The American people have rendered their ultimate decision on the fate of Donald Trump, and their message to the reality-TV-star-turned-politician: You’re fired.
The race was closer in many states than polls had predicted and the counting will continue for several days, but there is sufficient data available to see that Joe Biden has won and Trump has no path to re-election. Judging the president, voters returned the guilty verdict that the GOP-controlled Senate shamelessly refused to produce during the impeachment trial.
More than 73,000,000 voters overcame every GOP effort to block their ballots: purges removing Black and Latino voters from the rolls, gerrymandered districts, sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service, intimidation from armed right-wing militias, bans on voting by the formerly incarcerated, shuttered polling places, and Trump’s attempt to steal the election before the count even finished. None of it was enough.
He’s flailing around claiming mass voter fraud, but there is zero evidence of it. The period between now and Inauguration Day could be a dangerous one as Trump peddles conspiracy theories and tries to mobilize his right-wing mobs to create chaos. The people’s effort to protect the vote must therefore continue and even step up its efforts.
But control of the White House will eventually pass to Biden, who will have to combat coronavirus while trying to rescue the economy at the same time. The Democratic Party will hold onto the House of Representatives, though it lost seats. The Senate may not be decided until January, with major runoff fights in Georgia likely determining ultimate control. At the state level, the picture is still emerging, but Democrats certainly saw lackluster results.
In Washington, just as they did during the Obama years from 2010 onward, GOP Senators will try to stonewall every progressive proposal or piece of legislation once Biden is inaugurated; if they hold the majority, things will be worse. That means continued unity of the anti-Trump coalition is necessary if we are to begin reversing the damage done by Trump.
The most obvious and damning legacy of his regime will be the 235,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, and the 100,000 or more who are projected to die before he leaves office. Pair that ghastly statistic with the 25 million+ jobs that have evaporated thanks to his economic depression, and Trump surely ranks as the worst president in U.S. history.
But even before COVID-19 arrived, his record already merited condemnation. Giant tax cuts have made the super-rich even richer, the immigration system has been transformed into another avenue of mass incarceration, white supremacist and police violence has soared, people of color and women have been targeted for attack, the courts now skew to the far right, and the military-industrial complex is more powerful than ever.
In the days and weeks that come, there will be detailed analyses of exactly how the overthrow of Trump unfolded. But we can begin by looking back at what social, class, and political forces supported his rise to power and which ones finished him off.
The rise of Trump
It’s worth stating up front, again, that just like in 2020, Trump did not win the popular vote in 2016 either. Hillary Clinton beat him by three million votes. That said, it’s undeniable that Trump was propelled to power, in large part, because he had a mass movement supporting him. It has been strongest in Southern states and parts of the Midwest, where he captured support using blatant racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment.
The good news, if there is any, is that his hardcore supporters have only ever accounted for about one-third of the electorate. They constituted the mass base for fascism in the U.S. had Trump’s fascist tendencies been allowed to accelerate in a second term. These are the voters who, unfortunately, stand by Trump no matter how outrageous his rhetoric and actions become. Even hundreds of thousands of coronavirus deaths have not shaken their faith. The bad news is that early election data shows their ranks may actually have grown in number.
In 2016, Trump combined this base with enough white working class voters in industrial states who usually vote Democrat in order to squeeze out an Electoral College victory. Decades of unfulfilled “globalization” and “free trade” prosperity promises left people in these areas susceptible to claims that Trump would “bring back jobs.” It didn’t happen of course, and now it looks like millions of these voters in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania abandoned him. His failure to manage COVID-19 certainly helped peel away even more.
Among the political and economic establishment, the reasons they’ve supported Trump are more varied. For many Republican politicians, Trump was simply a means to an end. They didn’t agree with his chaotic style or conspiracy theories, but he delivered the tax cuts, deregulation, military spending, and conservative court judges they wanted. Plus, he held a messiah-like capture over the voter base that could make or break their careers.
Now that their king has fallen from the throne, it won’t be surprising if many suddenly begin to claim they always had doubts about Trump. But the Republican Party bears direct responsibility for his political rise. Thirty-five years of GOP extremism, beginning with the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party during the Reagan presidency, the introduction of neoliberal policies that killed jobs, massive concentration of wealth, support for the racist Tea Party, and the consolidation of a right-wing media ecosystem all came together to make a candidate like Trump possible.
As for the capitalist class, it was largely split in 2016. Trump’s recklessness and divisive politics were seen as a threat to the international neoliberal order. That is why Trump’s earliest business supporters were mostly representatives of small and medium capital and domestic energy producers.
Sectors like big oil, finance, and high-tech, by contrast, probably would have preferred an establishment Republican candidate like a Jeb Bush, or a few even a Democrat like Clinton, last time. Their business is international, so many were unwilling to risk supporting someone like Trump who threatened to close borders and restrict free trade. For them, the main criterion was competent management of the capitalist system.
After Clinton’s loss, however, the whole capitalist class of course gladly welcomed the tax cuts and deregulation presented by a Trump presidency. Some sectors, like the military-industrial complex, saw their profits explode under him. All of them found that his isolationist protectionism wasn’t all he claimed it to be. In the end, it amounted to a tariff war against China and a few other less dramatic moves.
Indeed, before COVID-19, most major capitalists would have favored a second Trump term in 2020. But with the escalating coronavirus disaster and the economic depression, many on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley warmed to a Biden administration over the course of the summer and fall. They’re still not excited about Biden’s proposed tax increases on corporations and personal incomes over $400,000, but if the Senate remains under Mitch McConnell’s control, Wall Street will get the split outcome it desired.
Clearly there were still major capitalist forces backing Trump, though. Billionaire hedge fund managers and real estate moguls were among his biggest donors, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News loyally broadcast his rallies every evening. With Trump’s struggles to raise money in the closing days of the election, though, it looks like these may have been exceptions. Ultimately, just as he was for the rest of the country, Trump proved to be a polarizing figure for the capitalist class.
Finishing off Trump, but not yet Trumpism
The coalition that overthrew Trump is the broadest electoral grouping seen in decades. In essence, it is an “all-people’s front” that includes the working class (both in unions and not), Black Lives Matter and Native American organizations, Latinos and immigrant groups, women’s and LGBTQ groups, Asian and Jewish organizations, young people, progressive Muslims, and more. Within its ranks are leftists, liberals, centrists, some conservatives, and sections of business.
Given such a diversity of class and social interests, there will be inherent tensions as we head into the struggles of the post-Trump period. This was already on display when the Democratic platform was drafted earlier this year. The left pushed for Medicare for All, while insurance company lobbyists resisted. The result was the compromise “public option” that left private insurance untouched. This is just one example, but there will surely be more that emerge.
But for those who might think that Biden-Harris will just be another neoliberal Democratic administration, there are reasons to think twice. This isn’t the 1990s or the 2000s; a lot has changed. The U.S. is facing a deadly pandemic and an economic crisis unmatched since the Great Depression. The left and people’s movements are more active and mobilized than they have been in years. Add all this together and it means Biden and the Democrats cannot just pick up the same neoliberal policy book.
Of course, the Democratic Party is an arena of struggle. Big sections of finance capital and high-tech capital compete for influence against labor and progressive movements. Capital will try to pull a Biden administration in its direction, against the needs of the people. That’s why the struggle will continue even though the Democrats have won the White House.
Dominating everything will be the need to combat the GOP in the Senate, which will make it even more difficult to push through a progressive agenda, whether McConnell holds onto the leadership or not.
As for the far-right MAGA base, the defeat of Trump does not mean they are finished. The last four years have emboldened the most vile, racist, and reactionary elements—they will not suddenly disappear. And the task of tearing away the many millions of working class people—overwhelmingly white—who are still under the Trump spell will require serious thought and strategizing.
Even when Trump exits the stage, there will be Republicans who will step into his shoes to keep his movement going, resisting GOP moderates who try to pull their party back from the fascist brink. There will be extended factional struggle in the Republican Party, but unfortunately there will still be Trumpism with or without Trump for a long time to come.
Danger and promise
The immediate danger facing the country in the wake of this election is that there are still two more months of Trump.
A lot more people are going to contract COVID-19 and too many more will die of it. On Nov. 10, the Affordable Care Act goes before the Republican-dominated Supreme Court, putting the health care of millions in jeopardy. With the passing of a new economic rescue package on the scale of the HEROES Act possibly scuttled if the GOP holds onto the Senate, the jobs and evictions crisis will deepen through the winter. As business bankruptcies accelerate and send shockwaves through the financial system, the coronavirus downturn threatens to become a larger and extended crisis of capitalism.
That is the situation that Biden and the people’s movements face now. Defeating Trump was the first hurdle in the fight to save the country; even higher ones await.
Despite the unprecedented threats hanging over us, the outcome of this election and the growth of the resistance movements under Trump provide great reasons for hope.
The fight for jobs, PPE, higher wages, hazard pay, and unions have galvanized the working class movement. Black Lives Matter has become a permanent feature and will continue the work started by the anti-racist uprising that swept the country this summer. Many BLM leaders and activists make the connections between capitalism and racist oppression, and they know that truly ending it will require a total overhaul of the economic system. At least one BLM leader, Cori Bush, won a seat in Congress Tuesday night and will join the expanding progressive bloc in the House. This is a movement that goes beyond the fight against Trumpism, and it has already had an historic impact on U.S. society.
The “socialist moment” that was sparked by the Bernie Sanders campaign will also continue to grow and bear fruit. Millions of young people and workers have become politicized and are now open to the idea of socialism—even if they are unclear on what it means. Reforms like healthcare for all, taxing the rich, free education, union rights, and stopping climate change are all part of the mainstream conversation now, and the organized left, most particularly the Communist Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, has seen rapid growth.
More people than ever are questioning the capitalist status quo and learning that if they unite, they can win change. The defeat of Trump is the biggest evidence of what’s possible. It’s now time to bury his legacy and continue the fight for a more just, equal, and sustainable future.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.