I hate to spell out gloom and doom, but the fact is that the presidential election demonstrated how politically dangerous our situation in the United States is. Sure, we did succeed in voting Donald Trump out of office (although he does still appear to be preparing for a violent coup), but only by the slimmest of margins over a middle-of-the-road candidate who at least paid lip service to some important progressive issues. (Joe Biden seems forthright about mitigating climate change, and he did call for addressing the “original sin” of our country’s founding on Black slavery and indigenous peoples’ genocide.) But whereas, in 2016 one could hope that Trump would be a decent, albeit conservative, president, in his four years in office he has appealed to, and gained mass support from, the worst of America: explicit white supremacy, misogyny (particularly concerning reproductive freedom), attacks on “The Other” (in this case, immigrants of color and Moslems), attacks on the mass media as “the enemy of the people”, utter contempt for persons who oppose or disagree with him, blatant lying. He dismisses as “fake news” whatever evidence contradicts his pronouncements, including undeniable scientific conclusions, he promoted irrational thinking through total distrust for science and the scientific method, he completely disregards the rule of law whenever it suits him, and he promotes public demonstrations of armed, far-right-wing “patriots” in support of his policies.
Given Trump’s outrageous rejection of professed American values and the financial support of much of the very wealthy as well as the support of the political/ideological “establishment” for Biden , it seems that the latter should have been a shoe-in for election as president. But the predicted Blue Wave came to naught: white women, white suburbanites, and white retirees did not desert Trump en masse and in fact the white electorate voted for Trump in the same percentage as in 2016 (57%). Probably Trump lost the election only because of his total mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which ruined an otherwise bright economy.
So where does all this leave progressives and socialists seeking to transform our society into a humanly decent one? Politically, Trump was a bumbling fool, but the “Trumpism” accepted by almost half of the electorate remains. Capitalism, in its neoliberal version in the U.S., is in the process of disintegration, and will not the bourgeoisie be ready in 2024 to promote for president an autocratic, but highly competent, candidate like Pence or Pompeo, if need be? Hopefully the past presidential election will have woken up many of us who have treated the election as being just another instance of the “lesser of evils” trap, and fortunately their refusal to support Biden in closely contested “swing states” evidently has not thrown the election to Trump even in states which Biden won by a razor-thin margin, and in fact the electorate has overwhelmingly rejected their “politically correct” strategy. (In Washington State, for example, the Green Party’s Jill Stein took 1.82% of the presidential vote in 2016, but this year their candidate Howie Hawkins garnered only 0.44% of the vote.) In this highly dangerous situation, let me present two key ideas for what we may be able to do in effectively countering our slide into autocracy and possibly even outright fascism.
Progressive Mass Struggles. We are well aware that the only way to fundamentally transform our political/economic system in a progressive direction is through mass struggle; electoral work can be important in facilitating and strengthening such struggles, but it cannot substitute for them. However, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion, so ingrained in classical Marxism, that it is basically the working class that will undertake such struggles for a decent life, that the amorphous “middle class” will have only an auxiliary role to play. To the contrary, it is individuals of both these classes that must have an (equal) say in shaping the future society. Moreover, in the U.S. huge portions of the working class accept and even actively support Trumpism – where do you think the bulk of Trump’s over-70,000,000 votes just came from? The role of progressives and socialists must be to support and help develop the self-organization of those working toward genuinely progressive social change regardless of their class.
Electoral Strategy. Building an independent progressive electoral party to challenge the hegemonic two-party system is, in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, a dead end. This is illustrated by the example of the Green Party with its excellent political platform and its organizational presence in most states; after decades of existence, it’s clearly going nowhere, and in the just-concluded presidential election it might possibly have thrown the election to Trump with its candidate’s challenging Biden in swing states. On the other hand, working within and seeking to transform the Democratic Party as the “lesser of evils” is also a fool’s errand, for the Democratic Party just like the Republican Party is controlled by the bourgeoisie and its function for countless decades has been to absorb and destroy progressive struggles which threaten the economic system. What we propose to do is to use the Democratic Party to propagate our vision of a new society, as well as perhaps to take some steps towards fulfilling that vision, by supporting truly progressive candidates in primary elections of the Democratic Party. This by no means involves watering down our own politics in order (presumably) to win the primary, nor to fall into the trap of trying to transform the Democratic Party. Furthermore, we should play the game straight, in order not to (justifiably) be prevented from engaging in this tactic: if our candidate loses the primary, she/he should no longer be criticizing the winner, and she/he may even support that person in the general election if that person isn’t clearly bad (such as being anti-abortion); this is what Bernie Sanders correctly did in the last two presidential elections.