By Roger Keeran
November 23, 2020
My grandparents, with whom I lived in Michigan in the 1960s, kept a large portrait of Franklin Roosevelt on the wall. According to my mother, each election night when Roosevelt won, my grandfather would make my Republican grandmother sit at the piano and play, Roosevelt’s anthem, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” This year after Biden won, I sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” to my grandchildren.
Was this joy justified? Was the spontaneous dancing in the streets that occurred in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere justified? Of course, most elections are contradictory, and this election changed nothing fundamental about capitalism and the two party system. Nevertheless, a sober analysis of the 2020 election shows that the joy is justified, and is justified by more than just the relief at the defeat of Trump and his right-wing populism. Though the election results contain some definite warning signs that it would be foolish to ignore, they also point to increased prospects for progressive politics and independent political action, about which we are more than justified in celebrating.
In what follows, I will do three things:
- Make some overall observations on the election
- Point out some troubling or negative outcomes
- Point out the positive outcomes
First, nothing in this election changes the basic view we expounded after the 2016 election. The Trump movement represents a dangerous form of right-wing populism that was fueled by the the corporate liberalism of Clinton and Obama that failed the interests of the working people.
Secondly, even though Biden won the by 6 million margin of the popular vote, and a margin of 306 to 232 in the electoral college, the election was actually close. In Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, Biden won by 1 percent or less. In Wisconsin that went for Trump in 2016, Biden flipped just 2 or 72 counties. In Georgia that went for Trump in 2016, Biden flipped just one county.
No dramatic shift occurred in any demographic category except independents. In 2016 Trump won the independent vote by 4 points. This year he lost the independent vote by 13 points.
Under these circumstances, the pandemic and Trump’s irresponsible response to it may have been what turned the election.
Looked at more closely, the election definitely revealed some troubling signs and negative outcomes.
Most striking of course is that after four years of Trump unabashedly serving the rich, the corporations and himself, after four years of his lies, denials, name-calling, and bullying; after four years of his racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, over 74 million Americans still voted for him. More people voted for him this time than four years ago. Moreover, according to exit polls (which doubtlessly exaggerate the numbers for Trump since they do not reflect mail voters and early voters), over 50 percent of white people men and women voted for Trump, and a greater percentage of Blacks and Hispanics and people who identify as LBGT voted for Trump this year than four years ago. Unquestionably, this is troubling. It shows the potency of Trump’s racism and anti-immigrant stance particularly among white males.
Not only are Trump voters not going away, but 70 percent of them believe that Biden won the election because of fraud.
Also, Republicans increased their numbers in the House, and barring an unlikely sweep by the Democrats in the Georgia runoff, the Republicans will hold their majority in the Senate enabling them to block progressive appointments and legislation.
Exceedingly dangerous, was Trump’s strong arm attempts to overturn the election. These apparently have failed this time, but what they provided was a test run, a battlefield simulation, that right-wing populists in the future might successfully employ to overturn elections: using of elected officials, right-wing commentators and news outlets to promote a false narrative of a stolen election, pressuring elections officials and state legislators to overturn votes, using thugs to threaten ballot counters, filing lawsuits that try to throw out the votes of entire cities or states, and so forth.
The election result with the greatest potential trouble was the election of Biden. With Biden we have a corporate Democrat identified with the worst aspects of Clinton and Obama’s corporate liberalism: criminal law reform, corporate bailouts, foreign wars and interventions, immigrant expulsions, free trade and so forth. If Biden resorts to the policies of the past with which he is familiar, we are in for more economic inequality, more deaths of despair, and more foreign military interventions. In short, we will be in for exactly the same conditions that fostered Trump’s right-wing populism. Trump or someone like him could emerge with a fury in four years.
In spite of the danger signs, the positive outcomes were even more impressive. I will enumerate seven positive outcomes.
- First is voter turnout. Voter turnout has rarely exceeded 60 percent since the early years of the 20th This year the turnout was between 68.6% and 72.1%. The turnout gave Biden more votes than any previous presidential candidate and did more than anything to undermine Trump’s attempts to subvert the election.
Since those who typically do not vote are the more progressive parts of the population—the workers, the poor, the youth, and the minorities—the large turnout means that these parts of the population are more politically engaged than then have been in over a hundred years. Consequently, even though the vote for the Green Party apparently shrunk compared to four years ago because of the strong desire to defeat Trump, the potential constituency for progressive politics is more politically engaged than ever.
- The results show that Biden flipped Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, thus validating his approach of focusing on the working class populations of those states that had voted for Obama and then for Trump. Of course, he also won Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia putting a crack in what had in the recent past been solidly Republican states
- Even more encouraging than the turnout for Biden was the reasons for the turnout. It occurred not because Trump provoked a wave of disgust or because Biden was such an inspiring leader, but because of the tremendous grassroots mobilization
- Stacy Abrams’ organization alone registered upwards of 300,000 new voters in Georgia.
- Black Lives Matter brought thousands of people in hundreds of cities into the streets during the summer, and then got many of them to the polls in the fall. The slogan “Black Votes Matters” energized young, minority voters. Civil rights organizations like the NAACP spent millions of dollars turning out the vote.
- Unions also, particularly those hard hit by the economic crisis of the pandemic, engaged in an unprecedented grassroots effort: Unite HERE, postal workers, teachers, auto workers, steel workers, communication workers, healthcare workers and others. The union efforts may have made the difference in Nevada, Arizona, Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Union members went for Biden by 58 percent this year, compared to 53 percent for Clinton in 2016.
- In spite of their reservations about Biden, the Sanders campaign and the progressive Congresspeople like Ocasio-Cortez threw themselves into the campaign.
4. There is little evidence for the theory floated by some corporate Dems and conservatives that the Democrats were hurt down ballot by the Left’s advocacy of defund the police, the Green New Deal and Medicare for all. As Sanders pointed out, every one of the 112 incumbent members of Congress who supported Medicare for all was re-elected. All of the so-called squad of progressive Congress people were re-elected. And their numbers were augmented by victories in New York and elsewhere, including Missouri were the leader of Black Lives Matter, Cori Bush, was elected to Congress. The new members of Congress include the following people of color: Cori Bush, Marie Newman, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Richie Torres, Teresa Leger Fernandez, Kai Kahele, and Nikema Williams.
5. Likewise there is virtually no evidence for the idea that the Republican party has become the party of the multiracial working class. In the first place because of the way the working class is defined and discussed in the media (usually to mean non-college educated whites) it is nearly impossible to gauge precisely how it voted. But several things are clear. Union members voted nearly 60 percent Democratic, and Blacks and Hispanics over 70 percent Democratic. These were clearly working class votes. Moreover, what the media definition of working class ignores is that that majority of workers these days have attended some college. Thus, in those suburbs of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta and so forth that swung Democratic this time, there were undoubtedly many workers college-educated or not.
6. Moreover, one must not ignore the dialectics of this election, that is the changes and dynamics that the last four years and the election itself have created. President Assad of Syria said whoever was elected would be the CEO of the capitalist class. This is true. But Biden is not necessarily the same Biden of four years ago, and the Democratic Party is not the same party. After four years of Trump (and his popular denunciation of neo-liberalism, free trade, and endless wars) and after the rise of Sanders and progressive Democrats, Biden has given some indications of change. He no longer supports the criminal justice reform he pioneered, no longer talks about free trade, and no longer backs endless wars in the Middle East. Though he has not embraced a Green New Deal or single payer, he has moved in that direction. Moreover, he unquestionably supports rejoining the Paris Accords, reviving the nuclear treaties with Russia and Iran, using a science-based approach to combatting the pandemic, guaranteeing the right of public workers to unionize, paying workers a living wage, and funneling trillions of dollars to workers, small businesses, states and healthcare to combat the economic and health consequences of the pandemic.
7. Finally, one must not ignore another dynamic of this election, that is the divisions fostered by the election aftermath. Every day that Trump refuses to accede to his defeat and advances more and more desperate and preposterous claims of fraud, the more his own party and the capitalists themselves turn against him. In the past few days not only have former and current Republican office holders turned against Trump’s outlandish claims of fraud and refusal to concede, but also former supportive media outlets like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post have turned on him. More significantly, opposition has emerged among the leading financial, industrial, and retail capitalists: the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, Morgan Stanley, Chase Manhattan, United Airlines, Walmart, Disney, Boeing, and many others. It would be an overstatement to say that this shows profound divisions in the ruling class, since finance capital seems as happy with Biden as it was with Trump. Still, these schisms are new. At no time in American history, has such a schism appeared between leading capitalists and the Republican officialdom, not even during Nixon’s final days. Are capitalists who are used to getting their way by making a phone call happy about having to go publicly against a sitting president and other elected Republican officials? Are capitalists who were forced to turn against Trump now going to be anxious to back him or his son or one of his other minions for president in four years? It remains to be seen, but in the meantime this schism would seem to indicate that large sections of the bourgeoisie are not ready to cast aside bourgeois democracy that has served their interests so well for two centuries, and it has opened up or at least preserved some running room for the left.
In short, as Marxist-Leninists we have plenty of reasons to celebrate this election, not the least of which is that it may be the harbinger of further progressive change even perhaps among right-wing populists. Also, we should remember that those times in the past when independent politics and socialist movements have grown, it has been under Democratic presidents. This was true of Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party under Wilson, the CIO and Communist Party under Roosevelt and the civil rights, antiwar and New Left under Kennedy and Johnson.
The essence of dialectics is not only that history changes but people change, too. My grandfather once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and once had been an avid listener of the right-wing populist, Father Charles Coughlin, and that was not long before he sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” for Roosevelt.