Last night, the President of the United States of America told us that we don’t need to bother with counting all the votes because he had already won. For many of us a feeling settled in that has become all too familiar throughout this presidency. The feeling is one of being simultaneously utterly shocked and completely unsurprised in equal measure. This is the same sickening feeling that accompanies images of children in cages; it is the dread that accompanies statements about “very fine people on both sides.” It is a feeling that can only exist in a profoundly undemocratic society, and it has been growing in intensity for years. It long predates the Trump administration but it finds its most odious expression in the casual cruelty that accompanies his every utterance.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Count every vote. And we need to be prepared to fill the streets and shut down our workplaces until they are. We need to fight like hell to ensure every vote is counted not because we think that Biden and the Democratic Party are remotely up to the task at hand but because, after decades of attacks on the power of working people to determine the course of our lives, we simply cannot tolerate another assault, another turn of the screw.
But we also need to recognize that the rot goes much deeper than our President’s easy disdain for vote counts and democratic norms. Our society’s inability to respond to the deepening public health crisis, the climate crisis, the ongoing murder of Black people at the hands of the state and the generalized misery that marks the lives of millions will not be magically fixed by favorable outcomes in the courts or the smooth transfer of power from Trump to Biden. Elections are important. They must be defended, but they will not save us.
In American politics as in American culture there is a tendency to focus on the actions of individuals and to miss the larger social forces at play. It is too easy to watch the pageantry of a presidential election and imagine a climactic and decisive battle between a villain and a hero. It is tempting to see election results and imagine that the defeat of a candidate necessarily means that the forces backing that candidate have also been defeated. But we must distinguish between Trump the man and Trumpism, the name for the not-fully-coherent alliance of corporate interests, nationalism, white supremacy, and a scorched-earth approach to government and democratic norms, for which Trump himself is only the most recent and offensive avatar.
It is not clear that the defeat of Trump will weaken the forces of Trumpism in the long run. This is because those forces have been incubating in this country for decades. They have grown in strength with every disastrous intervention abroad and with every failed neoliberal policy at home. They have been strengthened by tough-on-crime democrats as well as union-busting republicans. Biden is not the same as Trump, but Trump’s rise is inexplicable without the manifest failures of decades of policy from the Democratic Party that Biden has spent half a century loyally serving (and which rewarded him by decisively shutting out any chance of a progressive challenge this election).
We have no illusions that Biden can be “pushed left” as many progressives have argued and it would be a mistake for socialists to conceive of our task under a Biden administration as substantially different than it would be under a Trump administration. A president who “accepts science” but refuses to ban fracking and opposes a Green New Deal, a president who proclaims that Black Lives Matter but won’t work to defund police or dismantle the carceral system that he spent his career building, a president who takes the pandemic seriously but still opposes the only reasonable approach to public health, a single payer system, is not and cannot be a friend of working people.
Defending the integrity of the election results is the baseline. We have to do it, and we need to win, but in the DSA we know that elections are only one site among many where politics must occur. As socialists, we demand democracy, not only in elections, but in all areas of social life: in our workplaces, in our buildings, and on our blocks. Regardless of what happens over the next four years, this remains our task and now, more than ever, is the time to join us.
Perseverance. It’s a mantra those of us on the left in this country have come to embody. It’s a mantra we need to embody now in the face of this electoral uncertainty.
The Democratic Socialists of America, Santa Cruz