Joe Biden has claimed that he wants to bring morality back to the Presidency after the ethical abandonment of Donald Trump. He said this frequently on the campaign trail in 2020 and, during a closed-door meeting with civil rights leaders after his election, argued the point loudly.
In 2020, Biden was running against a candidate who could make the point for him simply by virtue of comparison. To his credit, Joe Biden has rolled back several pieces of anti-trans and anti-LGBT legislation imposed during the Trump administration. Perhaps naturally, the social conservative base that Trump was playing to with those policies are attempting to take stock- to find out what they are capable of under the new Presidency.
This, for a morality candidate, could be an opportunity to make good on that claim. Especially since so much of Biden’s political momentum was borrowed from Barack Obama by association. Now that Biden has profited from his comparison to Trump, however, he needs to start thinking how to build on his comparison to Obama.
This also could be a massive opportunity for Biden to validate his claims of being a moral reformer. In 2008, Obama ran and won on a negative comparison to George W. Bush. Repeatedly on the campaign trail, Obama promised to end our Middle Eastern occupation and close the Guantanamo Bay military detention center.
To Biden’s credit, he has recently made overtures toward closing Guantanamo Bay. His current plan for this involves handing over the remaining detainees to foreign governments and transferring whomever remains to American supermax prisons. While this is a relative step in the right direction, it also brings us to the moral crisis of the Democratic Party.
In a word: equivocation. Saying one thing, doing another and pretending that what you did matches or satisfies the original claim. After Obama was elected, America got interpretive about our Middle Eastern occupation. Mainstream news outlets started saying it was a bad idea to leave before establishing a Western-style democracy, which enabled us to set our own receding goal post for withdrawal. Guantanamo disappeared from the talking-head radar almost completely and warrants are issued for Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. The Feds sic’d their thugs on those three for exposing Obama-era military attacks on civilians- including the “double tap”, when a pilot or drone circled back to bomb the emergency first responders.
Even the slaughter of civilians by the American military was somehow whitewashed by upper-middle class faux-leftist popular opinion. Fortunately for Biden, even this could be amenable to reparation. The Icelandic journal Stundin recently ran a story about Sigurdur Thordarson, a key source of the sexual assault charges against Assange, who now admits to fabricating these claims. Moreover, Thordarson was once again given the formal status of a witness against Assange in 2019 by the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration. This was while Thordarson was incarcerated for multiple sexual assaults against minors.
Alexandersson and Jonsson, the authors of the June 26th Stundin article, wrote that American officials updated the indictment against Assange in a London Magistrate Court. The legal entanglement between Assange and Manning could regain lost ground if Assange were guilty of felony-level crimes in Iceland. Kellen S. Dwyer, the deputy of Trump’s Attorney General appointee William Barr, offered Thordarson immunity from any crimes he admitted to in his testimony against Assange. Nor would any such admissions be shared with any other law enforcement agency. Thordarson now admits that he never had any position of standing within WikiLeaks nor was he ever instructed by anyone therein (let alone Assange) to do anything illegal.
With this now being a matter of public record, consider the opportunity that Joe Biden now has. Consider the moral contrast with Trump that got Biden elected- especially with Trump’s open hostility toward the American press. If Biden were to pardon Assange and Snowden and cease any legal machinations against them and Manning, imagine the support he would galvanize. Right now, we exist in an era where Neera Tanden’s confirmation is thrown off because she said mean things on Twitter and not because she punched a journalist or fantasized out loud about seizing Libya’s oil as compensation for our military presence there. Being mean on the internet is treated like a more serious wrongdoing than actual war crimes. If Biden unconditionally pardoned Manning, Assange and Snowden, he will have set the moral foundation for a withdrawal from our Middle Eastern occupations.
By legitimizing Snowden, Manning and Assange as whistleblowers, he would be elevating the moral seriousness of war crime which would be the ideal set up to a full withdrawal. He would also alleviate some of the anxieties of leftists like myself who fear a return to the equivocation and apathy of the Obama era.
There would be no better way to differentiate himself from his former running mate than to cease the persecution of whistleblowers that Obama initiated. He would be sending a message that his would be a presidency of real change and real hope, instead of those words as kitschy slogans on a red and blue, pseudo-Warhol campaign image.
Joe Biden and the Democratic Party need to ask themselves what they want their legacy to be in the wake of Trump. The American left sees the Democratic Party as opportunistic and dismissive of their values. We feel like we are trapped between war-profiteering cultural reactionaries and manipulators. Leftists in America feel like the Democratic Party keeps claiming to share our values while insisting that they’ll set thought to deed in just a little while. Just a little while has been happening for over a decade.
Obama promised to end the militaristic puppeteering in other countries before he got elected…and afterward, somehow got the comfortable, complacent network TV demographic to embrace the proselytizing of Western democracy. Formerly, the moral justification for the Vietnam War. Biden wrote, in the introduction to Sarah McBride’s autobiography that trans rights are now at the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement. This last Pride month, he had many flowery remarks to share about the urgency to stop violence against trans women. There have already been suicide attempts in the Arkansas Children’s Hospital following the prompt cessation of hormone replacement therapy. Mary Bentley, an Arkansas Republican Representative, recently threw her weight behind a bill that would protect educators who wish to persistently misgender and dead name trans youth.
This is a mental health issue that has long suffered in mainstream opinion. It is difficult to communicate the hardship this inflicts to a cisgendered public. I could unload a ton of personal stories but it wouldn’t advance my point at all. This is an experience that teaches trans people that our feelings and mental health count less than everyone else’s. It is an experience that has taught many of us that, no matter how civil things become, we will never truly belong anywhere.
That is the depth of pain and alienation Biden would be addressing if his White House began an uncompromising reversal of the transgender policies of the Trump era. Many of us, perhaps for the first time, would begin to wonder what it would be like to have a president who was also our president.
If Biden’s claims of enacting a morally bold Administration are sincere, then now is the moment to prove it.
Update, 7/5/21: We have just left our biggest military base in Afghanistan. Credit where credit is due.