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Editorial: The Trump-Biden transition contains challenges for the left

DONALD TRUMP’S departure from the White House marks a moment of profound relief.

The “white supremacist in chief,” in the words of Democrat Congresswoman Cori Bush, was a menace in office who has become a figurehead for the far right in the US and internationally.

His public defence of shooters like Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two people and gravely wounded another when counter-protesting against Black Lives Matter, heightened the sense of impunity felt by racists in the US — already strong given the reluctance of juries to convict white people for killing black people, as demonstrated in shocking cases like George Zimmerman’s 2012 killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

On the global stage, the willingness of the world’s most powerful country to tear up longstanding international treaties and walk out of international bodies like the World Health Organisation encouraged lawlessness in others.

As the Joe Biden era begins, the Establishment in the United States and much of Europe will salute a return to normal.

It falls to the socialist left to make two points: first, a return to “normal” is desperately unlikely. Second, it should not be prettified.

Trump’s sullen refusal to accept the legitimacy of the election result has already resulted in a bizarre invasion of the Capitol by his supporters. 

Within the US, he will remain a rallying point for gun-toting white supremacists. These thugs pose no threat to the US state but are a very real one to black people and to socialist and left-wing demonstrators.

Trump has accelerated the collapse of faith in US political institutions that created him.

Since the roots of this process lie in the capitalist system’s increasing inability to satisfy popular needs or expectations, it is unlikely that Biden will be able to reverse it.

Nor is the presentation of the pre-Trump status quo as a golden age credible. The Black Lives Matter movement has erupted under Trump, but police killings of black Americans were at epidemic levels before him. The battle against racism must go farther and deeper than a rejection of Trump.

Internationally, a massive expansion of illegal drone killings by the US government also preceded Trump, as did the US-led wars unleashed on the Muslim world, each just as much an outrage of international law as anything Trump has done. 

The Biden presidency is already being used to rehabilitate such policies. Biden is an unrepentant supporter of the Iraq war after two successive presidents who dissociated themselves from it.

Trump and Barack Obama’s rejections of that war came from very different places politically, but both indicated the extent to which the tragedy of Iraq had, thanks largely to the efforts of anti-war campaigners, created widespread opposition to foreign wars — a shift notable in Britain when David Cameron’s attempt to take us to war in Syria was defeated in the Commons in 2013.

In the shadow foreign brief Labour’s Lisa Nandy has focused on reviving “humanitarian intervention” as a smokescreen for military aggression, while leader Keir Starmer’s Fabian Society speech last weekend also indicated a determination to align Britain behind US foreign policy goals such as containment of Russia and China — dressed up as opposition to the “rise of authoritarianism,” though Starmer has raised no objection to increasingly authoritarian leaders in the US camp such as Narendra Modi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Emmanuel Macron.

It is ominous that he refers to a “decade of retreat” on the international stage 10 years on from the last major war directly prosecuted by British forces, the destruction of Libya.

Under Biden as under Trump, the United States remains the most serious threat to peace on the planet, and socialists will need to organise to put pressure on our government and opposition alike to resist US aggression rather than conniving at it. The task is getting harder.

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