Above photo: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden gestures towards US President Donald J. Trump as they participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. October 22, 2020. EFE/EPA/Pool/Jim Bourg.
On most issues affecting the poor and working-class, neither of the two candidates offers any relief.
With the U.S. presidential elections slated for next Tuesday November 3rd, unprecedented numbers of voters have already cast their ballot. Despite a polarized electorate deeply divided on issues from police brutality to COVID-19, for many voters commited to preventing four more years of Trump, the two major candidates prove far more similar than presented in mainstream media.
To shed light on some of these dyanmics in this crucial election for the hemisphere, we spoke with Adrienne Pine, professor of medical anthropology at American University, member of the Embassy Protection Collective, and author of the recent book, “Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry.”
1. How do diverse sectors of the U.S. Left feel about the upcoming November 3rd presidential elections, and what do they hope to achieve, if anything, through them?
There’s a lot of division within what might be broadly considered the “left” in the United States. We can break the folks who are actively opposing Trump into quite a few broad categories.
On the far right of those opposing Trump from his left is the “Lincoln Project”—a well-funded group of Republicans that has broken from Trump and are running campaign ads against him. These are enthusiastic neoliberals who have primarily broken with Trump on account of his overt white nationalism and diagnosable narcissism, but who fully support the rest of his policies.
Next to them are the enthusiastic Biden supporters. There are various kinds of people who fall into this category: committed corporate democrats who supported Biden all along; people who think that his VP choice of Kamala Harris is an enormous victory for all Black women and/or for all women (and who admit no downside in the wake of mass protests demanding the defunding and/or abolition of police to electing a former Attorney General who prided herself on being the state’s “top cop”); and people who may have supported another right-wing Democrat candidate in the primary, but who are now fully on board and enthusiastic about a Biden presidency, believing that a Biden win will mark the defeat of fascism and a return to the glory days of Obama, when neoliberal fascism was masked by liberal rhetoric and “civil discourse.”
To the left of the enthusiastic Biden voters are a group that are aptly described by a favorite phrase of the incumbent, “Never-Trumpers.” These are mostly Democrats who, while not necessarily thrilled about Biden as a candidate, are so terrified of Trump that they have come to fully support voting for Biden. Many in this group don’t share with more-enthusiastic Biden voters the nostalgia for Obama or delusional hopes that Biden will bring health, prosperity or racial justice to the nation. Instead, they promote slogans like “Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden,” and talk about how there is “so much at stake” in this election that the Left can’t afford the luxury of critiquing the candidate with the strongest chance of beating Trump in a rigged two-party system.
Rather than attempting to make their candidate more palatable to a broader swath of the electorate, these three groups have joined forces against everyone to their Left, who—just as these groups did in 2016—they are already blaming for Biden’s possible loss to Trump. This vote shaming, together with Biden’s refusal to adopt any of the wildly popular policy proposals of the Bernie Sanders campaign and repeated denunciations of socialism, have dramatically diminished the number of votes that Biden can hope to get from those who supported Sanders in the primary.
Former Sanders supporters are today a diverse group. Some of them have joined “Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden” ranks, but a large percentage, perhaps a majority, have not. For this group, since the incentive to vote for Biden is only in the negative (against Trump), the fact that there is no positive incentive to do so makes it a pill too bitter to swallow. Many of these voters are simply boycotting the elections this year.
Other have joined the ranks of third party voters (or activists, for those prevented from voting through disenfranchisement). In particular, many former Sanders supporters have aligned themselves with the campaigns of the Green Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation—both of which offer substantive policy alternatives to the left of the Sanders campaign, even if they are less viable.
And then there’s the group of committed non-voters who are the most maligned of all, despite their lead roles in organizing mutual aid during the COVID-19 pandemic—saving countless lives in the process—and fighting on the front lines against white nationalist terrorists. These are, of course, the anarchists.
2. From racial justice to healthcare, economic recovery to climate change, immigration to military spending—so many crucial issues demand our attention this electoral season. How do the candidates’ positions on these issues compare, and which ones stand out as priorities for the poor and working class on both sides of the aisle?
The Lincoln Project and other well-heeled Republicans have thrown their considerable political weight behind the Biden campaign, in large part because Biden and Trump agree on far more than they disagree.
They agree, for example, that measures necessary to slow down climate change to enable humanity to survive to the end of this century should not be taken (despite Biden’s campaigning on the climate change issue). They agree fracking should continue. They agree that people from the United States should not have universal, quality healthcare, even during a pandemic.
They agree that the United States should continue to engage in regime change operations against Venezuela, and continue to support the genocidal war in Yemen (which Obama/Biden started). They agree that Israel’s genocidal policies against Palestinians should not be stopped, or even critiqued, and they agree (despite Biden’s milquetoast critiques) that the murderous Saudi Arabian regime would remain an ally.
They agree that U.S. police forces that indiscriminately murder Black and indigenous people should be better funded, rather than defunded or abolished. They agree that minimum wage should not be increased to a living wage, and that socialism is bad. Both fundamentally agree on migration policy, despite Biden’s righteous claims to the contrary; together with Obama, Biden started the genocidal policy of child separation and built up the massive privatized deportation infrastructure today used by Trump to deport fewer people per year than Obama/Biden did.
When it comes to issues affecting the poor and working class, in particular during the pandemic, with unprecedented levels of impoverishment, unemployment and homelessness, neither candidate offers any relief. That said, a large number of local and regional candidates running on the Democratic ticket, who will certainly join the Progressive Caucus if elected, are taking these issues far more seriously than their party’s presidential candidate. While only a handful of Democrats in any office have been willing to take a stance against U.S. imperialist violence, quite a few are firmly committed to issues that matter to the working classes within the United States, like universal healthcare, free education, a nationwide living wage and ending homelessness.
3. Do U.S. grassroots movements trust Joe Biden and the Democratic Party to assimilate their demands and interests if elected? If not, what prospects exist, if any, to push for progressive social, economic and foreign policies during a Biden administration?
No grassroots movement is naïve enough to believe that Joe Biden will willingly cede to their demands. That said, achieving progressive goals during a Biden administration is not out of the question (though achieving revolutionary goals is unfortunately far less likely). To do so would require an unprecedented level of coalition building and militant mobilization using a broad diversity of tactics, based in the fundamental understanding that the central struggle of our time is not Electoral Democracy vs. Tyranny, but rather Neoliberal Fascism vs. Life on Earth.
4. Are there structural changes needed to the U.S. voting and electoral systems? What other democratic overhauls must we see in order for U.S. politics to truly reflect peoples’ rather than corporate interests?
Corporate personhood must end. Without that step, particularly given the corporate-friendly judiciary (from local judges to the Supreme Court) that has been installed through Koch brothers-led maneuvering over nearly half a century, we will never have an electoral democracy in the United States. Rather than tinkering with a system that has completely collapsed on itself, we need to rebuild it from scratch. There are plenty of insurgent democratic processes led by abolitionists, anti-capitalists and anti-fascists in this country. If organizers and activists around the United States mobilize relentlessly, with these groups—in particular the Black, Indigenous and communities of color who have suffered the greatest violence at the hands of this country—leading the way, we will be able to build democracy here for the first time.
5. Do you believe there will be a peaceful transfer of power after the U.S. elections? Tell us some of the tactics Republicans, right-wing militias and other hegemonic institutions may deploy to cling to power after November 3.
Trump has already promised there will not be a peaceful transfer of power, should he lose. More precisely, he has made clear his position that the only way he could lose would be through electoral fraud, and has called upon the Proud Boys (and by extension other similar terrorist groups) to “stand back and stand by.”
There can be little doubt that we will see violence following the election, regardless of who wins, given the extent of mobilization among Trump’s heavily armed white supremacist base. We have already seen in recent months the levels of violence they are capable of, including numerous murders by vigilantes and law enforcement officers of individuals marching with protests organized by the Movement for Black Lives. The impunity that these deaths squads (both haphazard and more organized) have enjoyed will only increase if Trump legitimately wins the presidency. And while many have confidently been predicting a landslide Biden victory, many also predicted a similar victory for Hillary Clinton in 2016.