We did it Joe?: Beers, Likeability Politics and the Trap of a Two Party System

You are currently viewing We did it Joe?: Beers, Likeability Politics and the Trap of a Two Party System

Words: Ava Ahmann (She/Her)

The inner workings of American politics are encased by the veneer of celebrity, where the question of ‘Who would you rather have a beer with?’ can act as a genuine barometer for a candidate’s ascension to the White House, and celebrity endorsements can be make or break. 

Likeability, as it has come to be termed, rose in analytical emphasis within American politics in the 1950s, and is still an inherent focus of political wonks and pundits alike. 

This penchant for pursuing fickle likeability is evident in the multitude of stunts, ads, and media gaffes that are associated with the presidential office – from Trump’s recent announcement of a gilded sneaker line, to Obama’s meticulously curated end of the year roundups (Ethel Cain? Be so for real right now…) to Biden’s immediately infamous post-Super Bowl Instagram post featuring his likeness à la meme format of  “Dark Brandon.” The meme, posted to the official White House Instagram page, featured Biden with red glowing eyes alongside the caption ‘Just like we drew it up’ alluding to right wing conspiracy theories that the Super Bowl was rigged because Biden, who was rooting for the victorious Kansas City Chiefs, is also supposedly vying for the endorsement of a certain significant other of the Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce, a totally non famous miss Taylor Swift. 

The general aloof tone, pathetically jokey and Gen Z pandering, was compounded by the timing – as the Super Bowl played out to record high viewership (thanks to T-Swizz), featuring a $7 million dollar Israeli government ad, those in Gaza were subject to intense military strikes that resulted in the killing of 67 Palestinian civilians. Frustration with Biden has been constant since the start of the conflict in Gaza, and the president has faced incessant disruption at campaign events over his staunchly pro Israel politics that have allowed the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) to march unheeded towards a genocide in Palestine. This IG post then, once again a classical nod towards a desire for relevance and thus, likeability, didn’t land, and instead led to Biden feeling wildly out of touch. Such a deep transcension from reality begs the question; who really is ever won over by these tactics? And are they the inevitable pitfalls of the bumbling ruling class, or is it abstraction by intention? 

Irregardless of the stickier analytical side to likeability politics, Biden’s star is undeniably fading, if it were ever truly there, potentially alongside his cognitive ability; he recently referred to President Al-Sisi of Egypt as the president of Mexico much to the glee of Egyptians, and keeps raising French political figures from the dead (such as former president Mitterand and finance minister Kohl). It should be noted of course that Trump, too, is elderly, and prone to slip ups such as mixing up Nancy Pelosi with Nikki Haley and saying the US is on the verge of WWII. Nonetheless, his presidential run is perhaps marred by far more serious concerns, namely a trillion court cases, so the label of ‘geriatric’is leveraged as a criticism of Biden with a bit more intensity. 

Currently 57% of Americans are polled as disapproving of Biden, who is the oldest person ever to occupy the oval office, a figure which, according to Reuters, has remained more or less stable since October 2021. Breaking that down further, 86% of Americans believe he is principally too old. So if we aren’t keen to sink a pint with Biden then who will we be sidling up to at the bar? 

As Gallup has reported, as of October, support among US adults for a third party is at 63%, the highest level since the advisory group began keeping score in 2003, albeit not statistically meaningful when looking at peaks in 2017 and 2021 (61% and 62% respectively). On the whole the itch for something –else- has been troubling American voters for decades, and this poll reflects that Republicans are particularly itchy at the minute. And while Dems have demonstrated an increased interest in the concept this year, they are still less than a majority among those polled, perhaps due to the staunch ‘never Trump’ line and the guilt infused ‘get to the polls for abortion-healthcare-climate-gayrights–etc’ Democratic party calling card. 

Personally, I do feel guilty. But should I? So much of the Democratic handbook is displacing blame, ‘If you don’t like Biden’s policies, what are you gonna do huh? Vote for Trump?’ (read in an incredulous liberal tone). Biden himself has played into this guilt driven dialogue, ‘If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black’ he said while speaking with Charlemagne, a prominent Black talk show host back in 2020. Around that time he lashed out at an immigrant rights activist, telling them that they should just ‘Vote for Trump’ in response to criticism over the mass deportations that played out under the Obama administration while Biden was VP. 

Unsurprisingly, many Americans, myself included, don’t want a fascist in the White House, and Trump promises to invoke the Insurrection Act on day one of taking office – effectively quelling dissent through military might. However, voting for a president that has facilitated the genocide in Gaza feels like giving a carte blanche to a party that has done very little to change the lives of “everyday Americans”. It feels like complicity. Biden, as much as Trump, represents the state of US politics; antiquated, militaristic, sexist, and completely ridden with western (read: white, racist) hubris. 

The two party system is a democratic chokehold, and it’s understandable that many are desperately looking for answers outside of the false binary of Democrat/Republican. Activists, Claudia De la Cruz and Karina Garcia, are filling the ticket for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and my heart lies with their world vision. I’d happily go for a round with them at the Old Hairdressers or the Laurieston. I intend to vote for them in the primary, if they will even be allowed on the ballot, yet if push comes to shove I may feel compelled to vote for Biden come November. If so, it will be a decision ridden with its own guilt and hopelessness, and it is in this that the Democratic party has failed. Biden, in his bid for likeability, like so many of his predecessors, has become abstracted from actual issues – running on the fumes of ‘never Trump,’ failing to represent a departure from the processes of capitalism and militarism that have enabled the suffering that working class Americans live daily. 

While much of the organizing for systemic change and the betterment of people’s lives happens in community, it’s beyond disillusioning that there is no semblance of hope to come from heading to the polls. As 100,000 would be dem voters in Michigan cast “uncommitted” votes in the primary, following the calls of Muslim leaders, one can only hope that Biden, (or whoever may be pulling the/his strings), can rip himself from his inertia with regard to the genocide in Gaza, and act. When Biden hears that Air Force serviceman, Aaron Bushnell, self immolated outside the Israeli embassy in DC, in the name of a free Palestine, and in rejection of the “normalcy” the ruling class have created regarding genocide, will he see himself? Will he recognise the hand he had in Bushnell’s ultimate choice of protest? Will he see the hand he has had in so much death? 

Beyond his tone deaf memes and spoken miss-steps, criticisms of Biden’s morality, or lack thereof, may be the death knell for his re-election, rather than his octogenarian status. Will Biden hold Muslim and Arab lives to the same regard he holds Taylor Swift’s? Failing to do so may rightly cost him the presidency, and it will not be anyone’s fault but his own; that his moral failings have placed him right beside his politically expedient bogeyman – Trump. Perhaps nothing is less likeable than bankrolling genocide; I wonder if they serve beer in the Hague? 


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