U.S. Election Shows Deep Divisions, with Multiple Dangers Ahead Even If Trump Can Be Made to Leave Office

The U.S. election showed deep opposition to Donald Trump and the far-right Republican Party, but far less than polls predicted in terms of the total voting margin for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris centrist Democratic ticket. While Biden and Harris scored nearly 51% to Trump’s nearly 48%, with a 5 million advantage (77 million total, and climbing) in the popular vote, it is also true that fully 72 million people voted for Trump, who carried major states like Florida, Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, as well as dozens of smaller, rural ones. This evidences the persistence of deep racism and reaction inside U.S. society, even as Trump was defeated at the ballot box with some room to spare. Despite Trump’s clear electoral defeat, many dangers still loom, not least his attempt to illegally stay in power by claiming “fraud,” something the Republican leadership is tolerating in silence, if not supporting outright.

Tens of thousands took the streets in celebration across many major cities and towns, not only hailing the electoral victory, but also showing their support for issues that go far beyond the Biden-Harris agenda: Black Lives Matter, the Green New Deal, and prosecuting Trump, among others.

At the same time, Trump supporters stewed and drove around in trucks adorned with Trump flags, sometimes menacing revelers. Most Trump voters seemed to believe the lying propaganda about fraud and also not to care too much about legal niceties if their Leader could remain in power. The Republican leadership followed Trump’s cues in egging them on, and if not actually doing that, remained silent.

Despite years of voter suppression, intimidation, demoralization, and manipulation on social media, a substantial majority of those able and willing to vote repudiated the most reactionary American president since before the Civil War. Most strikingly, Blacks, Latinx, Asians, Native Americans, the LGBT community, and moderate and progressive white people defeated Trump in Georgia, in the Deep South. This kind of progressive outcome has not been seen in that state since Reconstruction days, when Black revolutionaries like Tunis Campbell briefly held office and enacted major social reforms. In 2020, Trump’s defeat in Georgia was the product of years of grassroots organizing, mobilization of Black, Latinx, and Asian voters, and appeals across racial lines to white workers and also to moderate and liberal members of the white middle class.

But as in the 1870s, a furious counterattack on the Georgia vote is taking place, in an attempt to steal the election while also keeping Trump voters in a state of white-hot anger until the January 5 senatorial runoff, when two Georgia senate seats could go to Democrats. Though an unlikely outcome, such a victory would give Democrats control of the Senate, and thus both the executive and legislative branches of government. This would remove the nefarious Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader, the man most responsible for packing the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with utter reactionaries.

In Arizona, the Latinx community, reacting against over a decade of harsh repression, labored for years to organize enough support on the ground to become the prime factor in the defeat of the Republicans for first time in over 20 years. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, multi-racial coalitions attracted enough white working- and middle-class support to turn those states against Trump, despite his having won them in 2016.

The centrist media has been pointing to the “suburban” — read white middle class — vote as the key to Biden’s electoral victory, and chiding progressives for the smaller than expected margin for Democrats, for allegedly scaring away the white middle class. In a post-mortem to a defeat for a Black senatorial candidate in his own state, the Black “moderate” James Clyburn of South Carolina went so far as to compare the nonviolent slogan “Defund the Police” to “Burn, Baby Burn” from the 1960s urban uprisings!

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party establishment wasted no time blaming the progressive wing of the party for its failure to win control of the Senate while losing ten seats in the House—not to mention its failure to flip a single state legislature, which gives Republicans control of redrawing congressional districts in their favor for the next decade. Their attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others on the left began even before the votes were fully counted, raising the specter of a possible future split in the party if Biden-Harris, as expected, move to the right in what will prove a fruitless pursuit of support from “moderate” Republicans. Biden has clearly learned nothing from the futile efforts of Obama to “meet the Republicans halfway” during his first term in office.

Meanwhile, many commentators also stress what they call the weaker support for Biden than for Hillary Clinton among Latinx and Black voters, especially men. This belies two key facts: (1) Latinx and Black voters turned out in vast numbers, in many places way more than previously in the case of Latinx voters. Thus, even if the percentages were slightly lower, the anti-Trump vote was far larger numerically, helping decisively to give Democrats their six million vote majority and to win some key states. Yet this was not universal: though Biden got 94% of the vote in Detroit, he received 1,000 fewer votes there than Clinton did in 2016 while Trump got 5,000 more than his 2016 totals. Trump also got more votes in Philadelphia than he did four years ago.  (2) There has been far less discussion of the fact that even more white people seem to have voted for Trump this time around, not only in raw numbers, but also in percentages. This includes white women as well, though at lesser levels than white men. At the same time, women of all colors have been resisting Trump in unprecedentedly massive demonstrations, especially in his first years in power

And of course, the media persists in identifying the Trump voter as “white working class,” despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of his supporters come from the white middle and upper classes (the richest sliver of Beverly Hills went for him again this year), and the fact that he seems to have drawn less support from white workers than in 2016. But this is what the U.S. media and centrist politicians/pundits excel at, sowing division among various oppressed groups, in this case Blacks, Latinx, and white workers. It’s not a question of ignoring white racism, including among white workers, but of avoiding a type of class blindness that has become almost unquestioned in liberal narratives.

At the same time, Republicans seem very likely to hold onto the Senate, with many hopes of defeating them dashed in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine, and Iowa. Here too, Georgia stands out, a state with much more conservative politics up to now at the state level than North Carolina, and yet where two Democrats made it into the senatorial runoff for January. A victory for them would take away the Republican majority in the Senate. A key factor here is that Blacks make up 31% of the population in Georgia, vs. only 22% in North Carolina.

And it is Georgia that Trump is targeting with laser like precision.  Attorney General William Barr is plotting to unleash federal prosecutors against Georgia and other states where Biden seems to have won by a narrow majority. While Trump’s charges of electoral fraud lack any evidence and seem likely to be dismissed by the courts, there is no telling what bag of tricks Barr and his associates have up their sleeves to try to discredit the election. And it is certainly in their power to rile up their armed rightwing supporters to produce provocations to keep as many opponents of Trump from turning out at polls for the runoff elections in January.

At a national level, Trump has fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. This ominous development could create the possibility of some type of martial law, at least in a few contested states. Recall that Esper, a conservative defense industry executive, denounced Trump’s use of the military against Black Lives Matter protestors last summer. Trump is also likely to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray, again a conservative but who in September singled out “white supremacists,” i.e., Trump supporters, as the major source of “domestic terrorism.”

Can Trump stir up his base to enough of a violent pitch to actually overturn his electoral defeat by supporting some type of coup, at least in a few crucial states? The Republicans are planning to hold “recount” rallies in crucial states and Trump may go and speak at them to stir the pot to boiling.

Can Attorney General Barr’s “legal” machinations maneuver the election into the most reactionary Supreme Court since the 1896 one that rendered the Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalizing segregation, with its doctrine of “separate but equal”?

Will Republican state legislatures in Pennsylvania and elsewhere — as they are discussing publicly — ignore the vote in their states, cry fraud, and send unrepresentative electors to Washington in December in an attempt to snatch victory out of defeat?

All of these outcomes are possible, and cannot be ignored amid the celebrations of what is still an unsure victory, given just how far this country has already slid into authoritarianism. This is why we need to keep mobilizing on the streets, not allowing the timid and centrist Biden to be the point of resistance to Trump’s attempted theft of the election.

We need to mobilize — especially in Georgia — for a second reason as well. The Biden-Harris agenda is tepid enough — no Green New Deal, keep fracking, no Medicare for all, not even the slightest defunding or demilitarization of the police, no real attempt to tax the wealthy, etc. But a Republican-controlled Senate is sure to block even their very limited agenda of change. That is why Wall Street, among other sectors of the ruling classes, would be happy at such a situation. As reported in the New York Times of November 4, “‘We’ll be able to go to bed and not worry about what the president is going to do,’ said Michael Novogratz, a former hedge fund manager. A victory by Mr. Biden would mean more stable trade policy and less divisive rhetoric, he said. ‘And yet, Biden’s not going to be able to raise taxes — you get the Mitch McConnell handcuffs,’ he said. “‘So it’s kind of the best of both worlds’.” But what neither the business community nor Trump’s supporters can countenance is having both legislative and executive branches of the government in the hands of the Democrats.

The U.S. remains a deeply polarized country, with a very large racist following for a far-right party, Trump’s Republicans. At the same time, people of color, the working class, women, and youth, the LGBT community, Native Americans, and environmentalists have mobilized at levels not seen since the 1960s — in the Sanders campaign, the Black Lives Matter uprising, the immigrant rights movement, and in so many other ways. We are at a crossroads, a time of both hope and imminent danger, in a fight that we must deepen and continue if any kind of emancipatory politics is to survive in this country.