The COVID-19 global pandemic and its economic and social impacts will persist for many years to come. Communities of color and working peoples’ communities in the U.S. and abroad are still hurting as the world remains in the grip of the virus and the multifold exacerbated crises of the economy, ecology, and political legitimacy. This will shape our political reality, threats, and possibilities in ways that must be noted even though they are not the focus of this article. The focus here is on a few of the top lines and key takeaways flowing from the still unfinished 2020 election.
Point #1: Why Biden won
The broad and largely spontaneous anti-Trump/pro-democracy front that was multi-racial, cross-class, and included neo-conservatives, the left, and many forces in between carried Biden over the line. The front is unravelling as it is meeting its two primary objectives: defeat Trump and fend off his attempts to steal the election.
It is unquestionable that people of color, gender oppressed people, and young people shouldered much of the burden of, and brought much of the enthusiasm to, the anti-Trump vote. In this historic turnout year, POC votes increased approximately 20-30% while the white vote only increased 6%.
Due to the movement of capital and gentrification there is growing racial and economic diversity in the suburbs, and this too translated politically into gains for Biden, even as urban centers provided the core of his support. Additionally, Biden and Harris’ focus on swing states was crucial given the way the electoral system skews which states become important to win and thus campaign in.
It took a confluence of extraordinary events to produce Biden’s apparent victory. These included but weren’t limited to: Trump’s criminal failure to manage the country’s response to the pandemic and its deepening crises; some segments of previously abstentionist progressive and left organizations and movements diving into electoral work; and Trump’s incendiary response to this burgeoning period of racial reckoning. These allowed Biden and many moderate Democrats to run largely on their favorite message over the past 20+ years, “Vote for us. Because we aren’t those guys.” There have been notable shifts in Biden’s stance, especially his turn from “returning to normalcy” to wanting to be a “FDR like president” that, while still untested, we should figure out how to use to left and progressive advantage.
Point #2: A protracted struggle against the new confederacy
We are in a protracted struggle against the New Confederacy (the reactionary white cross-class front that uses the Republican Party as its political instrument). This is a fight for democratic rights and a progressive re-organization of our society. The reality is that we are a long way from building the kind of socialist society we would desire.
Defeat of today’s primary enemy – the New Confederacy – is a precondition for reaching a more advanced period when socialism could move from being an increasingly popular idea to an actual political possibility. The way to win that victory is by centering engagement inside and outside of electoral politics and building state-based, party-like structures, a.k.a., independent political organizations (IPOs) as vehicles to build independent political power (IPP) and construct anchor segments for a broad and durable united front against the New Confederacy.
The assessment that the New Confederacy is the most immediate enemy holds despite the fact that it seems likely we will have a Democratic Party, neoliberal-led executive branch. The right still owns much of the political initiative. They are still able to dominate the political narrative; they had a decent showing this election by increasing the size of their minority stake in the House by flipping previously held Democratic seats; there is still a possibility for them to maintain narrow control of the Senate; they flipped two previously divided state governments to Republican trifectas; and they won some state level races and referenda (governorships, state legislature, propositions, etc.) in key states like California, Florida, New Hampshire, Montana, and North Carolina.
Certainly, it is a blow to the Trump coalition to lose its demagogic leader as President, and to lose the enormous power, influence, and control associated with the presidency (appointments, foreign policy, executive orders, nominations, vetoes, pardons, bully pulpit, etc.). Despite this setback, the right will be able to walk away from this election with its reactionary core intact and having made gains on down ballot levels that will strengthen their political advantage in redistricting, denying worker’s rights and protections, etc.
Coming into office, Biden can do some important things despite how much he may be paralyzed or forced/eager to negotiate with the Senate Republicans to pass policy. Some of those would be getting the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Accord, rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), taking nationally-coordinated action on COVID19, issuing executive orders on the environment, immigration and other matters, reversing Barr’s racist restructure of the Justice Department, etc.
In addition to the Biden victory, the progressive contingent in the House has expanded with Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and Mondaire Jones. With a smaller Democratic majority, they’ll carry more weight, and even though it won’t translate into legislative power, it will mean a continued rise in national stature for progressive policies based on leadership of progressives of color. This progressive bloc will also continue to play an important narrative intervention role for progressive movements and values.
Our protracted struggle against the New Confederacy is currently a defensive one. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to go on offense within it. Those of us who are fighting for a progressive re-organization of society will have to fight the New Confederacy fervently while also pushing/pulling Biden and other moderate Democrats to the left, with restraint and to our advantage. Our forces are not strong enough yet to take on all our long-term enemies with the same force at the same time; that is, we will isolate ourselves and lose ground if we treat the establishment Democrats and Republicans as if they are the same level of threat and target them for equal fire. Going on offense could look like supporting, endorsing, or promoting progressive or left candidates in Democratic primaries in competitive electoral districts; or it could look like making timely narrative interventions in the story of us, now, and the future.
Point #3: The realities of the right-wing populist movement
We should be clear that simply removing Trump from office was never going to defeat the right-wing populist movement of which he has become the figurehead. Nor would it be enough to bring about a defeat of the New Confederacy. The material conditions that have led to the rise of a powerful right-wing populist movement have not been addressed and the contradictions that they are responding to are inherent in neoliberal capitalism. They won’t be resolved overnight. We have to think about the real grievances people in this movement have about their precarity and their sense of economic and social loss which have made the fueling of racial resentment and fears an ace in the hole for Trump and his ideologues.
Shifting people’s material conditions and organizing additional sectors will be key to weakening the right-wing populist movement. Put in the form of a question: how do we, leftists and progressives, come to understand and work to diffuse this right-wing populist movement? More investigation is needed to determine what that could look like in any given geographic area.
I argue that we need to push ourselves beyond stopping at calling Trump’s supporters racist (which they most certainly are) without acknowledging the material issues that they are dealing with and the white supremacist legacy of this country that has made segments of this population susceptible to joining right wing populist movements. These same factors are why so many are taken with Trump’s brand of leadership. Over time our work is to overcome the racism that still grips sections of white working-class people in rural and urban areas.
One issue that is immediately worrisome is how Trump’s acolytes and core base will respond to him not conceding and firing them up to “stop the steal.” How might some of the rowdiest and most violent among them interpret “stop the steal”? What kind of actions might they be prepared to take towards that end?
We have already seen examples of how far his acolytes might be prepared to take it in Michigan where the Republicans on their Board of Canvassers attempted to reject the certification of the Biden victory. Our movements were poised and ready to strike, making them reverse course. These are the kinds of things we must stay vigilant about and be ready to respond to in other contested states with Republican-dominated governments like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona.
Point #4: The democracy fault line in the new confederacy
There is much to be said here that deserves its own paper dedicated to the topic. Calvin Cheung-Miaw’s Organizing Upgrade article The Pivot of U.S. Politics: Racial Justice and Democracy, contains insightful analysis on this point.
For now, one thing to highlight is that we need to stay attentive and prepared as we see how things develop along these fault lines as Trump and his small but loud minority are predictably undermining and trying to upend bourgeois democracy. Most people on the right aren’t willing to declare Biden the victor but aren’t willing to amplify Trump’s false assertions about the lack of integrity of the electoral system. They are the ones we must watch and apply pressure on as needed.
Point #5: Opportunities on the horizon
What’s happening in Georgia is exciting and a really big deal. The work led by the IPOs Fair Fight and New Georgia Project is nothing short of inspiring and is one of the central factors that could impact the two U.S. Senate run-offs on January 5th.
Today’s racial reckoning has shown that most people’s understanding of race and its relationship to political economy is shallow, but they largely value “fairness” and “inclusion.” The last four years of relentless racism, fear mongering, and anti-communist bombast have taken a toll. We need to understand their impact more deeply in the coming days, months, and years as we continue to fight a more progressive and democratic vision for this society.
We must be mindful that the concept of the “rising majority”, while exciting and full of political potential, can obscure the current balance of the electorate and the population: it is still approximately 65-70% white and 30-35% POC. The term and how it’s applied can also obscure the work that is needed to win over POC to a progressive vision and program because POC are not a monolith. This election helped open some people’s eyes to that reality and reinforced it for others. POC communities are not monolithic, they are sites of ideological and political contestation. The numbers of Black, Latinx, and AAPI folks (mostly men) that broke for Republicans, in some cases in slightly higher numbers than in previous elections, are evidence of that.
What feels inescapable is that there are openings to develop a solid Democratic-leaning bloc in the Sunbelt, i.e. South and Southwest, in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. These are all states that have experienced a combination of the following: industry shifts that generally attract more progressive leaning people such as the movie business or tech industry; climate and economic issues that have spurred demographic shifts; and investments in the past 3-5 years or more to build progressive infrastructure, with many groups centering their agenda on fights for democratic rights. Though this election saw setbacks for social justice movements in Florida and North Carolina that need to be summed up, the gains that lay underneath those setbacks makes their potential tangible and exciting.
Much of this article has been focused on developing assessments that will have long- term strategic impact. However, our action program can start on some immediate and pressing tasks:
- As is customary when a front meets its objectives, the contending forces within it race and compete to impose their narrative on what happened and why, and what it means for future work. We need to join with The Frontline and other left and progressive forces, claim our important role in beating Trump, and make sure the pivotal issues of racial justice and workers’ economic hardships do not get lost under the blizzard of commentary exaggerating the importance of white suburban women and GOP anti-Trumpers.
- With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, we need to find ways to support the dynamic, on-the-ground organizing of IPOs like Athens for Everyone, Fair Fight, and the New Georgia Project, as they gear up for the Senate runoff races in Georgia. The runoff elections are on January 5.
- The Frontline and others have already launched collaborative efforts to work on a “first 100 days left program” that takes some of our movement demands and translates them into a slate of policy priorities. These are our platform to push the national conversation, attempt to get some concessions from the Biden administration and Congress, and pin the label of obstructionist on the GOP.
- We need to take the energy for the period leading up to November 3 and carry it into fights at the federal and state level, in the media, and at workplaces, schools, and in the streets. This will shape the direction of a new administration and determine what level of support, if any, is given to the hard-hit constituencies which are the base for radical change.