Issue 11

100 Days of Biden

It has been over 100 days since President Joe Biden took charge of his administrative duties in the United States. The Biden administration has been highly optimistic by promising to meet an expansive agenda that includes controlling the coronavirus pandemic, enabling economic recovery, revising US climate policy and reviewing their health care system. Biden has also taken active steps to reverse Trump’s isolationist policies and his decisions, alongside  catalysing the process of restoring America’s place in the international community. With only 100 days of his term completed, Biden has taken some notable steps to meet his agendas. 

Within his first few days at the White House, Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organisation. He rescinded Trump’s Muslim ban, which restricted immigration from a host of Muslim-majority countries. He took the liberty to address US-China relations by getting on a call with President Xi Jinping to discuss climate change, human rights violations, and trade relations. The President has made it clear to the Americans and the world that he plans on restoring America’s position in the global community and that he is determined to get rid of the isolationist policies introduced by his predecessor. 

The Biden administration fulfilled their 100-day promise of providing 100 M COVID vaccinations within its first 50 days. Biden’s timing could not have been better – as infections were peaking and America’s vaccines were coming online because of Trump’s funding of Operation Warp Speed,  Biden utilised the opportunity to play the hero without having to put in all the work. Moreover, he recently announced that all adults in the US will be eligible for the COVID vaccine by April 19th. 

Biden is firing on all cylinders to ensure that repercussions of the pandemic can be contained, singing a $1.9 trillion relief package to fight the pandemic and restore the US economy. The relief package, currently Biden’s top priority, plans to send direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. The bill also includes a $300 per week unemployment insurance boost until 6th September 2021 and steps ahead to expand the child tax credit for a year. The relief plan also allocates $25 billion into rental and utility assistance, and $350 billion into state, local and tribal relief. It puts nearly $20 billion into Covid-19 vaccinations. 

Biden’s plan to reverse Trump’s tax cuts on corporations has been championed by the Left, but the effectiveness of implementing this policy needs to be carefully considered.  Biden’s tax policy wants to raise the top income tax rate to 39.6% from 37% and the top corporate income tax rate to 28% from 21%. This move will allow the government to collect a tax revenue of approximately $4 trillion by 2030. President Biden claims that his administration will ensure American companies  contribute tax dollars to help invest in the country’s roads, bridges, water pipes and other parts of his economic agenda. The plan detailed by the Treasury Department would make it harder for companies to avoid paying taxes on both U.S. income and profits stashed abroad. 

While this move sounds good on paper, its effective implementation has several obstacles. Corporates with major accounting teams and an army of lawyers have continued to find safe havens and loopholes in tax laws to legally avoid paying taxes. A tax hike of this rate also increases the probability of tax evasion and tax fraud, which will undoubtedly lead to the creation of a larger shadow economy. Additionally, in a post covid world that has witnessed large scale unemployment, increasing taxes on corporations and high bracket earners is going to  push firms to cut costs, thereby creating disincentives for hiring. The increase in taxation may also push firms to switch gears and focus more on international markets such as Hong Kong or Singapore that offer lower corporate tax rates. While progressive taxation is ideally the way to go, the Biden government must ensure that its implementation takes into account all the limitations of the current system. 

The Trump administration focused on deregulation in the manufacturing sector to ensure productivity and economic efficiency, whereas Biden  promises to focus on sustainable development. As part of his election campaign, Biden had released a 10-year, $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan aims to move the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Biden’s climate change plan in total would cost the US approximately 2 trillion dollars, which he aims to fund by reversing Trump’s excess tax cuts on corporations and putting an end to subsidies for fossil fuels. While Trump focused on short-term economic efficiency, Biden’s plan is for the future. Switching to sustainable means of manufacturing is going to undoubtedly drive up costs for the American economy, but has the potential to  create middle-class jobs and ensure environmental conservation. 

Biden has had over 100 successful days since being sworn in, mainly because the bar set by his predecessor was quite low to begin with, but also because of his constructive policies. He envisions an America that will not be easy or cheap to achieve. While Biden’s plans cease to be as optimistic as “Mexico will pay for it,” they still are overreaching. The policies and infrastructural changes that Biden aims to implement would likely add to the 28 trillion dollar debt, but as long as the economy is developed in a constructive manner, there is hope for Biden’s America.

Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Program. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 4

Breathe Again

‘I can’t breathe.” That wasn’t just George Floyd. There were a lot of people who felt like they couldn’t breathe.” 

– Van Jones. CNN commentator/ Former Obama Administration Advisor. Nov. 7, 2020. 

George Floyd’s last words— a rallying cry, and an anthem for those protesting the injustices and discriminations of race and colour in America. Floyd, an African American, was killed during an arrest by the Minneapolis police in May this year, when an officer knelt down hard on his neck for over 8 minutes, suffocating him to death. The incident sparked off a summer of unrest, as racial violence erupted on the streets of major American cities. 

Unable to contain either his relief or his tears as Joe Biden was declared America’s new President-Elect, Van Jones said what was on the minds of 74 million American voters who cast their ballot for the Democratic candidate in this uniquely divisive election, held in the midst of a pandemic. “If you’re Muslim in this country, you don’t have to worry that the president doesn’t want you here. If you’re an immigrant, you don’t have to worry if the president is happy to have your baby snatched away or sent dreamers back for no reason,” Jones elaborated. His emotional response to the election result has gone viral on social media— evidence of the steam that’s been let out of the proverbial pressure cooker that America has been for the months during a tense, vitiated election. 

When Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign, he said he was launching a battle for the soul of America. When he chose Kamala Harris as his running mate he sent a message. Harris, who, with Indian-Jamaican roots identifies racially as Black and is married to a White American Jewish husband is a symbol for all — immigrants, African Americans, racial and religious minorities. And, when Biden accepted the office of President at a rally filled with honking automobiles in the Northeastern state of Delaware on Saturday night, he promised a return to decency in US politics. But how easy will this be to achieve? 

Four years was more than enough to see the divisions sown by an emboldened White Supremacist extreme right-wing rise to the surface of everyday America. Vitriolic campaigns, often dictated by hate-filled propaganda and misinformation have fed economic grievance and fear, created enemies where none existed and propagated the perception of White identity, faith and culture under threat. Trump’s supporters on social media and his allies in the mainstream media further weaponized hate to perpetuate his agenda willfully; discrediting Democrats, political activists, journalists — just about anyone who questioned him — along the way.

From the ban on travellers from six Muslim countries to Neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville to antisemitic attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, and the most recent incidents of racial violence that sparked a reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement, to his deliberate characterization of #BLM protests as violence by ultra-left angry mobs, to his targeted campaigns against Joe Biden calling him a corrupt socialist who wanted to take away public wealth from the Whites for ‘others’, America’s spiralling descent into domestic chaos will perhaps be the abiding memory of Donald Trump’s single-term presidency. Even as he threatens lawsuits to challenge the result, Biden’s message to the public is one of unity. ‘We can be opponents, we are not enemies. We are Americans.’ he said. An important message— one that recognizes America’s current political reality. 

In his bestselling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, conservative author JD Vance exemplified the rightward shift of the poor, white, blue collar American— originally largely Democrat, but one that felt left out of an inclusive politics that he suggests, seemingly prioritized racial minorities. If 74 million Americans voted for Biden, 70 million more chose, unsuccessfully, to re-elect Trump. The underlying message is this—  Trump’s win in 2016 was not a one-off. It is in fact symbolic of deep divisions within American society which is seeing both newer Democrats and newer Republicans push towards the extreme ends of their ideological compasses. 

Decency in politics demands empathy, integrity, courage and tolerance. It demands the ability to listen to your opponent, to live with differences and most importantly it urgently demands an expansion of a middle ground. Sitting halfway across the world, often forced to deal with the aftermath of the follies and misadventures US policy in lands far away from its own shores, one could argue that the soul of America was lost a long time ago, or that the Democratic party’s intentions of speaking for true democratic values are hypocritical. But if you’re in the continental United States, Biden’s pledge to engage and empathize in the wake of social conflict and armed violence in a population known globally for political correctness and liberal principle; and his pledge to rebuild partnerships with traditional allies around the world is an important, necessary step towards  America’s healing— both at home and abroad. 

Maya Mirchandani is a journalist, a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 


Bringing The Boys to Life in Trump’s America

Image credits: SKetch (Instagram: @sketchbysk)

“With great power comes great responsibility”, these words, said by Uncle Ben in the Spiderman comics and movies, became Peter Parker’s guiding principles in his pursuit against crime. The same principles apply to most mainstream superheroes that choose to use their powers for the benefit of humanity and often seem to only do the “rightthing. Amazon Prime Video’s hit show ‘The Boys’ takes a more realistic view of superheroes, where these super-powered individuals are employed by a powerful corporation Vought International, which markets and monetizes them. Most of these heroes are arrogant and corrupt outside of the public eye. While the show is meant to be extremely weird and unrealistic, something about it makes it seem very real…

“Sounds like the American thing to do, sounds like the right thing to do” while this may sound like a line from President Trump’s rally speeches, and in all probability is – it was actually said by Homelander, the American flag-cape-wearing leader of the Seven (Vought’s strongest superhero team) during a believe expo for “honest Christians”.

The most powerful superhero has much more in common with Donald Trump than you might think. Both Homelander and Trump are in positions of extreme power and seem to want to use their powers to protect the American citizens from the evils the rest of the world hurls at their country. While American presidents through the 21st century have championed globalization and have actively tried to create a global community, we have witnessed a globalization backlash under Trump’s presidency with the intention of protecting American interests. Similarly, Homelander is different from the traditional superhero who wants to protect the world and chooses to project himself as America’s savior. We see clear instances of this when the Corporate executives of Vought tell Homelander his brand is “America, baseball and sunshine”. When after a focus group comes up with the tagline of “Saving The World”, Homelander bulldozes his way through corporate to make it “Saving America”. Trump speaks about the Chinese stealing American jobs and Mexicans raping American women and Homelander is on a mission to protect Americans from “foreign” extremists. While Trump uses isolated incidents and stereotypes around non-white demographics being involved in criminal activities or stealing jobs to build hype for his immigration policies and the border wall, Homelander uses a plane highjacking as an opportunity to make a case for superheroes in the military. Both Trump and Homelander hence seem to strive in situations of chaos, choosing to add to the chaos in order to further their personal agendas.

Gökarıksel et al in their work categorize this ability to amass a following by propagating fear through partly rooted facts as “demographic fever dreams”. The nightmarish “dream” implies an orientation toward the future, that is demographically apocalyptic for the dominating population hence calling for active, often violent intervention. While we have seen politicians use rhetoric about the class divide to appeal to sections of the masses, the fever dream created by Trump is quite different as it manages to break class barriers by uniting white Americans across class divisions through an embodied fear of the toxic other. The same demographic fever dream is quite openly displayed in the setting of ‘The Boys’. Eric Kripke the creator of the television series quite explicitly stated that he tried to bring out “the worst of politics”. The show as he states is very reflective of the world we are currently living in – “a blurred line between authoritarianism, fascism, and celebrity.” While ‘The Boys’ captures these themes it also shows how Homelander (just like Trump) projects himself as the hero who is going to protect “his people” from these external threats. 

Not only do Homelander and Trump have the same rhetoric and use demographic differences as a political tool but they also have very similar personality traits. Homelander is self-centered, craves public approval, and is highly concerned about his ratings. He has a team of PR specialists running his social media accounts to make sure his public image remains untainted and constantly keeps a check on his public rating. A superpowered being that has the ability to destroy anyone or anything seems more affected by his public reputation than terrorists and supervillains. Homelander in one instance lets a plane filled with passengers crash so that his inability to save all passengers doesn’t impact his and his team’s image. The most panic you see on the face of this superhero is when he finds out his approval ratings fell by 9 points.

Blonde hair, white male, cheeky smile, self-obsessed, xenophobic, erratic, and a public image built over love for his country. Is Homelander Donald Trump in a cape? 

Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Programme. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).