by Jeff Booth
COVID-19 infections are exploding. People in the U.S. suffer from the most deaths due to Coronavirus of any country. The recession that is now gripping the U.S. was in process before the pandemic hit. The pandemic accelerated the economic downturn and as the recession deepens, tens of millions face increasing job, housing, and food insecurity. The 2020 elections can only be understood in the context of the economic and social crisis in the U.S.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Long-term unemployment (27 weeks and over) continues to rise, increasing by 1.2 million in October. State and local employment continue to decline, falling 130,000 in October. The labor market is down 1.3 million state and local government jobs over the last eight months—most of it (more than 1.0 million) in education.”
And according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “… millions are not caught up on their rent or mortgage payments. … Nearly 1 in 6 adult renters — were not caught up on rent in late October. … Nearly 80 million adults – 1 in 3 – reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected October 14-26.”
“About 10.5% of US households were food insecure — …they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food—at some point in 2019, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture last month. That number has more than doubled during the pandemic. …according to an analysis by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research.”
The two corporate candidates, Trump and Biden, and their parties offered no significant reforms or solutions to the severe problems facing working people in the U.S.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
The Trump campaign bounced around from denial to disinformation about COVID-19, literally spreading the virus along the way. The latest Super Spreader event from Trump campaigning is a post-election “Million (thousands) MAGA March” in DC. Trump gave it a brief thumbs up on the way back from his latest round of golf. The Biden campaign took COVID-19 more seriously, especially as a campaign theme, using it to attack Trump’s “handling” of the pandemic. Now, as President-Elect, Biden and the Democratic Party intend to handle COVID-19 with a minimal plan that centers on a panel to promote more mask-wearing and to suggest policy around future vaccine distribution.
The Trump and Biden campaigns and their parties both opposed Medicare for All during the most severe pandemic in over a century. They refused to even consider government-run, public control over development, manufacturing, and distribution of free and effective treatments and vaccines on a mass scale. Completely off the table was any mention of nationalizing the pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms, the hospitals, and manufacturing medical equipment making huge profits from COVID-19. Trump and Biden are both committed to “handling” COVID-19 by pumping billions of dollars in government revenue into private corporations. They put capitalist profits over people’s lives.
Unemployment and Jobs
Neither Trump nor Biden or their parties advocate any sort of federal jobs program as a step toward ending chronic unemployment and work insecurity. FDR and the Democratic Party were forced to initiate a federal jobs program in the depression of the 1930s and 1940s. Biden invokes FDR on occasion, leaving out any specifics of social programs from that time, including the fact that they were won by socialist-led mass strikes, protests, and workplace occupations.
The Housing Crisis
Evictions and foreclosures are set to explode at the end of the year as high unemployment will likely persist and already minimal, temporary eviction protections will disappear. Where were the calls from Trump/Republicans or Biden/Democrats for massive construction of new public housing? Or rent control? Or direct government subsidies for new mortgages? Or a moratorium on evictions or foreclosures through 2021? Billions in government bailout money was handed out to the private corporations from the Obama/Biden administration during the 2008-2009 recession. Not even a small fraction of that is being proposed for relieving the housing crisis.
Growing hunger and food insecurity were problems sidelined and not noticeably commented on in either Biden or Trump’s presidential campaigns. Long lines at food pantries and homeless shelters for food mirror the long lines for COVID-19 testing and basic healthcare. The cost of buying food has increased drastically, another burden for most working people as agribusiness and supermarket chains cash in on the pandemic. No emergency measures were on offer from either campaign: no price controls on food, no infusion of federal cash and resources to massively expand and make totally free school lunch and breakfast programs. No plans or programs for federal spending to build an infrastructure of low cost or free food distribution in cities and towns. A federally funded, public health approach to food insecurity could put massive resources to work, especially in comparison to the severe limits of corporate, “non-profit” or religious-based food charities.
Despite Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 campaign about bringing troops home, American soldiers are deployed in active war zones around the world, US imperialism still maintains hundreds of bases in other countries, and a recent bipartisan vote in Congress passed yet another massive increase in military spending. Despite the recent shake-up in the pentagon and a return to the claim that Trump will withdraw troops, it’s clear that will not happen. Bidens transition team for the pentagon includes many people from pro-war think tanks and the military-industrial complex, and a Biden presidency will likely ramp up US military activity and presence, continuing to escalate conflicts with China and Russia, and continuing to intervene against regional powers like Venezuela in an attempt to restore US imperialism to its former “glory.”
Bipartisan Defense of Capitalism
There were many other areas of agreement between the two corporate parties and their Presidential candidates. Despite the climate change crisis, they opposed any sort of “Green New Deal,” even the extremely limited version proposed by some Democratic Party politicians. Biden stated repeatedly he would not ban fracking.
Trump often used phrases familiar to corporate party politics like “American jobs,” “tax cuts,” and he added “A Trump Boom” or “super recovery” to the mix. Rarely were specifics mentioned. Biden pandered on economic issues as well, with similar empty phrases and vague promises. Biden sometimes referenced “my plan” for the economy with the fine print on the campaign website but with no details in most campaign speeches. In the second debate, a $15 minimum wage was mentioned. This was so unusual that the corporate media spun the debate as “substantive.”
Trump tried to demonize the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Biden’s response to BLM included often stressing that he was against defunding the police and in favor of cracking down on left-wing protestors. In addition, despite the popular view that Biden will end the practices of caging refugee children and separating families, Biden has added to his transition team an Obama-era immigration official who literally defended those practices when they were carried out during the Obama administration with Biden as Vice-President.
Trump and Biden both used redbaiting tactics within the context of a thoroughly corporate-dominated election. Maybe this was provoked by polling data showing increased support for socialism in the U.S.:
“… a resurgence of popularity and interest in socialism in the US, and an increasing skepticism of capitalism. A 2019 Pew poll (6/25/19) reported that 42% of respondents had a favorable view of socialism, with particular sympathy shown among people who are Black (65%), Latino (52%), have family incomes below $30,000 (50%) or are between the ages of 18-29 (50%). In a 2019 Gallup survey (12/18/19), 38% saw socialism positively—more than the 34% who identify as conservatives (Gallup, 7/27/20). Gallup (11/25/19) noted that Millennials were especially attracted to socialism, with slightly more viewing socialism positively than capitalism.”
Trump tried to label Biden and the Democratic Party as “socialist” while Biden bragged “I beat the socialist, I beat the socialists, do I look like a radical socialist?”
In the context of the economic and social crisis hitting working people, the “most important election ever” failed to produce any serious policies or proposals to deal with the depth of the economic and social crisis.
Winners, Losers and Another Lost Opportunity
Biden is President-elect. Trump continues campaigning. Trumpism without Trump in office could easily continue. Conservative economic populism from Trump will be replaced by Liberal economic populism by Biden; both versions empty and insincere. Corporate politics and capitalist policies will live on in a Biden presidential regime.
In this election, the majority of the capitalist class put their money and resources behind Biden and the Democratic Party. The corporate media was openly hostile towards Trump. Donations from capitalists tended to favor Biden and the Democrats. Trump was seen as too unstable in his constant social media tirades and use of coded racism.
“Since May, Biden has added over two dozen new names to his roster of billionaire donors, while Trump has added just six. Biden’s newest supporters include political power players like George Soros. Soros gave $505,600 to Biden’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee.”
“Some of the world’s richest people publicly congratulated Biden on his win, including Bill Gates. The world’s richest person, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, also chimed in on Instagram. ‘Unity, empathy, and decency are not characteristics of a bygone era,’ the eCommerce executive, who we estimate is worth $190 billion, wrote as the caption to a photo of Biden and Harris high-fiving.”
Democratic Party “progressives” like Sanders and “The Squad” (AOC, etc). and activists or groups tied to the Democratic Party fell into line, tailing billionaires for Biden and the majority of the ruling class in their support for Biden. The well-funded wave of lesser evilism also engulfed much of the small Left, pulling them to the right, into Liberalism.
In the absence of a mass, progressive, or Left workers party in the U.S., it’s not unusual for many working-class people to feel they have to vote for the two capitalist political parties or not vote at all. But the organized Left and experienced progressive activists should know the drill by now and refuse to politically help the capitalist class.
Even with the obvious lack of democracy in the U.S., elections present a crucial organizing opportunity. There’s a politicized atmosphere around elections despite the capitalist class trying to channel all political energy into support for their two parties. Election cycles create an opening for progressive activists and socialists to use elections as a platform to organize from; putting forward what we stand for, fighting for progressive demands, and strengthening and uniting protest movements. Elections are a time to re-start the process of organizing a political party for working people, independent of the Democratic Party and corporate money and influence.
In this election, the Howie Hawkins/Angela Walker Green Party campaign for President and Vice President was organized around a Left program including Medicare for All, an Eco-Socialist Green New Deal, socialist economic demands, and the need for an Independent Left party. Supporting the Hawkins/Walker campaign was the best option for progressive groups, Left activists, and working people in general. The Independent Socialist Group (ISG) gave critical support to the campaign.
The Democratic Party forced the Hawkins/Walker campaign off the ballot in some states. The corporate media froze out the campaign. Progressive and nominally Left alternative media largely ignored the campaign. Despite these pressures, the Hawkins/Walker campaign and its supporters stood up to the dictatorship of big business over U.S. politics.
Biden has profited from his decades-long political career in support of corporate interests, including those based in Delaware like Dupont/DOW and many banking/credit card corporations. Biden allied with Jim Crow segregationists like Strom Thurmond. Biden was an architect of the 1994 mass incarceration crime bill and an active leader in promoting mass incarceration policies in the “war on drugs.” He enthusiastically supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Iraq war, and many other reactionary policies. “Lesser evil” voting and support for any Democrat, including Biden, diverts and delays independent working-class politics and instead contributes to giving a mandate to the Democratic Party and strengthens corporate politics.
An opportunity was lost in this election cycle to begin to build a workers’ party. The cost of no Medicare for All, more racism and police brutality, and no real action on climate change will be devastating. The weak to non-existent social benefits in the U.S. will continue under Biden/Harris and the corporate duopoly. Poverty and inequality will worsen.
As the Biden/Harris regime consolidates power, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, of progressive social movements, and a re-energized labor movement could cut across anti-worker policies and also begin to gather the forces to build a mass, Left political party based in the working class. A conference of socialist, labor and progressive organizations that recognize the need for such a party would be a concrete step forward. That conference could begin discussing a common program, identify key issues to campaign on during and outside of elections, and organize candidates for key elections in upcoming years. The Independent Socialist Group will continue to initiate and help organize progressive protest movements, unions, and a political party for working people regardless of which capitalist party controls the government.