Preventing the re-election of Trump in 2020 is imperative both for the US Left and for centrist corporate Democrats argues Paul Garver
It will be harder than it would have been to block Trump’s election in the first place. The mainstream Democratic Party stumbled through the 2016 campaign, failing strategically by merely running against Trump while ignoring the progressive campaign planks hammered out at its 2016 convention in Philadelphia at the insistence of Sanders supporters. The Clinton campaign also ignored the frustration in the declining industrial states of the Upper Midwest, alienated by Obama’s free trade policies and swayed by nativist rhetoric. Clinton barely campaigned in Wisconsin, Michigan and western Pennsylvania, losing these states by razor-thin margins, conceding Trump a majority in the Electoral College despite losing the national popular vote.
By November 2020 Trump will have had four years to consolidate an authoritarian, nativist, and white supremacist bloc, one that could be identified as proto-fascist. The combined forces of conservative Republicans, many evangelical Christians, racist whites and disaffected rural and small town voters do not constitute a majority. However, despite his numerous gaffes and consistent buffoonery, Trump has retained a base of support amounting to some 35% of the national electorate. Given the electoral geography of the USA, skewed by disproportionate influence of voters in smaller states, Trump only needs narrow victories in a minority of ‘swing’ states to repeat his 2016 victory.
Some trends over the last three years have increased Trump’s chances for re-election in 2020. In brief:
1. Although income inequality continues to increase, the economy has grown for a decade, beginning with the recovery under Obama after the financial collapse of 2008-9. The enormous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest have increased inequality and mortgaged the future, but also fuelled lopsided economic growth. Wages for most of the population have stagnated, but unemployment is relatively low. Usually a President in office benefits from a growing economy.
2. With Trump’s appointments tilting the Supreme Court in a reactionary direction, voter suppression – newly permitted by courts in swing Southern states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas – is removing hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters of colour from electoral rolls.
3. The constant attacks on immigrant rights are sowing fear in Hispanic communities, even among citizens, that they will be targeted for repression or deportation for exercising their political rights.
4. As right-wing nativist politicians are elected elsewhere, Trump appears less like an exception on the world stage and more like the vanguard of a shiny new authoritarian, pseudo-populist future.
However these obstacles can and should be overcome if the Democratic Party and the US Left can work together to block Trump. Several recent developments suggest both ways forward and some obstacles to surmount.
The 2018 mid-term elections for the House of Representatives resulted in a Democratic majority with some potential to thwart the worst of Trump’s policies. Most promising was the election of four new women of colour from four major metropolitan areas, who quickly took on the mantle of advocating new progressive policies and militantly challenging Trump.
They are Rashida Tlaib (Detroit, Palestinian-American, 43 years old), Ayanna Pressley (Boston, African-American, 45), Ilhan Omar (Minneapolis, Somali-born, 37), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York, Puerto Rican, 29). Forming a ‘Squad’ for mutual support, they have drawn the wrath both of Trump, who infamously tweeted that they should “go back where they came from”, and of Democratic House leaders like Nancy Pelosi.
Noting that only the four Squad representatives voted against a Democratic-sponsored ‘compromise’ bill to provide more funding for Border Control/Immigration enforcement, Pelosi claimed that the four Squad Representatives represented only themselves, trivializing what she should welcome as the faces of a revitalized Democratic Party.
The corporate Democrats who control the Party apparatus plan essentially to rerun the 2016 election with a more popular candidate than Hilary Clinton, preferably former Vice-President Joe Biden or a younger ‘moderate centrist’, without proposing ambitious structural reform proposals like the Green New Deal or Medicare for All that are attacked as ‘socialist’ or too expensive.
Their tactic is to gain support from moderate voters in swing states to win enough electoral votes to defeat Trump in the Electoral College and to elect a few new Centrist Democrats to the Senate. The New Left contending for influence within the Democratic Party has a different plan, both for the upcoming elections and for the future of politics in America. This constellation of Left forces follows the strategy most clearly outlined by the small but energetic Justice Democrats (plus the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Democrats, MoveOn, Democrats for America, etc.). Simply put, it is to elect more new legislators at all levels on the model of the Squad, forthrightly campaigning on Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free public higher education, abolition of repressive immigration enforcement and mass incarceration, in the belief that a majority of Americans will support these, particularly younger voters who might vote in larger numbers for progressive programmes.
Most Democratic Party leaders fear this approach so much that they are scrambling to protect even the most reactionary Democratic incumbents against new insurgencies. The Democratic National Congressional Campaign Committee is already enforcing a blacklist of all campaign consultants who work for insurgents like the Squad.
Among the myriad of Democratic Presidential contenders, Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren are the most vocal advocates for major structural reforms. But many other candidates are responding to well organized pressure from the Left. This suggests that a constellation of interrelated and increasingly collaborative movements and organisations are helping to shift the political debate in America. Candidates supported by DSA and other progressive organisations are being elected at local and state levels, often replacing machine-backed Democrats.
Whether the welcome growth of a democratic socialist left current in American politics leads to a transformation or to the collapse of the current Democratic Party remains to be seen.
Though the mainstream Democratic Party appears devoid of ideas and seems more concerned with fighting the progressives within its own ranks than on challenging Trump, we must somehow build a united effort to block the threat that Trump’s authoritarian, racist, white supremacist regime will consolidate itself after an electoral victory in 2020.
The best strategy to defeat Trump is still unclear, but surely replaying the 2016 campaign is a likely loser, and a disastrous future choice for both the Democrats and the USA. A vague and compromised message trying to swing ten thousand former Trump voters would leave tens of millions of potential younger and more racially diverse voters unmotivated. Over the next year, it will become clear whether voters in the Democratic Presidential primaries will support an advocate of sweeping change like Sanders or Warren, a more ambiguous centrist, or a neoliberal restorationist like Biden.