Title media by
Sofia Klein

The United States has once again been met with an issue that cuts to the core of its dysfunctional political system. The issue isn’t one that’s new or unexpected but one that, on the contrary, was predicted and described by Frankfurt School writer Herbert Marcuse in 1964---we are facing the closing of the political world.

Marcuse, in explaining this phenomenon, pointed out something troubling, and something that has become all the more obvious in progressing late-stage capitalist elections. He stated that we are not truly free to choose who governs us, but, rather, we are free to choose which of two increasingly similar candidates we want to govern us.

“In the political sphere,” he wrote, “this trend manifests itself in a marked unification or convergence of opposites.”

Take the continued failures of a true progressive, like Bernie Sanders, in national politics as an example. Nobody in the modern U.S. political scene is more likely to push for policy that would benefit their constituents, but, despite his widespread success and the popularity of his platform, he has yet to make a significant jump past his current spot in the U.S. Senate.

This isn’t to say that our options are significantly more limited than they were 10 years ago. While the age-old tradition of moving the U.S. political parties further and further right is still holding strong, it’s arguable that we have more options presented to us now than we have at any other time post-9/11. What’s happening is far more nuanced and far less obvious—we are being forced to settle for what will inevitably be one of two sides of the same coin.

As the idea of the enlightened Centrist grows in popularity, the Socialist alternative has continued to be demonized in the mainstream. Democrats won’t speak the word “communist”, while the Right continues pushing more and more for their ways. The range moves more and more right, away from those “crazy communists." At best, you can be left with someone in the center. No election has made this more evident than the 2020 presidential election, where the resigned sentiment of “Settle for Biden” was all too common among Democrats and Leftists alike. To be sure, anything would be better than another Republican in office, right?

I don’t mean to say that Joe Biden is necessarily the same as a second-term Donald Trump or that Sanders is doomed to failure, but rather that this shift left from a Trump presidency is still ultimately a shift right from previous political reference points, despite Biden’s progressive rhetoric. Biden has continued the inhumane conditions for immigrants being held at the border and has only made performative progress on many issues of inequality. For example, there has been no progress on the bettering of material conditions for the underprivileged. Biden has yet to make any real substantial changes that would consecrate him as a progressive president—sure, he removed us from Afghanistan, but Trump claimed he would do the same and even set up a timeline to do so. That seems far from a victory for Biden.

Biden claimed he would push for Medicare for All or some variation thereof, for student loan forgiveness, for the lessening of for-profit detention—none of which have actually come to pass. This reads, when you look at it from the perspective of what is and not from the perspective of what could be, like your average neoliberal presidency. Sure, he says all the right things, “Get vaccinated, Black Lives Matter, love your fellow Americans,” but continued bombing the Middle East until the spotlight was on it and is currently acting under normal destructive economic policy. Words mean nothing when there’s no action to back it up.

What we have is a politically-aware Mitt Romney—somebody who, had they run in 2004 or 2008, would have all of the economic policies of a Republican. He continues to provide an economic system geared for the rich, or at the very least isn’t acting against his fellow Democrats who are. All that’s effectively changed is the dichotomy of the social, and that will change when the Republicans can no longer use political incorrectness to their advantage. When hatred is no longer in vogue for the right, or, more pessimistically, when their hate has won and we’re stuck in the Republican’s world, there will be no difference between the two parties. When the social barrier between the two parties falls and all that’s left is economic, the democrats will be looking themselves in the mirror.

This is all ignoring the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, places even worse affected by this. Let us take Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as perfect examples of the meaninglessness of having two political parties. Manchin and Sinema are considered “moderates” in the Democratic party, which means that they’re Democrats in name only---Democrats even less than Biden. They say the right words and act slightly more conscionable (read: they don’t support insurrectionists), but still oppose any legislation that would truly benefit the average American. They do not consistently vote for a $15 minimum wage (eight Democrats voted against it), nor for reallocating tax money towards social services and away from the military. Tell me: When the two parties' words are different but their policies the same, how can we say there's any real difference at all?

This is the core of what the closing of our political universe is: we have no real choice. We are choosing between two candidates who are acceptable to the politico-economic rulers of our countries, to the companies and conglomerates that act as economic benefactors to the suffering of the working class. We have no real choice because of lobbying, because of autocratic ideology within the upper echelon of our government and because of the fracturing of the working class that has happened over the past 10 years. While the Koch brothers and Big Pharma pay Manchin and Sinema millions to vote in favor of their backwards policy priorities, we are left to choose between two options that are more or less equal, where the only difference is one side openly uses socially harmful rhetoric where the other would sugarcoat their discrimination. In modern politics, optics are everything.

And those optics are how we truly choose our government in the latest stage of American imperialist capitalism. People were drawn to Trump not because of his policy, but because he had the optics, the personality that appealed to that mass of people, and, similarly, people were drawn to Biden for his optics and personality: a take-no-guff, “hit the road, Jack” lover of the Average American. And so, I ask again, what policies has Biden pushed for that have significantly helped us?

The only thing we have to show for Biden’s presidency is the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but even that has been mangled and reshaped by so-called moderates to only do a fraction of what it could have. The bill went from a $3 trillion progressive powerhouse to a $1.75 trillion shell of its former self. On top of this, the bill has a built-in $3 trillion budget for the secretary of energy to give to zero emissions projects, which directly references Hyperloop technology. That’s right: billions of dollars will likely be going to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop tunnels in Los Angeles. This is all to say that, in many ways, the bill went from a powerful progressive landmark of legislation to something that should be expected—something that should have been done years ago, but the government just never cared to. We’re working just to get the bare minimum.

So what are we left to do? If we choose to accept what Marcuse said of the closing of the political universe, as well as what has been said here about our current situation, it can appear as if we just have to wait for everything to fall apart. That surely is an option, but I doubt anyone wants to sit idly by while the issues caused by the system persist. The solution should come as no surprise: our only option is to come together as a working class to fan the flames of a revived social-political movement.

This pressure is not only creating unions and creating solidarity—that can only take us so far. Instead, we should focus on truly dismantling and restructuring the systems that be. When the working class moves and acts as one, it can do incredible things. Laws and precedents that seem immovably codified can be pressured into changing, whole governments can be replaced with people who truly care about their constituents, and the people can finally be heard. This would take voting turnouts and solidarity that would make the results undeniable—a task that is incredibly difficult, but not impossible.

Seeing as until this or something even more drastic occurs we are stuck in this single-sided political universe, we may as well try. The most important thing, however, is that we don’t give up on our fellow man. The socialist movement has a lot of ground to make up, especially if it wants to reopen the American political universe. A social revolution is necessary, one that reinvigorates the working class and aims to restructure the systems that necessarily perpetuate class struggle. Now is not the time to settle for another Biden or fall to a Bernie without a Congress, but to aim for a movement en masse. If we don’t act with conviction soon we’re doomed for another Trump or, possibly even worse, yet more political mediocrity that leaves the workers in the dirt.