We know that U.S. politics have drastically changed since 2016. The crisis of legitimacy of the bi-partisan system, and its two parties which, by the end of Obama’s second term looked a very much the same, was monetarily overcome by the rise of Bernie Sanders and the social-democratic movement (embodied in the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America – DSA and the new popularity of a lukewarm version of “socialism”). In addition, this crisis manifested on the right with the rise of Trump and Trumpism, that is to say, right wing populism that appeals to the white poor people who feel forgotten by the system. The first Trump term did not resolve this crisis, on the contrary, the polarization in the working class grew, and so did the mobilizations, with historic mass demonstrations in the post-election period (the 2017 Women’s March, a high record of strikes in 2018 and 2019, and the paramount mass rebellion of May-July 2020 that followed the murder of George Floyd.)
By Workers’ Voice/La Voz de [email protected] Trabajadores
The 2020 elections had a goal to renew the confidence of the American people in the broken system of liberal democracy and capitalism. Were Biden and Harris successful in channeling the struggles into the electoral system restoring the legitimacy of the bourgeois democratic system? Partially, but not fully, and it is clear that class struggle will be the defining factor. It goes without saying that there has been a record participation in this election. The corporate media is insisting over and over again that this represents a “victory for democracy.” In a distorted way, it shows the aspirations of translating some of the class struggles, especially around the rebellion for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, into the elections, with many exit polls suggesting that racial justice was a motivating factor to vote against Trump. But we predict several elements that indicate this crisis might continue. First, we need to acknowledge that there is still a large part of working people that does not vote or cannot vote. Second, we know Trumpism, a right wing populist phenomena, is here to stay at least for a few years. And finally, we know the severe healthcare and economic crisis, as well as racial injustice are likely to provoke new mobilizations and explosions, and well as the expected dissatisfaction and frustration with the new Biden administration.
The Other Side of the Record Electoral Turnout
Turnout for the 2020 election has been projected to be 66.3%, which would be the highest turnout in a US election since 1900. This number, however, still pales in comparison to turnout in many countries around the world, including other wealthy Western countries. In this election, nonvoters will make up over 30% of the electorate, which is no small number. Studies find that nonvoters are disproportionately working class. One study found that 44% of nonvoters earn a household income of $50,000 or less (this is the largest income bracket among those who responded to the question since 17% either did not answer the question or answered that they did not know). Nonvoters are more likely than active voters to feel disillusionment with regards to both major political parties and the political system in general. These people express that they do not feel like politicians in Washington bring about substantive changes in their lives and that their votes therefore do not have a meaningful impact. For this reason, nonvoters are less partisan than active voters and are more likely to say that they do not belong to any political party.
Many nonvoters do want to vote but do not do so because of barriers to voting such as being unable to get off work, bureaucratic obstacles in the voter registration process, lack of information, and other barriers which together form a larger system of voter suppression that particularly affects working class communities of color. Nonvoters are also more likely to be young, which represents an important demographic for continued political work. They live in deep blue states, deep red states, and swing states. Both the fact that these constituents do not feel that their votes matter and the fact that many face barriers to voting shows the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of our electoral system.
Finally, let’s remember that there are currently 44.5 million immigrants or non-citizens living and working in the US today who do not have the right to vote, and constitute 13.7% of the total population. To this we have to add between 6 to 12 millions of undocumented immigrants. As socialists we believe they all deserve the right to political franchise. Also, according to the Sentencing Project, “as of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses”- a disproportionate number of them are Black and Latino. There are only 2 states, Maine and Vermont, which do not restrict the voting rights of anyone with a felony conviction, including those in prison.
A party that fights for the working class can organize both those who vote out of desperation in spite of their frustrations with the two party system, and those who do not vote because of their disillusionment with the system, voter suppression, or both. We know that the class struggle is not over. We can expect increased polarization and protests around Black Lives Matter like we saw in 2013-2015 during the Obama administration, in addition to struggles over the economic crisis and pandemic.
Trumpism is Here to Stay
Furthermore, Trumpism and right-wing populism will not go away. Trump has increased his electoral base, even after 4 years of a disastrous government, getting more than 70 million votes (7 million more votes than last time). These votes were not cast only by white working class voters, but also a sector of Latinx workers in Florida, especially those with Central American, Cuban, and Venezuelan origins due to Trump’s agitation of the dangers of Socialism/Communism, his close relationship the evangelical Christianity via Pence, and fearmongering that Biden capitulated to the “radical left.” Post-election drama is contributing to solidify the idea of Trump as a representative of the working class and Biden as the candidate for Wall Street and Big Business. Our mistake was that we did not see or emphasize the fact that the BLM mobilizations also strengthened a sector of the working class that believes in Law and Order and is prone to embrace white supremacist ideas. We were discussing the difficulty of Biden to bring out the vote, and reconnect with its electoral base. We thought Trump might lose a part of its electoral base, but we did not predict it would increase by 7 million!
The Democrats Have Not Found their “Soul” Yet
We know this election was also a movement for a divided Democratic party to find clear answers for a log souls searching path. Yet the results they obtained are not going to help resolve its own internal crisis. They barely won the presidential ticket, but the battles within the party are not over. In a New York Times interview, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who, along with the other left-leaning members of ‘The Squad,’ won their congressional races, called out the incompetence of the Democratic Party for their rejection of the platform around Black Lives Matter, Medicare for All, and Green New Deal and blamed them for congressional losses. “[I]nternally, it’s been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive…I don’t even know if I want to be in politics. You know, for real, in the first six months of my term, I didn’t even know if I was going to run for re-election this year…It’s the lack of support from your own party. It’s your own party thinking you’re the enemy.” The reformist strategy of the ‘dirty-break’ pushed by the DSA and their publication The Jacobin, which is an electoralist strategy of socialists using the Democratic Party to win office and, at an undetermined time, split from the DP to form an independent political alternative, is appearing more and more unlikely with the loss of Bernie Sanders and the victory of Biden. Instead of using a ruling class party dominated by imperialists, racists, bureaucrats and bankers to advance a socialist project, the DP has used the left to get Biden elected. Biden called on Trump supporters to be seen as fellow Americans, “not enemies,” reaching out with an olive branch to a Republican Party that is also fully committed to its own right-wing and white supremacist agenda. With control of the Senate, and a relatively slim Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, the GOP is poised to block Biden and his cabinet’s moves, which the Democrats themselves will offer no meaningful resistance to. The next midterm and presidential elections are likely to be framed by the right-wing as opportunities to mitigate the disasters of the Democratic Party – namely the uptick in class struggle and the crisis in profitability – by voting for Republican Party politicians, who’ve learned through these elections that an unabashed program of open white supremacy can deliver power to their party.
The question is whether the right of the Democratic Party is going to be able to defeat and kick out the progressives, which they are openly blaming for their poor results, or whether the latter, who have been somewhat reinforced with several new seats won and other re-elections of progressive Democrats, will prevail and the crisis and internal struggles will continue. This will increase the polarization and political fight within the Democratic Party, which will continue to seek alliances with the neoliberal wing of the GOP – many of which lent their support to Biden -in order to fortify themselves against their left-wing.
The Upcoming Crisis in the GOP
There is an equivalent crisis in the GOP too. We know that the GOP is going into a deep crisis because the defeat of Trump also comes with contradictions. While Trump has destroyed the party, as he has marginalized any critical voices and behaved in a despotic manner, he has at the same time delivered the best electoral result of the GOP in raw numbers: 71 million votes!
Furthermore, he has increased his electoral base on the basis of an openly racist and nationalist agenda which is going to be a potential obstacle to keep non-white voters who are becoming the majority of the electorate.
It is not clear that the GOP can discard him, despite his loss and him dragging his feet to go – also because there has been no alternative figure or leadership to him in the past four years.
The GOP will have to decide if Trump is still a rowdy asset it can control, or if it needs to start looking for a replacement. What is clear is that they can’t replace him immediately and will have to compound with him – if possible- until they find a new leadership.
The Defining Factor Will Be the Class Struggle
All the factors analyzed above are important, but we know that the fate of the political situation in the U.S. will be defined by our struggles – or the absence thereof. Working people in the U.S. are facing a quadruple emergency, a sanitary, economic, social and environmental one, and as we said during the electoral campaign, neither Trump nor Biden have a real solution for it. Our only way forward is to organize and fight for our survival, and in the course of our struggle build the tools of our durable emancipation: independent and democratic organizations of the working class (we need to take back our unions!), and an independent political party that is rooted in our class and its struggles, that has experience winning for our side, and can propose an independent way out, a socialist way out.
Washington Post. Nov 4 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/elections/voter-turnout/
“100 million Project” https://knightfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/The-100-Million-Project_KF_Report_2020.pdf
 New York Times, November 7, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/us/politics/aoc-biden-progressives.html