American politicians on Twitter have made determining what is and is not satire quite difficult lately. Former Vice President Joe Biden has insinuated on multiple occasions that if he were still in high school, he would beat up President Trump. Trump recently fired back on Twitter with the quip:
The tit-for-tat nature of the Biden-Trump brawl would be indicative of the left-right culture war coming to blows if not for the fact that it’s more worthy of a Monty Python skit than of New York Times headlines. While these audacious quotes garner laughs for their ridiculousness, they also bring to the fore the ethical dilemmas and rifts within left-leaning politics.
There are, without a doubt, problems more important than two old men feuding about fist fights: gun reform, healthcare, avoiding trade wars, and the halted progress on fixing DACA, to name a few. The ethical dilemma of Biden and Trump’s statements does not hinge on whether or not the statements were in and of themselves appropriate; the general consensus seems to be they were rather undignified. Notwithstanding the propriety of their statements, Biden hit a nerve the Left has been grappling with since Charlottesville: “Is it ok to punch a Nazi?”
Although Biden’s comments were made in response to the Stormy subject of Trump’s statements about and treatment of women rather than his rampant normalization of white nationalism and racism, they highlight the broader divide of the Left. Will the moderate or progressive branch of the party provide the vision of the future? Are those who don’t mind punching Nazis going to lead? Or will the moderate Democrats who lost the house in the Obama years and lost the 2016 presidential race to theleast popular president in history continue to determine the party line?
The split on the Left seems to be over whether or not it is admirable to fight against hate and destructive policies beyond the polls and into the parking lot, at least metaphorically. To be clear, the normalization of real acts of identity-based political violence is not only dangerous but would breed discord and disaster in the future. Yet, I am eager to see the Left engage in more riled-up rhetoric. Biden should not be the future of the American Left, but in this case he showed the Left a glimmer of hope. Biden expressing regret for his statements shows the usual complacency of shuffling meekly along the moral high ground while the Right took the low road to victory.
The mixed response on the Left to Biden’s words is worrisome. The United States Capitol shouldn’t look like WWE, but a fighting spirit is exactly what Democrats need. And sometimes, when right wing radicals blabber fighting words, maybe a punch, at least in rhetoric, might be the proper response. The fact that Democrats seemingly cannot agree on fisticuffs among many more actual policy issues will sow the seeds of undoing between the moderates and progressives of the party. The 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential race will reveal just how large this gap has become.
Ryan Chavez is a junior in history from Arcadia, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.