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Biden Wins, but the Capitalist Crisis That Created Trumpism Is Here to Stay

It’s now almost certain that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. But these elections were not a resounding defeat of Trumpism.

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Photo by Steven Zaltz, TBR News Media

Joe Biden has won the 2020 presidential election. It has been a dramatic affair, with the laborious, time-intensive counting of mail-in ballots dragging the results on for days. But at long last, the 2020 presidential campaign seems to be winding down. The fact that it took over three days to confirm that someone who had a 3 million vote lead won the presidency is further evidence that the Electoral College is a fundamentally undemocratic and archaic system. 

Donald Trump went live on election night and on Thursday night to claim both victory and electoral fraud as more votes were counted. Mike Pence, who spoke right after Trump on Tuesday, was much more measured, subtly backtracking from Trump’s position, stating “We believe we have a path to victory.”

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That path, however, never materialized. And so, Joe “nothing will fundamentally change” Biden will be President. 

Yet, far from being an all-out rejection of the president, this election showed the strength of Trumpism, with a historic turnout. In the choice between the neoliberal establishment and right-wing populist rhetoric, the margins were razor thin. 

Certainly, this outcome expresses a polarization. On one hand there is an increasingly radicalized right wing that wants a strongman to institute law and order and sees Black Lives Matter as an anti-American riot. On the other hand, people are terrified of Donald Trump and his policies. This polarization is also expressed by the historic turnout for both candidates. Shockingly, Trump’s base increased from that of 2016. The white supremacist who seperates children from their families and who oversaw the deaths of 230,000 Americans as a result of Covid-19 got over 69 million votes. 

This election also expresses that neoliberalism dressed up in kente cloth and a rainbow flag offered by Joe Biden and the political establishment didn’t guarantee a blue wave. Rather than offer solutions to the struggles of working class people, Biden promised Wall Street that everything would stay the same and attempted to make this election a referendum on Trump. Rather than embrace the dynamism of the emerging progressive movement in the U.S., the Democrats shunned attempts to “push the party to the left” in even the minimal ways posed by Bernie Sanders. Biden affirmed once again that the only thing they have to offer is neoliberalism — showing the true colors of this unreformable party. 

This election was pathetic, offering two racist, imperialist capitalists running increasingly right-wing campaigns around who was the most enthusiastic about fracking and the most for law and order. Both have credible accusations of sexual assault and both have a history of attacking working class and oppressed people. With the results from the senate races, it seems the Democrats and Republicans will govern together for the next two years — barring a Democratic surge in the Georgia senate run-offs. 

The stage is set for a divided government come 2021— a Democratic House of Representatives and presidency, with a probable Republican Senate. We know we can expect bipartisan attacks on the working class dressed up as “compromise.” In this context, the need for a working class, socialist alternative becomes all the more urgent and relevant in order to fight against these policies and provide an alternative to the two parties of capital. 

Biden v. Trump 

This election marks the highest participation rate in the last century — about 66% of the voting population cast a ballot. But voters turned out in huge numbers for both Biden and Trump, with both broadening their electoral base. So much for the Blue wave. The notion that “if people vote, the Democrats win” was challenged, as Biden’s margin of the popular vote is currently only a few percentage points greater than Trump’s and far from the 10-point lead that pollsters had promised. Biden performed particularly well in urban areas, as expected, but he also won many suburbs that had been Republican strongholds.

Although the United States is in the middle of a third wave of the pandemic, the coronavirus ranked relatively low among issues voters cared about, with the economy and racial justice ranking much higher. The fact that racial justice ranked so high seems to indicate that the massive Black Lives Matter movement could have played a decisive role in Biden’s victory. It also expresses co-option of this left movement by Biden: a reactionary racist who supported segregation and ran a law and order campaign.

On the economy, Trump was favored, having promised to bring the country back to pre-pandemic economic levels. The Biden camp, on the other hand, chose essentially to run away from any discussion of the economy. Almost entirely focused on what a terrible president Trump has been, the Biden campaign offered few positive economic alternatives to a country struggling to get back on its feet. After all, Biden’s Wall Street donors wouldn’t want Biden to commit to any progressive policies. 

As expected, Biden and the Democrats were dominant among people of color and young people — especially in the big cities which are the strongholds that will deliver Biden the victory. Trump’s strength continues to be among white voters in rural communities, although Trump won a smaller percentage of white people this election cycle. One of the biggest changes this election cycle was the drop in support for Donald Trump among white men: in 2016, he won this demographic by 31 points over Hillary Clinton, but this time, the gap with Biden was only 18 points. Among white people without a college education, Trump also lost 11 points of support. 

By smaller margins, support for Trump increased among most other demographics: he gained support among women of all races, Latinx people, and Black people. In fact, preliminary data shows that Trump won more support among communities of color than any Republican in the last 60 years. Below is the change in votes from 2016 to 2020 according to the CNN exit polls, which may be subject to change. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by Trump’s gains among Black and Latino men — the same men that Biden’s crime bill locked up at exorbitant rates. Among Latinx voters — a diverse sector from several countries and immigration stories, the trend away from the Democrats did not only occur in places like Florida’s Miami-Dade county, where Biden underperformed Clinton’s 2016 vote by 10 points, contributing to his loss in Florida. It also occurred in places like Zapata County, Texas, where Clinton beat Trump by 33 percentage points in 2016, but Biden won by only five points. 

While there is much more to explore in why this occurred, it is clear that Donald Trump did extensive outreach and campaigning to Black and Latino voters, while Joe Biden did not. It showed in the polls. And it’s clear that when both candidates run law and order campaigns and have records of racism, incarceration and deportation, it was hard to hold on to loyalty from people of color. Certainly this was a mistake in campaign strategy; Biden could have paid more lip service to people of color.  But it also highlights that the Democrats, and Biden, specifically cannot definitively prove that they are the ones to address structural racism, because they are also the ones helping to hold it up. 

What’s Next?

Although Trump has attempted to put forward baseless claims of victory, the Republican Party and the mainstream media both have pushed back against that narrative. Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and even ultra-right-wing podcaster Ben Shapiro all spoke out against Trump’s late-night victory speech, and politicians aren’t running with the “Trump won” political line. 

Going forward, it seems there will indeed be a series of election-related lawsuits by the Republican Party. Trump has already gone to court in Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and the Trump campaign has already demanded a recount in Wisconsin. But, these seem unlikely to change the result.

Trump’s ability to sue his way to victory has been limited and countered by the larger interests of U.S. institutions and the ruling class to maintain stability in the face of electoral chaos. As the stock markets have made clear, electoral instability is bad for business. Further delegitimizing the electoral process and the Supreme Court would also be bad for business, and none of the capitalists want that, not even much of the “establishment” Republicans.   

“You’re Wasting a Whole Lot of Money:” Democrats in Congress 

In congressional races, Democrats suffered a series of disappointments. They expected to win the Senate, which required picking up four seats. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, although the two Georgia Senate races could change that. In the House, it looks as if the Democrats may lose a few seats.  According to Politico, one lawmaker summed up the feeling in the Democratic Party with one sentence: “It’s a dumpster fire.” 

Democrats spent a quarter-billion dollars on Senate races in Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama, and their candidates will likely be defeated by 10 points or more. The most expensive race in U.S. history goes to Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, who crushed his opponent. In an election night speech, he said, “To all the pollsters out there, you have no idea what you’re doing. And to all the liberals in California and New York, you’re wasting a whole lot of money.” Graham isn’t wrong. In Maine, “vulnerable” senator Susan Collins, a so-called moderate Republican who votes with Trump on every major issue, handily defeated her challenger, who raised $63.6 million overall, while Collins raised only $25.2 million

In House races, the Democrats failed to win key targets and even lost “secure” seats such as one in South Florida. But the Democrats will maintain a majority in the House, and some progressives did win seats. The members of the Squad easily won their reelection bids, and Cori Bush, a Black woman who emerged as a leader after the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, also won a seat in St. Louis. For the first time, two openly gay Black men will take seats in Congress. 

The strength of Trumpism was seen down the ballot as well. Jodi Ernst in Iowa and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, two incumbent senators who tied their re-election campaigns to Trump, are likely to make it into Congress. Several Republicans in the Trump mold won House races, most notably Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, a prominent QAnon supporter, and Madison Cawthorn, an ultra-right-wing 25-year-old who appeals to the alt right on Instagram, in North Carolina. These candidates are the future of the far right in the Republican Party.

These series of defeats of the Democrats may lead many to believe that the country really is just hopelessly right wing. But, on the left, the DSA had a great night, with 85 percent of their endorsed candidates winning. DSA-endorsed candidates also won local races, like in New York State, where a number will be heading to the state legislature. On one hand, this highlights that progressive candidates, running on progresisve policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, are very popular. It also highlights that these dynamic, young candidates have a much higher victory rate than the rest of the Democratic Party. However, this progressive wing will find its enemies in a Biden presidency and a Democratic party that has done everything they can to marginalize the leftist in their base. 

The Democrats Offer Nothing But Neoliberalism 

Some are responding to these elections results by bemoaning the electorate. They are being denounced as right-wing, reactionary, and racist. And that certainly is the case for many people. it’s true that millions and millions of people voted for a candidate who is very publicly right-wing, reactionary, and racist. In fact, the number of people who chose to stand in line to vote for Donald Trump increased in 2020, despite the pandemic, the white supremacist violence, and all of the other reactionary aspects of Trumpism. However, the reasons Trump overperformed cannot be waved away simply by blaming the voters. 

In 2016, Trump was able to tap into a sector of the masses and turn them out in unexpected numbers to reject the political establishment and try to “drain the swamp.” He appealed to a specific type of blue-collar worker angry about economic conditions, offering them xenophobic and racist excuses for their material conditions. In 2020, however, Trump changed his tune a bit, although he continued to lean on the economy. He pointed to the fact that unemployment was at a low before the pandemic and promised to get America back to that point. He also claimed Biden would force the economy to shut down again, leaving workers and small businesses to struggle. 

However, Trump still blew a whole series of not-so-subtle dog whistles with his “law and order campaign,” and his enemies were “socialists” and (white) members of antifa. He claimed they were a threat to small businesses and (white) communities all over the country. Yet despite his blatant racism, Trump claimed to have been the best president for Black people, and actively courted communities of color. In fact, one of his central lines of attack (which he repeated in both debates) was to remind people of Biden’s crime bill and that the Obama administration set records for deportations. 

However, blue collar workers in the Rust Belt and suburban support in swing states will deliver Biden the presidency. This isn’t a resounding victory, though. For an election viewed as a referendum of Trump, this is a close race. This election expresses political polarization and quite a bit of support for Trumpism. 

At the same time, the Democrats didn’t give working class people many positive reasons to vote for Biden. Some voters could have been torn away from Trump had Biden and the Democrats taken any steps to propose an actual alternative to Trump’s own policies. However, Biden ran as the candidate of neoliberalism, specifically appealing to big capital but never putting forward a coherent economic message to voters and offering no actual solutions to the problems facing working people. Instead, he promised nothing would change. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, he wanted to keep health care the way it was. In the midst of an economic crisis, he couldn’t lay out how he would help working-class people. In the midst of a deepening climate crisis, he very devotedly supported fracking. Essentially, he was against Donald Trump in form, but not in class content. Both are candidates that rule for the capitalist class. Biden’s selling point was that he was the candidate of capitalist stability and a return of the neoliberal project. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this didn’t inspire voters who have been devastated by neoliberalism.

The Democrats had the possibility of running a more progressive and dynamic campaign, speaking to the real problems of working class people. Although still tied to the maintenance of capitalism and imperialism, the Sanders campaign attempted to push the Democrats left. Obama, Pelosi, and the Democratic Party establishment not only colluded to crush Sanders in the primary, but Biden set out to crush Sanderism in the election cycle. He spurned progressive reforms such as Medicare-For-All, student loan forgiveness, and the Green New Deal, all popular with sectors of the electorate, in hopes of appealing to moderate Republicans. 

Furthermore, Biden chose to campaign hard in defense of Obamacare, which isn’t actually very popular. As Jacobin points out, a Fox News voter analysis survey found that only 14 percent of people want to leave the law as is, while 40 percent would like to improve it. The poll showed that 71 percent of people support a public option, and The Hill reports that 69 percent of people support Medicare for All. 

Yet, some Democrats are concluding that the party has gone too far left (though we aren’t sure how they could possibly believe this). This is the wrong conclusion. Over and over, the issues, from Medicare for All to a $15 dollar minimum wage, are more popular than Biden. Just look at the ballot initiatives. However, it is precisely these issues that the Democrats and Republicans are united to defeat. It is precisely these issues that demonstrate the capitalist unity of these parties. All attempts to push the Democratic Party even a little bit to the left have failed. It’s not because of the Democratic Party’s marketing strategy. It is their class character.  

Trumpism Wasn’t Defeated 

What is clear from this election cycle is that Trumpism was not defeated, despite a pandemic that has killed over 230,000 people in the U.S. so far. It was not defeated, despite an economic crisis that is the largest in recent memory or despite near constant scandals and consistently low approval ratings. It’s appalling that despite public outcry against the immigrant children in cages, or the federal repression against Black Lives Matter, Trump is running such a tight race. And despite vastly out fund-raising Trump and the Republicans — with massive donations from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and other sectors of big capital — the margins in swing states are still razor thin. In fact, Donald Trump mobilized new voters and is set to break records in the number of people who cast ballots for him. Trumpism is still alive and well and will continue to be a major force in American politics for years to come. 

The issue is that you cannot defeat the rhetoric of right wing populism with the neoliberal establishment — especially if it’s that same neoliberal establishment that created right wing populism in the first place. In other words, it was the economic crisis of 2008 that created the primary social base of Trumpism. It created the demoralized, white, rural voter who hated the establishment and supported the racist strongman of Donald Trump. And as it turns out, a return to this establishment was not overwhelmingly attractive to Trump’s base or to some others outside of his main demographic. In fact, a Biden Presidency could be fertile ground for the growth of Trumpism outside of the White House. 

Yet, Trump won’t be returning to the White House in January, which is sure to mean some crisis for Republicans who have never been entirely convinced of Trumpism. Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that Republicans need to do better with college educated and female voters and “win back the suburbs.” Demographic shifts are giving them an increasingly difficult path to win states where they used to typically dominate, such as Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina. To combat this, the Republicans need to bring new sectors into the Republican Party or further a strategy of heavy voter suppression, as Donald Trump supports. The future of the Republican party is in question, but this election result is unlikely to mean an immediate  “de-Trumpification” of the GOP, despite some Republicans wishing they could. After all, Trump has nearly half the electorate and turned out more people than any Republican in history. 

Furthermore, the neo-fascist sector of Trump’s base — which is a small but vocal part of his electoral coalition — will continue to play a role in politics, as well as in the streets. Over the past year, these ultra-right vigilantes have run over and shot Black Lives Matter protesters and attempted to force the re-opening of the economy with heavily armed protests in government buildings. Empowered by a close election and with Trump acting as their champion inside or outside of the White House, they are not going to go home, and they may not even accept the results of the election. They’ll continue to mobilize small rallies, run for office, and harass progressive mobilizations.

Socialists’ Role 

This election was supposed to be a referendum on Trump. If Biden wins, it won’t be because people agree with his agenda; it’ll be because Donald Trump and this ultra-right wing base terrify them. However, this means that Biden enters the government weak, since his many Democratic Party voters went to the polls to cast a ballot against Trump, not for Biden. And more importantly, with two growing crises and a probable Republican majority in the Senate and a Trumpian base mobilizing from outside the White House, gridlock is almost certain. 

In this scenario, Biden will almost certainly shift even further to the right, as he has already done. He will, as he did in the campaign, discard the progressives in order to offer up concessions to the right in hopes of winning over moderate Republicans, who are ultimately closer to the agenda of Biden and the establishment Democrats. This pattern will be escalated because, if Republicans do maintain control of the Senate, then getting anything through Congress will require either an alliance with Mitch McConnell or splitting votes off from the Republican caucus. This may be fertile ground for the growth of an even more radicalized right wing and will certainly be the foundation of many attacks against the working class. 

If anything, these elections demonstrate that you can’t defeat the right wing at the polls. Trumpism is alive, kicking and dangerous. You can’t defeat their policies with neoliberalism— Biden is likely to institute numerous attacks on the working class and oppressed. We can, however, defeat the right wing in the streets and in our workplaces — there are more of us than them.

With Biden’s victory, we will have to fight against both the Democrats and the Republicans, against far-right vigilantes in the streets, and against establishment attacks on working class and oppressed people. it is necessary to quash any illusions that the Democrats can be a force for good or progress for working people or can protect against the rising right. Instead we need to meet attacks on the working classwith an independent political force that counters both parties of capital and provides a real alternative and path to socialism. Rather than continue to work within bourgeois parties, our immediate task as socialists is to build organizations of our own and show the working class that the parties of Wall Street cannot bring about our liberation.

The U.S. just chose its next oppressor, Joe Biden. It is our duty to demand that unions and social movements stand up and fight this latest racist imperialist with the same or more strength with which they fought Trump. 

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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