Perspective is important in politics, too.
Once Trump was out of office, I literally breathed easier. I know it’s not over; we have the impeachment to get through, and the army of loyalists who descended on D.C. January 6 are not going away. See this opinion piece in the NYT if you want to get really depressed.
But I’m encouraged by the dozens of executive orders President Joe Biden signed in his first week in office, with more to come. Some are symbolic and some have real teeth. He cancelled – hopefully for good – the Keystone XL pipeline that would have brought filthy tar sands oil into the U.S. and to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast, destroying indigenous lands in northern Alberta, Canada, in the process. However, through powerful coalition-building, led by indigenous groups and courageous indigenous youth and including ranchers, farmers and environmental activists, and through brilliant legal work resulting in several key court decisions, the pipeline was moribund already. What we need Biden to do is cancel Line 3, another cross-border tar sands pipeline that has begun construction across indigenous lands in northern Minnesota. Click here for an interview I did with Winona LaDuke, an indigenous leader of the opposition.
Biden also rejoined the Paris climate accord, put a pause on oil and gas leasing on public lands, and set up a National Climate Task Force, among other things.
One thing is for sure: activists have learned a lot since Obama was first elected in 2008, when too many of us and our organizations just assumed he would take care of business. In the ensuing dozen years, our steely determination has been forged in the fights against deportations, police brutality and the prison industrial complex, the fast-escalating climate crisis and more. We have begun putting the idea of intersectionality into practice – getting out of our silos and realizing we and our most dearly held concerns rise and fall together. We know that the organizing by Black, indigenous, people of color, women (shout out to Black women especially!) and youth put Biden in the White House.
Should President Biden get a honeymoon from the Left? We can thank him for the steps he’s already taken, and they are significant. Perhaps most important is the way he has positioned addressing his four priorities: Covid, climate change, racial equity and the economy, throughout his administration – an intersectional approach that gets departmental heads out of their silos, as was illustrated when the confirmed or designated heads of the Treasury, Transportation, National Security and others related how they plan to address the climate crisis, not leaving it just to the EPA, which will again earn its name: Environmental Protection Agency.
I started this post talking about perspective. Comparing Biden to Trump makes the former look like the people’s champion. But we have to keep our new leader in perspective: especially on foreign policy, he is just re-establishing the old order, which is much less chaotic than Trump’s disorder, but leaves much to be desired in terms of justice. (Update: on Feb. 5 he announced he's pulling U.S. support for the war in Yemen, a very good move.) As for the climate, Biden just reiterated his support for fracking, but without keeping at least 80% of all remaining fossil fuels in the ground there is no hope of meeting his lofty climate goals.
After some leaders on the left criticized Biden for not moving fast enough, Sen. Bernie Sanders replied, “He’s been in office three days.” In other words, give him a little breathing room. After holding my breath for four years, I can agree with that. And, we have to keep pushing.