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Home > 2021 > What Happened in the American Elections? | Archishman Raju

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 3, New Delhi, January 2, 2021

What Happened in the American Elections? | Archishman Raju

Saturday 2 January 2021


Joe Biden has been confirmed as the Presidential-Elect by the Electoral College of the United States even as Donald Trump is yet to concede the election. This American election, taking place as it did during a pandemic, large protests and a historic political and economic crisis has been very misunderstood. Many are celebrating the election of Joe Biden as a historic victory against “fascism”. This is not only highly misleading but completely false. Commentators have put excessive attention on Trump’s personality painting him as a liar, fool and racist and this has completely precluded any objective analysis. Two questions must be answered before any objective analysis can be done

1) Does one recognize that America is in a historic crisis? This crisis has political, economic and psychological dimensions. Politically, there is a crisis of legitimacy where the instruments of rule are no longer accepted as legitimate. Economically, America has never really recovered from the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Partial recovery was stalled when it was thrown into a deep depression following the pandemic. Psychologically, there is a crisis of meaning with increasing drug overdoses and depression in a society where many people see no future for themselves.

2) Does one approach this crisis from the standpoint of revolutionary and systemic change in opposition to imperialism or from the standpoint of liberal democratic reform? The answer to this question is key so not to be caught into questions of piecemeal reform of the economy, environmental policy or any other such policy issue.
If one answers yes to both of these questions then one can turn the focus away from personalities and try to scientifically analyze the past 4 years of American society under the Trump presidency looking closely at the social forces involved in this historic transitory moment. If one recognizes that American society is in a crisis, then one has to realize that new ideas are needed to find a path to a more human future. Old ideas of “left” and “right” no longer capture the social and political forces at play. One can no longer believe self-definitions, instead one must see the objective nature of the relationship of different forces with world imperialism.

The American left which now refers to a small and disparate configuration of NGOs, small and sectarian political parties and organizations dominated ideologically by liberalism, social imperialism and Trotskyism has completely capitulated after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even more after the election of the war-mongering Barack Obama and now serves merely as a B-team for the democratic party. It has thus done little to make clear the nature of this moment in American society instead participating for the past 4 years in the anti-Trump movement.

Who was the Anti-Trump movement?

The anti-Trump movement started as soon as Trump was elected and its principal goal was to remove Trump from office. Some may remember the “historic” Women’s march organized the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017. From the very outset, it was unclear who was leading this anti-Trump movement and though it was heavily promoted and celebrated by the corporate media. This gradually became clear as the movement progressed. In 2018, the New York Times published an op-ed by Anonymous later revealed to be Miles Taylor, chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security who said that many officials were working diligently to subvert President Trump’s agenda and were part of the “resistance” against Trump. Though the American media today is lambasting Trump for destroying democracy by calling the election into question, their short memory has allowed them to forget how they attempted to de-legitimize the election by saying Russia had “hacked” it, and Vladimir Putin had declared the winner for which no evidence was ever produced. The CIA and the FBI thus joined into the efforts to remove Trump from office leading eventually to a failed attempt at impeachment. All throughout this process, there was demonization of Russia and Putin in the American media. Many Trump supporters and Trump himself did not join into this demonization with some Trump supporters wearing this t-shirt “I’d rather be Russian than a democrat” capturing much of the dynamics.

This attack on Russia should be seen in the context of the American backed 2014 coup in Ukraine with NATO reaching the borders of Russia and hence threatening the possibility of war with Russia. The anti-Trump resistance which became this conglomerate of disparate forces including big capitalists, corporate media, the FBI, the CIA, NGOs and “the left” thus put itself squarely into the camp of war.

The election of 2020 clarified the forces at play in a way nothing else could have. Nearly 500 former national security officials endorsed Biden. As New York Times reported, the wallets of Wall Street are with Joe Biden. Similarly, Silicon Valley overwhelmingly was in support of the Democrats. The intelligence establishment, Big Tech and Big Finance were all openly in support of the democratic party. These forces are particularly important because they form the most advanced section of the capitalist economy. They are key players in what the World Economic Forum calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its founder Klaus Schwab, a key player in the global elite, calls the Great (capitalist) Reset. Some have actually considered this resistance of the establishment to Trump to be a sign of the functioning nature of America’s democracy. It is very strange that those who speak about democracy openly call for unelected unaccountable forces to keep a democratically elected president accountable. Fascism has classically been defined as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital”. How can Trump be a fascist when the most imperialist elements of finance capital all sided with Biden? Indeed, one must turn the whole narrative on its head to make sense of American society.

To understand why all of these forces united against Trump, one must understand not his individual personality but the social forces that he represents. Trump came into the republican party as a political outsider. Trump’s election in 2016 and his subsequent presidency can only be seen as a rebellion of the white working class in the U.S. A similar rebellion took place in the Democratic party in 2016 through Bernie Sanders but it was quickly stopped and co-opted. Real wages have declined in the U.S. for poor and working people. Life expectancy has been declining for white Americans. The toll of the changing economy which has de-industrialized combined with that of the financial crisis has become particularly visible in rural America. Trump’s campaign in 2016 centred around two issues, the question of bringing jobs back to America and the question of ending endless wars. In doing so he was challenging the basis of American empire which has both engaged in such wars and globalized the economy. Whether he made good on those promises is up for debate. However, it cannot be said that he did nothing. He cancelled TPP, an economic deal which seeked to isolate China in the Asian region. He tried to make peace with North Korea and was a force for detente with Russia. He also did not, unlike Obama, start any new war.

In any case, as D. D. Kosambi once said “The issue of peace or war does not depend upon a single individual who is ostensibly at the helm of a nation, but upon the dominant class which really holds the power.” This is precisely the point, Trump as an individual is not capable of making peace but he represents a social force which wants to end endless wars and the warlike ruling class of the United States has almost united completely against him. His own party establishment only supports him in a very luke-warm manner so far as he represents a political reality that they can not ignore. Furthermore, the CIA much preferred Obama and hates Trump as Glenn Greenwald reported citing a Wikileaks document.

Who is the real racist?

Another claim of the anti-Trump movement, which the media has worked overtime to push is that Trump is a racist. To examine this claim, it is important that we agree on whether racism is an objective force shaping social and economic relations in American society and the world, which can hence be judged by the relationship of an action to white supremacy or whether it is a mere subjective matter that is judged by someone’s speech. If white supremacy is an objective force, then one must work to uncover its basis and ability to sustain and reproduce itself.

Let us again move away from the individual and speak of the social force who they brand a racist, the white worker in America. W.E.B Du Bois in his magnum opus, Black Reconstruction in America saw the evolution of American society through the triad of the black worker, white worker and the capitalist. The white worker historically in American society has always played an ambiguous role but the great possibility of transformation in America has been the possibility of unity between the white worker and the black worker against the capitalist. The most racist part of America has always been its ruling elite which has always advantageously used white supremacy to its benefit.

Trump was called a racist first for his attack on immigrants and his building of a border wall. That some of this rhetoric has faded from the media might be because Trump ended up deporting less immigrants than Obama and for all the talk of putting children in cages, it was Obama who built the cages and was the first to oversee them.
More recently, the media narrative has shifted to the question of black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement began first in Ferguson as a genuine upsurge. However, it was very quickly taken over and converted into something else. The Ford Foundation poured money into the movement and NGOs were set up to channel the money.

The latest iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement had very little to do with black people or with challenging racism. The massive protests which happened after the police murder of George Floyd very quickly became a continuation of the anti-Trump movement. Though this was called a new civil rights movement, this movement can not be compared with civil rights at all. This was a leaderless movement with its demand to “defund” or “abolish” the police not a demand with significant mass support among the black community. In fact, the demand that had come historically from the black movement was for community control over the police. Everybody joined into this Black Lives Matter movement with companies like Amazon advertising it and every university academic endorsing it. There were massive protests in the US but also in many other places like Germany with thousands of people coming out in support of Black Lives Matter. While these protests were described as multi-racial, the fact was that there was very little Black presence at these protests and they were dominated by young white people. This came out openly in places like Detroit but was equally visible in Philadelphia both of which have large percentages of black people. The few surveys bore this out with the New York Times reporting “nearly 95 percent of counties that had a protest recently are majority white, and nearly three-quarters of the counties are more than 75 percent white.” Furthermore it reported “The age group with the largest share of protesters was people under 35 and the income group with the largest share of protesters was those earning more than $150,000.” It should be noted that this income puts you in the top 8% of the American population.

These protests soon started looking much less like a genuine civil rights movement and more and more like a color revolution. In fact, Pepe Escobar called this election the mother of all color revolutions. Those who find this claim absurd need only glance at the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group that met before the election to play out scenarios or The Democracy Playbook. Let us not forget what enforcement of “democracy” by the American ruling class has meant abroad.

The three women who now are in the leadership of Black Lives Matter are doing very well for themselves. Patrice Cullors, now the executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, rolled out funds of $6.5 million recently for chapters and believes that white supremacy was “voted out” in this election. She has signed a deal with Warner Bros to produce original content for the network.

There may have been many genuine people in the Black Lives Matter movement who wanted to fight racism but the movement was outside of their control. A Financial Times review found that US companies had spent more than $450 million to “groups focused on social and racial justice”. In short, Black Lives Matter quickly became a self-congratulatory movement of the global cosmopolitan elite with very little concern for black people in general and certainly no concern for the black poor and working class.
It means very little for corporations which exploit black labor or universities which gentrify black communities to proclaim that they support Black Lives Matter. Their self-definition as anti-racists cannot be accepted. These forces must be contested for any genuine fight against racism in the United States. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, American society suffers from the triple evils of racism, militarism and poverty.

Whither the Opportunity?

Extraordinarily, despite being painted as a racist and white supremacist, Trump made gains with black and brown voters this election, particularly with those who did not have a college degree. In fact exit polls suggest he made gains with all minority groups. The polls which predicted an easy Biden victory were very wrong, even more wrong than they had been in 2016 showing in part the unpredictability of the outcome.

The Guardian reported that the republicans were on their way to becoming the party of the working class. They gave the example of a particular county in Texas, where “Biden beat Trump by five points down from Hillary Clinton’s 60 — a 55-point swing in a border town that’s 95% Hispanic and which has a median income of only $17,000.” This raises an interesting question. Who is at the forefront of white supremacy? Is it a dean of diversity and inclusion who goes to a Black Lives Matter Protest and lives in a neighbourhood which is gentrifying black people, and has an income of $150,000 or the Hispanic voter in Texas with an income of $17,000 who decides to vote for Trump?

Before the election, the New York Times reported on the Two Americans financing the Biden and Trump campaign, showing how “In ZIP codes with a median household income of at least $100,000, Mr. Biden smashed Mr. Trump in fund-raising, $486 million to only $167 million — accounting for almost his entire financial edge.” Biden’s support was skewed towards the more wealthy section of America. Trump’s great crime was to alienate white college-educated voters.

Trump has scarcely been able to make one tweet after the election without being censored (some fascist being censored by a single private company!). Even as Biden has been declared the president-elect, many Trump supporters still do not believe in the legitimacy of this election or the legitimacy of the American state itself. The political crisis in the United States will continue and may even intensity when Biden takes office.
Any such analysis immediately meets with an accusation: How can you support Trump. What about all the lies, all the character flaws, all the mismanagement? This accusation does not help much. I do not want the American empire to be efficiently managed, and I certainly don’t believe that the CIA or the FBI or the American mainstream media are guardians of the truth. They not only lie continuously, they furthermore moralize about their lies. I don’t think Joe Biden, the person responsible for the crime bill which put millions in prison unnecessarily in America and who is already appointing a cabinet of diverse war-mongers is better for the American people or people around the world. It is not so much a matter of supporting Trump as of truthfully judging the historical processes in which he became a representative of certain social forces. Such analysis may be uncomfortable and not conform to our expectations but it must be pursued. The fact is that the most vicious and predatory forces of finance capital and imperialism were aligned behind Joe Biden in this election and not behind Donald Trump.
There are many lessons to be learnt from these past four years. The left both inside the United States and outside must see the political crisis in the U.S. as an opportunity to hasten the end of imperialism. We are already seeing the advent of a multi-polar world. The western alliance has been thrown into chaos. We must think in new ways for our times as this moment of crisis throws fresh challenges. The time calls for the establishment of a new international economic order, comprehensive reforms in the UN and a world campaign against American sanctions and military bases.

But more than ever, we must believe and have faith in people. We must remember that people are capable of changing the conditions and that it is ultimately people who make history. If one believes in revolutionary change, then the agents of such change are going to be poor and working people and no politics which brands such people as “racist” and “fascist” can hope to succeed.

We are operating in very dangerous conditions where movements are no longer crushed, they are simply bought out. Ideologies are no longer countered, they are simply manufactured by universities. In such conditions, what Fidel called the battle of ideas becomes paramount. We must battle for those ideas that are for peace and for a just social order and a human future. These ideas cannot come unless they draw from and are based in the people.

These ideas must be fresh but they must draw from the old. They must abandon the cultural academic “woke” left which has fixated on language and identity, and opposes everything but empire and instead learn from the legacy of the old left, the one based in working people, which led a world peace movement, the one which led the Black Freedom Movement or freedom struggles around the world. Ironically it was this left that truly fought fascism in history and made great sacrifices in that struggle.
As has been oft-repeated, a great crisis is also a great opportunity. We have the opportunity of offering a positive vision but we can only do so once we identify who the enemy is and not become foot-soldiers for a neoliberal agenda.

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