Paul Garver on voter suppression, Democratic activists taking campaigning into their own hands to win in swing states, and the need for international solidarity
Since my last comment on US electoral politics and the Left, the fundamentals have not changed. President Trump further undercut himself by testing positive for Covid-19, with the White House staff becoming the biggest super-spreader of the virus in Washington, DC. Trump ranted and raved during his first Presidential debate with Joe Biden, repeatedly interrupting him and the debate facilitator from Fox News. Trump made it clear that he had no intention of quitting the White House, no matter what the vote count showed, since the election results were bound to be fraudulent unless he won.
Trump’s white electoral base has apparently remained faithful to their Dear Leader – as it has consistently over the last four years, regardless of revelations of Trump’s tax cheating, rampant cronyism and corruption – and responsive to his overt appeals to racist nationalism and xenophobia. The latest attempt to mobilise that base is the effort to put an open opponent of reproductive rights onto the Supreme Court with a Republican majority in the Senate prepared to rubber stamp and rush through the nomination, even at the expense of failing to consider a desperately needed Covid relief bill. Trump and the Republican Party hope thereby to win enough votes from traditional Catholics and evangelicals in key “battleground” states to amass enough electoral votes to win a majority in the Electoral College. They have also suppressed voter turnout among voters of colour in those battleground states, spread voter disinformation, weakened the capability of the US Post Office to deliver mail-in ballots, sharply reduced the number of polling places in cities like Milwaukee and Houston, and blatantly discouraged ex-felons in Florida from voting, despite a clear referendum vote in 2018 to allow them to vote.
The official Democratic Party is behaving like the proverbial “deer in the headlights”, with Biden campaigning mainly that he is “not Trump” (we know how well this strategy worked for Hillary Clinton in 2016). The massive amount of campaign funds flowing into the Democratic Party is largely being spent on campaign ads, rather than on registering and mobilising voters. Fortunately, a vast array of progressive movements are taking up that slack, relying on phone and Twitter banks, and even direct canvassing, to reach out to persons of colour in specific battleground states, urging them to vote. Professional athletes have become one public face of get-out-the-vote efforts targeting communities of colour. Elected democratic socialists like Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota are strongly focused on these efforts in their crucial battleground states.
The most likely scenario for the election is a relatively high voter turnout, focusing on base voters, both anti- and pro-Trump. Because many Democrats are choosing to vote by mail and most Republicans will vote in person, early returns will show Trump strength and a possible lead in electoral votes. Biden will run up huge popular majorities in states like New York, California and Massachusetts, but these votes are expected and will be discounted by the media commentators. Although it is now likely that a final count of votes in all states would result in a majority of electoral votes for Biden, it is also likely that Trump will declare victory, label the yet-to-be-counted votes as fraudulent, and call upon his Supreme Court nominees to certify his re-election (as the Supreme Court ended the Florida recount in 2000, which resulted in Bush defeating Gore).
There are numerous variations to this post-election scenario, all involving defects in the undemocratic US electoral system that is heavily weighted towards states with lower populations. In any event, it is quite likely that chaos and conflicting claims will continue well into November and December.
Moreover, the other crucial federal elections for control of the US Senate will also be in doubt. The Republicans now hold a 53-47 majority here, but with several critical Senatorial races polling now as very close, the Democrats could eke out a narrow majority. As the Supreme Court nomination battle shows, the current Republican majority is totally aligned with Trump, and if it continues in the majority it would be able to block most initiatives and nominations from a President Joe Biden.
As the likelihood grows that Trump will try to stay in office by sowing doubt about the integrity of the electoral process, many US organizations on the sane Left are pivoting to preparations for a prolonged period of institutional chaos and instability. Several overlapping coalitions, including progressive issue organisations, political groups and unions, have been formed to ‘Respect the Results’ or ‘Choose Democracy‘. The common denominator is a pledge to organise large-scale nonviolent protests around simple basic principles like:
- We will vote.
- We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
- We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
- If we need to, we will shut down this country to protect the integrity of the democratic process.
These coalitions to resist a possible Trump self-coup include many organisations which endorsed Biden (often reluctantly, after Sanders withdrew). Others, like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), did not endorse Biden but regard the prospect of a second Trump administration as disastrous for the issues and interests of the multinational working class.
The ongoing pandemic makes it more difficult to envisage what form mass public resistance to a possible Trump coup attempt can take. Armed resistance would be foolish and counter-productive. Trump has already made it clear that he welcomes armed private right-wing militias like the Proud Boys to intervene at polling places and vote-counting sites to “prevent Democrats from voting fraud”. Trump also has political control over a large motley array of armed Federal agents, including the Border Control agents which he displayed to try to cower protestors in Portland, Oregon. In addition, some elements of some police forces in various cities and areas are itching to revenge the humiliations they feel were imposed on them by the Black Lives Matter protests. However, Trump has made so many attacks on the FBI and top commanders of the Armed Forces that their reliability for rendering uncritical obedience may be in doubt, if Trump’s claim to the Presidency is widely disputed as illegitimate.
On the other hand, lacking the traditions and skills of clandestine or armed resistance, the US Left must rely on massive and sustained popular nonviolent demonstrations, and conceivably general strikes that include whole communities as well as workplaces. Imagining these possibilities of resistance for the US Left, more accustomed to passively cheering on resisters in faraway Palestine, Belarus or Hong Kong, represents a major stretch. We may have to learn quickly on the fly.
Democratic socialists in other countries are certainly looking on these potential horrors in the USA with some interest. We on the US Left are not accustomed to asking for help, nor can we expect a great deal in this situation. But given the enormous stakes for everyone else in the world if a climate change-denying, racist, xenophobic regime persists another four years in the USA, we may have something to ask from our overseas comrades.
By the 4th or 5th of November it is quite likely that many cities in the USA will be rocked by large-scale protests. If the Trump camp refuses to allow a fair electoral count, as we fear, our only recourse will be to take to the streets. We would welcome our friends in the UK finding appropriate ways to support our democracy movement.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has a department called the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), with some 40 permanent staff and long-term observers in the USA to observe the US 2020 election. For the immediate November 3rd election period, they will be joined by some 100 other short-term parliamentary observers from various countries. A day or so after the election, the ODIHR mission will hold a press conference in Washington to issue its preliminary findings on the conduct of the US election.
We can expect the mission’s report to include several critical observations, albeit in a careful and balanced fashion. If Trump tries to maintain an illegitimate regime, we hope that it will not be recognized internationally. Large-scale protests outside the USA, reflecting those in US cities, will help isolate a reckless, undemocratic and dangerous threat to global democracy.