After Biden-Trump debate, the task remains: Block fascism in November
Blair Savage, 37, watches the debate at a watch party in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago. Savage says reproductive rights are the key issue for her in this election. | Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Two things are clearer than ever after the first presidential debate. First, Trump is a fascist and a liar who can’t be allowed near the White House ever again. Second, despite Biden’s faltering performance as messenger, the task ahead of the people’s and labor movements is still the same: Block fascism in November.

Just minutes into the June 27 debate, as Biden struggled to string together coherent responses to questions and failed to push back on Trump’s falsehoods, social media was alight with speculation that the Democratic Party may now be forced to find a new candidate just 130 days before the election.

The mainstream corporate press, led by the likes of CNN and the Wall Street Journal, gave scant attention to the substantive issues at stake in this vote and concentrated almost exclusively on Biden’s “unsteady performance.” That’s no surprise, though. To be honest, “unsteady” might be an understatement. But more importantly, Trump’s lies and the threat he poses became almost a footnote in the news coverage and commentary.

Abortion rights advocate Kate Duesterhaus, center, watches the debate with friends at a drive-in theater in Miami. | Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Thanks to the media circus and Biden’s communication failures, policy differences are not what people will be talking about when it comes to this debate.

They won’t be talking about the convicted felon’s plan to pardon himself and his Jan. 6 invaders for the crimes they’ve committed, thus placing his fascist movement out of reach of the criminal justice system – which as flawed as it is, remains an essential check on power.

They won’t be talking about the white supremacist who will deploy more racist and heavily armed police to the streets of Black and Latino neighborhoods, return to building a wall at the border, and revive the Muslim ban.

They won’t be talking about the wannabe dictator’s intention to ditch democracy by carrying out further assaults on voting rights via racist gerrymandering, abolition of early and mail-in voting, and the appointment of MAGA-dominated election boards in counties across this land.

They won’t be talking about the bleach peddler who chose to let hundreds of thousands of his people die from coronavirus rather than listen to the advice of health professionals in the crucial early months of the pandemic.

They won’t be talking about how the chosen candidate of the most reactionary sector of the capitalist class plans to further slash taxes on corporations and billionaires, intentionally putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.

They won’t be talking about the corporate chieftain’s plan to go to war on workers by obliterating the National Labor Relations Board, putting bosses in charge of labor law enforcement, and stripping 40 million people of their health insurance.

They won’t be talking about the serial rapist’s intention to permanently finish off abortion rights and women’s access to health services. His right-wing-dominated Supreme Court already crippled Roe v. Wade, and his state-level acolytes have rushed to abolish reproductive freedom wherever they have power. He’s made clear he wants to go even further.

Rosa Casares, center left, reaches down to where her daughter is laying on a blanket as she watches the debate in a shelter for migrants waiting to apply for asylum in Tijuana, Mexico. Casares and her family have been waiting for more than three months for their appointment to apply for asylum in the U.S. | Gregory Bull / AP

They won’t be talking about how the best friend of the big banks will go even further than he did before to roll back laws aimed at preventing the Wall Street gambling and speculation that incinerated jobs, pensions, and workers’ homes during the financial crisis and the Great Recession it triggered.

They won’t be talking about how the nation’s No. 1 liar will team up with media moguls like Elon Musk to further put the squeeze on freedom of the press and elevate the power of fascist platforms like Truth Social and reactionary outlets like Fox News.

They won’t be talking about how Netanyahu’s favored nominee believes the only thing wrong with Biden’s Gaza policy is that it hasn’t helped kill enough Palestinians. “Let Israel finish the job,” he says.

So, it falls to independent working-class outlets like People’s World to turn the spotlight back on these existential threats.

As for Biden, well, the panic is on. Democratic Party big-shots and their big money apparatus are scrambling, convinced that finding a new nominee is imperative. From inside a meeting of donors in Atlanta, one observer summed up the feeling of the room during the debate to a Politico reporter: “Our only hope is that he bows out, we have a brokered convention, or he dies. Otherwise, we are fucking dead.”

All the talk is about Biden’s poor performance and how it might have sunk the campaign. But even if Biden performs “well”, what does that mean? A more well-executed genocide in Gaza? A more well-defined deportation policy to seal the border and shut out refugees? A more well-crafted NATO policy to provoke military conflict in eastern Europe? A more well-designed Cold War against China?

Whether there is a replacement candidate or not – and honestly, such an outcome is still highly unlikely – there must be replacement policies. If everything is left to the ruling-class-aligned elements at the top of the Democratic Party, we’ll still be in trouble. For months, the democratic, peace, and labor movements have been warning that several of the administration’s policies – like Gaza and immigration – could split the coalition needed to defeat Trump.

Mississippi Democratic Party Vice Chair Jodie Brown, right, and Margaret Rushing, center, react during the debate while attending a watch party in Jackson, Miss. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Now, here we are – with a compromised presidential candidate and a campaign that has allowed too many Americans to forget the millions of jobs created over the last few years, the global health pandemic that was (mostly) defeated, the successful unionization drives that have revived the labor movement, the fightback of women against the anti-abortion onslaught, the (still-too-few) reforms that have been won to control racist police, the investments that have been made in infrastructure, and the other real achievements that the people’s movements have scored since defeating Trump and MAGA in 2020.

After watching Thursday night’s debate and seeing two men bicker about their golfing skills, it’s easy to fall into despair. As the NAACP tweeted last night, “How about you both swing into protecting democracy, lowering inflation, and providing affordable healthcare! We don’t care about your handicap! We’ve got work tomorrow!”

Coming right after the stinging defeat of Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the New York primary earlier in the week, the debate makes the November vote feel even more foreboding.

But it’s important to look beyond just the Biden vs. Trump fight. We’re not just electing a single man as president. We’re electing an entire presidential administration, with all the departments, agencies, and boards that that includes. We’re electing a Congress, several governors, dozens of state legislatures, and thousands of county and local officials. We’re also indirectly electing a Supreme Court and federal judges at every level.

There is too much at stake to drop out or retreat into cynicism and conclude they’re both equally bad. The democratic space that we have to organize, struggle, resist, and win is directly linked to the outcome of these elections – ALL of them, from top to bottom.

The polls and the bookies’ predictions are all in agreement: The odds of Trump winning just went up. But we can’t abandon this fight, because if we do, then the odds of our movements and bourgeois democracy surviving will go way down on Inauguration Day 2025.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.