Dec 11, 2020
It’s official: Joe Biden will be inaugurated president on January 20. The big last-last-last-ditch Republican effort to have the Supreme Court invalidate his election before the Electoral College votes on Monday ended in a whimper. The Court, in a unanimous almost immediate decision, with no comment, disallowed the suit filed by the Texas attorney general, supported by 18 other Republican chief state legal officers, and 126 Republicans from the House of Representatives. Numerous state and federal courts had already thrown out, often with disdain for the frivolousness of the filings, 52 of the 53 earlier petitions filed on Trump’s behalf, that attempted to reverse his defeat. His one victory came on a small, earlier procedural motion.
Biden won with a seven million vote margin, the largest margin in the popular vote in the last six presidential elections. Biden’s win will play out in the Electoral College with a similar, although somewhat higher margin in his favor. Ironically, the 2020 Electoral College vote, 306 to 232, will be exactly the same as in 2016, when Trump won based on less than half the popular vote. This discordant comparison only testifies to how much the Electoral College is an entity distinct and apart from the population, whose “will” is supposedly expressed in the elections.
Certainly part of the reason for the size of Biden’s win was the increased turnout. Nearly 21 million more people voted this time, nearly 67% of the voting eligible population, the highest rate of participation in almost a century. Of course, participation is skewed by who legally is denied the right to vote, as women still were a hundred years ago, and many black people still were fifty years ago. Even today, five million people who have a felony conviction on their record cannot vote, even after they have fulfilled all the terms of their sentence. Also denied the vote are about 23 million immigrants, with or without papers, most of them resident and working here for many years. Beyond that there are all those who could have voted, but didn’t, nearly one-third of the voting eligible population.
Even so, by comparison to many recent years, turnout was high. It should be said that it was easier to vote this time, probably very much easier than in any election in U.S. history. Most states had set up multiple ways to vote in order to deal with the difficulties of an election held in the middle of a roaring epidemic. To put it another way, many of the usual factors that inhibit voting participation were dropped in 2020.
Nonetheless, this higher turnout had to reflect the situation in which the population found itself this election year. A country that had stripped bare its public health system was unable to confront the rapid spread of a new, hitherto unknown virus, other than by effectively shutting down the whole society. Of course, not everything shut down—“essential services” went on—but enough shut down that the economy was effectively strangled. And people were dying, particularly older people. The country, which had been battered by the near collapse of the economy in 2007–08, a collapse from which the working population had not yet completely recovered, was hit by a new, much more severe, much more rapid collapse in March and April, magnifying many times over what had gone before.
In the midst of this double crisis, a social movement exploded. The videotaped murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop opened a jagged, festering wound not only in the black population, but also in wider parts of the rest of the U.S. population, finally brought face to face with the reality of police violence in the black community—a violence that has the random character of what an invading army does to a civilian population. According to the New York Times, there were over 10,600 recorded demonstrations between the 24th of May to August 22, in cities, towns, even some rural villages where Trump’s base dominated. No fewer than 15 million people took part, perhaps as many as 26 million, depending on the source. Whatever the number, it was a vast outpouring of anger, grief and simple insistence on recognizing one another’s humanity.
Faced with this outpouring just a few months before the election, Trump played the card he knows only so well: outright racism, and appeals to the most reactionary parts of the population. As he ramped up these appeals, he found an answering echo in those extreme-right formations that have always existed in this society, many of which, encouraged by Trump’s language, found a more open space for themselves.
Even if Biden took the bigger share of the increased electorate, it’s important to recognize that Trump was able to increase the numbers who voted for him. More than 74 million people cast a vote for Trump in 2020, an increase of 11 million over his vote in 2016. Trump solidified his base—which can count for much more than just who goes to vote, as could be seen in the parading of right-wing armed militias threatening election officials, even election workers at their homes. That base has been built on reactionary appeals to the population, and Trump has managed to pull into his base some parts of the working class, reinforcing divisions that have long been there.
American society continued to move in the ultra-reactionary direction in which it has been going for some years. The victory of Biden in the election does not stand as proof against this direction.
The problem still turns around the necessity for the working class to construct its own political instrument to address the crises confronting society from the viewpoint of working people and their class interests. And nothing in this election moved workers in this direction.
The election took place in the midst of a spreading epidemic. In its early days, the virus was concentrated especially in New York City, the center of global finance. New York resembled a city in the middle of a war, with hospitals and morgues unable to keep up. Patients were lined up in hospital corridors and bodies shunted off into refrigerated trucks in parking lots. Officials drew no lessons from what had happened in New York, and there was no organized response as the virus spread out beyond its first deadly centers in New York, New Jersey, Seattle, New Orleans and Detroit. The Trump administration, considering the virus something that afflicted only “blue states and cities,” effectively took no actions other than making a well-publicized banning of travel from China—a ban with as many loopholes as business travelers needed. Each state, each city—even each school district—was left to figure out how to handle the public health crisis on its own, and each of them, stripped of the funds they needed, had few means to do much, if they had been so inclined. The virus spread, in one wave, then another, across the entire country.
For decades, the state apparatus has been subsidizing capitalist profits by diverting money from the public budget, reducing the amount going to education and all kinds of public services—including those for public health. The starving of public health for resources set the stage for Covid-19 to create a health disaster unlike anything seen for almost a century. By election day, the virus had infected more than nine million and killed more than 232,000 people in this country. The death rate from the disease declined as hospitals figured out better ways to treat infected patients, and there was talk of a vaccine, but in fact by the time of the election the virus was again raging out of control in many more states than before. By early December—a year after the virus was discovered—it was killing more people every day than in its earlier peaks.
Faced with a virus not yet well understood and a federal public health system totally unprepared to organize a response, the main reaction by state governments had been to issue “stay at home” and “quarantine” orders—which meant that significant parts of the economy shut down. At the same time, they required “essential workers” to stay on the job, without adequate protection, inflicting some of the highest death rates on those with the lowest-paying jobs, and on people working in the medical system, often without adequate protection, thus compounding the problem of a medical system already short of resources and staff.
The shutdowns hit an economy that already had been a disaster for millions of people. Twelve years after the 2008 collapse, the most that could be said was that the number of jobs lost had been recovered—but they were not the same jobs, neither in terms of which industry they were in, nor in terms of their wages, nor characteristics, and the increase in population was not matched by a comparable increase in jobs. Even in construction and manufacturing, many jobs filled since 2008 had come in the form of temporary, contingent, low wage and/or contractual jobs. In less solid industries, such forms became prevalent. Even before the shutdowns for the virus hit, this extremely weak recovery had been showing signs of teetering.
In the immediate wake of the pandemic, 30 million jobs disappeared almost overnight, including non-traditional jobs like driving for Uber. This economic collapse was sharper than anything the country had ever seen before—not even in the Great Depression or the economic crises of the 1870s and 1890s had such a huge share of workers lost their jobs so quickly. Even after basic, big industries started up again, they did so often in reduced fashion. Production cuts in those industries fanned out across the whole economy. Some workers were called back, others were laid off. The wide number of industries that required office employees to work from home throughout the crisis, led to layoffs in all those small companies—restaurants, cleaning establishments, etc.—that serviced the bigger companies. With all the time taken up by Zoom meetings, and the irrationality of everyone working on their own, unable to easily coordinate, those at home found themselves working longer hours—although usually not for more pay.
Tens upon tens of thousands, probably many more small businesses foundered. They had often been the first to be shut down. But even when shutdowns eased, the spread of the virus and fear of it reduced their clients. Bars, restaurants, hair and nail salons, house cleaning services, auto repair shops—from month to month, many of these small businesses lost money. Unlike the big companies with deep pockets, at least a hundred thousand small ones could not hold on. Since such businesses employ a good share of the U.S. workforce, this has thrown more people out of work, including the owners themselves.
Shutting down the country not only cut people off from income, it cut them off from each other. It cut people off from elders dying in nursing homes or hospitals. And at the same time, many families kept their sick elders with them for safety from the virus and so they could have human contact, meaning even more work, caring for sick and older people, falling on the family, and this usually meant women.
In-person schooling was closed in many areas, with students stuck for hours in front of screens—if they even had them. Children were suddenly cut off from the meals they used to get at school, and from the minimal medical care they got there. Day care centers also closed, forcing parents to act as babysitters and teachers. In this society, where most of the work to care for children and the elderly falls on women, on top of those who lost their jobs, millions were forced to drop out of the workforce to take care of family members.
Because about half the people in this country still get their health insurance through their employer, the destruction of jobs has meant that the number of people without insurance has skyrocketed in the midst of the pandemic. On top of the 26 million without health insurance before the pandemic, as many as 10 million more people have lost insurance as the economy collapsed, according to the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Millions face the very real threat of homelessness. Since the pandemic began, almost 18 million adults fell behind on their rent or mortgage payments, according to a survey by the Census Bureau. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order halting evictions—but that restriction runs out on December 31. So at the end of the year, all that past rent, all those past mortgage payments are due, plus all the late fees and interest charges people have run up.
Even though farmers had huge amounts of food they could not sell as restaurants shut down, the number of people without enough to eat skyrocketed. According to the nonprofit organization, Feeding America, more people in this country faced hunger than at any time since the Great Depression, almost one-sixth of the population. By November, food banks associated with Feeding America reported that they were seeing a 50% increase in demand compared to one year earlier. Many faced the need to ration what they distributed.
While the immediate reaction of Congress had been to extend aid to the population—as part of a much bigger preemptive bailout directed to the big companies—this aid for the population was temporary, with important parts of it running out even before the election.
During the early years of the Trump administration, the Democrats began to focus on Trump’s character: his breaking of “democratic norms,” his lack of a “presidential demeanor,” his “prevarication,” etc. And a number of media sources, particularly the Washington Post, began to keep a tally of how many falsehoods Trump might issue in a day—and were they completely false, only partly so, or open to misinterpretation! Trump being Trump, he certainly gave them a good deal of material to work with.
When Biden announced his candidacy in April of 2019, he declared that the Trump presidency was a “threat to this nation ... unlike any I had seen in my lifetime.” As primaries continued, Biden focused his campaign not on what he stood for, but on Trump, and specifically on who had the best chance to beat Trump. When he talked about himself, Biden repeatedly emphasized that he had been Obama’s vice president, promising a return to what he called the “normal” days of 2009–2017, ignoring the fact that those years of “normal days” had been a disaster for working people, an extension for working people of the 2008–9 economic collapse—even while the wealthy were spectacularly increasing their wealth.
When the virus hit, and Trump downplayed the danger, this opened the door for the Democrats to sharpen their attacks on him. In February, Trump said “We’re very, very ready for this, for anything whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not....” As the virus spread and began to reach crisis proportions in New York, Trump talked about himself, bragging about the TV ratings of his virus updates.
Biden shifted his focus from Trump’s “unpresidential character,” to his mishandling of the virus. In the first debate, Trump yelled, pounded and otherwise acted like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, shocking the political establishment, but undoubtedly pleasing his more devoted followers. Biden used his time to make essentially one point: Trump’s handling of the virus was a disaster. Biden’s only explanation for that was this: “He panicked, or he just looked at the stock market—one of the two—because guess what: a lot of people died, and a lot more are gonna die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”
Trump submerged all sense of discussion in blatant lies, declaring, for example: “Dr. Fauci said, ‘President Trump saved thousands of lives.’ Many of your Democrat Governors said, ‘President Trump did a phenomenal job’ ... In fact, people that would not be necessarily on my side said that, ‘President Trump did a phenomenal job.’ We did. We got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators. You wouldn’t have made the ventilators....”
The Democratic convention designating Biden turned around these two points: the need to go back to “normal,” and the responsibility of Trump for the spread of the virus. In his acceptance speech, Biden declared, “It didn’t have to be this bad ... It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world.”
Almost every criticism Biden made rang true: Trump denied how serious the virus was, downplayed the need for masks, and his own packed rallies might themselves have been superspreader events. But no matter how irresponsible Trump’s behavior was, the reality is that facing an unknown virus, the issue still came down to the woefully unprepared public health system. And that system had been laid waste by actions taken by government. Biden could not have focused on that simple and obvious truth because that would have meant pointing at the policies owned by Obama and himself. It would have meant pointing at the government that Biden had been part of for almost 50 years, in Congress or as vice-president. The public health system has been starved for resources for decades, its stockpiles of PPE depleted and never replaced, its staff cut, its ability to organize a response completely undermined, even though ever since SARS, scientists have been warning that a pandemic like this one was likely. The trillions of dollars needed to rebuild and maintain such a system, along with the schools, roads, water systems, and so on, had been diverted to prop up the profits of the capitalist class, most spectacularly during the bailouts Obama and Biden had overseen starting in 2009. To address this problem, Biden would have had to propose to bring those trillions back, about which not a peep was heard from his campaign.
Most polls, even leading right up to the election, showed that Trump was favored by people who were more worried about the economy. Moreover, the majority of people—including about half the “independents” and even a small share of Democrats—usually gave Trump better marks than Biden on a supposed ability to deal with the economy. Trump made use of the fact that the job situation during his nearly four years was somewhat better than in the Obama-Biden years that followed the 2008 collapse. Clearly this was not because Trump had carried out policies in favor of working people. It was simply a fact of the economic cycle. And Trump served the interests of the moneyed classes, every bit as much as his predecessor had done. He helped push through Congress the massive 2017 tax break, which helped 91 very profitable major companies pay no taxes for 2018—even letting them claim the government owed them six billion dollars in refunds.
Trump talked about jobs—repeatedly—and Biden didn’t. Trump declared that the pre-pandemic economy was “the greatest economy in the history of our country.” Most people may not have believed that exactly, but during much of his presidency, Trump was able to pick up on issues already simmering among workers. Claiming China had been “stealing” American jobs, he imposed or threatened to impose some tariffs to stop “outsourcing.” Claiming Mexico had been “stealing” jobs through NAFTA, he renegotiated the trade deal with great fanfare, a renegotiated deal that most Democrats voted for. Claiming immigrants were stealing jobs from “American” workers, he made “building the wall” a centerpiece of his presidency—even if in fact he didn’t build very much that was new.
His announcements, as reactionary and chauvinist as they were, picked up on claims that the unions had been making for years. For almost 40 years, unions have insisted in openly chauvinistic propaganda that “American” jobs were being stolen. And they were joined by a good number of leftists, who echoed the unions’ campaigns, if not all their nationalistic language. This is what had prepared the ground for Trump and fertilized it, letting his claims bear fruit among working people as the job situation deteriorated.
When the economy crashed in the spring and summer, Trump amalgamated Covid and jobs, calling on governors to “open” the economy, as though the only problem were their actions. And he made it a partisan issue by attacking Democratic governors, making them the villains responsible for destroying the economy, tweeting “Liberate Michigan,” “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia.”
With a large number of working people facing an almost immediate economic disaster, Trump’s nationalistic campaign resonated among working people—not only white workers, but also Latino workers and even a not-insignificant share of black workers—for the simple reason the Democrats had no answer on the jobs issue. To have answered it would have required an assault on the interests of the capitalist class. It would have meant requiring the capitalists not only to provide work, but to do it safely; it would have required an emergency mobilization to loosen capital’s hold over the wealth accumulated over the years. Biden instead insisted only that we have to “listen to the science,” we have to be “safe,” with no answer for people who could not be “safe” so long as they were desperate for jobs and had no choice but to take a job under unsafe conditions, and feel lucky to get it.
So finally, both parties made the election a referendum on Trump, with Trump claiming he was the one who could provide jobs, and Biden attacking Trump’s handling of the virus, as well as his character. By doing so, Biden ceded the ground on the one issue that touched the largest share of the working population, caught as it is in this economic disaster.
This election was a propaganda circus, bought and paid for by the capitalist class. It was by far the most expensive in history: spending on the 2020 presidential election alone hit a record 6.6 billion dollars, double what it was four years ago, and spending on all races is expected to top 14 billion. Given all the ways that large donors are able to hide campaign donations, it’s impossible in most cases to say who gave how much to which candidate. Nonetheless, even the information that is available makes it clear that both parties got big bucks directly from the wealthiest people and indirectly from corporations in the country. Despite all the talk of small donors, in fact donations under $200 accounted for only about 22% of campaign money while, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, “business interests” accounted for at least 4.5 billion—many times more than all small donations combined. The top ten donors alone gave at least 642 million dollars.
While some industries may support one party more than the other, most industries in fact give to both. Those who run big banks and financial companies have leaned to the Democrats in recent years. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, they put in at least 162 million dollars to the Democrats this campaign cycle, but they also gave at least 95 million to the Republicans. The oil and gas industries have supported the Republicans, given their open championing of fossil fuels. But while they gave Republicans at least 49 million this time—they still gave almost 10 million to the Democrats.
Why wouldn’t the bourgeoisie support both parties, given their policies?
When the economy crashed in March, Democrats and Republicans rushed immediately to bail out the bourgeoisie in the form of the 2.2 trillion dollar CARES Act. It received almost total support from both parties in Congress, passing the Senate by a vote of 96–0, and passing the House also virtually unanimously by an unrecorded voice vote, before it was signed by Trump. Biden went on record to support it.
This act included a small amount for the population, including 300 billion dollars to pay out the $1200 that went to those who had been working or were on Social Security; and 260 billion dollars for a temporary subsidy to unemployment payments, as well as a 13-week extension of regular benefits in states that would accept the money. But most of the CARES Act simply shoveled cash at the bourgeoisie. The large corporations got 500 billion dollars in direct subsidies—almost as much as what went to the whole population. The 660-billion-dollar Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to protect small businesses, allowing them to keep paying their workers—but that program was set up for the banks to run, allowing them to grab at least 18 billion dollars in fees. There was no provision to monitor small businesses to see if they kept paying their former workers. Only 30% of this 660 billion actually went out in the form of “small” $150,000 loans. By contrast, about 600 not-at-all-small corporate chains got ten million dollars each. The CARES Act also included over 200 billion dollars in new tax breaks for the richest individuals and largest corporations. One of these breaks is worth on average about 1.6 million dollars for each of the 40,000 wealthiest families in the country! (According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.)
Finally, the Federal Reserve quickly went on a giant buying spree, taking three trillion dollars in corporate, mortgage, and government debt off these entities’ balance sheets by mid- July, opening the way for companies to take on more debt and for government to extend more subsidies to corporations, who were already preparing to pay out more to stockholders and other owners.
So for all the talk of helping the population and protecting jobs, in fact both parties reacted to the economic crisis by pouring money in to prop up the profits of the bourgeoisie. The richest have actually gotten much richer. The wealth of just the country’s billionaires increased by more than one trillion dollars between March 18 and November 24. By mid-November, the stock market had fully recovered from its crash when Covid shutdowns first went into effect, and was again hitting record highs. This was the same period when millions of workers were losing their jobs and health insurance, when schools had no money to open safely, when hunger was touching as many as 50 million people!
The response to the economic crisis is just one example of how much both parties work to in the interests of the capitalist class. To give another, both parties have taken essentially the same stance toward China, aimed at protecting the interests of the U.S. capitalist class. For a whole period starting during the Nixon presidency, this country’s bourgeoisie worked to open up China’s economy to U.S. investment, effectively making its low-paid workforce their own. It was a policy carried out by both parties. By the 2010s, it had become evident that China’s massive size and still growing economy gave it a means for some small amount of independence, allowing it to obtain certain technical benefits from the companies who made use of Chinese labor. Under Obama, the U.S. began a “Pivot to Asia,” concentrating more of its military and diplomatic efforts to secure “U.S. interests” in the region, i.e., to issue a warning to China. This included shifting military forces away from the Middle East and toward the Pacific Ocean and it also involved establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a trade alliance of eleven Pacific Rim countries, excluding the major country in the area, China. While Trump may have pulled out of this pact, he continued the policy of pushing to confront China.
In the presidential campaign, Biden tried to outdo Trump as far as aggressiveness toward China. In the final debate, he pledged to force China to “play by the international rules” and asserted that he would not tolerate Chinese violations of U.S. companies’ intellectual property rights. He also asserted that he would not allow China to increase its military zone of control over the South China Sea. Trump responded in kind, vowing to “make China pay” for the coronavirus, and asserting that his administration had been tough on China with tariffs. In this competition over who could be more aggressive, both made it clear that they will defend the interests of the U.S. bourgeoisie vis-a-vis China.
It was clear all through this campaign that whichever party won this election, government would be run in the service of the capitalist class.
If this had been all that the election turned around, it would have been just one more election campaign between two political parties, both of which represent the interests of the bourgeoisie.
But Trump was not an ordinary politician, not even an ordinary Republican, even if many of his policies derive from that party. Trump has worked to create his own persona around the witches’ brew of vile, reactionary attitudes that have long pervaded American society. But whereas they have always simmered just below, or even just above the surface, he brought them out into the light of day, expanding on them, finally using the podium of the presidency to do it.
In the 1980s, long before he occupied the White House, Trump took out full-page ads in four New York newspapers calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, black teenagers wrongfully accused, based on no forensic evidence, of raping and beating a white jogger. Throughout his reality-TV career, he made a point of calling women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “disgusting animals.” In a TV interview, he bragged that his fame allowed him to get away with sexual assault. He was the leading promoter of the conspiracy theory that Obama could not have been born in this country, that he was born in Kenya and that his Hawaii birth certificate was a forgery. This was the beginning of what later would become, “Make America Great Again,” i.e, protected from people like Obama who weren’t, according to Trump, “real Americans.”
Trump doubled down on this idea when he threw his hat into the political ring. He announced his initial candidacy in 2015 by saying that Mexico was not sending its “best people” and was instead sending “rapists.” One of his first acts as president was to call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” based on nothing other than his fabricated claim to have seen “thousands” of Muslims cheer the 9/11 attacks. When he talked about Central Americans coming to this country, he described them all as part of gangs, saying: “These aren’t people. These are animals.” Speaking of Haiti and Africa, he said,“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here,” declaring that he’d rather have people from countries like Norway—in other words, perfect Aryans, white, blond and blue-eyed.
Trump of course used all the code words through which racist attitudes are expressed in this country. When he rescinded a fair-housing rule meant to combat discrimination, he tweeted that suburbanites would “no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood”—“low income” in Trump’s racist jargon meaning “black.” He claimed that Democrats’ support for such housing would “destroy” the suburbs, meaning, white suburbs. He called the phrase “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate” and repeatedly expressed support for cops who shot black people on the street, but often did not even recognize those who had been killed.
These are the ideas that infuse his signature slogan, “Make America Great Again,” i.e., going back to the supposedly idyllic time when America was White and Christian, when Men dominated the Family—and everyone else had to accept it as the god-given order of the universe.
It should have surprised no one that Trump welcomed support from open racists and white supremacists on the far right. When Trump said of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally that there were “fine people on both sides,” who was he talking about? Who were the “fine people” who organized the rally to “unite the right”? The Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and the League of the South, a group which wants the South to be an independent country ruled by white men—one of whom ran down and killed a counter-protestor walking on a sidewalk.
This summer, Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager from Illinois, supplied himself with weapons, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, then barged into a protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Facing the protestors, he opened fire on two of them, both unarmed, killing them. Trump declared that Rittenhouse was acting within his rights to defend himself, that he had been fearful for his life!
Trump similarly defended far-right protestors who drove through Portland in big truck caravans shooting at protestors with paint-ball guns and pepper spray, calling their actions “non-violent.” During the first debate, Trump was asked whether he would disavow some of these protestors, the far-right militia group known as the “Proud Boys.” His response was to advise them to “Stand back—and stand by.” In other words, prepare for action.
He has accepted from the beginning that such people join his rallies, that they are even featured there, and he made no effort to distance himself from them or differentiate them from his other supporters. This was evident, for instance, in the so-called “million MAGA march,” which brought only thousands of people to Washington, D.C. to protest the election results on November 14. Many of these thousands were open members of the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, and other far-right groups. People wearing Confederate flags and Trump flags as capes mixed together. Maybe some people at the rally were not members of any far-right group, but the organizers were not disconcerted by the presence of open white-supremacists who advocated violence.
Trump’s push to have the election overturned had almost no chance of success in the courts, and not even in state legislatures controlled by the Republican Party. And it was obvious from the beginning that the Trump campaign understood this: the filings were completely devoid of any proof or any coherent legal reasoning that might have forced the courts to at least listen. No, they weren’t legal documents, they were the basis of a propaganda campaign that Trump has carried out directed toward his base, portraying himself alternately as a triumphant victor and a martyr. At the beginning, perhaps, it was mainly organized to explain away his defeat. But, as it became obvious that there were some millions of people, perhaps more, who were sucked in by Trump’s claim that he had won, the supposed legal campaign came quickly to be the focus for mobilizing his supporters, once he is out of the White House—including as a means of raising money. And money he has raised: at least 207 million dollars since election day.
Today, those militia members who parade with rifles on shoulders may do so mainly to intimidate—although we shouldn’t ignore the fact that their actions have helped set in motion murderous rampages like the one carried out by Kyle Rittenhouse. But whatever their goal today, tomorrow they, and people like them, can become the basis of a real threat aimed at parts of the laboring population, even at the whole working class. In fact, whatever they are today, they constitute a mortal danger for the working class in the future.
Trump did not create the extreme right, nor is he exactly of it, but by giving it his approval, he has reinforced it, encouraged it, and given its vile ideas a legitimacy.
The Democrats are not a protection against the extreme right, nor against the racism that is spouted today, nor against the physical danger with which the working population will be threatened tomorrow. As a defender of the interests of the capitalist class, they carry out attacks on the laboring population, with the most oppressed sections of the working class, starting with black people, often the first targets. This is what they have always done. There is no reason to believe they will change now. Working people themselves—black, immigrant, white, women, men, young and old—will have to organize themselves to defend themselves. This is exactly the problem. The working class is not mobilized today to fight in its own interests. And this election has not brought that goal more into view.
The media speculated a lot about Trump winning the “white working class.” But there is certainly no “white working class” with interests separate and distinct from those of the rest of the working class, nor do the “non-college whites” that the media talks about mean white workers.
Nonetheless, it is important to study this election to see exactly how different parts of different class forces lined up.
The Republican electorate included, first of all, evangelical white Christians, who alone accounted for almost 40% of Trump’s votes in 2016, and probably again in 2020. Add to them conservative Catholics and evangelical Latinos, who share with them many of the same reactionary ideas on issues like abortion and women’s rights, and you already have more than half of the Republican electorate. It is a solid voting base, a reliable base, and it gives the Republican Party an advantage. Its support for Trump is nothing new. (Most of these post-election survey numbers come from the Edison Research Project of voters’ attitudes.)
Trump also won a big majority of what we can call the traditional petty bourgeoisie of small business people and farmers. They, in fact, make up a big share of those the media calls “non-college whites”—in any case, they are the “non-college whites” with higher incomes. Of course, these categories are not ruled off from each other. Many Christian fundamentalists are also little shopkeepers or farmers. And most of them share the values of the rural petty-bourgeoisie regardless of their class.
Furthermore, Trump also won about half of “college educated whites,” again, the ones with higher incomes. So despite the way the media frames his electorate, in fact the bulk of Trump’s votes did not come from those anyone would call working class.
Nonetheless, Trump clearly won the votes of a large share of the laboring population, starting with people who live in rural areas where there may be a few well-off people, but where most must work for their living in one way or another. In this election, the more rural an area was, the more it went for Trump.
His voters among the laboring population were not only in rural areas: Trump picked up votes among white workers (a few less this time, even if in many states still the majority); also among Latino workers (quite a few more than 2016); and even a small number more from black workers (compared to 2016), including in the big cities. In many white working class suburbs that ring the big cities, Trump took the majority of votes, usually a little less than last time, but not a big difference. And in a few places with a large Latino working population, Trump also took the majority of votes, particularly in Texas and Florida. In areas of many other Democratic majority cities with a sizeable Latino working population—places like the Bronx, or El Paso, or Los Angeles, or Orlando, or Hudson and Passaic Counties in New Jersey—Trump, while not winning, improved his vote by more than 5%. In cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh, with a large black population, Trump not only improved his vote share by a tiny amount; more significantly, the turnout did not go up as much as it did in other areas. All of these figures were reported on in the “Upshot” section of the New York Times, once it had tried to digest the post-election polls.
While Trump’s base is not centered on white workers, there were significant numbers of them who supported him, along with a somewhat large minority of Latino workers, and a smaller, but still notable number of black workers.
On the day after the election, Trump declared, “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.” If he could say this with a straight face, it’s because the Democrats barely acknowledged the desperation facing big layers of the population—they ran to win the middle class suburbs, and assumed that all those groups targeted by Trump’s reactionary rhetoric would have no choice but to vote for them. Biden, in his best paternalistic tone, even said it on a radio show in May: “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
In general, the big cities formed the most solid base for Biden, although votes in most of them were proportionately down a little, and in places like Manhattan, Chicago and Philadelphia, Trump increased his share of the vote. Certainly many working people live in these cities and voted for Biden, but this was not where Biden was able to reverse the results of the 2016 election. Biden really gained compared to Hillary Clinton in the middle class suburbs, toward which he had aimed his campaign. (To give one important example: in well-off Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Biden’s margin over Trump increased by 44,000 votes over Hillary Clinton’s margin over Trump in 2016. Effectively, this increase wiped out Trump’s whole margin in the entire state of Pennsylvania, which was just 44,000 in 2016). Many of Biden’s votes this time came in areas that traditionally go Republican. Biden did better than the rest of the Democratic Party, which lost positions both in the House of Representatives and in state houses. The well-off classes in the far suburbs, apparently appalled by Trump, gave their vote to Biden, but not to his party.
The splintering of working people between the two big parties is nothing new. After all, there is no party that represents the interests of working people, and has not been for at least a century. Nonetheless there is a greater danger today, precisely because the situation of crisis is not going to resolve itself of its own accord. And Trump had dug out, dusted off and paraded out for everyone to look on all the most reactionary ideas in society—while Democrats left the field open for him to play the demagogue protecting jobs.
Divided by who they voted for, given the passions that this election let loose, and given the racism that still pervades large sections of the white population, parts of the working class may well feel antagonistic toward each other.
Trump’s four years disgusted enough people that he was defeated at the polls. But the underlying dynamics that produced Trump remain, and continue to accelerate, despite Biden’s victory.
The deepening crisis facing the population is what opened the door for a demagogue like Trump to put himself forward as someone defending jobs in the first place. And the crisis also prepared the ground for the extreme right to push itself forward, reinforced by and in turn reinforcing Trump.
The crisis facing the population is much worse today than it was in 2016, but not primarily because of anything Trump did: this capitalist society destroyed its own public health system to funnel the money that system needed to the bourgeoisie, opening the door to the ravages of the virus. This society then gave only one answer—shut everything down, which itself destroyed the education and livelihoods of a huge share of the population, while the bourgeoisie protected itself by taking even more money from the public coffers. On top of that, the bourgeoisie took advantage of the desperation the shutdowns caused to destroy more jobs, and drive more millions to face hunger and homelessness in this wealthy country. None of that was fundamentally about Trump, and none of it will change on January 20 merely because Biden assumes the presidency.
There is no answer to the crises facing the population unless the working class mobilizes to take on the power of the bourgeoisie and its organization of society that prioritizes profits above all else. The whole situation desperately calls for the working class to intervene because the working class is the only force on the scale of the planet that can powerfully counterpose itself to the capitalist class that is driving our society to the brink.
The social explosion of the summer shows that things can break out much more quickly than anyone could expect. That explosion, sparked by a reaction to the horrific video of the murder of George Floyd, spread initially based on the deep-seated anger the basic functioning of this society undoubtedly creates among a large section of the black population. It very quickly pulled in lots of people, including many whites. Even if that movement has retreated, those who participated in it have an experience they didn’t have before. Nonetheless, that movement has already come to an impasse, with nothing to propose within the framework of this society that can begin to eliminate the right of freely using violence, a right that capitalist society has bestowed upon the police.
The working class as a class is not mobilized to fight. But that is not the basic problem of our time period. What happened last May and June shows how quickly a massive mobilization can break out when only the day before there seemed to be nothing. The problem is that the working class needs to become conscious of itself as a class, of its capacities, but also of who its enemies are and who its friends are. It must come to realize that within the framework of capitalist society, its only future will be one of impoverishment and increasing violence coming from all sides—unless workers pull their forces together to take on the capitalist class, to fight to pull it down from power, and to replace that power with a power resting on the capacities of the working class. There have been struggles in this country, waves of them, some that even threatened the power of the bourgeoisie. But those struggles were never carried out consciously with the goal of taking power. That consciousness of the necessity to take power will not somehow alight on the brows of working people like a dove come down from heaven. It will come only if an organization is built in the working class that incarnates these ideas, and struggles for them.
This election only demonstrates that necessity more cruelly than ever before.