Post-Election Reckoning: New Hypotheses for the Road Ahead
By Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Hypothesis No. 1. One cannot understand this election unless one begins with a recognition of voter suppression: Since 2008, the Republican strategy has increasingly focused on voter suppression. The weakening, if not evisceration, of the Voting Rights Act was one significant piece of that. In the lead up to 2020 the Republicans, under Trump, have pushed this further by undermining the basic right to vote; making it more difficult; encouraging intimidation; undermining the U.S. Postal Service, long voting lines, fewer polls in Black neighborhoods, and so on.
1.1 Thus this election was about racism and revanchism: The politics of this race do not make any sense unless one factors in racism and revanchism, the seeking of revenge. The Trump message of allegedly keeping America great, was a message against traditionally marginalized populations, including but not limited to African Americans, non-immigrant Latin@s, women, and immigrants from the global South. Trump continued to stoke fear among whites, while also playing to “colonial mentality” among some populations of color. His message to Latin@ immigrants seemed to imply that a vote for him was a vote for them having the chance of becoming ‘white.’ But the election was about a broader sense of revanchism. There was anti-communism aimed at Cuba and Venezuela. It was also a revanchism aimed at shifting gender roles.
THERE IS A RIGHT WING MOVEMENT
Hypothesis No. 2. There is no doubt that there is a right-wing mass movement: Much of the U.S. Left has attempted to deny or equivocate on the existence and strength of the right-wing populist movement. One can no longer debate this. This movement exists and it has an armed wing. Along with overtly fascist groups in its core. It is a movement against the 20th century victories of progress. The fact that anyone could be convinced that Biden was a socialist not only illustrates the irrationality of the movement, but also should remind us that Sanders would not have had it any easier had he been the nominee. The right-wing movement sees any progressive reforms as equaling socialism. While many on the Left have fallen into the trap of thinking or wishing that were true, we must be in touch with reality and recognize that reforms under democratic capitalism do not equal socialism.
2.1 The Trump vote was a vote against reality: This is one of the most difficult conclusions from this election. In the face of the worst global pandemic since 1918-1919; one in which the total incompetence of the Trump administration has been on display, millions were willing to live in absolute denial, many of them continuing to believe that COVID-19 is nothing more than a bad flu. This rejection of reality translates into other areas including, but not limited to, racial relations, foreign policy, and the environmental catastrophe. This is a movement whose slogan really should be the closing line of the comedian George Wallace who would say: “That’s the way I see it, and that’s the way that it ought to be.”
2.2 Every vote must be counted: In the context of massive voter suppression, every vote must be counted, whether the vote was offered in person, through the mail or in drop-boxes. There is no Constitutional reason that a vote count should be stopped.
2.3 There is no monolithic Latin@ vote; there are Latin@ voters: The election results illustrate that there is no cohesive Latin@ vote. The Puerto Rican vote in Florida, for instance, bore absolutely no resemblance to the Cuban or Venezuelan vote. The reasons that various populations have come to the U.S.A. and the class character of many of those who have arrived here, have helped to shape their politics. Trump played to the fear among many Floridian Latin@ immigrants regarding socialism and communism. That did not work so well with Puerto Ricans. They also played to social conservatism among Chican@ voters in Texas. Though this was shrewd politics on Trump’s part, we on the Left must not fall into the trap of believing that there is a monolithic population out there. That said, the Democrats made a significant error in their work in Florida and Texas in not putting greater resources into reaching and mobilizing Latin@ voters.
ASSESSING THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CAMPAIGN
Hypothesis No. 3. The main problem in this election was not the Democratic Party leadership; the strategic situation has become far more complicated: There are already those on the Left who believe that the main problem in this election was the leadership by the Democratic Party establishment. While there were many errors made, including the matter of polling (which needs to be studied in order to understand the errors), and insufficient support and vetting of statehouse candidates, (no gains were made) to a broader array of mass initiatives, the explanation for why there were not greater victories in the election cannot be dropped simply on the D.P. The factors noted above are far more significant, especially the power of right-wing populism at the base. That said, there must be major changes made, including a DP rural organizing project, continuous outreach, stronger organization at the county level, and support of electoral efforts among traditionally marginalized groups (including but not limited to African Americans and Latin@s). Though the D.P. platform was probably among the most progressive in D.P. history, the party must champion a progressive, populist message that is both anti-neo-liberal but also anti-right-wing populist. This is a critical fight to wage within the D.P., and it’s one that will strengthen the Bernie-inspired forces at the base over the Third Wave centrists.
3.1 This is a moment where we must initiate a mass campaign of “one person, one vote”: The Electoral College was created in order to support the slave-owning states and to limit the strength of the nation-state. It is an archaic institution that must be brought to an end. In almost any other country on this planet, the person who receives the most votes wins…period. Our reliance on the Electoral College means that, in effect, only certain states really matter. The struggle for “one person, one vote” needs to be a national campaign for the expansion of democracy. This includes alternative methods for allocating votes, e.g., proportional delegates rather than a state committing all of its delegates to the top vote getter, as well as new and concrete efforts to undermine voter suppression.
Hypothesis No. 4. We need to think through this election in a wider context of ideas related to strategy and tactics. We can start with ‘movement-building.’
4.1 ‘Building a Movement’ is a flawed concept. But you can find it at the end of nearly every article or speech. It appears so often that it has more uses than aspirin as a cure for our ills. But we need to set it aside, or get a deeper understanding. Why? Because we don’t build them. Mass movements are largely built by capitalist outrages inflicted upon us, and capitalism will continue to do so, whether it’s another police murder, and invasion abroad, or a poisoning of a city water system. At most, we can fan the flames, which is fine but secondary. Our real task is to build organizations and campaigns within mass movements.