Opinion By KAY MATTHEWS
On Saturday, November 7, the 75 million Americans (and counting) who voted for Joe Biden breathed a tremendous sigh of relief that Donald Trump would no longer be the president. A significant portion of that electorate, however, now faces a day of reckoning: how to move forward when the Republican party views itself as the “party of the working class” (see Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley)—the new populism—while the Democratic party remains the “corporate party of the elites.”
Immediately after the election, Democratic party leaders—Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn—started blaming the party’s left—particularly Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib—for a lackluster election. They attributed the loss of Democratic house seats to the progressive caucus’s backing of policies of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, Black Lives Matter and Defunding the Police. They bemoaned the prospect of alienating their donor base—Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, the military, the real-estate industry, and Silicon Valley. They also spent money trying to recruit Republican neocons, like the Lincoln Project, and Trump’s xenophobic base they think are susceptible to conversion.
This comes as no surprise to those of us who supported Bernie Sander’s campaign for president and saw how establishment Dems elided any defense against all the accusations from the right of “socialists” and “communists” taking over the county, either directly or through omission. This campaign carried the banner for what the Republicans now claim is theirs: improving the lives of working Americans, which spelled out means Medicare for All, universal education, child care support, $15 minimum wage, etc. Biden’s campaign couldn’t cough up anything universal—health care, education, a Green New Deal—that most Americans support. The US is one of the few developed country in the entire world—Europe, Asia, Latin America—that doesn’t have universal health care and the other safety net programs that others take for granted under “democratic socialism.”
If the Republicans keep control of the Senate, even the modest proposals put forth by the Biden administration, which prides itself on “working across the aisle,” will be stymied at every juncture by Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican senate. In her New Yorker article “Voting Trump Out Is Not Enough,” Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor points out that “Undoubtedly, no legislation will move through Congress next year without Republican input. But that is hardly a cause for celebration; instead it is a recipe for gridlock and small-scale proposals that make a mockery of the enormous suffering across the United States. The insistence on unity between the two parties almost always comes at the expense of those whose needs are greatest.” Just like Trump, the Republican senate will claim to represent the disinherited, the angry, the racist, the atomized citizenry abandoned by the Dems. This cult hates liberals, whom they blame for their depressed economic condition, their suffering, their alienation in the modern world that threatens their cultural institutions and beliefs. That the right characterizes Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBT rights as “identity politics” to further enrage the dominant white, male culture is a fatuous ploy to divert attention from the corporate and global economy they’ve created for the one percent.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have been working conjointly to move the entire political spectrum of American politics to the right. The Republicans have been setting the stage for Trumpism since the defeat of Goldwater in the 60s set loose a racist, neoliberal, and religious Christian right blowback hastened by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, straight through Newt Gingrich to the Koch brothers and Federalist Society. The Dems took up the torch in the 90s with Bill Clinton’s welfare reform and sharp right turn to what is called the “third way,” (one in which Biden subsequently played a leading role): Nafta-style trade agreements, bailouts and favors for banks, tough-on-crime measures, proposed cuts to social security and Medicare. Its new constituency became the professional class, not the unionized blue-collar workers and middle class of yore. Thomas Frank, the historian and writer who has written three books documenting this descent (What’s the Matter with Kansas; Listen, Liberal; and The People, no: a brief history of anti-populism) has this to say in his latest article in The Guardian: “I have been narrating our country’s toboggan ride to hell for much of my adult life, and I can attest that Biden’s triumph by itself is not enough to bring it to a stop. It will never stop until a Democratic president faces up to his party’s mistakes and brings to a halt the ignoble experiment of the last four decades.”
If the desire of the establishment Dems is to return to “normalcy,” let’s not forget where that normalcy has left us—facing existential threats to the life of the planet and the hopes and health of our citizenry. Unless critical action is taken to address the gross inequities in our society that have given rise to Trump, he will be back, with his rightwing enablers, in a more competent form, like the terrifying Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley. In the words of Yanis Varoufakis, co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement and former finance minister of Greece: “So yes, Joe Biden has won. And thank goodness for that. But let’s understand that he did so despite, not because of, his social graces or promise to restore normality to the White House. The confluence of discontent that powered Trump to power in 2016 has not gone away. To pretend like it has is only to invite future disaster – for America and the rest of the world.”