Analysis Politics United States

US Election Will Be a Watershed

By Left Horizons

The presidential election next week will be a watershed in modern in US politics. Whichever way the vote goes, it is the beginning of the end of the two-party system that has dominated the scene for generations, and it will usher in a period of political convulsions and crises.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that Trump has destabilised the social and political fabric of American society to such a degree that he is now seen as a threat to the stability – and therefore ultimately the profits – of the ruling capitalist establishment. They enjoyed his massive tax breaks two years ago, but now they want him out. For the ruling elite, Trump is too much of a loose cannon. But precisely because he is a loose cannon, he may not go quietly.

It is possible that the period between election day November 3, and the inauguration of the new president on January 20, will be the most turbulent two and a half months in American history since the Civil War, particularly if White supremacist groups are on the streets. This is even more likely if there is a close result, or if the votes on the day lean towards Trump and the subsequent early and mail-in votes lead towards Biden. A lot is riding on how decisive the result is.

The evidence that the ruling class want him out is seen in the articles now appearing almost every day in the more serious parts of the US capitalist press and which are not reflected in the most of the UK media. Most recently, an article in the New York Timesby its editorial board, listed the damage Trump has done to the Republican Party.

Republican Party Brought Low by Trumpism

The Republican Party, it says, has allowed itself “to be co-opted and radicalized by Trumpism. Its ideology has been reduced to a slurry of paranoia, white grievance and authoritarian populism…There is no philosophical underpinning for the Republican Party anymore…” Citing one of the founders of an anti-Trump Republican movement, The article notes that Trump’s presidency “has been an extended exercise in defining deviancy down — and dragging the rest of his party down with him…Having long preached “character” and “family values,” Republicans have given a pass to Mr. Trump’s personal degeneracy.”

For all their talk about revering the Constitution,” the editorial board write, “Republicans have stood by, slack-jawed, in the face of the president’s assault on checks and balances. Most horrifically, Republican leaders have stood by as the president has lied to the public about a pandemic that has already killed more than 220,000 Americans…The scars of Mr. Trump’s presidency will linger long after he leaves office. Some Republicans believe that, if those scars run only four years deep, rather than eight, their party can be nursed back to health” One of the commentators the article cites saw the only solution for the Republican party as “burning it to the ground and starting over.”

The Last Hope of American Conservatism

Two weeks ago, over 200 retired generals and admirals wrote to the press, expressing their support for Biden, in itself an unprecedented move. Likewise, leading Republicans, some of whom have founded an anti-Trump organisation called the Lincoln Project, have come out for Biden, one of them declaring that he was the “last hope of American conservatism”.

There are no certainties in modern politics, and we cannot forget that Trump won almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016, yet won the presidency through a handful of key states giving him a majority in the electoral college. But it is looking increasingly likely that Trump will be defeated next week.

Already, a week before election day, 67 million voters have voted early, either by mail or in person. By election day, as many as 80 million may have already voted. The count on the actual day might favour Trump, with the early and mailed-in votes being counted over subsequent days. That might make the voting and declaration process extremely messy and Trump has been preparing the ground by declaring this election the most ‘rigged’ in US history. If it ends up in the Supreme Court, where the right has a 6-3 majority, then there is no guarantee that a majority popular vote for Biden will put him in the White House any more than it did for Clinton three years earlier.

Racist Militias ‘Standing By’

On the other hand, if Biden wins by a significant margin – and that is also a  possibility – then it will be harder for Trump to cry ‘foul’ and to try to stick it out in the White House. He will risk being frog-marched out of the Oval Office by his own security staff on January 20. If Biden has a clear victory, the White racist militias that Trump has told to ‘stand by’ will be brushed aside by the US state: its FBI, its National Guard and, if necessary, its armed forces. The two hundred generals and admirals who came out for Biden may be retired, but we can take it as read that they will still have lines of communication and personal ties with serving officers and the military top brass. They will not allow the state to be embarrassed by a few rednecks with automatic weapons and Confederate flags.

If the unlikely happens again, as it did in 2016, and Trump is returned to office, it will usher in a period of political convulsions and social unrest that will completely eclipse the 1930s or anything else since the Civil War. But whichever way the election goes, it will be a landmark in the development of the two main parties. The New York Times article cited above bemoaned the fact that the former competition between the two parties of capitalism – what they call ‘centre-left’ and ‘centre-right’ – has now been broken. We now have, according to that newspaper, a competition between ‘centre-left’ and ‘extreme right’ and that is dangerously destabilising.

Coming Crisis in the Democratic Party

What the article didn’t point to, in its description of the collapse of the Republican Party, is the inevitable crisis that will take place in the Democratic Party as well. For all the surge of support for Biden in this election, it is not so much about him, as it is about getting rid of Trump. According to opinion polls, Biden’s most attractive feature is nothing to do with his policies; by a very large margin, it is simply that he is “not Donald Trump”. If the final vote turnout is the highest for a hundred years, as some have suggested it might be, it will not be out of enthusiasm for the Democratic Party platform.

There is no doubt that there is a surge to get rid of Trump, despite Biden and not because of him. There has been a phenomenal increase in mail-in votes and in early voting. Afraid of the possibility of being harassed or intimidated on November 3rd or possibly having their mailed-in votes ‘lost in the post’, not to mention the need to social distancing in a pandemic, many voters have been queuing, sometimes for hours, to get their vote registered early.

Black Lives Matter Uprising Biggest in Decades

According to the US news network CNN, “Across the country, Black voters are turning out in huge numbers”. The background to this election has been the biggest uprising of black people in generations, against the murder of black people by the police. This movement has achieved a degree of organisation and permanence that has eclipsed the civil rights movements of fifty years ago and as the demonstrations (and opinion polls) show, it has gained the active or passive support of workers and youth across all racial boundaries. For many Black workers, this election is not the end point of their campaigning over BLM, but is at least a part of it. “The stakes this year”, the CNN article suggests, “are especially high, they say, and nothing less than their health and safety is on the ballot.”

In interviews with CNN, black voters have said “they’re worried about racial injustice and police brutality, they feel devalued by a President who has hesitated to condemn White supremacy and they fear losing health benefits if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act. Many said this feels like the most important election of their lifetimes.”

Georgia’s Restrictive Voting Laws

Part of the CNN report was from the state of Georgia, where many Black voters were motivated to vote early in person by what happened in 2018, when Republican Brian Kemp ran (and narrowly won) for governor while at the same time still serving as the state’s chief elections officer. Kemp, who as Georgia’s secretary of state had enforced some of the USA’s most restrictive voting laws, using them to suppress Black votes. In other words, he rigged his own re-election.

Having learnt from two years ago, many Black voters are taking no chances. Reporting on early voting, CNN reports, “By Tuesday [November 20], more than 601,000 Black Americans had voted early in Georgia compared with about 286,240 two weeks before the 2016 election. In Maryland, about 192,775 had voted compared with 18,430. And California had over 303,145 — up from more than 106,360 two weeks before the election four years ago. That’s according to Catalist, a data company that provides analytics to Democrats, academics and progressive advocacy organizations.”

Increase in Black Voters

An article in the Financial Times (October 25), noted that some voters “walked 33 miles from Kenosha to Milwaukee on Tuesday, the first day of early, in-person voting in Wisconsin, to encourage voting. The journey took about 18 hours”. Kenosha was the town where, in August, police officers shot and paralysed Jacob Blake Jr, a black man, leading to protests and riots, and where subsequently an Illinois man shot and killed two protesters.

As of Thursday morning,” the Financial Times reported, “the number of African Americans who voted nationwide had increased 144 per cent over the same point in 2016, according to TargetSmart’s data. The number of white early voters grew 133 per cent.” This is in sharp contrast to 2016, when the turnout among Black voters in Wisconsin declined from 74 per cent in 2012 to 55 per cent in 2016, an understandable disillusionment, but contributing to Trump’s victory in that state.

It is not only among Black workers, but also among youth that there has been an anti-Trump surge and young voters are turning out in mailed-in and early voting in record numbers.

Positive View of Socialism

US politics has shifted so much in the last four years that socialist ideas are now openly discussed. It is no accident that Trump has accused Biden of being in hock to ‘socialists’ in the Democratic Party.  The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has grown in the last four years from a few thousand to an organisation of over 60,000 members. “According to a Gallup poll last year, the percentage of 18 to 29-year old Americans who have positive views of socialism has held steady at 51 per cent, but the percentage saying they have positive views of capitalism has fallen from 68 per cent to 45 per cent since 2010.” (Financial Times, April 23, 2019). This is a reflection on American soil of the generalised shift in consciousness across the whole planet, in all areas of politics.

Given  the role they have played in getting ‘socialism’ back on the political agenda, therefore, it is all the more disappointing to many workers and activists to see the leadership of the DSA and Bernie Sanders actively supporting Biden, who is the consummate representative of American capitalism. The DSA leaders and Sanders are feeding the illusion that Biden will make a fundamental difference to society, but it is abundantly clear that he will not. His record in voting in Congress is far from ‘left’ or even vaguely ‘radical’ and the same goes for his running mate Kamala Harris. It was no accident that Republican politicians call Biden the “last hope of American conservatism”.

We need to bear in mind that November 3 is not only about electing the president and vice-president. Apart from relatively local and state issues, there are polls for 35 senators and 435 representatives to the lower house of Congress. It is possible, therefore, that the Democrats will not only win the presidency but may gain control of the Senate and consolidate their support in the lower House. The question that socialists will be asking workers and youth is what will the Democratic Party do with their political dominance, if it is achieved? The answer, most likely, is very little.

Democratic Deficit in US Political Systems

There is a massive democratic deficit in the American political system, a deficit that is growing year on year. For example:

Vote Suppression

There is large-scale vote suppression, with millions of Americans denied the vote. In 34 states, voters are forced to provide ID to vote, meaning low income and Black voters are discouraged. Over five million citizens, about half of whom have served their sentences, are disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions. All these restrictions disproportionally affect racial minorities. There are currently 44 states in which there is active litigation, involving hundreds of lawsuits, where attempts are being made to suppress voting. Will the Democratic Party use its control of the presidency and Congress to introduce federal laws to enfranchise all adults, irrespective of past crimes and misdemeanours?

Bias in the Senate

The US Senate has a heavy bias against the larger states, because there are two senators for each state, irrespective of its size. Thus, for example, California, at nearly 40 million, has four times the population of the ten smallest states; but California has two Senators to their twenty. Will the Democratic Party seek constitutional changes to democratise representation in the Senate?

Electoral College

The electoral college system undermines the presidential vote to such an extent that an almost three million vote advantage – such as Clinton had in 2016 – can be wiped out. Will an incoming Democratic administration seek to move to a simpler and more democratic numerical vote for the presidency?

Supreme Court Built-in Bias

The Supreme Court now has a built-in 6-3 advantage for the right. This is not insignificant even for elections. Even before election day, there was a crucial Court decision – by 5 votes to 3 – that effectively makes it legal in Republican-governed states for polling district boundaries to be redrawn in a blatant gerrymandering fashion. The Supreme Court is also poised, Democratic voters fear, to overturn the Obama era Affordable Care Act. During his tenure, we might add, Trump has also nominated two hundred federal judges, overwhelmingly from the right. Will the Democratic Party move to nominate additional Supreme Court and federal judges to overturn this clear political bias?

In our opinion, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party, even if in the White House and dominating Congress, would try to correct any of these aspects of the democratic deficit. What is even more important, is that it is just as unlikely to address the very real social and economic problems facing working class people – austerity, low pay, housing, health care, unemployment and chronic institutional racism: all the issues that rot away at the fabric of tens of millions of lives. These are the real issues that are motivating voters to get rid of Trump, because, ultimately, they aspire to having these socials issues addressed and resolved.

Popular Support for Radical Ideas

If the leaders of the Democratic Party think it is ‘job done’ and back to ‘normality’ if they get Trump out of office, they will be in for a rude awakening. There is widespread popular support for genuine radical ideas, not that you would notice it in any of the speeches of Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. Over the last few years, the rise of the ‘radical’ wing of the Democratic Party has not so much been the cause as the result of a change in consciousness that has affected millions of American workers and youth.

This week, the annual survey of American attitudes, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution, laid bare the views of Americans on a number of important social and political issues, and it shows that the voting public are far to the left of the Democratic Party leadership and candidates.

According to the Wall Street Journal, reporting on the survey, “Nearly 80% agree with the statement that things are so off track that major policy changes are required to help everyday Americans. Solid majorities now support affordable child-care, a guaranteed minimum income, free tuition at public universities, and some version of Medicare for All. All these measures enjoy majority support across racial and ethnic lines, and two—affordable child care and a guaranteed minimum income—across partisan divides as well.” 

On the question of Black Lives Matter and the killing of Black Americans by police, “Sixty-four per cent of Americans disapprove of the president’s response to these events…56 per cent of Americans regard police killings of blacks as part of a broader pattern rather than as isolated incidents, and 58 per cent of Americans support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement”.

Democrats Steeped in Capitalism

But none of these issues will be properly addressed by Biden if he gets into the White House. What is more likely to happen, therefore, is that the stresses and strains within the Democratic Party will intensify as voters demand real change and the Democratic Party – a party steeped in the capitalist system – will be unable or unwilling to deliver. It is possible that some Congressional elections might bring to the fore more radical representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. That is a reflection of a party base which is completely at odds with the party hierarchy. But the Democratic Party, despite its name, is not in the least ‘democratic’ and leaves no scope for the growth within it of genuine socialist currents. The election of Ocasio-Cortez and others like her are a harbinger, not of change in that party, but of upheavals splits from the party.

There will be no resolution of the huge social and economic hardships facing working class people, or the institutionalised racism faced by Blacks and Hispanics and no future for the millions of youth looking for a half decent future – without, that is, the formation of a genuine party of labour to carry those aspirations into actions. It may develop first at a local, city or state level before a party of labour becomes sufficiently prominent nationally. But one thing is certain; its time has come. If nothing else, this bitter and fractious and perhaps violent election will show that it was not the culmination of a process of profound political change, but only a beginning.

Courtesy Left Horizons