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Joe Biden

Joe Biden, Photo: Gage Skidmore / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The Democratic Party is too wedded to the establishment to defeat the right in the US, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica.

It’s now as good as official. Joe Biden has defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the US. He did so with a record vote on a record turnout. Biden may yet gain 6 to 7 million more votes than Trump when the final tally comes in.

This turnout and Trump’s defeat is the result of unprecedented campaigning against voter suppression on the back of a militant Black Lives Matter movement that swept the US in the aftermath of several recent police murders of African Americans.

But the alarming truth is that, while Trump has been defeated, what Trump represents had a better showing than anticipated in this election. Trump had the second largest vote in American history, larger even than Barack Obama’s tally when the latter won in 2008.

Worse, exit polls suggest that Trump managed to increase his vote among African-Americans and Latinos, despite the astonishingly open support he gave to the racist far right throughout his tenure. In spite of his and his administration’s bigotry, he also won a larger proportion of the LGBT vote than before.

Furthermore, many who voted for Biden were actually voting against Trump, rather than what Biden stands for, as shown by poll after poll. Meanwhile, a greater proportion of Trump voters cast their vote with enthusiasm for their candidate.

We need to understand what this means if we want to defeat not just Trump, but Trumpism. And all the signs are that the Democrats will not be able to defeat Trumpism, as their preference is to maintain the system that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

The Democrat advance is highly superficial

Indeed, it was extreme economic hardship, caused by the effects of the pandemic, which was a key (though not sole) contributor to the record turnout of lower- and middle-income Americans to vote Trump out. Among those making less than $55,000, the Democrats took a significantly increased share of the vote compared with 2016.

By contrast, Trump increased his share of the vote among those making more than $100,000 (though Biden received more money from the so-called 'mega-donors', suggesting that he was the establishment's choice for president).

While to some extent this class divide is predictable, the numbers suggest that it is difficult to imagine a Biden win without the pandemic.

If support for the Democrats was highly conjunctural, and support for a more hard-right Republican Party is firmer among their own supporters, this helps explain why the Democrats failed to win the Senate and actually lost seats in the Congress elections.

Even though Georgia will likely see a run-off for two senate seats, the Republican candidates still topped the polls and it remains questionable whether the Democrats will hold both the executive and legislative branches of power under the Biden presidency.

The right will remain influential

If this makes the prospect of governance for the Democrats difficult, Trump’s repeated accusations of fraud, even before the election was held, could only help erode people’s already flimsy trust in US institutions.

While it is impossible to see how far Trump will go in terms of refusing to leave the White House, with many court cases already under way to question the legitimacy of the mail-in votes and therefore Biden’s victory, there is likely to be a widespread narrative at least among a minority that the election was not fully free or fair.

The right wing corporate media, especially the Murdoch-owned wing, is beginning to imply that Trump should concede without too much hassle, but it is likely that they will continue to espouse extreme right views and sustain the populist right wing base that Trump acted to radicalise during his time in office.

This is significant. It means that Trump has succeeded in a number of ways. He has moved the Republicans further to the right even than they were under George W. Bush. He has cemented a populist right wing movement in the US that can affect the Republicans from outside.

And he has created an atmosphere in which the Democrats continued to believe that they need to triangulate to win – the Democrats took their left wing for granted and Biden himself insisted on a non-radical, so-called moderate message.

Biden’s way is bankrupt

Most tellingly, he spoke against universal healthcare in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and against defunding the police amid the cries for justice against police murders of African-Americans and the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Biden is indeed an extreme centrist by conviction. He is fond of bi-partisan compromise. He said he was prepared to have a Republican running mate. He supported American military intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s and he backed the resolution authorising the US-UK invasion of Iraq.

And Biden effectively stands for the policies that favoured Wall Street, hastening de-industrialisation and making Americans work longer to make the same amounts of money as forty years ago. He is a neoliberal through and through, and will probably relish working with so-called moderate Republicans to pursue a neoliberal domestic agenda.

More than that, he will also be pleased to create as much bipartisan unity as possible to repair US global standing and indeed restore US global hegemony, by reviving the Transatlantic alliances strained by Trump, continuing Trump’s hard line against China, and probably eagerly employing tried-and-tested military means to pursue foreign policy aims under the cover of supposedly lofty, humanitarian and democratic goals.

In doing so, Biden will be hoping to see a return to the status quo ante Trump. But Trumpism is going nowhere and Biden will find his feet are made of clay. The right could well continue to strengthen and radicalise. Racist attacks will continue, while support for Biden could melt as neoliberalism continues to batter away at Americans’ living standards.

For the left in the US, as for many around the world, seeing Trump’s back will be welcome, but Biden will not ensure the back of Trumpism. By perpetuating the failed policies that allowed for Trump’s rise, Biden is in fact part of the problem.

The need for an independent, socialist left

The left will therefore need to ensure that it mobilises independently to ensure Trump does not try to steal the election. But it will need to do so from below and independently of the Democratic state machine, if it is to create the capacity to fight both Biden, should he assume office, and the American right, which is going nowhere.

This is not easy, and many will be drawn for that reason to continue fighting both from within the Democratic Party. But this is an uphill struggle. Already, centrist House Democrats have started accused more left wing Democrats for supposedly costing them their seats won in 2018 by being too left wing.

Any hope of winning the Democratic Party to socialism has got to be an even taller order than turning the British Labour Party in that direction. We saw the limits of that strategy, despite Corbyn being at the helm, labour unions having a greater say in party affairs than in the US, and so on.

In fact, we will see the centrist forces on both sides of the Atlantic intensify their offensive against the left. In the long term, though, this only serves to facilitate the rise of the right, as centrist forces do little campaigning against the right between elections and indeed often pander to right wing views in the mistaken belief that this neutralises the far right.

Some of the offensive against the left will baselessly repeat that Biden won where Sanders would not have. But this distracts from a very important point. The key issue is not the next election which is four years away.

The key issues are rather that Biden’s centrist policies will not significantly alleviate the suffering of ordinary Americans, while countering the right needs to start happening now on the ground.

In contrast with the Biden Democrats, the left has both the policies to deliver on what Americans need and the mass movement behind it to start fighting for one.

Indeed, a new, mass socialist party is a distinct possibility. Its seeds were visible from Occupy!, through the two Sanders presidential nominee campaigns, to the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America, BLM and the plethora of labour strikes that took place in the US since the start of the pandemic.

Not weighed down by the Democratic machine, and its allegiance to big business and the system, such a new party could help build movements against imperialist war, racist violence and neoliberal capitalism more decisively. It could champion the cause of health, the environment and good jobs that are so badly needed at this time.

In this way, it could dampen the confidence of the right and build the confidence of many of those who voted Biden for lack of a better alternative. In other words, it could check the rise of the right and take away supporters from the Democrats.

Rather than aiming for 2024, or 2028, this new party could function on a different register altogether: that of class-based, extra-parliamentary politics. And it could further popularise a badly needed third pole in American politics around the idea of socialism.

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Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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