The partial setback for the MAGA Republicans follows a similar event in Brazil, where the Brazil style Donald Trump – Jair Bolsonaro – was narrowly defeated. But just as in Brazil, this far right tendency is nowhere near disappearing. These election results also have global implications, especially for Ukraine since the MAGA Republicans support Putin. It is not for nothing that, for example, attendees at the fascist and Republican linked America First conference last February were chanting “Putin! Putin! Putin!” And these fascists have direct representatives in the US congress, as shown by the fact that among the speakers at that America First conference was Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
The question is whether these election results in both the US and Brazil mean that represents a reversal of the global tide of bigotry and reaction or whether it is merely a setback to it.
General Background: “Globalization”
In order to answer that question – especially since the results haven’t been all been tabulated yet – I think that it’s necessary to start with considering a little bit of background. A consideration of that background can only be very general since going into any detail would take a very long time.
In the first place, we have the crisis of US and world capitalism. That crisis was part and parcel of the so-called globalization of the world economy. That globalization, among other things, thrust the workers of the world into ever deeper and ever more direct competition for who could make the most profits for the capitalists. It meant the transfer of a lot of production to low wage areas. For US workers, it meant the shift of jobs first to Mexico and then to China and now to Vietnam and elsewhere.
At the same time it meant the weakening of the ability of the government to regulate the economy in any way.
Also, this globalization coupled with global warming has driven millions of people from the global South northwards. In the case of the US, it meant millions seeking to enter the U.S.
Historic memory of working class
Within the US working class, we saw a determined campaign to drive out from historical memory all the traditions of the 1930s – the militant class struggle, as well as the radical, anti-capitalist traditions. It is understandable and to be expected that the capitalist media, the education system and the capitalist politicians – Republican and Democrat alike – would do this. But what was most devastating was and is the fact that the entire union bureaucracy – so called “progressive” and conservative alike – participated in this effort.
The result was that tens of millions of US workers were driven to try to recapture the “American Dream”.
And this process – the neoliberal attacks – all took place under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Another fundamental aspect of this process is the irreversible decline in US world domination.
So that is what the Make America Great Again – MAGA – plays on. Return to the American Dream at home and abroad. Of course, as the American comedian George Carlin put it, “it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” But the fact that it never really existed, especially not for black people in the US, made MAGA all the more reactionary and all the more out of touch with reality.
Now some socialists claim that US workers don’t support the Republicans and MAGA. That is simply wishful thinking. The single best estimate of class as done by pollsters is education level, not income level. The polls show absolutely decisively that Trump supporters are overwhelmingly non-college graduates. That’s the reverse for Biden supporters. My own personal experience among construction workers tends to confirm this also.
That doesn’t mean that what workers are hopelessly reactionary. Not at all. But reality is reality. We cannot engage in wishful thinking if we want to accomplish anything.
Capitalists prefer “democracy”
Now, under more or less stable conditions, the capitalist class has a deep base of support in all sectors of society, including the working class. That was certainly true for the US capitalist class, and that’s what made capitalist democracy – or what they nowadays call “the rule of law” – the best and safest means for the capitalist class to rule in the US. In most cases, the capitalist class was able to sway huge sectors of society to back any policies they favored. But due to the developments I just mentioned, their influence among huge sectors of society declined enormously. A huge vacuum opened up. And because of the role of the union bureaucracy and also the NGO’s, that vacuum was not filled by any sort of independent movement of any sector of the working class at this time.
That is what explains the rise of Trump. He was neither under the control of any section of the capitalist class nor did they support him. For example, during the 2016 Republican primaries the Wall St. Journal carried editorials and columns attacking Trump almost every single day. But he never was under control. You can see it in his consistent attacks on NATO and his orientation towards Putin. You could also see it in his drive to take one person control over the government. And that drive was largely blocked by the role of – guess who – the tops of the US military! As one of them, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Mullen, made clear. the military commanders would obey every “legal” order of the president. The clear message was that they would disobey any order they considered to be illegal. That was why Trump was unable to declare martial law and seize the ballot boxes – because the most clear representatives of the capitalist class, the military chiefs, would not allow it.
It’s a sorry day when we have to depend on the US military to defend democracy!
An example of why that was so was the fact that according to the NY Times in January of 2021 the leadership of the unions got together with the non-profiteers and decided that they were going to do everything within their power to avoid or prevent any sort of mass mobilization to drive Trump out of office come the end of his term.
Trump and his supporters tried to overturn the elections through the courts, but in the end, even the Trump Supreme Court ruled against him. I believe that was due to two main things: First was the fact that he would have needed to overturn the elections in at least three states, and that was a stretch too far for the Trump Supreme Court. Also, they were not well enough organized. In other words, the capitalist class had too many levers to pull still. But what they had done was take over the Republcan Party, lock stock and barrel. Trump, who one could say is the greatest snake-oil salesman that ever lived, had built a base of fanatics, an actual cult, that took over the party. The most clear indication of their threat to democratic (small “d”) norms is their denial of the reality of who won the 2016 elections. That denial is, in reality, a refusal to accept any outcome other than the one they desire, which is the complete and unchecked domination over US society by their cult. (Their campaign against abortion rights is another example of this.)
That they still control the party is shown by the election deniers in these elections. According to the Washington Post of the 569 Republican nominees for office, 291 were election deniers. “Unofficial projections Tuesday showed that election deniers will amount to a sizable majority within the House Republican caucus,” the Post reports.
It’s true that these deniers are a minority in the US, but given the regional differences plus gerrymandering plus voter suppression, they play an outsized role. And don’t forget that they do have a base as their denialism is coupled with science denialism plus racism. An example is Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor. Mastriano is close to being an outright fascist. The media says he was overwhelmingly defeated, but the fact is that he got nearly 42% of the vote – nearly 2 and a quarter million voters voted for him. Not all of them support Mastriano’s fascism, but they were willing to accept it.
Base of Democrats
This drive among the Republicans is apparently getting the Democratic Party base more active. I got a report from somebody in rural Pennsylvania – the heart of Trump country. She reports that activism among Democratic voters has increased a lot, nor are they apparently as intimidates as two years ago. An amusing report from a guy I know who’s from Philadelphia PA is that one guy he knows decided to vote for the Democratic Party candidate (Fetterman) because the Republican, Oz, is from NJ and he hates New Jersey. My friend also told me that a relative of his switched to Fetterman because Oprah Winfrey endorsed him.
I know somebody in rural Pennsylvania – the heart of Trump country. That person is very active among the base of the Democratic Party there. What they reported is very interesting. they said that those at the base who were organizing for the Democrats went from having 10 or 20 at meetings in 2016, shortly after Trump got elected. Most recently, they had a meeting of over 200, which is over double what similar Republican meetings gathered. This person also said that yard signs for Democratic senate candidate Fetterman were far more common than those for his opponent, Oz. Make no mistake, the Republicans won that area handily, but it shows that the Democratic voters were not so intimidated.
Another guy I know who is from Philadelphia PA told me that he has an aunt who switched her vote to the Democrat – Fetterman – because Oprah Winfrey had endorsed him. And another person he knows couldn’t decide for whom to vote. This guy decided to vote for Fetterman because he said he’s rather have somebody who was mentally affected by a stroke than somebody from New Jersey. Oz, the Republican candidate is from NJ and there is evidently strong resentment in PA against New Jersey for some reason.
A very very few split their vote and voted for Shapiro [that is, against the fascist Matriano] for governor but not Fetterman[for senator] but most were hard core and complained that they could not just color a dot to vote straight Republican, but had to check each candidate. Probably 75% over 60, very country looking – men with long straggling beards and caps that said “Jesus”…. A few young people…. I think many of the people who voted here are simply knee jerk Republicans – they don’t think at all about what candidates stand for. They just think of themselves as threatened by “Democrats.” whatever that means.”
“Law and order” and racism
Regarding the question of racism: Back when Bush ran for president, he leaned heavily on the alleged threat of “violent criminals”, which was a dog whistle for racism. The same is true today, but there is more to the story than that.
In the Los Angeles mayor’s race, a conservative Republican-turned–Democrat, Rick Caruso, is running neck-and-neck with the liberal Democrat Karen Bass.
I saw the issue of crime and violence up close and personal in my campaign for Oakland mayor. Here is a mailer sent around by a group that was backed by the coal train and corporate lobby. You see the ones they recommend. De la Fuente is the foremost big business representative, but all three are in that group. (I am proud that I was the last one showed in the photos.) Along with many others, a major issue of their campaigns was violent crime in Oakland. And this is not simply a dog whistle for racism. Oakland is 56% black or Latino, for example. I could see in the forums I spoke at that the issue of crime and violence hit very close to home for many people. People complain about the catalytic converters – worth up to $2500 – cut out from under their cars, and in a recent case somebody who confronted a thief over this was shot dead in broad daylight.
That issue is related – as I pointed out – to the issues of poverty for one thing. (I called for a $28/hour minimum wage.) and also to the breakdown of society in general. (I called for a renewed working class/grass roots movement for that increased minimum wage as well as other demands, and for a working class party.) Only under such a movement will that alienation fade as a sense of solidarity comes to the forefront. Under ranked choice voting, the tabulating is very complicated and confusing, but Taylor and de la Fuente together got 47% of the votes while the liberal, union backed candidate Sheng Thao got 29%, or together with the other main liberal, Villanueva, the result was 36%. More recent tabulations indicate that Taylor will win. This is the candidate who said of the anti-semitic fascist Peter Liu that he has some “intersting” ideas.
A related issue is that of homelessness. Those three right wing candidates – de la Fuente most of all – basically called for kicking the homeless out of Oakland, and who cares where they go or what happens to them. It indicated the same heartless cruel attitude that the Republican Party advocates. And you see election the results.
Now, as far as the end results: It seems the Republicans will probably capture a slim majority in the lower house – the House of Representatives. The reason they do better there is that it’s easier to gerrymander the voting districts. It also seems likely, although far from certain, that the Democrats will retain their majority in the Senate. But again, the election result in the Georgia senate rase are astounding. The Republican, Herschel Walker, campaigned in large part for prohibiting all abortions. But it was revealed that he’d pressured at least two former girlfriends whom he’d made pregnant to get an abortion, and paid for those abortions. Yet he basically tied his opponent, Raphael Warnock. There will be a runoff for that post. Warnock has already said that he’s going to campaign on the basis of character – that Walker lacks the character to be a senator. That is not exactly calculated to inspire people, especially given that Walker revealed that Warnock had used his position as senator to enrich himself (as do all the senators).
But overall, the Wall St. Journal editors, who express the views of the more militant section of the capitalist class, summarized the situation when they wrote two days after the elections: “Republicans are dismayed, and they should be—at themselves. Some 70% of voters Tuesday said they’re unhappy with the state of the nation. With an unpopular President, 8% inflation, falling real incomes, rising crime, and chaos at the border, the GOP should have coasted at least to a normal midterm victory.”
There will be a bloodletting in the House Republicans, as the hidden denialists who are grouped around de Santis and the likely Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy will try to push the politics of the more crazed Republicans such as Taylor Greene and the House “Freedom Caucus” into the background. Given that their more blatantly crazed views have been proven to lose elections in many cases, I think the Freedom Caucus may tend to fragment.
However, the predictions of a return to at least an appearance of sanity are overstated. That’s because the Trump cultists at the bottom have largely taken over the party and they won’t allow it.
As we all see, there is a bitter struggle between Trump and Florida governor Ron de Santis developing as de Santis prepares to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination. Let’s be clear: The only difference between the two is that de Santis is not so narcissistic and therefore a lot more competent. But there is no difference between their politics. (Incidentally, every major newspaper in Florida backed de Santis’s opponent.) But DeSantis has emerged as the winner anyway.
the position of the Democrats, as exemplified by Biden, is that the problem with the Republicans can be defined in one word: Trump. That is why all the pundits are applauding DeSantis. Again, as the WSJ reported “In what must have been a first on CNN, a panel of seven commentators had nothing but positive things to say about Mr. DeSantis.” That is why they will try again and again to return to the previous collaboration.
But the true fanatics in the House Freedom Caucus – Marjorie Taylor Greene, child sexual abuser Matt Gaetz, and others – won’t allow it.
Regarding Ukraine: The Republicans will push for cutting off aid to Ukraine, and Biden has been hesitant enough already. As we have known, there always has been a wing of the US capitalist strategists who have advocated for “peace” with Putin. They see the dangers of a continued war as outweighing any other factor. This is the wing that pushes for negotiations, which in turn mean ceding to Putin an additional territory and population to what he took in 2014. Another, slightly (but only slightly) more far sighted wing sees that if the US does this now, Putin will only come back for more later. In addition, it will weaken the influence of US capitalism elsewhere. In either case, the interests of the people of Ukraine don’t enter the equation. (To be perfectly clear and as I’ve written many times over: all present calls for negotiations simply means allowing Putin to trample over even more Ukrainians and will encourage him to do it even more so later, not only in Ukraine, by the way, but in Moldova and elsewhere also.) CNN reports a division of sorts in the Biden administration, with the top military official, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley pushing for negotiations now and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and security chief Jake Sullivan opposing that call. How that plays out, especially if Biden wants to mollify the Republicans, is impossible to predict.
If they are not already headed in that direction, I think a wing of the Trump base will increasingly move towards terrorist violence, especially if Trump loses in 2024. “We tried elections and it didn’t work,” will be their thinking.
The question for me is where do socialists and others who take a working class position go? What do we advocate?
One person dictatorship vs. capitalist democracy
I think the most pressing issue, the most important task before the working class is to stop the drive to overturn our democratic rights, meaning capitalist democracy. US “democracy” with all its historic and present day crimes is a lot better than one person dictatorship. I don’t think an outright military coup with the troops in the streets is most likely under the Republicans; it would be more of a “constitutional coup” along the lines of what Viktor Orban accomplished in Hungary, complete with bigotry and links to outright fascism, although not fascist in the historic, which is to say “scientific”, sense of the term.
How do we oppose the overturning of democratic rights while still fighting for working class independence? I will get into my view in a minute but I want to comment on voting for the Democrats. Back in 2020, I found myself very strongly hoping that Trump would lose. The strength of my feelings were very different from how I felt in previous elections. So I decided if I felt that way, I should vote accordingly. Then I started thinking it through: For 50 years I opposed voting for any Democrat, but my view has changed for now. That’s because there always were two considerations: First is whether things would be better under one of the parties than the other. The second is the danger of getting sucked up into Democratic Party – which is to say capitalist – politics. In the past, the differences were so minimal and the second danger so great that I think it was right to oppose voting for any Democrat. Today, the second danger – getting sucked up into Democratic Party politics – still exists, but anybody who says the differences are minimal really is not paying attention.
So, if we agree that it’s crucial to stop the Republicans, then at the end of the day we have to spend one or two minutes voting accordingly. And the only alternative to the Republicans right now is the Democrats.
But the Democrats have proven that over the longer term they cannot stop the Republicans. That’s because what’s needed is an increased understanding of the class nature of society, in other words increased class consciousness. That won’t happen through nice arguments; it will happen through workers mobilizing in the streets, work places, working class communities and schools and, crucially, inside the unions. During such struggles, the reactionary ideas tend to be pushed into the background. That was what I saw in the 2021 carpenters strike in Seattle. And it will be exactly through such struggles that a body will be formed to discuss the situation and drive the struggle forward. Such an organization will be a working class party and it won’t necessarily be focused on elections to start with. Eventually, though, such a party will have to decide whether to run its own candidates or support the Democrats. Like it or not, that will be the options that history will most likely offer that workers movement/party. Ignoring elections won’t be an option.
Campaign for working class alternative
Some argue that if we plan to vote for a Democrat that we can’t also argue for a working class party and for socialism. I believe that my campaign for Oakland mayor proved that that is not necessarily true. That is different, by the way, from running on the Democratic Party ticket. Doing so inevitably means getting involved in Democratic Party politics, including trying to move the Democrats to the left. It means being unable to explain that the Democratic Party is a capitalist party and that workers need a party of their own. It means being unable to argue for and actually trying to build a working class movement from below. That’s what DSA is proving.
My campaign consistently argued that the only real change comes from a movement from below, a working class/grass roots movement, and one that leads to building a working class party, and socialism.
I think my campaign for mayor of Oakland, as seen in this video, proves that we can vote for Democrats without compromising our position.