Socialist Alternative (ISA in the US)
As we go to print, the celebrations have begun. Trump has clearly lost, and he will be out of the White House early next year. A massive sigh of relief is being exhaled by tens of millions of people across the country and hundreds of millions across the world. Yet we should recognize that the pandemic, climate change, economic crisis, and institutional racism won’t go away when Trump leaves office. Biden himself said that he doesn’t want fundamental change, and he will “reach across the aisle” to right-wing Republicans. We’ll still need determined mass movements to win gains for working people, to fight against the far right, and to challenge the disastrous rule of the billionaire clas
Of course, Trump continues to claim that the results are fraudulent and that the election is being stolen. We can’t exclude that sections of his supporters will mobilize to oppose him leaving office. If Trump tries to stay, there should be mass mobilizations to drive him out.
But it’s also pretty clear that the ruling class does not want further chaos. The media and even sections of the Republican establishment have been at pains to stress that capitalist democracy is “functioning.” Even the courts, which Trump hoped would intervene to stop the counting or refuse to count sections of the mail-in ballots have so far refused to do so. Recounts in several states are also unlikely to change the outcome.
Why Was It So Close?
The pollsters and pundits were wrong again, and there was no Biden blowout or “blue wave” taking a majority in the Senate. The Democrats have also lost a number of seats in the House and there are also losses at the state level. That being said there were some progressive victories in the House with the election of Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman who will now join “The Squad” alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and others.
In the leadup to the election, voter suppression, a Republican specialty, was amped up in the context of the pandemic. On top of this, the electoral college is one of the most undemocratic institutions (along with the Supreme Court) in a U.S. political system designed to mask the rule of the billionaire class. Voter suppression did have an effect but actually all of Trump’s constant talk about fraud and the undermining of the Postal Service only made ordinary people more determined to come out and vote. This led to the truly remarkable turnout, the highest percentage of registered voters since 1908.
The liberal pundits assumed that this massive turnout would heavily favor the Democrats. But the outcome was far from decisive. In fact, Trump could have easily been defeated in a landslide, especially if Bernie Sanders had been the nominee. Trump has one of the lowest approval ratings of any incumbent Presidential candidate ever, and the Democrats waged a weak campaign against him with a horribly uninspiring corporate candidate.
In a FoxNews exit poll, 72% of voters said they’re in favor of a government-run health-care program. In Florida, where Trump won, 61% of people voted for a ballot measure for a state-wide $15 an hour minimum wage. This shows that a clear appeal to working-class voters, which Bernie could have done effectively, would have likely defeated Trump in a landslide.
Trump has criminally mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic – leading to hundreds of thousands of U.S. deaths – overseen mass unemployment and a further slide into poverty for millions of Americans, and yet the Democrats did all they could to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
They put up an embarrassing candidate who was kept out of the public eye, didn’t have a “ground game” for their campaign in key swing states, refused to adopt wildly popular policies like Medicare for All and taxing the rich, and didn’t conduct a mass voter registration campaign to win over millions of new voters who despise Trump. Yet the Democrats’ biggest failings weren’t just “mistakes” but instead due to their fundamental nature as a pro-corporate party controlled by billionaire backers.
Exit polling shows that voters who saw the pandemic as the key issue voted for Biden by an 82% margin while those who saw the economy as the key issue voted for Trump by an equally huge margin. What these numbers reflect is that the Democratic Party in this election had literally nothing to say to working people or even large sections of the middle class who are extremely afraid of the future or are already struggling with debt, loss of jobs, etc. For many, Trump’s message of “open the economy” resonated. It is no exaggeration to say that without the pandemic and Trump’s criminal mishandling of it – or if he had been a bit more competent – he would have easily defeated Biden.
Democrats’ Hostility to Progressive Politics
In the final days of the campaign, Biden made clear he would never ban fracking, would never cut police funding, and would accept yet another right-wing addition to the Supreme Court. He (again!) said that cops should shoot suspects “in the leg” as his solution to racist police murders, and he refused to support Medicare for All as the election took place at the height of the pandemic. It comes as no surprise that an Axios poll showed that over 58% of Democratic voters were motivated to cast their ballots “against Trump” rather than “for Biden.”
All this left space for Trump to portray himself as an “outsider” despite being in the White House! Trump criticized Biden from the “left” for his racist 1994 Crime Bill, as well as his support for ongoing wars and pro-corporate trade deals. This was combined with a vicious cocktail of Trump’s racism, sexism, authoritarianism, appeals to the far right, conspiracy theories, and “law and order” rhetoric which definitely resonates with a section of conservative white voters.
In his statement to the media on November 4, Trump went as far as to say that “Democrats are the party of the big donors, the big media, the big tech, it seems. And Republicans have become the party of the American worker, and that’s what’s happened.” Of course for a billionaire who filled his cabinet with other super rich people to say this is absurd. In fact, voters who earn less than $100,000/year voted for Biden over Trump by a significant margin. But the fact that this resonates at all tells us everything we need to know about the Democratic establishment.
The Democratic Party leadership fought harder and more effectively against Bernie in the primary than they did against Trump in the general election. Yet the liberal pundits will seek to play a “blame game,” claiming that this situation is due to people who didn’t vote (especially people of color), independent voters, racist ideas in the white working class (which is a real factor that we get into below), or Democrats being associated with the “radical left.” Instead, the Democratic Party leadership needs to look in the mirror to see who gave Trump the opening to try to steal this election. In addition, Sanders himself shouldn’t have capitulated to Biden, and he shouldn’t have self-censored his previous criticisms of the Democratic Party. This helped give room for Trump to appear as the anti-establishment candidate.
The Blame Game
Liberal pundits and some activists on the left are downplaying the uninspiring, pro-corporate nature of the Biden campaign and instead adopting a reductionist approach. They say that Trump’s vote increasing from 2016 is due only to racism in the white working class. Of course, the U.S. is a deeply racist society, and the far right has grown and will continue to be a threat that socialists and the labor movement need to fight against.
However, this alone does not explain the gains Trump made in this election and it’d be a very serious error to write off his voters as simply a block of racist, white voters. In fact the one section of the population where his percentage support decreased was among non college educated white voters. This doesn’t change the fact that two thirds of this demographic supported Trump but it shows that it’s far from monolithic.
Trump’s support grew among Black and Latino voters, long taken-for-granted Democratic voting blocs. In fact he won the highest vote among people of color of any Republican presidential candidate in 60 years! There are a number of factors at work here but an important element in why a section of Black and Latino working class voters chose Trump is again because of the economy and the complete failure of the Democrats to speak to the crisis facing working people right now.
From the point of view of capitalist organs like the New York Times, there’s a benefit to reducing this election to race because it undercuts people’s faith in the potential for a multiracial working class solidarity and distracts from the failings of the Democrats. While they don’t say so openly, they are actively opposed to the emergence of a multiracial mass movement centered on the working class that would take on the rule of the billionaire class whom they defend. Corporate identity politics is a cover for the defense of capitalist rule.
Again there’s no denying that Trump benefited in the sections of American society with the most backward ideas about race by using “law and order” rhetoric.
The need for genuine working class unity in the face of racism is crucial. But the question of how we actually achieve this unity in such an extremely polarized society is complex. We believe it is possible on the basis of a fighting program that includes both demands that improve the lives of working people as a whole along with a clear stand for black liberation and immigrant rights.
The massive multiracial uprising this summer – and the wide support for the uprising in society – in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd precisely showed the potential for a united fight against racism and economic inequality. But the lack of leadership, organization and a clear strategy gave the ruling class the opportunity to confuse issues like the call to “defund the police.” It also gave Trump and the far right an opening to push back exploiting people’s fears of spreading chaos. The backlash against the uprising (especially in rural areas) is real but should not be exaggerated.
What Will a Biden Presidency Look Like?
It is clear that a Biden/Harris administration will solve none of the key problems that face working people. It is predictable that they will hide behind the potential Republican control of the Senate as an excuse for why change can’t be delivered. Even during the campaign when the Democrats were trying to win control of the Senate, Biden said that he’ll “work with Republicans,” the perennial excuse for agreeing to massive attacks on working people’s interests. There’s a better chance that you’ll see rich Republicans in Biden’s cabinet than Bernie Sanders.
From the start this will be a weak administration overseeing the deep crisis of the pandemic and economic devastation. The Federal Reserve and capitalist economists are almost unanimous that there needs to be a lot more fiscal stimulus to prevent an even bigger slump. But while the $600 top-up to unemployment benefits needs to be urgently restored, this is not at all the same as the lasting change we need like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Unfortunately the Democratic leadership are very clear that they are opposed to both of these programs which are overwhelmingly popular with ordinary people.
A Final Victory
We urgently need to build a mass movement to fight for an emergency stimulus plan for working people, a socialist Green New Deal, community control of the police, Medicare for All, and much more. We can’t depend on corporate-controlled Democrats to fundamentally change the situation, and Biden has said over and over that he won’t put forward the policies that we so desperately need.
Biden will be overseeing one of the deepest crises in the history of U.S. capitalism. He will aim to serve the interests of the billionaire class, just as he has throughout his entire political career. This will lead millions to search for an alternative to the Democratic Party leadership and mainstream politics in general.
In this context, the far right could grow even more under a Biden presidency. In order to effectively fight against right-wing racists, we need a program that can mobilize working people into action. We can’t limit our demands to what is acceptable to the Democratic Party leadership and their billionaire backers. Instead, we need to fight for the needs of billions of people worldwide rather than the billionaires. This type of struggle would inevitably conflict with the capitalist system itself.
This election shows that the Democrats can’t decisively defeat the far right. Socialist Alternative thinks we need a new party based on the working class. We’d advocate that this new party stands for seizing the wealth of the top corporations and putting them under democratic workers’ control and management. Trump is the symptom. Capitalism is the disease. Socialism is the cure.