The Editors of USA socialist journal ‘Against the Current’ write on the forthcoming US Presidential election.
IN A POLARIZED, angry, anxiety-and-crisis-ridden United States of America, wide swathes of a fragmented and divided electorate find common ground at least on what they don’t want: a 2024 repeat of a presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Yet eleven months in advance — subject to change, but not easily — that spectacle is just what we’ll get.
Such a prospect, along with Trump’s criminal trials and Biden’s policy stumbles, may help explain a peculiar popular climate of simultaneous political agitation and apathy. Many millions of voters including working-class people (aside from Trump cult loyalists) will find themselves voting for presidential candidates and political parties they despise the least, not for choices they actually like.
This malaise, rather than any hopeful excitement, also accounts for why the anti-vax and racist certified crackpot candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is polling as high as 24% as an independent, or why the rightwing Democratic Senator Joe Manchin might undertake a “No Labels” third-party campaign to “mobilize the middle” that could throw the election any which way.
No one should underestimate what a revived Trump presidency might mean — with his operatives’ overt, already promised concentration/deportation camps to be constructed for asylum seekers, forced removals of students for pro-Palestinian activism, targeted attacks on the press, mass firings of government employees to be replaced by regime loyalists, wholesale pardons for the January 6 aspiring insurrectionists, and who-knows-what chaos in imperialist global management.
The campaign of Trump’s emerging leading Republican rival Nikki Haley has been endorsed (purchased) by the Koch Brothers’ “Americans for Prosperity” (Plutocracy) outlet. This represents an attempt to consolidate a grossly reactionary, but more establishment neoconservative alternative to the runaway criminality of Trump and his prospective second term. That option would surely have appeal to much of the U.S. capitalist ruling class. (One rightwing commentator, Nolan Finley in the Detroit News, urges that Haley become the “No Labels” candidate.)
Activism and Ironies
To avoid a one-sided overly bleak portrayal, we should cite positive cases of social action that have made a difference. First, as we’ve discussed frequently, is the labor activist revival, culminating in union contracts with big gains for auto workers, at UPS, and steps forward in organizing places like Tesla and Amazon.
Second, at the present critical moment, is the outpouring in the streets demanding a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Gaza and Palestine, which we discussed in our previous issue (ATC 227, “Catastrophe in Palestine and Israel: Apartheid on the Road to Genocide”) and continue our coverage in the present issue.
Third is the continuing popular revulsion against the cynical and deeply evil anti-abortion extremism of the right wing, which is prepared to sacrifice women’s lives to the “pro-life” cause, along with book bans and state-level voter suppression measures.
Such examples show that class and social movements continue — as also shown by myriad state, local and community struggles, including around abortion, trans and housing justice among other issues. The fact that these are not generating much positive energy at the level of national electoral politics is one indication of a deformed and dysfunctional political system.
In this space we will not attempt to prognosticate, or chew over polling data, or (for the moment) seriously approach the prospects of an independent progressive alternative. The latter, critically important possibility must be a topic for future in-depth discussion. Here we want to explore some of the multiple ironies at the beginning of the electoral season.
If there’s one policy arena where Biden-Harris administration should get at least passing marks and maybe some plaudits, it would be the general health of the post-pandemic economy. Yet that is exactly where polls show “greater confidence in the Republicans” — whose policies have been the most blatantly to enrich-the-rich, impoverish-the-poor, and run-up-deficits while pretending to be fiscally responsible.
It’s an astonishing public-relations triumph of plutocracy posing as populism. Democratic pundits and operatives are visibly distressed that “Bidenomics” fails to garner the approval it deserves. The reasons for this apparent anomaly go far beyond its mediocre “messaging.”
It’s true that this administration came in with a Build Back Better program that had some inspiring, even transformative potential (even if much of it came cloaked in nationalist rhetoric about countering the rise of China). As it emerged from the desk of Bernie Sanders and the ambitions of Green New Dealers, the program included some serious federal spending — on infrastructure and energy transition — amounting to something like half the annual military budget.
Thanks to Senator Manchin among others, the best part of the program was trimmed back to what became the Inflation Reduction Act. For example, pandemic-relief subsidies that cut U.S. childhood poverty in half — a very significant accomplishment in this brutally unequal society! ran out. Thus in Manchin’s own state — according to official Census Bureau’s estimates, West Virginia’s child poverty rate — the highest in the nation — increased from 20.7% to 25.0% between 2021 and 2022.
Most important, the measurable benefits of the recovery flow overwhelmingly to the high-income layers of the population, who need them the least. Folks at lower-middle income or less levels see very little if any difference in their daily lives.
Inflation levels are well down from their brief eight-percent high point, but that still leaves prices of basic necessities far higher than they were — while the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes that were ostensibly needed to “curb inflation” have themselves exacerbated a housing crisis that especially afflicts young people (and many limited-income senior citizens too).
The cumulative result is that macroeconomic statistics for the moment look reasonably good, but for many tens of millions of people the real-life economy doesn’t feel that way. That hurts the electoral prospects for an incumbent administration, i.e. for Biden in 2024 as it did for Trump in 2020.
Further Irony: Demographics
If there’s one factor that should be pushing the Republican Party toward permanent marginality even as it hurtles toward extreme-right lunacy, it’s that the United States is demographically becoming no longer a “white” country, and that younger generations are each more diverse than the previous one.
It’s precisely young, African American and other nonwhite and immigrant communities, and the LGBT and non-binary population, who are the front-line targets of white-supremacist, Christian-nationalist and religious-right ideologies that thoroughly dominate today’s Republican Party — including of course the Trump cult but not only that sector.
Yet it’s precisely those younger, less white and less affluent sectors where the Democrats’ presumptively overwhelming majorities are narrowing. Polls are showing nearly a quarter of African Americans preferring Trump over Biden, an astonishing (even if it turns out to be short-lived) index of disillusionment.
What’s happened? Mainly, we think it’s that the Democrats have overpromised and under-delivered real change — in terms of racial justice, student debt relief, immigration reform, tackling climate change, and more. Partly too, it was only a matter of time until the feeling of relief from the (first) Trump nightmare wore off.
To some extent, also, Biden’s age and immovability present a bad look. But on key issues that are really hurting the Democrats’ prospects in 2024, it’s not Biden that’s senile, but American policy.
This is particularly illustrated in the present Israeli genocidal war on Gaza. The crucial young sector of the Democrats’ voter base is increasingly sympathetic to Palestine, alienated from the party’s traditional unquestioning support of Israel, and no longer duped by feeble bleats about a long-dead “two-state solution.” The December 1 resumption of the full-scale Israeli offensive, along with escalating murderous military and settler violence, accelerates that deepening and absolutely necessary disgust with Washington’s active complicity in the massacre.
As for the Arab American and Palestinian communities, the fury over “Genocide Joe” Biden is difficult to describe if you haven’t witnessed it. Leaders in communities like Dearborn, Michigan, a key to the Democratic success in 2020, are openly vowing “we will never vote for Biden again even if the alternative is worse.” It’s impossible to say right now how this feeling will translate into votes or non-votes next November — keeping in mind the maxim that “all politics are local” — but the Democrats are willfully blind if they underestimate its importance.
Another factor that will require close further attention is the flood of bipartisan money from AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and rightwing sources to defeat progressive, pro-Palestinian congressional representatives like Rashida Tlaib (MI), Cori Bush (MO) and Ilhan Omar (MN) in their primaries. AIPAC has been promising to throw $20 million toward any candidate who’ll challenge Tlaib. Any Democratic leadership connivance in these efforts could have fatal electoral consequences.
Another issue bedeviling the Biden administration, clearly, is the immigration and asylum crisis. This is a powerful case of imperialism creating a problem it can’t solve. The numbers of desperate refugees and asylum applicants seeking entry at the southern border are overwhelming U.S. and northern Mexican cities, towns and support networks attempting to shelter and feed them.
The refugee crisis is a thoroughly bipartisan product of decades of destructive policies that we’ve discussed in these pages: decades of “free trade” that’s wiped out much of family farming in Mexico, genocidal counterrevolutionary wars in Central America, economic sanctions that greatly contribute to the unraveling of Venezuela as well as Cuba, serial catastrophic interventions in Haiti, and more.
Worst of all, 50 years of an insane U.S. “war on drugs” could not have been more brilliantly designed to turn the drug trade over to violent criminal cartels while shattering lives and communities in North America. On top of all this, the escalating effects of climate change are wiping out means of subsistence such as, for example, coffee crops in Honduras. We’ve noted before that desperate immigration journeys and calamities are global in scope, as the miseries in the Mediterranean and cruelties of the Italian, British and other European governments illustrate.
This crisis eats away at domestic confidence in the Biden administration’s grip on policy, even though it’s not of their making — and even though the “alternative” is the outright sadism of the Republicans.
A freshly passed Texas law enables local police to arrest suspected “illegals” on any or no pretext, and local courts to initiate detentions and deportations. In usurping clear federal jurisdiction over immigration, this law is so blatantly unconstitutional in its application, and so fascistic in its implications, that only the prevailing White Supremacy Court of the United States (WSCOTUS) majority would seem likely to uphold it. (The ACLU is mounting court challenges before the law takes effect in February.)
There remains one area where the right wing and the Republican Party seem determined to self-destruct: their drive to complete the banning and criminalizing of abortion in the United States. In one state after another, where the right to abortion comes to a choice by voters, it wins — decisively. The horrific implications of a Republican sweep of the White House and Congress will keep not only women but a big slice of the entire electorate on side with the Democrats. The Republican determination to continue a losing anti-abortion crusade is rooted in the centrality of that issue to the overall “culture war” assault on gender, racial and social literacy — in libraries, schools, college campuses, and everywhere else.
That specter might, just barely, preserve the Democrats’ grip on power after a looming 2024 election choice that hardly anyone outside the Trump cult actually wants. That’s a pretty weak reed to grasp, and certainly nothing for a progressive left to bank on. The struggle for an alternative must look elsewhere, beginning with the rising activism we’ve seen for labor, for Palestine, for immigration and reproductive justice!
January-February 2024, Against The Current 228
Originally published at: https://againstthecurrent.org/atc228/election-2024-deform-dysfunction/
Graphic from Against the Current, title: ‘The sequel – not by popular demand’