President Biden: Here’s how you can prove democracy and decency are back in the White House

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When Donald Trump was president of the United States, he was often accused by liberals of disgracing the office of the presidency. When Joe Biden ran against Trump for the presidency, he criticized Trump for it. While Democrats and Republicans often disagree on social issues, economic, foreign, and immigration policy largely remain the same from president to president. Yes, Donald Trump did suck up to authoritarian leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman (MBS); however, while Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions were brazen and over the top, presidents from Clinton to Biden have enforced similar inhumane policies at the border.  

The bipartisan consensus around foreign policy can be seen clearly in the actions of our most recent presidents. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all oversaw war crimes during the Vietnam War, and Nixon aided and abetted the Pakistani government’s genocide in Bangladesh. President Clinton bombed the el-Shifa medicine factory in Sudan, depriving many Sudanese of their only source of medicine. President Reagan funded the Nicaraguan Contra terrorist group and supported vicious regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador. President Bush Sr. launched a devastating invasion of Panama, and President Bush Jr. was responsible for the disastrous Iraq War. President Trump, despite campaigning on an anti-war message, was one of the worst warmongers once in office, dropping record bombs on Afghanistan, almost provoking Iran into war, shelling Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and vetoing multiple bills that would have prevented the US from supporting the Saudi-led genocidal war in Yemen. Even our better presidents don’t have clean hands; President Obama increased drone strike assassinations during his presidency, which often killed civilians, and President Carter, often considered one of our less imperialist presidents, armed brutal dictatorships in El Salvador and Indonesia. It’s also true that migrant families were separated at the border and children caged under the Trump administration, but President Clinton signed into law the immigration policy we know today, and Presidents Bush Jr. and Obama oversaw deportations that broke records of previous administrations. 

When Biden was elected President, a return to values like democracy and decency was promised. There’s already a problem with this, because statements like this imply that the United States, a country built by enslaved labor and on stolen land, once lived up to these values. Putting that semantic disagreement aside, Biden’s actions in office are not living up to that promise. There are still children in cages, even if families aren’t being separated, and earlier this year, pictures went viral of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents brutalizing migrants from Haiti, a country that experienced a hurricane, an earthquake and the assassination of their president this year. These images include a disturbing picture of an officer on a horse whipping a migrant. The Biden Administration responded by banning CBP agents from using horses while on duty.  

Biden is also continuing the traditional American policy of supporting or ignoring human rights abuses when the perpetrators are U.S. allies. Although President Biden promised not to placate dictators like Sisi and MBS, as former president Trump did, those promises turned out to be empty. At the end of October, the U.S. State Department agreed to a $500 million weapons deal with the Saudi government, which is currently carrying out a genocide in Yemen. In February, the U.S. government sent weapons to Egypt, even as President Sisi continues to arrest journalists and brutalize protesters.  

We can also turn to Uganda for an example. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years as a loyal ally of the West, even though he’s a dictator known for cracking down on the opposition. In January, Museveni was “re-elected” as President of Uganda, in an election rife with allegations of fraud, such as the intimidation of opposition leader Bobi Wine, the killing of protesters, the internet shutdown, and the detention of poll workers. The Biden administration has promised the Museveni government $500 million in aid while ignoring human rights violations.  

Tellingly, the Biden administration also strongly condemned socialist Bolivian President Luis Arce over the arrests of the planners of the right-wing, U.S. backed 2019 coup against left wing Indigenous former President Evo Morales, but did not condemn neoliberal Colombian President Ivan Duque for the state-sanctioned violence against protesters in April 2021. The Biden Administration has also failed to condemn and take action against Western-aligned oppressive governments such as those in the UAE, Thailand, Indonesia, Chile and the Philippines. His criticism has been mild at best, and nonexistent at worst.  

The United States has a long history of empire since the Spanish-American War, when nations like Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were taken as U.S. territories. This continued into the early 20th century, when the U.S. started to back dictators in Central America, who made concessions to U.S.-based corporations, and escalated during the Cold War period, when the U.S. backed dictators, coups, and terrorists in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe in the name of fighting communism (and resource extraction). This eventually became the war on terrorism and the Latin American coups that we see today. Although that has been the history of this country, it doesn’t have to be. President Biden has the opportunity to end our shameful history of disregarding human rights in the name of resources and politics and promote democracy, diplomacy, and cooperation around the world. He should take that opportunity.