What will it mean for the exploited and excluded now that the ruling class is adjusting to a world without Trump?
In the run-up to the presidential election, numerous lurid theories were propounded concerning the tactics Trump might employ to keep himself in office illegitimately. Invoking the Insurrection Act, faithless electors, spurious Supreme Court decisions, and armed right-wing militias attacking polling places were all cited as potential threats to a normal transfer of power should Trump lose the vote.
In the end of course Trump did lose, and none of that happened. As of this writing, only Trump himself and a few of his most deluded sycophants are still trying to contest the results. Even Fox News and Jared Kushner have urged him to concede gracefully. The Republican party shows no interest in going to the wall to thrust Trump into a second term, or in their more extreme followers’ desire for a second civil war.
We need to ask the question then, of why not? Why would a party that has spent most of its existence trying to limit the franchise, whose demographics get more unfavorable every year, concede its most charismatic leader since Reagan with so little fight, over so small a matter as losing a fair election? What follows is 20/20 hindsight, but still worth considering as we attempt to make sense of the political scenarios ahead. A few thoughts:
One, the ruling class has absolutely no problem with Joe Biden in the White House. They might be slightly suspicious of the Democratic Party as an institution, but Biden himself is a dead solid lock for them. A politician who would most likely be a Republican if he weren’t from a heavily Democratic state, Biden has been a loyal retainer of the banking industry his entire career. This is the guy responsible for the bankruptcy “reform” that traps so many poor debtors in thrall to financial giants, who assisted the Clinton administration so ably in criminalizing poverty and expanding the prison industrial complex, who consistently supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who chose a vicious ex-prosecutor as his running mate. We might have seen a very different response if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee.
Two, Biden’s lead was just big enough to seriously complicate any attempt to overturn it through shady legal maneuvers. The 2000 presidential election came down to less than 600 votes in a single state, where the Republicans won the initial count and only needed to stop the recount. In 2020 the Republicans would have had to win recounts in at least three states, invalidating tens of thousands of votes in the process while preserving similar votes in states where they were ahead in the count. The legal contortions needed to pull this off would have seriously damaged the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, just when they finally have a conservative super-majority. It’s not too surprising that the party preferred to preserve the court and jettison Trump.
Three, the fash proved they don’t have their shit together to carry out an effective nation-wide mobilization. The various attempts at a Brooks Brothers riot 2.0 never came close to disrupting any vote counting. On the Thursday after the election, the Philadelphia cops arrested a couple of chuds in a Hummer who had driven up from Virginia with an assault rifle and a box of fake ballots (it’s not clear exactly what their plan was). This generated a predictable fuss in the media, obscuring the fact that it would have taken hundreds of guys like that, in every city where the vote was close, to make any difference in the outcome of the election. Most of the far right went to bed on Tuesday night convinced Trump was winning, unaware of the huge backlog of uncounted votes from heavily Democratic urban areas. When Wisconsin flipped blue they were caught flat footed and hopelessly unprepared, especially not to invade cities like Detroit and Philly where Trump is widely detested. The Trump campaign might have forestalled this problem with some kind of coordinated chud deployment strategy, but that’s not the kind of thing they’re any good at, and would likely have been impossible to keep secret in any case.
Four, there’s the threat of mass revolt. The George Floyd uprising gave the ruling class a close up preview of their worst nightmare – torched police stations, overwhelmed cops, police-free autonomous zones in the middle of major cities. The level of repression necessary to put down the riots that would have followed any attempt to overturn the election would not just have ensured another four years of the Trump presidency. It would have effectively meant installing him as dictator for life, not a prospect that even Fox News would relish. And that’s their best case scenario. There’s no guarantee they would even have won that fight.
Given all of the above, it makes a lot more sense for the Republicans to preserve the facade of democracy by conceding the election and falling back on their proven opposition strategy rather than risk everything on a coup attempt for a guy many of them privately despise. We have seen that strategy often enough to have a good idea what to expect this time.
In the fairly likely event that the Republicans pick up at least one Senate seat in the Georgia runoff election in January, Mitch McConnell will once again be able to block any legislation or appointments he pleases. Expect him to use this leverage to “force” Biden to accept the conservative neoliberal Cabinet that Biden wants anyway, but needs an excuse to appoint. A meaningful stimulus bill, repeal of Trump’s tax cuts, and any other humane measure will be off the table. If the Democrats manage to capture both Georgia Senate seats the Republicans will resort to the “blue dog” strategy they employed in 2009 and 2010, recruiting conservative Democratic senators to cross the aisle and block progressive legislation.
Biden is already making noises about “healing the nation.” He probably won’t pardon Trump, but don’t expect the Justice Department to be very active in prosecuting their former commander in chief or his enablers. The excuse, as always, will be the supposed need to reach out to moderate Republicans to win the next election. By the 2022 midterms many Democrats will be disappointed enough by Biden’s strategically targeted ineffectiveness to stay home or even flip to the Republicans out of disgust. The GOP will be aided in the House by gerrymandering, since they just won control over many state legislatures in a redistricting year.
Ordinarily this would be a recipe for political business as usual, where the party that wins the White House loses ground in Congress in the next election. This time it might be different. For starters, Republicans are defending almost twice as many Senate seats as Democrats. Both parties will have a hard time mobilizing all the voters who came out to either support or oppose Trump, but Trump’s fans are going to be particularly angry with a Republican establishment they believe abandoned their favorite orange fascist. The Republicans need to somehow co-opt a motley assortment of QAnon followers, boogaloo bois, and militia chuds into an effective voting bloc, and they might not pull it off, at least not before the midterms. Trump himself could be a huge factor if he chooses to, but at this point it’s hard to imagine him urging his followers to vote for establishment Republican candidates. Still, it’s likely that the Democrats will do little better than break even, leading to two more years of stalemate.
But while, as usual, there is no hope to be found in electoral politics, the streets are a different matter. The fury over George Floyd’s murder has not gone away, but lies waiting to erupt again at the next videotaped police murder or other outrage. One plausible scenario is a Poland-like insurrection exploding if Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Even absent another uprising, a deteriorating economy, crushing pandemic, and a hopeless president leave us fertile ground for grass roots organizing and direct action. As the reality of “winning” an election between two racist, corrupt multimillionaires sinks in, people will become more receptive to solutions outside of the electoral spectacle.
photo: Max Letek