If the massive multiracial Black Lives Matter uprising against racism and police violence earlier this year was the best of America, the presidential election surely was the worst of it.
In one corner, a white supremacist and congenital liar who has overseen the deaths of close to a quarter of a million people during this pandemic and who all but branded as enemies of the state millions of people demanding racial and social justice. In the other, a man who once opposed de-segregation, who rejects even the mildest of reforms to benefit the working class at home and who promises to rehabilitate the US empire abroad—a killing machine that makes the city police departments look like social workers. Perhaps 150 million people mobilised around this choice.
It speaks volumes of the political polarisation and growth of the right in the US that Trump has mobilised an even greater level of support than at the previous election. There is a huge white racist vote concentrated in backward rural America. While it is too early for a more detailed breakdown of its composition, Trump’s coalition looks to be quite similar to that of 2016, with the caveat that it might be even more rural and more reactionary this time around.
One early snippet of information from Reuters is that the president outperformed his 2016 results in counties with the highest COVID-19 death rates, which could speak to a number of things about sections of his base—their lack of social solidarity or plain disregard for human life, their deranged conspiratorialism, their preferring their own death to even the idea of racial or social equality, their cult-like deference to Trump no matter what, their utter desperation in the midst of the ongoing economic calamity when there is no state support. Who knows what sort of combinations are in play, but it’s clear from the result that white resentment is here to stay in the US; the Republican Party is unlikely anytime soon not to be the party of Trump, even after he leaves the scene.
If that’s the obviously ugly aspect of the election, equally deplorable, in a different way, was the mobilisation around the candidate of the bourgeoisie, Joe Biden. Like all Democratic presidential contenders, he has received overwhelming support from people of colour and from the trade union movement. And the cities remain Democratic citadels in which reactionary Republicanism and white supremacy are totally marginal. But a Biden victory, which looks increasingly likely in the absence of successful litigation on the part of Republicans, will be no win for workers or the oppressed.
Both Biden and his vice-presidential running mate Kamala Harris traded on understandable anxieties about and the loathing of President Trump, rather than offer a transformational program to deal with the country’s mass poverty, income inequality and structural racism. For all the excitement that surrounded the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, its legacy is almost nowhere to be seen in the Democratic Party, both Biden and Harris repeatedly squashing any suggestion that an administration led by them will in any way resemble something that could be branded “socialist”. Biden instead promises rapprochement with the reactionary Republicans (“national unity”). Harris, a former state prosecutor who, according to University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon, “weaponised technicalities to keep wrongfully convicted people behind bars rather than allow them new trials”, intends to help him achieve it.
Make no mistake, a Democratic victory is a victory for the rich and powerful, who overwhelmingly backed Biden in. Across the country, areas with median household incomes of $100,000 or more (the richest one-third of the population) donated three times the amount to Biden’s campaign as compared to Trump’s, according to a New York Times analysis last month. Among these households, “Mr Biden smashed Mr Trump in fundraising, $486 million to only $167 million—accounting for almost his entire financial edge”, the article’s authors wrote. The election results suggest that voting patterns have followed the money trail, Democrats cleaning up in the wealthiest areas in the country. This should not come as a complete surprise—prior to this election, 27 of the wealthiest 30 congressional districts in the US were held by the Democratic Party, which, like the Liberal Party in Australia, is a party created and run by the bourgeoisie.
A Biden win will be a win for Corporate America, much of which also fell in behind his campaign. For example, a Yale School of Management survey of its CEO Caucus participants in September found that 77 percent said they would be voting for Biden. While some industries, such as agribusiness and energy, clearly favoured Trump, the big money was with the Democratic candidate. The finance, insurance and real estate sector, for example, donated two-and-a-half times more to Biden than it did to Trump, $200 million to $84 million—dwarfing the contributions from other industries.
The parasites who brought us the global financial crisis, destroyed the lives of tens of millions of working-class people around the US and across the world, and helped lay the economic basis for the resurgent far right in the West—those parasites overwhelmingly favour a Biden presidency. And why not? As Adam Tooze points out in the Guardian, as senator for Delaware between 1973 and 2009, Biden “represented one of the greatest tax havens in the western world during the height of financialisation”.
A Biden win will be a win for US imperialism—the most destructive, murderous force the planet has known, responsible for more than one million deaths internationally this century alone. The State Department, responsible for foreign policy, was certainly keen to see him win, viewing the prospect of a Trump second term with horror. Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official under the administration of George W. Bush, warned last month that a Republican victory would usher in the “permanent decline” of American power. “A Trump victory ... would signal to others that Washington has given up its aspirations for global leadership and ... would confirm what many have begun to fear: that the shining city on a hill has grown dim and that American power is but a thing of the past”, he wrote in Foreign Affairs.
While this was a gross overstatement—US imperialism’s endurance is dependent on a great variety of factors beyond the person of the commander-in-chief—it was nevertheless indicative of a broader sentiment within the national security establishment. The pre-eminent journals of US imperialism, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, have for years been running articles hand-wringing about the future of American power under Trump. They want a commander-in-chief who can rehabilitate it.
Moreover, scores of former high-ranking officials publicly urged a vote for Biden. “National security leaders for Biden”, a group of 780 retired military officers, ambassadors and former executive branch advisers and officials, wrote an open letter urging US citizens to “vigorously support” Biden. More telling perhaps are the 130 former Republican national security officials who denounced Trump and also urged a vote for Biden to “reassert America’s role as a global leader”. Basically, the people involved in or associated with every act of US aggression since the 1980s—from funding terrorist paramilitaries in Latin America and supporting dictators on every continent, to obliterating Iraq and Afghanistan and destabilising or leaning on any government engaged in serious economic redistribution—were gunning for a Democratic victory to rehabilitate the empire. And the results are clear in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, home to the CIA, NSA and FBI establishment.
While most of the talk today is about how on Earth a reactionary like Trump could expand his base (it’s a good question), let’s also be real: the so-called moderate Republicans at the core of the Democratic realignment are utter scum—in many respects worse than many of the disenfranchised Trump voters in rural areas. So there’s an equally important rhetorical question to ask of the blue corner: just how bad is Biden that he attracted the who’s who of the ruling class, the people who may not talk like Trump supporters, but who are at the apex of power enforcing every structural inequality ruining the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions more around the world?
It was utterly sickening to watch the Democratic establishment carry on about its “progressive” credentials, having united to crush Sanders and then declaring Biden the only hope for working people. They did everything they could to transform Black Lives Matter into nothing but a vehicle for their own aspirations to regain political power. And, looking at the turnout, they mobilised millions of well-meaning people behind a man who is the personification of the institutional decay and bankruptcy of US capitalism that gave succour to the far right in the first place.
So, in keeping with the tradition of bourgeois politics, one reactionary candidate’s loss will be no great gain for the majority of people, either in the US or those living in the shadow of its imperialist army elsewhere in the world. Yet the great hope of America was never in its phoney democracy, which has again provided for those already wielding power. The great hope of America remains a reinvigoration of the struggles of the past year, which provided a beacon of light for everyone around the world—when people of colour and whites together marched in their millions demanding fundamental change from a system that delivers nothing but violence and poverty.