Usually, when I write these opinion pieces, I try to keep to the facts and let them speak for themselves. I make my claim and try to provide as much evidence as possible to prove it without giving too much of my own subjective judgment beyond the general point I am trying to make. But after watching the Vice-Presidential Debate on Oct. 7, I think some cold, hard subjectivity, at least for a paragraph, is warranted.
It’s not looking good, folks. Things are looking very bad. Mike Pence showed us that the neo-fascist administration in power can’t even hide its colors behind manners and decorum. Kamala Harris showed us the answer the Democrats have to the Trump administration’s acceleration of the worst parts of American imperialism, is a slightly tamer version of American imperialism. We are faced with three possibilities: (1) four more years of American fascism; (2) a fascist takeover, should Trump refuse to accept the election results; or (3) a return to the neo-liberal status quo, which will inevitably result in another, possibly worse, fascist president four years from now.
In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight—closer than it’s ever been. It’s clear that nothing Joe Biden or Donald Trump have to offer will do anything to significantly wind that second-hand back. Ecological catastrophe, nuclear destruction, racial oppression, predatory capitalism and global militarism will continue to barrel us towards dystopia regardless of who is president, though Trump will surely take us there faster than the other. The Vice-Presidential Debate illustrated this clearly.
On Jan. 3, Trump authorized the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, bringing the U.S. into direct violent conflict with Iran. The ramifications of the attack could have been global (and still could be), drawing the world’s superpowers closer to a hot war in the Middle East. Following the attack, Trump threatened via tweet, “If Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets… 52 Iranian sites,” representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago, were targeted for military action. Iran fired missiles at two American military bases in Iraq. No one was killed.
During the debate, Pence touted the assassination of Soleimani saying, “When Qasem Soleimani was traveling to Baghdad to do harm to Americans, President Donald Trump took him out. And America is safer.” What Pence seems to be talking about is the Iranian relationship to Shia militias in Iraq, who are allied to and in many ways dependent on but separate from Iran. These militias have had violent interactions with American troops. The accusation of Soleimani’s connection to violence against Americans is at best once removed, at least unfounded.
Harris responded to Pence with, “After the strike on Soleimani, there was a counter strike on our troops in Iraq and they suffered serious brain-injuries, and do you know what Donald Trump dismissed them as? Headaches. And this is about a pattern of Donald Trump’s.” She goes on to point out the ways in which Trump has disparaged the military. What she seems to be insinuating, having never actually criticized the assassination, is that the response from Iran, should have warranted further violence from the United States. Conceivably, Harris’ critique of the Trump administration is that they didn’t take us into all-out war with Iran.
On Sept. 23, a Louisville grand jury refused to indict a single officer in the killing of Breonna Taylor for the killing of Breonna Taylor. One was indicted for “wanton endangerment,” but only because he shot bullets that hit the apartment next door. In other words, he was indicted for missing. In the debate, this ruling was used to introduce the topic of racial justice in the United States. When asked if the ruling was just, Harris began her answer on the right side of history, though she drifted as she began to talk policy. She began by calling the death of Taylor unjust and describing the innocent and benevolent life Taylor was leading. She then described the unjust killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This is where things start to change. Though she claimed to have taken part in early peaceful protests, she said, “bad cops are bad for good cops,” ignoring entirely a core message of the protests she claims to support, namely that there are, “no good cops in a racist system.”
As for reform, she called for a ban on “chokeholds and carotid holds.” She said, “George Floyd would be alive today if we did that. We will require a national registry for police officers who break the law.” Banning chokeholds, while vitally necessary, would not have saved George Floyd’s life. Derek Chauvin, the cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with murder, meaning that if he’s convicted, what he did was already illegal. So, the banning of chokeholds would not have saved Floyd. The same goes for the registry for officers that break the law; these are reforms that are implemented after the fact, after more unarmed black people are killed. Neither the Biden campaign nor the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, Democratic legislation passed by House Democrats, consider ways to proactively preempt police brutality. If Kamala Harris was truly in support of the movement, she would be calling to defund the police. Instead, the bill that she supported in Congress would have increased federal funding for police by more than one billion dollars for better training and new forms of accountability.
Pence, on the other hand, was brazenly fascist in his response, excusing systemic white supremacy on account of Big Brother knowing best. After a tepid extension of sympathy to the family of Breonna Taylor, Pence said, “I trust our justice system, a grand jury that refused the evidence. And it really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor [Senator Harris] would assume that a… grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong.”
But then he turns around and says, “There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd.” We’ve yet to hear a ruling on this case, the latest update being Derek Chauvin’s release on bail on Oct. 7. If history tells us anything, it is entirely possible Chauvin will face no repercussions as in the cases of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson. If that happens, would there then be an excuse, or would Pence lose trust in the justice system?
Of course, the main focus of his response deals with the particular way in which some people chose to protest, bitterly condemning the “rioting and looting that followed.” Let’s be perfectly clear, there was a series of high-profile police shootings followed by brief bouts of chaotic protest this summer. The vast majority of protests have been non-violent. In the Los Angeles protests, which I witnessed, the chaotic response was entirely provoked by police presence. Peaceful protests were met with riot police who beat, teargassed and shot rubber bullets at people until they were pushed to take their aggression out on property immediately around them.
The focus on “rioting and looting” is a clear deflection from the far more pressing issue of racist police brutality. With respect to anyone who owns a small business that was damaged or destroyed, property is less important than human life. It just has to be said. While Pence is aiming to keep the focus on one week of unrest that took place in May, he is obscuring the unjust shootings of Black Americans that have happened since: Rayshard Brooks, Jacob Blake, Anthony McLain, Dijon Kizzee, Trayford Pellerin and etc.
Pence then feigns horror at the idea that the United States could be racist. “This presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris… that America is systemically racist,” he said. “That as Joe Biden said that he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities is a great insult to the men and women that serve in law enforcement.”
There is ample evidence of implicit bias in police. As one Stanford University study found in the city of Oakland, CA, “Officers consistently use less respectful language with black community members than with white community members.” But there is also overt bias. A heavily redacted 2006 study conducted by the FBI, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” shows that even the federal government is worried about law enforcement’s connections to ‘White Power.’ As Alice Speri reported for the Intercept, a 2015 FBI study that found “active links” between “militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists,” and “law enforcement officers.”
Not much has to be said about the Republican Party’s position on climate change as they don’t actually have one. According to the 2016 Republican Platform, “year by year, the environment is improving.” For this reason, and others, Noam Chomsky has deemed them to be the most “dangerous organization in human history.” When Pence was confronted with this issue, his response could only be described as Orwellian.
War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and fracking is environmentally conscious.
“The United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris Climate Accord, but we’ve done it through innovation,” Pence claimed. “And we’ve done it through natural gas and fracking.”
As for the claim about emissions reductions, according to the Associated Press, “With its giant economy, the U.S. has far more raw emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide to cut than any other country except China. A more telling measure of progress in various countries is to look at what percentage of emissions they have cut. Since 2005, the United States hasn’t been even in the top 10 in percentage of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”
It is trickily deceptive to say natural gas has contributed to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. While natural gas may be cleaner than coal, coal is not the only energy source that natural gas is replacing. Economists and scientists estimate that by 2050, a majority of electricity in the United States will come from natural gas, which is increasingly replacing far cleaner low-carbon nuclear power sources while demand for electricity rises.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the means in which natural gas increasingly is acquired has already proved horrendous for the environment. In Oklahoma, earthquakes caused by fracking have been detectable on the Richter scale. The process involves massive amounts of water being mixed with harmful contaminants that are often hard to contain and seep into local water supplies. When pressed on the issue, Harris asserted repeatedly, “Joe Biden will not end fracking.”
Donald Trump has stood by some of the worst dictators of the twenty-first century. Many of them have been long-standing allies of the United States. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, for example, has carried out a genocidal campaign in Yemen. American support has continued unwaveringly.
In the debate, Harris said, “what we have seen with Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world.” A powerful statement surely to be followed by a searing indictment of the likes of Salman, right? Wrong. As an example, she uses Russia, a long-standing American adversary. The obvious reason for this is, to use the Saudi example, Salman would also be an ally to a Biden administration. During Obama’s tenure, Saudi planes committing murderous air strikes in Yemen were bought, fueled, and armed by the U.S.
There has been much outrage over a perceived affinity that Trump has for Putin. I can’t speak to whether there is a “pee tape” or whether Trump admires the authoritarian tendencies Putin exercises; there might be one and he probably does. American policies towards Russia have been dangerously combative, which could have potentially world-ending implications. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists noted as a reason for their moving the clock closer to midnight, “The demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.” Since the United States pulled out of it in 2019, “the United States and Russia have begun a new competition to develop and deploy weapons the treaty had long banned.”
This seems to be the crux of the neo-liberal predicament. Though the Republicans’ are undoubtedly worse, the policies of the two parties are not fundamentally different. On police brutality, Pence chastised Harris’ filibuster of Representative Tim Scott’s police reform bill. Scott’s bill, among other things, would fund new training and create more registry boards for records of wrongdoing. Though it is smaller in scope, it’s not fundamentally different from what Harris supported.
The Trump-Pence administration has been an experiment in neo-fascism. Across the Middle East, American foreign policy has been bent on imperialism and capitalist interests as the national rights of Palestinians have been violated and Turkey’s invasions into Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia into Yemen have been supported. In response to the obvious problem of police brutality, this administration chose to crack down on protests, using federal law enforcement politically as in the case of Portland. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in radical upward transfers of wealth while more than 200,000 people have died from the virus. A change is desperately needed, but it appears a Biden administration, the only viable chance for global survival, may be too little too late. We saw this clear as day in the Vice-Presidential Debate.