So, Joe Biden is President-elect, and Kamala Harris is Vice-President elect of the United States.
I guess it is possible that the Supreme Court might yet enable Trump to steal this election but given the states’ and Federal courts’ quick rejection of all of his lawsuits so far, I really doubt it. (But we better be vigilant!).
So, I’m going to assume Biden and Harris really won. Here are some initial thoughts about this election:
First, the fact that Biden and Harris won is a big deal. The Biden-Harris ticket received over 81 million votes, the largest number in American history. Had Trump been given four more years to continue his white nationalist project, the damage to democracy and to people’s safety, health and prosperity might have been irreversible. The vote for Biden was primarily driven by this fear, and the 81 million people who voted against Trump should give themselves a big pat on the back for defending democracy and opposing Trump’s racism and misogyny. The fact that a Black/South Asian woman was elected to the Vice-Presidency is also a significant milestone.
Secondly, this election was won because of the grassroots organizing work done all over the country to mobilize people of color. These organizations, led mostly by young Black and brown women, have been growing in numbers and capacity for the last decade. And this November, they delivered the decisive votes to push Biden and Harris over the finish line by mobilizing Black, Latinx and young voters in Michigan (Detroit Action, We Make Michigan), Pennsylvania (Make the Road Philadelphia) and Georgia (the New Georgia Project). A few labor unions (UNITE HERE and SEIU) also played important roles in this historic voter mobilization effort.
Thirdly, the win in Georgia is particularly important because it brings the herculean effort to reconstruct the South to a new level. This work has been already successful at forcing a rethinking of the history of the South (the removal of Confederate statues being the most visible part of this) but it has also been for years fighting against Republican voter suppression efforts that had been enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s notorious 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. This voting rights work, advocated for decades by John Lewis, was invigorated by Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign in Georgia which failed only because of naked Republican voter suppression. Her revenge: the New Georgia Project. And this year, if Georgia does go blue, it will mean that Georgia has finally broken through the wall of white supremacy that was erected when the state was first established in the slave era. Even better, there can be little doubt that this victory is a harbinger of things to come throughout the South. The Republican Party’s days of winning national elections by relying on white supremacy in the South are fading fast.
Fourthly, this election has saved American countless lives by ending Trump’s denial of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the vote for Biden and Harris might have been more motivated by this issue than any other. Starting in January, the United States will finally rely on public health experts to fight this pandemic.
OK. So that’s the good news, and that’s a lot to be grateful for. But the election also revealed something else: some 74 million Americans voted for a President who is an open racist and misogynist and is more than willing to undermine core democratic values and institutions. And, as of this writing, Republicans still control the Senate (although Georgia could change that on January 5), and Republicans now have a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and Democrats failed to flip any state legislatures in the year that redistricting is scheduled to begin.
The Trump voters, of course, were the majority of white people (men and women) who went to the polls. The few people of color who voted for Trump were disproportionately men (18% of Black men vs. 8% of Black women, 36% of Hispanic men vs. 28% of Hispanic women) who seemed willing to conciliate Trumps’ racism because of his “strong man” hype and his opposition to women’s reproductive freedom. Charles Blow recently suggested that 45% of gay men were also pulled towards Trump by his patriarchal and misogynist message.
While many Trump voters said they voted for him because of their belief that shutting down the economy was an inappropriate response to Covid-19 (!), we must never forget that every single person who voted for Trump found a way to support an openly racist and sexist President who had amply demonstrated his willingness to use violence against immigrants and Black people. If anyone still needed more evidence, this election certainly showed the depth of white supremacy in the United States.
So, how should the Biden Administration deal with the reality of a deeply divided America? Biden has already stated that the mandate of this election is that the American people want Democrats and Republicans to cooperate to get things done. And he is certainly right that most Americans would dearly love to find a way out of the polarization that now has a death grip (literally) on this country.
But Biden needs to be very clear about one more thing: he must assure those who organized and voted for him that he is committed to working for racial justice. This commitment must be in the form of actions, starting with the appointment of a Black Attorney General to head the Justice Department and a Covid Task Force that understands the disproportionate risks faced by the Black and Latinx communities. Already, many Democrats are pushing Biden to the right, claiming that the losses suffered in this election were the result of the Party being too ‘left.’ AOC, in a New York Times interview, pushed back against this narrative (LINK) but so far the Democrats are following an old playbook: they rely on progressives to win the election, and then cast them aside when it comes time to govern.
This time must be different: if Biden hopes to heal the poisonous division of this country, he cannot conciliate white supremacy. I believe the only way to win over some of the 74 million Trump voters is through equitable economic policies that promote real benefits for poor and working-class whites as well as for people of color. This can be done. Obama and Biden succeeded in pulling the U.S. out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in 2008-2010. This time, the economy is actually in better shape than in 2008, but economic growth since then has been measured almost entirely by stock market prices. It is time to shift economic policies away from support for financial markets (banks) and towards policies that support the production of real goods and services. This understanding is at the heart of Biden’s partial embrace of the Green New Deal. Biden’s experience with the automobile industry bailout in 2009-2010 certainly has prepared him for this job.
All of this certainly underscores the continuing importance of the grassroots organizing that won this election. Given the pressure to conciliate “centrist” Democrats, Biden and Harris must feel real pressure from progressives to live up to their commitments to racial and economic justice. The organizing work that produced the historic defeat of Trumpian fascism must not only continue but must grow. This will only happen if the millions of young people who were politicized by the protests against George Floyd and Breanna Taylor’s murders and who then stepped up to work for the defeat of Donald Trump continue to work for justice.
It was most encouraging to see the huge crowds of mostly young people who flooded the streets of cities across America when the election was decided on November 7. But when the celebrating is over, there is still so much work to do. Rather than thinking of this election as the finish line, let us think of it as the spark that ignited the progressive movement.