It Isn't Quite Damnatio Memoriae But...
Although the words are Latin and the term is Roman, damnatio memoriae was a practice we first learned about in regard to attempts by the ancient Egyptians erasing the reigns of the blasphemous monotheistic Akhenaten and, in the next century a woman pharaoh, Hatshepsut, from history. Their names were chipped off monuments and their works physically obliterated. A thousand years later, the Greeks of Ephesus passed an actual damnatio memoriae ordinance forbidding anyone to mention or write the name Herostratus, a confessed arsonist who sought to immortalize his name by setting fire to one of the most famous buildings of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. Obvious none of these examples worked since we know the names of Akhenaten, Hatshepsut and even Herostratus thousands of years later.
As much as I'd like to see Trump's name erased from history, that isn't going to happened wither. He'll always been known in history as the worst president this country has ever had, to some historians an illegitimate one at that, to others, the man who presided over the catastrophic non-response to the COVID plague, to others as a failed insurrectionist. His historical legacy is shabby.
As of today, President Biden will begin to dismantle as much of it as he can with executive orders. Michael Shear wrote this morning that "will unleash a full-scale assault on his predecessor’s legacy... to sweep aside President Trump’s pandemic response, reverse his environmental agenda, tear down his anti-immigration policies, bolster the sluggish economic recovery and restore federal efforts aimed at promoting diversity," much of the ugliness most associated with Trump and Trumpism. "Moving with an urgency not seen from any other modern president, Mr. Biden will sign 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office" today-- targeting "specific, egregious abuses" by Señor Trumpanzee to "reverse the gravest damages" done to the country by the unspeakably terrible occupant of the White House for the past 4 miserable years.
Biden’s actions largely fall into four broad categories that his aides described as the “converging crises” he will inherit at noon Wednesday: the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change.
In some cases, Mr. Biden plans to unilaterally and immediately reverse policies and procedures that Mr. Trump put in place. In other instances, limits on his authority require the new president to direct others in his administration to act or even to begin what could be a long process to shift the federal government in a new direction.
“A new day,” Jeff Zients, the coordinator of Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response, said on Tuesday. “A new, different approach to managing the country’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.”
One of Mr. Biden’s first actions on Wednesday will be to sign an executive order making Mr. Zients the government’s official Covid-19 response coordinator, reporting to the president. The order will also restore the directorate for global health security and biodefense at the National Security Council, a group that Mr. Trump had disbanded.
Mr. Biden will also sign an executive order that Mr. Trump had steadfastly refused to issue during his tenure-- imposing a national mandate requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by all federal employees, officials said. And he will terminate Mr. Trump’s efforts to leave the World Health Organization, sending Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, to participate in the group’s annual executive board meeting on Thursday.
Aides said many of Mr. Biden’s actions on Wednesday were aimed at reversing Mr. Trump’s harshest immigration policies.
He will sign an executive order revoking the Trump administration’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count and a second order aimed at bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects “Dreamers” from deportation. Mr. Trump had sought for years to end the program, known as DACA.
Mr. Biden will repeal two Trump-era proclamations that established a ban on travel to the United States from several predominantly Muslim and African countries, ending one of his predecessor’s earliest actions to limit immigration. Advisers said Mr. Biden would direct the State Department to develop ways to address the harm caused to those prevented from coming to the United States because of the ban.
Another executive order will revoke enhanced enforcement of immigration violations aimed at people already inside the United States. Another will block deportation of Liberians who had been living in the United States. And another will halt construction of Mr. Trump’s border wall-- which was devised to keep immigrants out of the country-- while Mr. Biden’s administration examines the legality of the wall’s funding and its construction contracts.
“We believe that we can take steps to immediately reverse the elements of the Trump policies that were deeply inhumane and did not reflect our country’s values,” said Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, “while at the same time sending a practical, credible, clear signal that this is not the moment to be coming to the southwestern border because our capacity to take people across that border is extremely limited.”
Mr. Biden, who takes office after a year of racial upheaval in the country, will move quickly on Wednesday to begin to unwind some of Mr. Trump’s policies that he views as contributing to the polarization and division, according to his top domestic policy adviser.
Susan Rice, who will lead the president’s Domestic Policy Council, said that Mr. Biden would sign a broad executive order aimed at requiring all federal agencies to make equity a central factor in their work. The order will, among other things, require that they deliver a report within 200 days to address how to remove barriers to opportunities in policies and programs.
Mr. Biden will direct federal agencies to conduct reviews looking to eliminate systemic discrimination in their policies and to reverse historic discrimination in safety net and other federal spending, Ms. Rice said. And he will begin a working group examining federal data collection on diversity grounds.
“The president-elect promised to root out systemic racism from our institutions,” Ms. Rice told reporters on Tuesday. “And this initiative is a first step in that historic work.
Delivering on racial justice will require that the administration takes a comprehensive approach to embed equity in every aspect of our policymaking and decision-making.”
Another executive order will require that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses action by Mr. Trump’s administration. Another will overturn a Trump executive order that limited the ability of federal government agencies to use diversity and inclusion training.
And Mr. Biden will cancel Mr. Trump’s 1776 Commission, which released a report on Monday that historians said distorted the history of slavery in the United States.
Many of Mr. Trump’s most significant actions as president were aimed at limiting regulation of the environment and pulling back from efforts to combat climate change. Mr. Biden’s earliest actions as president will take aim at those policies, officials said.
On Wednesday, he will sign a letter indicating that the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accords, reversing Mr. Trump’s departure from the global organization.
He will then sign an executive order beginning the process of overturning environmental policies under the Trump administration, including rescinding rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards; imposing a moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline; and re-establishing a working group on the social costs of greenhouse gasses.
“The Day 1 climate executive orders will begin to put the U.S. back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” said Gina McCarthy, Mr. Biden’s national climate adviser.
As he promised during the campaign, Mr. Biden will also take several steps on Wednesday to help Americans struggling through continued financial hardship brought on by the pandemic, in some cases reversing policies embraced by his predecessor.
He will extend a federal moratorium on evictions and ask agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. The extensions would all run through the end of March.
Another order targets Americans with heavy educational debt, continuing a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments through the end of September.
Progressive groups and some congressional Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who will become majority leader on Wednesday, had pushed Mr. Biden to move even more aggressively and act on Day 1 to cancel up to $50,000 per person in student debt. Instead, Mr. Biden’s aides renewed his campaign call for Congress to act to cancel up to $10,000 in individual student debt.
Sounds nice? It's designed to. Designed to sound nice. But, as with the gratuitous refusal to cancel $50,000 per person in student debt, "nice" is a far better description than "bold" or even "consequential." As Norman Solomon noted yesterday, we risk allowing Biden make us the dupes of our hopes, the way Obama managed to do in his first election. Like everyone, Solomon acknowledges "there are some encouraging signs about where the Biden presidency is headed. The intertwined economic crisis and horrific pandemic-- combined with growing grassroots progressive pressure on the Democratic Party-- have already caused Biden to move leftward on a range of crucial matters. The climate emergency and festering racial injustice also require responses."
But he warned that past behavior being the best predictor of future behavior, expecting Biden to side with the working class in America's forever class war, would be foolhardy. "How far Biden can be pushed in better directions," he wrote, "will depend on how well progressives and others who want humanistic change can organize. In effect, most of mass media will encourage us merely to hope-- plaintively and passively-- holding onto the sort of optimism that has long been silly putty in the hands of presidents and their strategists."
The standard Democratic Party storyline is now telling us that greatness will be in reach for the Biden administration if only Republican obstacles can be overcome. Yet what has led to so much upheaval in recent years is mostly grounded in class war. And the positive aspects of Biden's initiatives should not delude progressives into assuming that Biden is some kind of a class-war ally. For the most part, he has been the opposite.
"Progressives are not going to get anything from the new administration unless they are willing to publicly pressure the new administration," David Sirota and Andrew Perez wrote days ago. "That means progressive lawmakers are going to have to be willing to fight and it means progressive advocacy groups in Washington are going to have to be willing to prioritize results rather than White House access."
The kind of access that progressives need most of all is access to our own capacities to realistically organize and gain power. It's a constant need-- hidden in plain sight, all too often camouflaged by easier hopes.
More than being a time of hope-- or fatalism-- the inauguration of President Joe Biden should be a time of skeptical realism and determination.
The best way to not become disillusioned is to not have illusions in the first place. And the best way to win economic and social justice is to keep organizing and keep pushing. What can happen during the Biden presidency is up for grabs.
Politically, that means progressives will once again be herded into a lesser of two evils midterm in 2022. The Democrats, no matter how disappointing they are, are never as bad as the Republicans. Can that cycle be broken? We have something in Congress that we haven't had before-- an organized group of legislators that means to break it, that means to delivery more fit-for-fighting Congressional Progressive Caucus and, within that, a serious squad of young legislators who are determined to not have the wool pulled down over their eyes: AOC (NY), Cori (MO), Rashida (MI), Ilhan (MN), Jamaal (NY), Mondaire (NY), Ayanna (MA), Marie (IL). In March the voters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge can add Gary Chambers, Jr. to that mix. And after that there will be special elections with the potential of strengthening that coalition with Nina Turner in Cleveland and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez in Albuquerque. I would count on that more than on anything at all from Biden. Meanwhile, never forget...
Look out kid
You're gonna get hit
But losers, cheaters
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin' for a new fool
Don't follow leaders, watch the parkin' meters