From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the U.S. on Nov. 7 when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election. It was less the victory of the Democratic ticket that was celebrated than the defeat of Donald Trump’s grab for permanent one-party white minority rule and the termination of his viciously racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic regime.
The celebrations replaced days of marches opposing Trump’s maneuvers to steal the election. Still, for over a week he continued his coup attempt, even after it had utterly failed. Busy spreading lies, the Trump administration did nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic’s skyrocketing third wave. It threatens to overwhelm hospitals and health workers and kill another 200,000 people in the U.S. and 1.5 million worldwide by March 2021.
Nevertheless, Trump amassed over 73 million votes, and would likely have won if his reign of depredation had not been destabilized by his disastrous handling of the pandemic and the Black-led multiracial revolt that spread to every corner of the country after the police murder of George Floyd.
Racism and the resistance to it permeated the election, from the Trump campaign’s appeal to white supremacy to the outpouring of Black organizing and votes, especially in places like Detroit, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. That outpouring was energized by the revolt.
Grave questions remained about where the U.S. and the world are heading. Even if Biden frees scientific disease experts from political interference, the mishandling of the pandemic has already done tremendous damage, including widespread disinformation. Movements from below will be challenged to resist the calls for “unity” under the capitalist umbrella and to continue to deepen their revolt against a “return to normal.” At the same time, Trump, Trumpism, and the far Right have not gone away. Just the tip of the iceberg is seen in the smaller crowds absurdly claiming that the election has been stolen, sometimes chanting “Stop the vote” and “Stop the count,” when the actual voter suppression was targeted at young people, Black and Latinx people and Native Americans.
ASSAULTS ON VOTERS AND ELECTIONS
In a country that already makes it much harder to vote than in other “democracies,” Trump and his party redoubled their multifaceted assaults on universal voting and their war to disrupt and delegitimize the election, and maintain minority power with a white male capitalist face. They showed that they were perfectly willing to destroy democracy and start a civil war in the process.
Trump was never running to win a majority, and this year gave up on the idea of even winning the electoral college without disrupting the election, despite having the advantage of the normal kinds of disenfranchisement baked into this so-called democracy from its founding.
The undemocratic electoral college—without which Trump, like George W. Bush before him, never stood a chance of winning—was inscribed in the Constitution by agreement of the ruling classes from the North who distrusted democracy and from the South who were defending the institution of slavery.
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, which brought the South its first taste of democracy, institutionalized voter suppression became ingrained under Jim Crow. The modern Republican Party took over those techniques, added more, and refined them with the latest big-data computer technology.1See “Trump re-election battles concentrate system’s myriad crises” (News & Letters online statement, October 2020) for a fuller account of the many forms of voter suppression used in 2020.
A central element was disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies, together with the system of mass incarceration, in which the Democratic Party and its standard-bearer Joe Biden have been complicit.
Trump openly tried to stir up white supremacist and far-Right groups when he called on the Proud Boys to “stand by,” which they took as a call to arms. By mid-November nothing more than isolated incidents of violence had materialized despite Trump and his administration’s nonstop inflammatory lies, but that does not mean they are a spent force. The surge in far-Right organizing, activity and violence during the Trump years indicates that, if he had won, they would have taken it as open season on “Communists” and people of color.
RIGHT-WING TERRORISM ADVANCES
The Trump era began with massive protests and resistance against his violent racist, sexist moves. With encouragement from Trump and his allies like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, the far Right reacted with such events as the fascist “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville in 2017, when counterprotester Heather Heyer was murdered. That has developed to the point of hundreds of white supremacist terrorists operating hand in hand with the police in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protesters Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were murdered on Aug. 25 by a right-wing terrorist.
There have been hundreds of violent right-wing attacks against protesters this year, including over 100 incidents of driving vehicles into crowds. An estimated 300 self-described militia groups have 15,000 to 20,000 active members. The far Right has easily infiltrated and recruited within police forces across the nation, notably the brutal, notoriously racist BorTac unit of the Border Patrol, one of the federal forces used to viciously attack protesters in Portland, Ore.
The events in Kenosha cast a harsh light on the reality of pervasive, systemic racism that neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party wants to acknowledge. Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was brutally shot in the back seven times in front of his young children on Aug. 23, paralyzing him. This new—but unfortunately unsurprising—outrage reinvigorated the new stage of revolt that has never stopped since the police murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Like many of their counterparts in other cities, the Kenosha police were determined to show their dominance and lack of remorse, violently repressing protests with tear gas and rubber bullets. The rebellion intensified, burning some buildings and vehicles.
In contrast to their violence toward Jacob Blake and protesters, police welcomed with open arms white supremacist terrorists who answered a militia “call to arms.” Even when one of them, a 17-year-old Trump/“blue lives matter” supporter, murdered two protesters and the crowd called for his arrest, police let him walk right by them.
There is a fuzzy boundary between the terrorists, the police, the Trump administration, and the Republican Party that has welcomed the far Right as a key element of its base, and thus squelched FBI investigations into the terrorists and their infiltration into police departments.
Hundreds of “domestic terrorism” investigations have been opened since George Floyd was murdered, but the bulk of them are aimed at anti-racism protesters. Nonviolent Indigenous water protectors and Black Lives Matter demonstrators are being investigated, and in some cases prosecuted, on “terrorism” charges, while actual killers like the one in Kenosha do not get charged as terrorists.
REVERBERATIONS OF GEORGE FLOYD REVOLT
Vicious repression did not stop the revolt against the criminal injustice system and for Black lives and liberation. The energy unleashed by that and other movements also fueled the organizing that led to voter turnout that defeated Trump in states he won in 2016: Black in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; Latinx in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Georgia; Native American in Wisconsin and Arizona; and everywhere a youth turnout that went more than 60% against Trump. That also defeated a reactionary Trumpite senator in Arizona and forced two more in Georgia into runoffs in January.
The idea brought to the fore by this year’s revolt, abolition of the police and prison system—or the milder “defund the police”—was not on the ballot, but many police reform and oversight measures were passed.
The closest to partially defunding the police was Measure J in Los Angeles County, called “Reimagine LA County.” It requires 10% of unrestricted general funds to go to services such as housing and mental health programs rather than prisons and policing.
Several states loosened drug laws, which, like the whole criminal injustice system, are used in racist and classist ways. Several reformist prosecutors won elections, including in Los Angeles, where the notoriously pro-police Jackie Lacey was turned out. (See “LA voters dump killer cop protector Jackie Lacey,” p. 8.)
History shows that many of the reform measures passed will not have much effect on how the police operate. That includes civilian forms of oversight such as passed in several cities from San Diego to Kyle, Texas. In Portland, Ore., the Portland Police Association arrogantly filed a grievance against the civilian police commission measure passed by 80% of voters.
The limits of electoral politics are evident in how the energy and radical ideas from below got funneled into such meager reforms, and most Democrats ran away from the phrase “defund the police.”
However limited such measures may be, this election revealed a huge swing away from the pro-police, pro-prison orthodoxy before which both Republicans and Democrats bowed for decades.
The Biden campaign sought to harness the millions who recoiled from Trump’s “giddy whirl of perpetually self-creating disorder,” as Hegel put it.2Raya Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy and Revolution saw this in Mao’s “cultural revolution.” There is more than a little affinity with Maoism in today’s Republican Party, particularly in such luminaries as Trump, Steve Bannon and Newt Gingrich.
RETURN TO NORMAL vs. REACH FOR FUTURE
The opposition to Trump is an uneasy mixture of those who want to salvage the Clinton-Bush-Obama normalcy with people who are reaching for the future. The latter is seen in many declarations like this: “This is how the system operates. It’s not broken. When we fight for Breonna Taylor, we fight to destroy the system and create a new one.”3Spoken by Aislinn Pulley from Black Lives Matter Chicago at a rally on the South Side. “After Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor Cleared, Chicagoans Take To The Streets: ‘A Piece Of Wall … Has More Rights Than A Black Woman,’ ” by Joe Ward, blockclubchicago.com, Sept. 23, 2020. It has been manifested in this year’s deep and persistent nationwide revolt, as well as in the many strikes that have erupted. In fact, class struggles over the pandemic sparked the first global strike wave in many years.4That includes creative acts of resistance by postal workers across the country. See “Postal Service Workers Quietly Resist DeJoy’s Changes with Eye on Election,” by Jacob Bogage, Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2020.
The reaching for the future has been manifested as well even before this year in recent outpourings for Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Marches, the battle over family separations, the climate strikes, the March for Our Lives, and the struggle at Standing Rock. The urgency of defeating Trump and the fascists must not be allowed to cover over the way the system-preservers represented by the Joe Biden campaign want to harness, channel and tame the potentially revolutionary forces.
The Biden slogan of “unity” means class collaboration under the guidance of the capitalist class. In other words, the battle is not only one of first negation but within that opposition to clarify and move toward a full negation of the negation, the positive movement toward the new, toward full liberation, emerging out of the first negation.
THE WISH TO RETURN TO NORMAL
We should not underestimate the pull of the longing for a return to “normal.” The pandemic, as well as the overall ecological crisis that unleashed it, show that is impossible. Every day we see effects of the climate crisis in the fires in California, Brazil and Siberia; hurricanes and floods; heat waves and locusts. Nor are the far-Right forces that rallied around Trump going away. But longing for normal is being used as an ideological weapon in the battle for the future of humanity. The urgency of negating so many crises generates the temptation to focus on the first negation.
Biden presents himself as a more competent manager of American capitalism and has opposed Left liberatory ideas and tried to rein in freedom movements for his entire career. His campaign’s focused on winning over white moderates, and underestimated the droves of Black, Latinx and Native American voters who turned out because of the social movements and actually assured his victory. It is also reflected in his policy stance.
For instance, Biden, a key supporter of the 1994 Clinton crime bill, adamantly opposes defunding the police and is ambivalent about admitting their systemic racism.
He called for the invasion of Iraq—calling the Senate authorization of force that he pushed “a march to peace and security”—well before Bush ordered it in 2003. He later proposed partitioning Iraq. He would not consider transforming the militaristic, imperialist role of the U.S.
If he went as far as the party’s left wing to offer a “Green” 21st-century version of the New Deal, we should recall that it would be a plan for a statist capitalism, like the 1930s New Deal, which did not end the Great Depression’s economic crisis on the way to total war. Today’s depression is not over. Already rivaling the 1930s in some respects, it threatens to get much worse as the galloping pandemic continues to ravage the world. Biden is not likely to halt the continuing disintegration of U.S.-China relations. He would continue the growing militarization of the economy—not only a separate internet in the West, or some section of it, without Huawei technology, but also a rebuilt rare earth mining industry in the U.S. with massive Pentagon investment.
SELF-LIMITING STEP TOWARD CLIMATE ACTION
On climate, he made substantial concessions to the Democratic Party’s left wing, but in return required his running mate Kamala Harris and other key supporters to abandon their demand for a fracking ban. He never acknowledges the urgency of winding down all fossil fuel extraction and use.
The Obama-Biden administration oversaw a huge expansion of fracking to extract oil and gas under an “all of the above” energy policy. Biden’s attachment to “all of the above” still includes disastrous nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, which has only been an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels.
One of his top advisers is Ernest Moniz, whose ties to carbon capture and to fossil fuel industries provoked an open letter from 80 environmental groups calling on Biden not to hire Moniz. A Biden transition team member, Michael McCabe, led DuPont’s defense of the toxic chemical PFOA.
Biden named Rep. Cedric Richmond, one of the top Democratic recipients of oil and gas money, to head the White House Office of Public Engagement, to be “a liaison with the business community and climate change activists.”
No wonder the oil industry sees this election as “an overwhelming victory”!
To this day, Biden links climate and environmental action to continued economic growth, meaning capitalist accumulation—which is the root of ever-expanding ecological destruction and global warming.
Outside his Oct. 15 town hall, middle school activists held a protest to demand climate action, representing an entire youth movement that recognizes the climate crisis as an emergency and sees the future of humanity threatened. No “return to normal” can come anywhere close to resolving that emergency.
Biden will enter the White House with the grandest climate action plan of any president, yet his commitment to the capitalist order will prevent the kind of fundamental transformation that scientists and the youth climate justice movement point out is needed. This leaves the door open for far right ideology and the next demagogue.
Electoral politics may briefly pull us back from the brink, but it cannot halt capitalism’s rush to self-destruction, bringing humanity along with it. The self-activity of the masses is needed to overcome reaction and move toward a new direction. The movements of Black America, labor, women, youth, LGBTQI, immigrants, Latinx and Native Americans will not stop because of an election. When they recognize themselves as Subjects of revolution, reject the limitations of the state/capital system and its electoral politics, and unite behind an idea of full-blown liberation that encompasses the striving of all the diverse Subjects, then it is they, not the ruling class and its politicians, who will determine the future.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See “Trump re-election battles concentrate system’s myriad crises” (News & Letters online statement, October 2020) for a fuller account of the many forms of voter suppression used in 2020.|
|2.||↑||Raya Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy and Revolution saw this in Mao’s “cultural revolution.” There is more than a little affinity with Maoism in today’s Republican Party, particularly in such luminaries as Trump, Steve Bannon and Newt Gingrich.|
|3.||↑||Spoken by Aislinn Pulley from Black Lives Matter Chicago at a rally on the South Side. “After Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor Cleared, Chicagoans Take To The Streets: ‘A Piece Of Wall … Has More Rights Than A Black Woman,’ ” by Joe Ward, blockclubchicago.com, Sept. 23, 2020.|
|4.||↑||That includes creative acts of resistance by postal workers across the country. See “Postal Service Workers Quietly Resist DeJoy’s Changes with Eye on Election,” by Jacob Bogage, Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2020.|