The coming removal of Bigot-in-Chief DonaldTrump from the White House was met with dancing in the street across the country. Rightfully so. However, we should also keep this exchange in mind: “You’re the dog that caught the car,” said former Chicago mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to Joe Biden after Biden won the election. “Ain’t that the truth,” Biden replied. So, while joining the enthusiasm, we must not get overwhelmed in a wave of euphoria. A cold dose of reality is also necessary. Let us start by considering how Biden won the nomination in the first place:
Why Biden won the nomination
Some on the left secretly reviled black voters for being the base that ensured Biden’s nomination vs. Bernie Sanders. Those black voters felt that it was Biden, not Sanders, who had the best chance of defeating Trump. They were right. While black and Latino voters overwhelmingly voted for Biden, the number of people of color in the United States is insufficient to win a national election by themselves. Given how many white workers had turned to reaction, another base was necessary. That base was youth in general plus the generally conservative white middle class. The latter would not have voted for Sanders as much as they did for Biden, and given the narrow margins in the key swing states, that could well have been enough to reelect Trump. Sanders’ claims that he would increase voter turnout never were borne out and, anyway, Trump did that perfectly well as he was responsible for a record vote count against him, meaning for his opponent, Joe Biden.
Trump plans to steal election crumble
Initial fears were that the massive number of mail in ballots plus the Republicans’ tactics would so delay tabulating the ballots that Trump & Co. would be able to completely subvert the outcome. Those fears proved unfounded as even in the counts that took the longest (e.g. in Pennsylvania) it was only a matter of a few days, not weeks or even months. Another danger that never seriously materialized was a turnout of armed vigilantes and/or Republican “poll watchers” who would disrupt the voting in cities like Philadelphia. For these reasons, the Trump/Republican strategy of stealing the election clearly will almost certainly fail. The danger of right wing terrorist attacks by individuals still exists, however.
Trump right now is resisting accepting his defeat, and he may never fully recognize it. Come January 20, however, barring a personal health crisis on his part, it will be Joe Biden who will be inaugurated. (I put my money where my mouth is and will be collecting on two bets I made to that effect. The third bet – that Trump will not fill out his complete term – on which I got 4-1 odds, is not yet definitely determined.)
Future for Republicans
Trump’s defeat, however, was not a total rejection of the Republicans overall. They lost two senate seats but gained four seats in the House of Representatives. If they can win just one of the two Senate races in the Georgia runoffs on January 6, the Republicans will retain control over the Senate. They now also control the federal judiciary, where Trump Supreme Court (in)Justices are now an absolute majority, with or without the vote of ex-Bush lawyer and Chief (in)Justice John Roberts. At least as important, Trump was able to appoint over 200 far right Federalist Society approved judges to lower levels of the federal judiciary. As Oaklandsocialist has pointed out, the federal judiciary decides over 60,000 cases per year while only about 80 ever reach the Supreme Court.
There is now an all-out drive by the capitalist media to force Trump not to kick over the chairs and break the windows as he leaves the house. That is the meaning of all the talk about “our democracy” that even some Republicans are engaging in. “I have always felt that American democracy is more important than any one person or any one election,” said Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN on January 8. “The most important thing is that we respect our democratic process.” In other words, this is a recognition that the US capitalist class has maintained its political stability through “democracy” and “the rule of law” ever since the Civil War. They will not easily abandon that method.
That Hogan is among a small minority of top Republicans to openly recognize Biden’s victory is significant. Even Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican candidate for president and one of the main old-line conservatives, is justifying Trump’s futile and destabilizing court challenges even while he (Romney) recognizes Biden’s victory. That means that even the mainstream Republicans recognize that the Tea Party turned Trumpeteer activist base is very much alive and well. Trump, after all, received the third highest number of votes of any candidate for president (after Biden and Obama in 2008).
However, there will be a renewed struggle within the Republican Party as the likes of Mitt Romney will reposition themselves for another run at the nomination in 2024. He distanced himself from Trump’s more lunatic impulses, while accommodating himself to the Trump rank and file base. For instance, he voted to confirm the far right Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. As with others, while he says the election outcome wasn’t fraudulent, he and others like him also assert that Trump “has the right” to challenge them in court. In actuality, Trump’s legal challenges are nothing but a continuation of his business strategy of filing a storm of merit-less harassment lawsuits in order to overwhelm those with whom he has a conflict. In addition, in this instance, he will be adding fuel to the fire of his supporters that the election was fraudulent. The effect will be similar to that of his support for the claim that Obama wasn’t born in the US.
As for the Democrats, they put away their debates in order to defeat Trump. Now the differences will come out again. A columnist in the NY Times explained that Biden faces “a health crisis, an economic crisis, a racial-justice crisis, a climate crisis and a crisis of representative democracy revealed and exacerbated by his predecessor. These are problems that snicker at incrementalism,” and that “he can’t let his cautious temperament and deep hankering for civic comity stop him.” His problem is that it was exactly on that basis that he won the election.
On some issues – such as LGBTQ rights – Biden can afford to make some headway. On others, such as limiting the ability of the police to commit unchecked mayhem, he is likely to make some nice sounding statements, but what can he do? Racism and brutality in general are so deeply embedded in police traditions, and US capitalism needs the police as much as ever in its history.
Biden basically got elected on the issue of Covid. What can he do on that? A vaccine may be on the market next year. However, recent research indicates that it’s possible that a person can be reinfected by the virus. If that is the case, then it’s likely that a vaccine will not work like the polio vaccine does. The disease may become endemic – constantly hovering around, waiting in the wings. (This raises all sorts of other issues which are too deep for this article to discuss.) In that case, social distancing and wearing masks are all the more important as they have proven to be effective. But Trump will have left a poison chalice in the form of the tens of millions of his true believers who dismiss exactly those measures. Biden cannot force them to carry out these practices. All he has is the influence of his pronouncements and those of his scientists. But these pronouncements will carry little or no weight with the Trump true believers. On the basics, this pandemic like other recent zoonotic diseases is the result of industrial farming and wild habitat destruction. (See, for instance, Coronavirus, Capitalism and the forces of Nature.) As long as those practices continue, new and even more devastating pandemics are not a matter of “if”; they are a matter of “when”.
Some socialists are predicting that Biden will follow past practice and carry out austerity measures. All the evidence is that this is wrong. The warning that austerity is coming is a lot of talk about getting the budget deficit down, but hardly any politicians or capitalist economists are talking like that. On the contrary, traditionally deficit hawks like those in the IMF are advocating deficit spending – at least in the industrialized countries. But what Biden can do, is very limited. That is especially true since US capitalism is facing increasing challenges from Chinese, and also Russian, capitalism on the world scale. That means that Biden will continue to spend massively on the military, which further limits what he can put into social spending.
Any serious social spending will require big bucks, but the same NY Times article quoted Ted Kaufman, who is leading the Biden transition team, as saying “when we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” because of the huge deficits that the Republicans have piled up. The only very partial salvation will be the fact that interests rates are so extremely low that paying the government debt isn’t that onerous.
As for global warming and the environment: Some changes Biden can make through executive orders, but the major ones would have to be through legislation. Even if the Democrats gain the majority in January (through the runoff election in Georgia), it would be a majority of one – the tie-breaking vote of the vice president. And given Biden’s base in the right wing of the Democratic Party, as well as among a wide layer of conservative, white middle class voters, and his inclination to try to “work with” the Republicans, it is highly unlikely that he will really push any major changes. In fact, he made that clear during his election campaign. In any case, even Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal is inadequate, since what is really required is a planned economy under the control and management of the working class.
Biden is likely to somewhat lift the pressure off of immigrants. For example, he will probably reinstitute the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and he will probably end the cruel practice of ripping little children out of the arms of their immigrant parents as they cross the border. But if this leads to increased immigration, then there will be a renewed anti-immigrant outcry, which will have an effect on Biden. We should not forget that Biden was part of an administration that deported even more refugees than did Trump. And as the global climate crisis really bites, increased waves of climate refugees are inevitable.
On health care, again Biden will be stymied. Covid showed that the real heart of the crisis in the US health care system is that it’s run entirely on a for-profit basis. That is an underlying reason why a return of Covid cases leaves the hospitals without enough beds; for years the hospital chains have been consolidating and closing down hospitals. He may try to introduce “Medicare for those who want it”, but that will mean an all-out battle with the Republicans, something which Biden wants to avoid. And who knows what the Supreme Court will rule?
Supreme Court and Federal Judiciary
Regardless of whether the Democrats gain control over the Senate or not, Trump will be leaving behind his legacy in the form of his federal judiciary appointees who will block Biden at every turn. There has been a lot of talk about Biden potentially adding members to the Supreme Court – what is known as “packing” the Supreme Court. In effect, the Republicans packed not only the Supreme Court but the entire judiciary by refusing to act on hundreds of appointees at all levels of the court system that Obama tried to appoint when he was president. To pack the Supreme Court, the Democrats would have to not only win the two Senate races in Georgia; they would have to end the rule requiring a 60 vote majority on any major step like that. A step like that runs contrary to everything that Biden stands for. So, what he says he’ll do is appoint a “bipartisan” commission to study the matter for six months. In other words, he will be pressuring the Supreme Court (in)justices not to go too far. It’s impossible to know how those lunatics might respond, and they might force an all-out showdown. In that case, a conflict with the Supreme Court could become an all-out crisis, not only for Biden and the Democrats, but for US society as a whole.
On foreign policy, Biden will reenter the US in the Paris Climate Accord, which is really just window dressing. He will move to reassure US capitalism’s most important allies – those in Western Europe. He may try to re-sign an accord with Iran, but that may be too late. Michael Karadjis, one of the most serious writers on Syria, has once again shown how Trump propped up the Syrian dictatorship. That is unlikely to change very much. As for the struggle between US and Chinese capitalism, as the representative of the former, Biden will continue carrying that out but in a slightly more “sane” way. Overall, just as with potential environmental disasters, new foreign crises are likely to shake the Biden administration.
“Build back better” possible?
The 75 million plus people who voted for Biden voted for an end to a presidency based on bigotry, bullying, and science denialism. That is the meaning of Biden’s slogan of “build back better”. In effect, they voted for a return to a partly mythical past. In part, that past was represented by the collaboration between the Democrats and Republicans which ended years ago. Biden said that if they decided not to cooperate, they can equally decide to cooperate. No, they cannot. The end of that collaboration and the increased polarization in society is not the result of a decision made out of free choice; it is the result of the crisis in capitalism worldwide.
Trump not exception
That is why Trump was not some extreme exception; he represented a global trend. One source for some of the most serious capitalist strategists is Foreign Affairs, which is the journal for the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. One article there is entitled New Administration Won’t Heal American Democracy. It writes “much of the United States—will be stunned by the fact that a populist demagogue and friend to autocrats around the globe will have won more votes than any presidential candidate in American history, save for Barack Obama in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020…. Between 15 and 20 percent of the staunchly liberal and staunchly conservative voters think there could be a “great deal” of justification for violence. In seeking to delegitimize the vote, the president is playing with fire.
“The broad signs of political decay are familiar—and alarming—to comparative scholars of democracy: the growing polarization, distrust, and intolerance among supporters of the main opposing parties; the increasing tendency to view partisan attachments as a kind of tribal identity; the intertwining of partisan affiliations with racial, ethnic, or religious identities; and the inability to forge political compromises across partisan divides—and hence to mount effective policy responses to national issues. Scholars of democracy know where these trends have led in the past—to democratic breakdowns in interwar Europe and post–World War II Latin America and to the more recent rise of authoritarian populists in countries such as Venezuela and Turkey. The United States is not alone in its democratic decline, of course; long-standing democracies such as India, and even liberal ones such as Israel, are struggling with similar ills.”
Another article, entitled Trump Won’t be the Last American populist. explains further: “The roots of Trumpism don’t begin or end with Trump or even with American politics—they are closely connected to economic and political currents affecting much of the world….
“Right-wing populism did not emerge in the United States because of Trump’s deranged charisma. Nor did it begin with the news media’s infatuation with his outrageous statements, or with Russian meddling, or with social media. Rather, right-wing populism resurged as a potent political force at least two decades before Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party—remember Pat Buchanan? And it has analogs all over the world, not just in mature democracies reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs but in countries that have benefited economically from globalization, including Brazil, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Poland, and Turkey.”
An incompetent populist
Another of the more serious journals of US capitalism is Atlantic Magazine. A recent article in that journal explains that “Trump is not good at his job. He doesn’t even seem to like it much. He is too undisciplined and thin-skinned to be effective at politics over a sustained period, which involves winning repeated elections…. Trump ran like a populist, but he lacked the political talent or competence to govern like an effective one…. The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024…. Make no mistake: The attempt to harness Trumpism – without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent – is coming. And it won’t be easy to make the next Trumpist a one-term president. He will not be so clumsy or vulnerable. He will get into office less by luck than by skill.”
The author of the article mentions Senators Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton as potential Trumpists Mark II. Even Q-Anon supporting Representative Lauren Boebert, Tucker Carlson and Josh Rogan are included as possibilities.
How to reverse this?
US Labor Movement
Recently, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka joined the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable in calling for Trump to recognize the election results. The fact that Trumka could not take a position independent of the capitalist class and the fact that there is no serious opposition to his approach within the union leadership says it all. Several labor bodies threatened a general strike if Trump tries to overthrow the election results. But especially in this era, a general strike cannot just be called like turning on a light switch, and these bodies took not one step to organize such an action. It was nothing but a bluff, but one with the cards showing.
What was needed was the beginning of an independent working class movement not only to stop Trump but to advance a working class answer to the crisis of capitalism that produced him and others like him. That means a program that includes:
- Empower workers to establish and enforce safety conditions on all jobs. This refers to Covid, but should not be limited to that. It would also mean that those who work with the public can walk off the job and still get paid if customers refuse to wear a mask or maintain proper distance. Time and a half premium pay for all workers as long as Covid remains a threat. A mass education campaign to explain the role of industrial farming and habitat destruction in creating this and similar zoonotic pandemics.
- Socialized medicine
- A program for jobs and a $25/hour minimum wage and a reduction of the work week to 20 hours per week for 40 hours pay.
- Build democratically elected committees of public safety in every working class community, financed by money taken out of the police budgets.
- An immediate crash program for renewable energy and ending fracking.
- Full rights for all immigrant workers. End the threat of deportation.
- Build international working class solidarity in deeds, not just words. This is vital. Every day we see how capitalism is driving workers in one country into increased competition with workers in another. In the absence of international solidarity in action, workers will inevitably respond with nationalism and xenophobia. International strikes and an international campaign for minimal standards of social benefits, a minimum wage, and environmental regulations is on the order of the day.
- Rebuild the unions. This cannot be done on the present basis. The union leadership from top to bottom is determined to keep its links with both the employers and one of the employers’ parties – the Democrats. Organized rank and file opposition caucuses are needed.
- Organize local committees of struggle, with an elected leadership and democratic structures, to carry such a movement forward. Such committees would have to join together nationwide and through this a mass working class party could start to develop.
These are just some of the bare outlines of some of the key points for a renewed working class movement. In a future article Oaklandsocialist will explain the history of how and why the US government was structured as it is through the US Constitution. It was done in order to prevent the working class majority from every controlling its own government. A completely restructured government is necessary. That will only be possible through the struggle itself. Further, from Covid 19 and global climate disaster to unemployment and mass poverty, a democratically planned economy is more needed than ever before in human history.
Update: Since this article was published, the top Republican after Trump – Senator Mitch McConnell – came on the news and defended Trump’s refusal to concede. Trump, meanwhile, has fired his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. He was reportedly furious with Esper over the latter’s opposition to using the Insurrection Act to put federal troops on the streets of major cities. To quote the great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” In late September, Oaklandsocialist raised the perspective of a crisis after the elections. “Is a shitstorm coming?” we asked. In the last few days, that seemed to be off the table, but now…? Does anybody know?
It seems impossible that Trump and the Republicans could overturn the election results, but a huge crisis is possible. In those circumstances, the celebrations at Trump’s loss could turn into an actual movement.