a total loser, because if someone serious ever figures it out, we are absolutely going full fascist.

Given all of this, supporting Biden at such a crucial juncture indicates exactly one thing: cowardice. It is choosing the safest, numbest option – the thing you’ve heard of before, the comforting shibboleth, the promise that nothing will fundamentally change – over anything that might have unexpected results or create new possibilities, no matter how vitally necessary those things are. It isn’t wisdom to counsel caution in times of crisis, and it sure as hell isn’t pragmatism to pit against Trump someone who replicates all of Hillary Clinton’s disadvantages. It’s just fear, and it’s fear of the dumbest possible thing at the most important time.

But much more than Trump himself, what so many people are actually afraid of is real politics: genuine clashes of value where ordinary people matter. Despite his best efforts, Trump represents a real value system and occasionally even brings up relevant, substantive arguments against his opponents. Having, to the extent that his feeble abilities and decaying mind have allowed him to, shredded the veil of Reasonable Discourse and presented his policies in their rawest form, he has forced everyone not completely choked out on West Wing fantasies to take genuine stands for or against those policies’ true implications. Thanks to Trump, you can no longer blithely ignore immigration policy and rest easily on the assumption that everything is being managed competently like you could under Obama; you now have to decide whether you support immigrants or not. The people in power want to keep you as far away as possible from those sorts of dangerous thoughts.

Because of course the political establishment’s support for Biden is genuine. They most definitely do not support him because they think he’s going to be the most practical advocate for progressive values; they support him because they’re actively in favor of all the horrible stuff he’s done throughout his career. This is why it’s all the more important for the rest of us to refuse to play their game. As long as we allow ourselves to be terrorized by their condescending lectures and know-it-all bullying, Biden’s incoherent anecdotes and shit-eating grin will represent the limits of our political horizon.

This would all be the case even if cowardice worked, but it also doesn’t. Like, being maximally charitable, the theory of electability is that you have Goal A, and you have Candidate X who supports Goal A and Candidate Y who doesn’t, but you’re supposed to vote for Candidate Y in order to stop the evil Candidate Z who is actively opposed to Goal A. Therefore Candidate Y supposedly represents “incremental progress” towards the point where Goal A might potentially be able to be started on. But this logic is going to keep applying in every election, against every successive Candidate Z, which means you’re never going to elect the person who would actually try to do Goal A. Furthermore, you are, in actual circumstance, not always going to win, which means there are going to be times when someone gets elected and makes substantive progress opposing your goals, and you’re going to respond to this by becoming even more committed to electing the “safe” candidate who, at best, does nothing and allows all the horrible stuff you’re supposedly opposed to to keep happening. Sound familiar at all?

Furthermore, if the more electable candidate is not also the one with the best ideas, all that means is that you aren’t doing your job. The only reason the best candidate would not also be the most electable is that people misunderstand them, and if that’s the case, don’t you want to have the best possible argument available to convince them? Don’t you need to convince people to vote for your candidate anyway, and shouldn’t you therefore insist on being able to make a positive argument that you actually believe in? Aren’t you tired of having to qualify everything you say with, “sure, the people I support are all terrible, but…”? Do you have values or don’t you?

If there were ever a decent religion, cowardice would be its cardinal sin. Cowardice is the thing the prevents anything else from happening; it is the first trial that must be overcome in order to accomplish anything at all. As long as you’re playing it safe, you are, no matter how fervently you believe or how passionately you feel, betraying your beliefs and selling out everyone’s future. This is why cowards die a thousand deaths: each of their seeming victories is, in actuality, a substantive defeat.