The nail-biter 2020 US election: What happened, why, and what’s next?

Hannah McKay, Reuters.
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It’s the temper tantrum that will go down in history. With his opponent getting a decisive 306 Electoral College votes and a slim margin of victory in the popular count, Donald Trump was still refusing to concede the election to Joe Biden weeks after Election Day. 

The result of the contest may be clear to everyone but Trump and his most hard-core hangers-on, but its meaning is hotly debated. The Democrats assert that they have “taken back” the Midwest while staking a new claim in the Southwest. Actually, though, the election was not an endorsement of either party or its leadership. It was a referendum on one person, Trump, and it turned out the majority of voters wanted him gone. 

Of paramount concern: the economy. After a destructive, hateful, and tempestuous four-year reign, Trump was shown the door. Still, over 73 million people cast ballots for him, and that has many pundits, radicals and progressives scratching their heads. 

A lot of commentators are ascribing this to voter racism. That did enter in. In 2016, Trump won some support by whipping up hysteria over immigrants coming to the U.S. to “rape and murder.” In 2020, he focused his ranting “law and order” message on Black Lives Matter protesters. 

Sexism also played a part. After losing some support from evangelicals because of his none-too-Christian family separations at the border, Trump took pains to build up his base among right-wing, anti-abortion Catholics to compensate. In January 2020, he was the first president to attend and speak at the Catholic March for Life in its 47-year history. 

Redbaiting figured in too. Trump’s small but much-hyped increase in Latinx support came in part from anti-communist voters with roots in countries like Cuba and Venezuela. 

But in this election, as in most, the number one issue for voters was the economy. Many people accepted Trump’s boast that he personally was responsible for expanding opportunities and creating record numbers of jobs. And they bought his line that he was not to blame for the economic disaster triggered by the pandemic. 

Believers in the president’s “magical thinking” included numbers of working-class people as well as Asian and Latinx immigrants who found their way into the economy by starting small businesses. They were among many shop owners of all colors who, although they were deeply impacted by Covid’s financial impact, still subscribed to the idea that Trump was good for business. 

Factors for and against the Democrats. For their part, the Democrats thought they could buy the election, outspending the Republicans in the presidential race by $6.9 billion to $3.8 billion. Overall, the 2020 election was the costliest ever, to the tune of an absurd and obscene $14 billion. 

The Republicans used to be seen as the party of the fat cats and Wall Street while the Democrats were perceived as the party of the “working man.” Now, however, an awful lot of people see it the opposite way, with the Democrats as the party of the elites and the Republican Party of Trump as the “populist” party. 

The choice of Biden was in large measure a choice against Trump. And, to clinch Biden’s win, the Democrats’ saving grace was women of color, especially Black women. According to exit polls, 91% of Black female voters went for the challenger. They also deserve a large share of the credit for the highest election turnout in U.S. history because of their determined campaigns to register new voters and get out the vote. 

Also working against Trump was grass-roots action in 2020 that fired people up to demand racial justice and a more humane and rational policy dealing with the pandemic, especially protections for workers. Without these movements, the election outcome could have been much different. 

Looking ahead. The election resolved nothing, because it resolves none of the desperate issues facing and dividing the country. Biden’s rhetoric about healing and unifying the country is completely empty. 

Biden is the most conservative, conventional, old-guard Democratic candidate his party could have put forward. And although former prosecutor Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman and first woman of color to be vice president, she stands far to the right of many of the people she shared a stage with during the Democratic primaries. 

The president-elect has explicitly disavowed the program of the left wing of his party, saying no to Medicare for All, no to the Green New Deal, and yes to fracking. Biden promises a return to “normalcy” and a piece-by-piece approach to solving problems through compromise and bipartisanship. And, like every U.S. president, he will be a guardian of the ruling-class status quo, and that includes protecting the U.S. role as the globe’s top imperialist. 

Gradualism will not eradicate social and material evils like systemic racism, poverty, a full-blown climate emergency, world-threatening U.S. militarism, and persistent denial of the rights of workers, dissenters, women, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, youth, and seniors. These are deep-rooted crises that can only be solved through fundamental change. History shows us that. In the past it has taken revolutions, including the U.S. Civil War, to deal with issues as large as the ones today. 

Leadership will have to come from somewhere other than the capitalist politicians. It will have to come from the ground up, through community and labor organizing. It can build on recent advances made through renewed militancy in social movements and victories scored by an emerging left wing in the labor movement, like successful organizing to get cops out of unions and the passage of general strike resolutions in response to Trump’s bid to steal the election. 

Asked by a Freedom Socialist reporter about the election the night its outcome was called, a young Black woman named Asha out and about in a Seattle neighborhood delivered this message: 

“It’s great that Trump is gone, but I’m a little worried that people are going to think that everything is solved, and it’s not.

“Black lives still matter and we still need to get our people out of prison and the children out of the cages. And so we need to be working together.”

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