"The Democratic establishment cannot comprehend what will happen after Biden is elected. We are not going back to business as usual. There is too much pain out there, too much inequality, too much injustice. If we cannot begin to address the crises facing this country, then the future will be very, very dismal indeed. The people are giving us an opportunity now; if we blow it by not being bold and aggressive, the next Trump who comes along will be even worse than this one.” – Senator Bernie Sanders
The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of US cities on news of Donald Trump’s electoral defeat were right to celebrate.
The vast majority of demonstrators will have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate, longstanding establishment neoliberal Joe Biden. Workers’ Liberty agreed with those on the US left who campaigned for the Green Party candidate, socialist and trade unionist Howie Hawkins. But we understand why most left-wingers voted for Biden, in order to defeat Trump.
The extreme-right populist movement cohered around Trump remains very much alive. So do the conditions of social and democratic decay which gave birth to Trumpism. After four years of extravagantly serving the rich, and a long string of scandals and purges of top officials for not being compliant enough, Trump still got more votes than in 2016.
Insurgent labour and socialist movements can change these conditions and confront and push back Trumpism. There is a growing left-wing ferment in the US, coming out of the Sanders campaign, the Black Lives Matter movement, and workers’ struggles, which can develop that direction.
During the election that ferment was visible and had an impact. There was the enthusiastic push to oust Trump, with increased turnout from young, Black and Latino voters - demonstrated most spectacularly in Biden winning Georgia. More left-wing candidates, some calling themselves socialists, won election to Congress and local offices. Many state referendums agreed left-wing proposals (on police accountability, taxing the rich to fund services, restraining police and court action on drugs…) Trump won Florida, but Florida also voted to raise the state minimum wage from $8.56 an hour to $10 now and $15 by 2026.
The US population as a whole has not moved to the right. But Trump has been able to give the right-wing elements in the thinking of large sections of the population more political traction.
The Democratic leaders worked to narrow the focus to Trump’s excesses, with an implied desire to return to the pre-2016 status quo. Faced by aggressive Republican agitation against “socialism” - which does seem to have got some grip - they ran scared of any clear message about changing society. They rejected more radical proposals (such as Medicare for All) and said little about less radical ones they support on paper (a limited public healthcare option).
US socialists and left-wingers argue that this vacuum of positive vision and policies limited the possibilities for mobilising a mass movement or beginning to erode Trumpism’s appeal.
While Trump lost, he increased both his vote total and his percentage share. He consolidated his support among white people (men, especially, in households on over $100,000 a year but with little formal education) in smaller towns, and startlingly made some inroads among Black and Latino voters (again, especially men).
As well as narrowing the Democrats' House of Representatives majority, the Republicans have probably maintained control of the Senate. That control enables them to veto Biden’s choices for cabinet appointments, and to block even the mild reform legislation he may push. They will continue to dominate state legislatures, allowing them to redraw electoral boundaries in their favour after this year’s census. They still have all the right-wing judges Trump put in place.
The social and political disarray which gave birth to Trumpism will almost certainly continue. Biden voters may see him as “doing nothing”, partly because he had little drive to reform anyway, and partly because the Republicans are so well placed to block even the mildest measures. The idea of backing a Trump-like candidate, just to get “strong government”, may be boosted even among many who dislike much about Trump.
Some form of Trumpism will surely survive as a very big movement, proclaiming the Biden government fundamentally illegitimate in a hyped-up re-run of the agitation which argued Barack Obama couldn’t really be president because (allegedly) he was born outside the US. “In opposition” its extreme-right character may deepen further. Most likely it will continue to reshape the Republican Party, and very possibly it could return to power.
Yet the US left, in a broad sense, has also got stronger in the last decade. We must do everything we can to support it, and particularly the class-struggle and revolutionary socialist activists within it. A left which steadfastly refuses to accept the limits set or accepted by Biden, and works to revive and build up working-class organisation, can shift what is possible.
Determined workers’ action can win concessions and changes even under right-wing governments, as the US’s explosive school workers’ strikes in 2018-2019, many of them in Republican-ruled states, showed. The conditions for struggle will be better now than they were before the election. Discussion and organising among US labour movement activists about resisting a possible Trump coup revealed substantial layers increasingly up for a fight.
As part of solidarity, we should listen to and learn from comrades in the US, whose struggles are, despite their difficulties, in many ways more advanced than ours.