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Welcome to Betrayalville: Biden, the Left, and Student Debt Forgiveness.

I.

You could be forgiven for thinking he’d forgive every cent. Joe Biden was a lifeguard afterall. And here you are drowning, if only figuratively.

You expected to be saved. Really and truly saved. Brought up onto the rescue tube, the voice speaking to you, reassuring you that it was all going to be OK as you were rolled over onto your back, towed to the pool’s edge and then taken from the water and laid gently onto the sun-baked concrete, an altar of deliverance and renewal. You expected that. You expected to be saved. And instead what happened is you watched in a kind of horror-disbelief as Joe Biden observed you drowning and just sort of leisurely descended the lifeguard chair, did a couple of cross-arm stretches, walked over to where the pool skimmer stood leaning up against the side of a wall and then held it out over the water and just starting jabbing at you with it, prodding you.

You did what anyone would do. You clutched onto it. Or tried to anyway. You flailed about and clung onto it in despair but it kept slipping from your grasp. Or rather it was pulled from your hands, repeatedly. And then you realized it—the thing that maybe you should have known all along: you were not going to be saved; you would first need to be evaluated on your victimhood, on your suitability to be saved. And so you stopped trying to seize onto the pole because it was useless. You let yourself be prodded, assessed, surrendering to the criteria.

You knew a decision had been reached when you felt the pool skimmer pressed into your armpit and you were simply shoved off towards a slightly less deep area of the pool. There, as you kick to keep your head above the water line, you can now sometimes feel your big toe graze against the grout of the pool’s bottom. Your gratitude for that small kindness is expected. You are one of the lucky ones. See. Look. You are surrounded by others still convulsively thrashing around in the water.

Sure, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d save you. He was a lifeguard and lifeguards are the kind of people who make certain pledges and who take those pledges seriously.

Welcome to Betrayalville U.S.A.

II.

Long a hypersegregated enclave through which runs the expressway of broken campaign promises, Betrayalville is where people deemed expendable by Democratic leadership are left to languish. They’re simply regarded as a captured group that will dutifully show up and vote against whatever dark specter threatening civilization the Party whips up. Lately they’ve been solely responsible for Saving Democracy, despite the fact that their participation in that very system is rewarded by continued neglect. So they’ve been saving it for others. For us, essentially. We thank them, verbally, and then we wish them well in Betrayalville with its contaminated water and whatever else they have to deal with there.

And but just like that, Betrayalville has taken on a very different racial and class character following the announcement that—unlike his pledge to “forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities”—Biden will just be forgiving $10,000 for those making less than $125,000.

The new influx of folks are largely white. Many enjoy incomes that exceed Betrayalville’s median. And I think that, given those things, as well as if the above tweet (which is indicative of a much broader sentiment) portends anything, there is going to be a serious effort to gentrify the road out of Betrayalville before the next election.

There is, of course, only one road out of Betrayalville, and it is called Down Ballot Way. There are no shortcuts. It is the sole route, and to walk it is discouraging and onerous. Just ask Yvette Carnell, Antonio Moore and the #ADOS movement who, since 2019, have worked against all manner of resistance and calumny in order to shepherd their group out from Betrayalville along that very road. And to the extent that the fresh arrivals of progressives in Betrayalville are looking to do something similar in leveraging their votes come 2024, they should be aware that the demand is reparations and that they should not try to gentrify that.

I know the notion that you are not the kind of people who are supposed to end up in Betrayalville will deepen your sense of the injustice you’ve suffered. And I don’t doubt that as interest handily recoups the forgiven amount, that sentiment will harden. But the people who’ve been made to live in Betrayalville for generations largely don’t even have school debt. Higher ed hasn’t exactly been an option. And so you will be effectively asking a group that is presently owed trillions (trillions!) of dollars to consider the ways in which the $10,000 you were just given by the government is a real slap in the face. There is nothing you can say in either moral or economic terms about student debt forgiveness that doesn’t only further accentuate those exact same dimensions of the ADOS case for reparations, and—let’s be honest—their case is way more compelling, profoundly more urgent.

III.

Far from collapsing the possibilities for solidarity, this situation strikes me as in fact precisely the kind of opportunity that progressives need in order to forge real and lasting sympathies with a group whose core issues have all too often served as merely ornaments of progressive movement politics. Maybe, just maybe, this is how you begin to actually build that coalition and start to effect the kind of transformational change in American society for which you ostensibly yearn but consistently fail to ever realize.

At the very least, consider this. The only group who cannot say they didn’t get exactly what they asked for when it comes to Biden’s student loan forgiveness is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They asked for $10,000, and Biden’s response is perfectly consonant with their demand. Even the Congressional Black Caucus’s student loan forgiveness ask was five times that amount. But, of course, the Congressional Black Caucus’s constituents are in Betrayalville. Hell, the CBC helped put them there, and Biden has written them off accordingly. He’s told them so literally to their faces. And he had every reason to believe that, regardless of what he did with student debt, Black voters would dependably show up and vote for him in 2024. He could not, however, be so sure about Hispanic voters, many of whom have been running to the GOP as of late. They are, as Biden has put it, “incredibly diverse” (read: quite open to voting conservative!). In fact, 47% of Hispanic voters opposed any student debt relief that wasn’t $10,000 in forgiveness tied to a specific income level.

And so this represents a sort of a win-win for Democrats who are ideologically only a pubic hair’s length left of absolute center and who are dead set on chasing Hispanic voters. With this bare minimum forgiveness, Democrats get to erase the entire debt of nearly half of all Hispanic borrowers (only a quarter of Black borrowers are afforded the same), and, at the same time, not piss off and totally alienate the 47% who would surely exact electoral retribution via the ballot in 2024 if Democrats sought anything like unhooking student debt relief from being means-tested or a greater dollar amount to be forgiven.

But I think that’s the ceiling from here on out then. That’s the upper limit in terms of possibility in progressive movement politics so long as the coalition rejects leveraging the #ADOS demand of reparations and actually using that to inspire fear in the Democrats concerning their political future. Absent that, it’s pretty obvious that you will get the absolute minim in terms of progressive policy because Democrats have chosen Latinos—a progressive-ish and, at the same time, not insignificantly conversative voting bloc—as their political muse. That’s the apple cart, folks. And Democratic politics will, for the foreseeable future, be governed by a rigid principle of doing whatever they can to not upset it. After all, Biden has said—again—explicitly, “[America] can’t do well if [the] Latino community doesn’t do well.” Hear that? Not ‘the black and brown community;’ not ‘communities of color.’ No, America’s ability to succeed and prosper is tied, in Biden’s eyes, to the Latino community.

There is no doubt that sentiment is shared among Democratic leadership more broadly. And as a political movement, it seems strategically stupid to let the Democrats continue to feel zero pressure by not foregrounding the immediate needs of the one group in your coalition who, by voting down ballot, can actually scare the Party into a more ambitious position. As a progressive political movement you should be offering these people the antidote to the political establishment’s basic assumption that they will simply fall in line. The very last thing you should be is yet another force assuming that ADOS will do as they are told; that they will conform to prevailing thinking within the movement. They won’t; nor should they.

Obviously any serious progressive movement in America is going to have to come through Betrayalville to get where it claims it’s headed. The misconception, though, is that, once there, Betrayalville isn’t necessarily a point of reprioritization for the movement. The ones who have for so long been cast aside and left behind should now be empowered to take their rightful place at the vanguard of inclusion and change.

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