Biden's popularity continues to decline. And unlike Will Smith, the "Build Back Better" President has shown little indication that he can generate the enthusiasm needed to reverse course.
This article originally appeared in the author’s Substack blog.
Biden has tried everything. He’s declared the COVID-19 pandemic over, albeit prematurely. He’s taken credit for an alleged post-pandemic economic recovery. And he’s pumped military aid into Ukraine and implemented harsh sanctions on Russia in a bid to uphold U.S. leadership over the so-called “rules-based international order.” These moves have vastly improved Biden’s favorability with the American voting public.
April Fools! According to a recent poll by NBC News, just 40 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s performance as President. Much of the growing disdain for Biden surrounds the issue of the economy. Only 33 percent of respondents reported a favorable opinion of Biden’s economic policies. A staggering 62 percent of those polled said that their incomes have fallen behind the cost of living. While Biden saw modest gains in favorability around COVID-19 and foreign policy, majorities not only disapprove of the way that the administration has handled the Russia-Ukraine conflict but also believe that a nuclear war between the United States and Russia is on the horizon.
The results of the latest poll on Biden’s favorability were not the only indicator of a flailing political administration. Actor Will Smith sparked more enthusiasm across the United States with one slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars than Biden has been able to muster throughout his presidency. Of course, millionaire celebrities and millionaire politicians occupy different roles and possess different responsibilities within the capitalist system. But they do share an important commonality. Both are tasked with cultivating legitimacy through a public persona rooted in performance.
However, the stakes are a lot higher for Joe Biden than they are for Will Smith. Smith is a petty capitalist whose status as a celebrity is largely relegated to the realm of cultural propaganda and soft power politics. His popularity is determined by the largesse of capital and how well his brand is effectively sold to the public through Hollywood’s media apparatus. Biden, on the other hand, must gain political legitimacy with a sizable portion of the public and simultaneously facilitate the agenda of the ruling class. In other words, a U.S. president’s celebrity is a weapon that conceals their service to the ruling class and the class antagonisms which operate as the motive force of the imperialist order.
Biden is a bad actor and a poor celebrity, plain and simple. No matter how much the liberal class has attempted to portray Biden as the hallmark of “competence,” the exact opposite has proven true. He began his 2020 presidential campaign promising rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change.” Yet Biden’s presidential bid came amid a period of profound crisis under Donald Trump. A global pandemic and economic crisis forced one of the most loyal servants of the ruling class over the last five decades to adopt an anti-Trump persona that included a moderate but substantial “Build Back Better” agenda for the masses.
Biden was never capable of playing the role set out for him. Runaway inflation and mounting COVID-19 deaths have stymied his efforts to pose as the face of economic recovery and normality. His “gaffes” haven’t helped, either. In a recent speech in Poland, Biden appeared to suggest that the United States is pursuing regime change in Russia. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” exclaimed Biden.
Since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Americans have been conditioned to despise Russia and have seen their Russophobia elevated to new heights in response to an intense propaganda blitz from the corporate media. Few have any love for Vladimir Putin. Still, Biden’s reference to regime change has only added onto mounting anxiety and confusion about the U.S.’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. U.S. sanctions have facilitated a spike in energy prices and the cost of living. Legitimate fears of a nuclear war have surfaced among the public despite most Americans having little understanding of the Russia-Ukraine conflict beyond the lies and distortions told to them by the mainstream media.
Public concern about the U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is an unintended outcome of Biden’s foreign policy. The hope was that Russia’s military operation would conveniently fuel the New Cold War on Russia and achieve the domestic aim of boosting the Biden administration’s credibility with the electorate. Biden seized the opportunity to “slap” Russia economically and militarily, believing that the consequences would impact Russia and Russia alone. He miscalculated. Instead of public enthusiasm for a “tough” stance on Russia, Biden has only placed himself under further scrutiny for the fear and blowback that his administration’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict has engendered.
Biden’s decline in popularity was theoretically avoidable. The 46th POTUS could have fought for his “Build Back Better” agenda to pass in Congress instead of placating to Senator Joe Manchin and the so-called “conservative” wing of the Democratic Party. He could have used the power of executive order to cancel student debt and provide immediate economic relief to working people instead of increasing the military budget to a whopping $800 billion. And he certainly had the opportunity to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict before it started by actually negotiating in good faith with the Russian government when it presented its security concerns to the U.S. and NATO in December 2021.
But this would have meant living under a different system, one dictated by the interests of the people rather than private profit. Under the current system of neoliberal imperialism, Joe Biden IS the “conservative” wing of the Democratic Party. When Biden says he wants to increase funding for the police and the military budget, he means it. Joe Biden isn’t just constrained by an imperialist system that gave birth to his career. No, this system is also in crisis, and Biden is perfectly fine with riding its turbulent waves to their logical conclusion: endless war and austerity.
Biden’s problem is that he is a bad liar and his slaps don’t land. He is an unpopular politician within a capitalist culture where Americans are more likely to pay ample attention to media celebrities who take them away from reality than to politicians who make their reality worse while sporting a smile on their face.
With the U.S. political system reeling from a crisis of legitimacy, it is past time that all who call themselves “leftists” build a new political home that is independent of the Democratic Party.
Danny Haiphong’s work can be followed on Twitter @SpiritofHo and on YouTube as co-host with Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report Present's: The Left Lens. You can support Danny on Patreon by clicking this link. He is co-author of the book “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.” You can contact him at [email protected].