by Cole Harrison
A broad-based, democratic people’s movement and voter turnout of historic proportions defeated Donald Trump’s bid for a second term and elected Joe Biden president and Kamala Harris vice-president in early November. The faux-populist, openly racist, authoritarian politics of Trumpism were beaten back, at least for now – enough to allow progressive forces to regroup and fight on more favorable terrain. People of color made the difference, increasing their share of the electorate from 23% to 30%. Latinos, who were reviled mercilessly by Trump for the last five years, led the way, jumping from 12.6 million voters in 2016 to 20.6 million in 2020. Blacks went from 17.1 million to 19.0 million and Asians from 1.1 million to 4.7 million. All these groups voted strongly for Biden, while 57% of whites supported Trump.
Democrats took back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the industrial Midwest states that gave Trump victory in 2016, as massive Black turnouts in Detroit and Philadelphia combined with labor-fueled turnout drives. Making significant inroads into the previously solid-red South, they also apparently won Georgia and came close in North Carolina.
The Latino surge probably flipped Arizona and put in place a relatively new “brown belt” of Democratic states in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Biden fell short by 6% in Texas.
The majority of those with incomes over $100,000 supported Trump, while incomes under $100,000 favored Biden. Voters under 30 supported Biden by a decisive 62%-35% and increased their turnout by eight percentage points, while older voters were more evenly split. A predicted move of over-65s to Biden did not materialize, although he made inroads in this demographic.
In the highest-turnout election in memory, 75 million eligible voters still did not vote. The real potential to make progressive change in the United States lies with these, largely poor and alienated, voters.
The turnout surge that elected Biden was fueled by labor and people of color led progressive organizations who knocked on doors and dialed millions of phone numbers. Biden’s administration must now deliver for the progressive base or we will face a return of Trumpism in future elections.
Mike Siegel, a Congressional candidate in the Houston/Austin area that Peace Action worked hard to support, fell short by 52%-45%. Reflecting on his loss in an interview, he pointed out the need for investment in deep, long-term organizing, and clear, focused messaging highlighting real material benefits of a progressive agenda, to overcome cynicism. For example, 72% of voters in a Fox News exit poll supported a government-run health plan — but it wasn’t on the ballot.
Peace Action members joined weekly phone banks for Siegel and Kara Eastman in Nebraska. Peace Action endorsed candidates won in 86% of their races.
Though a majority of voters repudiated Trump, overall it was a close election. Democrats lost seats in the House, and their small gains in the Senate may not be sufficient to take control of the chamber; that will depend on Georgia’s runoff election Jan. 5.
Relying on super-patriotism and militarism, anti-socialist scare tactics, racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump made a sharper, broader, more ideological case for his re-election than he did in 2016, while Biden, the Democrats’ standard bearer, framed an appeal to decency and common sense rather than driving home a strong message on the economic crisis, health care, and other practical issues. Tension between centrist and progressive Democrats broke out immediately after the election, with centrists like Jim Clyburn claiming progressive issues scared off moderate voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ro Khanna, by contrast, pointed out Biden’s debt to progressives who knocked doors and registered and turned out new voters; Congressional backers of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal were nearly all returned to office.
Fascist Threat to Democracy Remains
Republicans reduced the Black and Democratic vote by gerrymandering, voter suppression, reducing the number of polling stations, undermining the Postal Service, and claiming that absentee and early votes were fraudulent. Despite these attacks, the country’s electoral machinery functioned largely without problems. Feared attacks by far-right wing militias on voters mostly did not take place or were small and isolated.
Mass. Peace Action organized a “Defending the Election and our Democracy” webinar on Oct. 6. After the election, we helped to organize a Protect the Results rally on Boston Common on Nov. 4 and a “Protect Our People, Grow Our Power” march to lift up the progressive agenda on Nov. 7, just after the news media declared Biden the winner, Each of these rallies drew 500-800 people.
With Trump and most Republicans refusing to concede the election, the threat of an energized fascist movement remains acute. We must remain vigilant to ensure that the transition of administrations takes place without interference. A renewed struggle for Federal standards and support for voting procedures, and against structural barriers like the Electoral College, are among the measures needed to expand democracy.
Biden’s coalition included not only the peace and progressive movements, but also liberals, centrists, and moderate Republicans. But the reactionary, white supremacist movement headed by Trump still won 71 million votes, increasing its support compared to 2016. The reactionary movement in the United States has been greatly strengthened by the four years of the Trump presidency; we can expect shrewder and less self-destructive neo-Trumpist candidates to feature large in the U.S. political scene in 2022, 2024, and beyond.
Massachusetts Elects Green New Deal Champion
In blue Massachusetts, we supported Ed Markey in his successful Senate re-election campaign, which decisively turned back a primary challenge by Joe Kennedy on Sept. 1. Markey stepped forward as a progressive, embracing the Green New Deal as a signature issue and touting his long history of support for nuclear disarmament and peace, while Kennedy ran as a mainstream Democrat. The combination of progressive activist energy and Markey’s status as a longtime establishment Democrat sufficed to end the Kennedy dynasty.
It was a tough year for challengers, who nevertheless laid the foundation for future runs. All incumbent members of Congress won in Massachusetts, overcoming Peace Action-endorsed progressive challengers Alex Morse, Robbie Goldstein, and Jamie Belsito. Ihssane Leckey, who ran for the seat vacated by Kennedy, lost out to the centrist Jake Auchincloss. The Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) referendum also lost by 55%-45%.
The Markey-Kennedy, Biden-Trump, and RCV maps illustrate that progressive votes in Massachusetts are strongest in the Boston Metro area, affluent Middlesex suburbs, and areas of Western Mass. Mainstream Democrats remain predominant in the economically less prosperous cities of Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Fall River, Brockton, Lowell, and Lawrence, and progressives also have a long road to build support in the small towns of in our state.
Prospects for Change in Washington
Pro-peace progressives’ numbers in the House will be bolstered by newly elected Representatives Cori Bush, Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus is making moves to increase its organization and discipline.
One early indicator of progressive strength in Congress is expected the week of Nov. 30, when three candidates will contend for chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a position vacated because of Bowman’s primary defeat of hawkish Democrat and die-hard Israel supporter Eliot Engel. Mass. Peace Action and other peace groups are supporting Julian Castro, who has promised to include Palestinian voices in policy making.
We can expect four years of trench warfare in Washington. Biden and House Democrats will have to drive a hard bargain to enact voting rights reform, a COVID economic relief package, climate change and racial justice legislation, and more.
Reasserting the Peace Agenda
Antiwar voices celebrate the downfall of Trump — who promoted militarism at every turn, escalated Pentagon spending, drone strikes, US military presence in Africa, theft of Palestinian land, and the US nuclear missile arsenal — but we have no illusions about Biden.
Biden has promised to return to the Iran nuclear deal, stop the war in Yemen, restore arms control treaties like New START, Intermediate Nuclear Forces, and Open Skies, and return to the Paris Climate Agreement. We will also push for Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review to contain a No First Use pledge, and for cessation of the $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program, which was begun under President Obama. We also expect him to improve relations with Cuba. We will have to exert pressure to make sure he follows through on these commitments.
But during the campaign, Biden also attacked Trump from the right on China, Venezuela, and North Korea, bickered with Trump over who loves fracking more, and promised to add even more to already bloated militarized police budgets. “Not Trump” is not enough, and the threat of a new cold war with China has become a critical foreign policy issue.
The US is long overdue to have a woman – and a nonwhite woman at that – as Vice President, and Kamala Harris’s ascent is a meaningful and potent symbol.. But policy is most important,, and VP-elect Harris’s prosecutorial record is antithetical to our goal of ending racialized policing and mass incarceration Progressives must continue pushing for radical reform of the criminal “injustice” system.
We cannot afford to let Trump’s well-deserved defeat numb us to the reality that friendlier faces can still represent the same violent system. The Democratic Party’s dominant wing is still pro-Empire — captured by Wall Street, the military industrial complex, big pharma & insurance, fossil fuels, finance and real estate.
Our work begins now to ensure that a Biden Administration listens to powerful voices that move us toward peace rather thanwar and global hegemony, ecomomic equality rather than enhanced corporate greed, racial justice rather than continued white supremacy, and solutions to, rather than exacerbations of, the climate crisis.
—Cole Harrison is the executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action.