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Not a labour party… November 19, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Colin Murphy in the SBP had an intriguing argument the other week about the US Presidential elections…

there is a malaise in American liberalism, a malaise that was epitomised by an extraordinarily lacklustre campaign in which the chief claim of the challenger was that he was not the other guy, and in which he avoided press and did few events. Biden regularly called a “lid” on the day, signalling no more public appearances, by lunchtime. In the final week, Biden and Harris did half the events of the Trump-Pence campaign. On two of those days, Biden didn’t even leave his home state of Delaware. That this may have been strategically effective speaks merely to Biden’s weakness: he couldn’t be trusted to keep on message.

That’s not a charge I heard leveled at Biden through the campaign, perhaps others heard it? My sense from most commentators was that Biden was actually on-message most of the time. And the impact of the pandemic is rather underplayed here. Trump-Pence seemed oblivious of the potential health effects of their campaign meetings. Still Murphy doesn’t stop there.

In the second presidential debate, he said he would phase out the oil industry – a comment that was later “clarified” to say he was referring merely to taxpayer subsidies for the industry. It was a gaffe that may help explain his underperformance in the Rust Belt. In speeches, he occasionally became literally unintelligible.

Is that entirely true? For a start he actually won back the Rust Belt from Trump.

Murphy goes further. He suggests that:

Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor at the Forward magazine, reported that the New York Times had not run a single op-ed by a Trump supporter in the run-up to the election. And I watched hours of CNN on election night and heard barely a Republican voice, or anything to challenge the often overt liberal bias of the CNN staff and commentators. In June, during the Black Lives Matter protests, the New York Times published an op-ed by Republican senator Tom Cotton, calling for “the troops” to be sent into America’s cities to quell violence. The piece was sloppy and crudely incendiary, but its basic premise reflected the perspective of a significant majority of Americans, including almost four in ten African-Americans, according to a Morning Consult poll. Its publication led to a revolt within the Times, and the opinion editor was effectively forced out. This is all symptomatic of a glaring blind spot at the heart of the liberal media: its lack of understanding of, or interest in, Trump’s supporters.

This I find his most unlikely thesis of all. Frankly US periodicals and newspapers have been groaning under the weight of analyses of Trump supporters for the last four years. This isn’t to say that they were successful in determining that Trump’s base would hold up so strongly, but… anyone who read anything about attitudes amongst Trump voters from 2016 and their inclination in 2020, as with pieces in the Guardian and other media, would have had more than an inkling that that base would stay in large part with him.

Which makes Murphy’s assertion that polls are the greatest indication of failure, this being ‘liberal’ failure, is a little hard to take. For a start I don’t know anyone who felt comfortable about the polls going in to this election. There was widespread, and as it transpired appropriate, scepticism shading to deep anxiety about the polls. Now, to be honest I think there was an over-compensation, an understandable over-compensation, in the first hours of results as Trump’s numbers have been proven to have held up strongly. It took the following days to demonstrate that Biden had exceeded Trump’s support by quite some measure. But again anxiety was appropriate.

For Murphy this suggests that liberals didn’t go out to ‘find’ Trump voters.

This lack of interest in or understanding of those voters was reflected in media coverage of their participation in the election. Trump’s rallies were largely covered as potential Covid-19 “superspreader” events, with more emphasis placed on the failure of his supporters to wear masks than on the substance of his appeal to them. “Pollsters and the media turn up their noses at such shows of white, working-class raw emotion,” Brigid McIntyre, an Irish nurse in Florida who writes a regular Letter from America for Tipperary’s Nationalist newspaper, said.

Perhaps they did, or perhaps they thought as many of us would, that in the midst of a pandemic Trump was playing with fire in holding such events.

Murphy completely ignores one key fact, that being the Biden campaign put in enormous efforts in the ‘Rust Belt’ states precisely because of 2016. Indeed Murphy seems oblivious of the fact that 2016 was the point at which significant portions of the Democratic party woke up to the fact that they had frittered away that part of their base. Now I’m not a Democrat and feel no need to defend them on that basis – for me their central role was in replacing Trump, I’ve no illusions about the nature of that party, nor do I think that the engagement was sufficient, to put it mildly, but to suggest that this engagement did not exist is not tenable. Moreover I think a different criticism could be leveled at the Democrats – if one takes them on the terms they themselves present the world with. That being that outside the Presidential context they didn’t set the world alight. This oddity took a while for people to sink in, that people who voted Biden for President were voting for Republicans at Congressional and Senate and other levels.

But for Murphy the last straw is the fact that a portion of non-white voters gave Trump support.

Liberals last week were talking in dismay about the amount of racism in their country. Republicans were talking about the new coalition forged by Trump: multi-racial and working class. Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate, told CNN that when canvassing working-class Americans, he had realised that the Democratic party “has taken on this role of the coastal urban elites who are more concerned about policing various cultural issues than improving their way of life”. He tweeted: “If 68 million people do something, it’s vital that we understand it.” There is a lesson in that for all of us. This malaise is contagious.

But to say this ‘new coalition’ is multi-racial and working class is to ignore content entirely and perhaps to be a little premature because as exemplified by Florida certain elements of that Republican leaning cohort had very specific reasons for their vote. Moreover, and I’ll address this in a moment, there’s a question as to how ‘new’ this ‘new’ coalition is. Sections of the working class also voted for Biden and in some numbers. Nor does this supposed new coalition take away from the dog-whistle nature of the Trump presidency, indeed something more than dog-whistle at times. This will not diminish racism in the country, some of the personal accounts of increased and overt racism in the public sphere from various quarters over the weekend were particularly disturbing – and this was in a sense given license from the apex of the political system over the past four years.

Indeed in a way I wonder is Murphy fighting the last war because given Biden’s success in wresting back parts of the Blue Wall a newer analysis is one that suggests the divide has shifted more to rural/urban, or rural/ suburban-urban. There are obvious class aspects to that as well.

So one would think that soul-searching would be the order of the day for many in that polity, as it should be in every polity and in all parties, though Murphy appears to think that should only be engaged in by those in liberalism or progressivism.

But in a way his analysis is one so thoroughly steeped in liberalism itself that it seems to misunderstand the nature of US politics at fairly fundamental levels. He appears to think that liberalism is equivalent to representing the working class. I’m not sure why that is taken as read.

On 538 the point was made that in fact the electoral map is not dissimilar to elections in the early 1990s and onwards where the Republicans on occasion captured sections of the working class vote. Indeed cast one’s mind back to the 1980s and the phenomenon of Reagan Democrats and suddenly the newness becomes a little old.

But a further key point was made on 538, that being that the large US parties are competing coalitions of various groups – implicitly that they are cross class formations. We can go further. Despite the Democrats containing liberal, progressive and even a ‘socialist’ (though many of us I suspect would regard them as social democrats, albeit leftish social democrats in some instances) it is also a party that has in modern times and continues even today to have centre and centre right elements. Its political programme would hardly be out of place if presented by an European Christian Democrat party, at least in economic terms. Socially there are liberals, but that’s not alien to European conservatism, or centrism.

Oddly this would, you might expect be familiar to people in Ireland. We too have had broad coalition style parties straddling the ‘centre’ and tilting largely towards the right. At times they have occupied, rhetorically or otherwise, some left terrain, and more frequently one at least has been wedded to social liberalism, though that more usually being Fine Gael. But few would expect Fine Gael to present itself seriously as the party of the working class – and although the Democratic Party has done so some would think it an uneasy fit.

Trying to crowbar the Democrats into being a ‘centre left’ party is not absolutely impossible, squint quite a lot and some bits of it are – there are, for example, links to the unions, but the relationship there is somewhat one-sided with unions providing support but the Democrats unable and/or unwilling so far when in power to unwind anti-union legislation – specifically Taft-Hartley, but matters wax and wane in that regard, and as a formation it is more clearly of the centre and by European standards of the centre right. It is not a Labour party, or a party of the explicit social democrat left.

But I think it is telling that there is an expectation – on some level at least – that the party should be or is akin to British Labour; that in and of itself it represents or should represent the working class. Perhaps to some degree the Democrats should, again they assume the mantle of that rhetoric. But as we know in this polity matters aren’t quite so cut and dried. Few would claim today that FF represents the working class, even if for decades they themselves with not an hint of leftism let alone socialism sought to project themselves as the party that did so. There are so many cleavages that inflect US politics, urban/suburban/rural, social conservatism, religion, race and gender and so forth (true of all polities but perhaps accentuated there at least in this period of time), to expect the Democrats to be something more than they are seems almost unreasonable.

Now, there are strong arguments why they need to tilt left in some respects – arguments that many of us would agree with, even if we didn’t think the Democrats should necessarily be the ones doing so. There’s also the pernicious effect of having two parties that effectively sit on the centre/right of centre and how that narrows the range of political discourse and tilts political activity in a certain direction.

I guess one could argue that part of the problem is the inability to generate a class narrative that can encompass all the various parts of the working class and bring them together. So much unfortunately predicates against that – the development of the United States, the focus on an executive presidency, a continental polity, the position of capital and the marginalisation of alternatives and so on. But the idea the Democratic Party is the vehicle for this seems implausible. To complain that the Democratic Party is missing out on connecting with Trump voters is to ignore the reality that voters in the US, classes in the US, are presented with two cross class coalitions as parties and that at times whatever their own words they will appeal to a greater or lesser degree to various parts of those classes.

Comments»

1. Roger Cole - November 19, 2020

Virtually the entire left in the USA from Chomsky to Moore to Saunders campaigned for Biden. None, as far as I know campaigned for Trump, essentially because he was racist. Trump did get a large number of working class votes but so did Hitler.

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WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2020

And that’s very true what you say, and I’m not for a moment suggesting there aren’t differences between the Democrats and the “Trump” Republican party in key areas – such as approaches race and gender, and if I were in the US I’d be doing precisely the same because there is a difference between a liberal centre/centre-right party and a party of the avowed right. But I think my problem with the central point made in the original article is that it’s an error to think the Democrats are the ‘left’ as such, even if they have left strands and are in certain contexts supported rightly by leftists of all hues, or to demand the Democrats be more than they are. It’s a bit like Canada in a way. the Liberal party isn’t a left party like a social democrat let alone a socailist party (though in fairness they’ve done some good stuff and unfortunately some not so good stuff), the NDP is the obvious analogue for that sort of politics, but in extremis one would support a Liberal candidate over say a very right wing Conservative party candidate.

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2. Joe - November 19, 2020

” an extraordinarily lacklustre campaign” which resulted in, you know, a victory. Yes, Biden, with his ‘extraordinarily lacklustre campaign’ won, bigly, like. He stayed in his basement; he minimised public engagements; he stayed masked and socially distant. A completely different type of campaign than your usual US presidential campaign. And guess what, it worked, he won. Five million more votes than the other guy. The other guy who didn’t mask up, had big public meetings and so on.
And the people of America said we prefer the bloke who ran the “extraordinarily lacklustre campaign”. Because presumably they saw the sense in the type of campaign he ran. A campaign than ends in a win is a good campaign imho.

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3. CL - November 19, 2020

” The overall makeup of Congress next year will still be predominantly white and male. That’s especially true on the GOP side, even as the party stepped up efforts this cycle to boost female candidates.”
https://thehill.com/homenews/house/526600-democrats-lead-in-diversity-in-new-congress-despite-gop-gains

“the real big takeaway of the election we just witnessed is that people of color, and especially Latinos, exercised their right to vote in an unprecedented manner. 20.9 million Latinos voted in this election, according to projections from Bloomberg News, give or take a few hundred thousand. That’s an astounding increase of 65 percent from the 12.7 million who voted in the last election, which was itself a record for Latinos.
Because the growth of the total electorate far exceeded any slight shift towards Trump, that means the gap between Republican votes and Democratic votes coming from our communities grew by millions. By one calculation, 7.1 million more Latinos voted for Biden than they did for Trump, handily besting results from 2016, when it is estimated 4.7 million more Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton than they did for Trump.
https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/525748-what-really-happened-with-latinos-this-election

The Democrats have won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections.
The Republican Senate majority represents 15 million fewer Americans than the Democratic senators. This anti-majoritarian control has created a 6/3 conservative/liberal split on the Supreme Court
Gerrymandering allows the Republicans at state level to control the majority of state legislatures which allows them to gerrymander congressional districts.
The system is stacked against the Democrats.
But Biden won the election with 80 million votes and a 6 million victory margin over the fascist incumbent.
This popular democracy represents a diverse America in conflict with the minority Republican party of aging, white males that due to in-built, anti-majoritarian structures still controls other branches of government.

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4. crocodileshoes - November 19, 2020

I showed WbyS’s very thoughtful post to an American friend, a Democrat activist in Iowa, a very Republican state. Over a year ago I asked him what the Democrats had to do to beat Trump: he answered in two words – choose Biden.
And to appeal to the voters of Iowa: don’t mention gun control, identity politics, the environment; keep Bernie and AOC away and off the media. So what, I asked him, would the good voters of Iowa be voting for if they voted Democrat.
The issues he mentioned as important to his neighbours were not economic, for the most part. Insofar as they differentiated between Red and Blue, they despised Hillary, worried about immigrants even though they have few, wanted the right to own guns even when they don’t. In short, there isn’t a suite of Democrat values to which voters can be asked to subscribe – as WbyS suggests. They’ll vote for Biden because they think he’s a better man than Trump.
America does have two centre-right parties. All Republicans aren’t fascists, but all the fascists voted Republican. Joe Biden, my friend says, is the best Democrat president we can have – because he’s the ONLY Democrat president we can have.

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WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2020

I think that’s the case, by the way thanks for your words and for showing it to your friend, I think Biden was the only one who could feasibly win. I actually came to that conclusion following reading a Guardian interview with people who worked in car manufacturing in the PA (I think) who despite losing their jobs due to Trump’s policies still voted for him, loathed the Dems etc. Even one union oriented guy was a Trump voter despite all that. THere were others, union activists as well, who were saying to people – some of whom were now commuting weekends to a different production plant having had the other one close – that this was crazy. But the message wouldn’t get through. In a way it’s like the discourse has moved from politics to something like religion, that the identification with Trump and certain policy aspects is now so core to identity that shaking people from that is near impossible, at least as long as Trump himself remains in the picture. I’m wondering what you think of the idea that all this is so intrinsically bound up in Trump that when he does move off will it begin to disintegrate to an extent? I can’t make up my mind on it.

That’s a very interesting way of putting it to re a suite of values. How the hell do the Democrats do something that doesn’t put others off? And even to phrase it like that shows how reactive the Democrats have to be. Anyone any less emollient than Biden was going to lose. And tbh I think that in the absence of Covid-19 Trump would have been likely to have done better again, perhaps to a neck and neck level.

BTW, I’m not dissing people inside the Democrats, as noted up the thread, if I was in the US I’d be right there putting my shoulder to that wheel.

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roddy - November 19, 2020

It’s the same here with protestant workers voting overwhelmingly for parties who disadvantage them .

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Colm B - November 19, 2020

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the concept of “false consciousness” because it’s often deployed in a crude way and it smacks of “we know better ” elitism. However I think it can be useful when it is understood that it’s not just a euphemism for complete gullibility or, worse, stupidity.

The way I understand it, it’s not that workers don’t recognise their material interests, it’s more that they misidentify the threats to those interests or the forces or projects that advance those interests. It may also be that they correctly identify forces or projects which may defend their relative material advantages viz other workers because of race, gender etc. Of course these views/ feelings do not pop into people’s heads out of the blue but in the context of the dominance of ruling class ideas in the media etc.

So many workers who voted Trump did so because they identified him as bringing back jobs, taking on the wealthy elite etc. In other words, even though the truth was the exact opposite, their vote arose from them pursuing their material or class interests. And yes it was combined with a view by many white workers that they were under threat from black people, women, immigrants etc.and this partly arises from their relative advantage viz those other workers.

This is important we need to avoid the danger of dismissing these workers as redneck simpletons or the opposite danger of ignoring the fact that sections of the working class do have relative advantages which must be challenged.

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WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2020

Agreed, it’s not stupidity and certainly not redneck simpletons. Is it that the current context accentuates certain aspects in people, for example for some there might be for precisely the material reasons you suggest some potential defensiveness in relation to women/people of colour that in other circumstances woudn’t be an energising issue but in the context of political messaging, etc it has been diverted into toxicity? I think it hugely telling taht so much of this, and arguably Brexit, comes on top of the post financial crisis period. First we saw the Tea Party in the US, and then came Trump who, in some ways diverged wildly from that but managed to rechannel that and bring in others..

Of course the key question is how to build progressive counter-narratives that reach out and engage with people.

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5. CL - November 19, 2020

“Biden and the Democrats won this round, at least at the presidential level. But white supremacy in the form of Trumpism has not been vanquished, and its takeover of the Republican Party and the American conservative movement appears complete. If anything, American fascism and racial authoritarianism are now more powerful than at any time since the formal end of Jim and Jane Crow American apartheid in the 1960s….
In all, the Age of Trump has broadened the limits of approved public discourse in the United States. Racist and white supremacist ideas and language that not long ago were considered verboten are now increasingly acceptable.
White supremacy was not defeated in the 2020 election. In many ways, it scored a victory — perhaps most notably in how the appeal of Trumpism has now spread beyond his core base of white followers….

Conservatism and racism have been the same thing in America since at least the 1960s. The Age of Trump has made that even more obvious. In that way, the Age of Trump has been a grand triumph for white supremacy: It has shown the Republican Party’s leaders that becoming an explicitly white racist organization is not an impediment to power. Indeed, it may even be a way to achieve and keep power in a country that, by many demographic measures, is becoming more racially diverse…..
Trumpism is but one iteration of American neofascism. There will be others. Whatever its label and form, American neofascism has fully mated with the Republican Party, the right-wing media machine, right-wing Christian fundamentalists, and the agents of plutocracy and gangster capitalism. To wit: it drew at least 73 million people to vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.”
https://www.salon.com/2020/11/19/make-fun-of-the-million-maga-march-all-you-want–white-supremacy-has-not-been-defeated/

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6. crocodileshoes - November 19, 2020

Stupidity is not the same thing as ignorance.
Red-state Americans have very different priorities. I’ve met -socially – Iowa and Missouri Republicans and they were amazed, disbelieving actually, that the following issues were of little importance to me: gun ownership, military budgets, ‘right to life’, the death penalty, ‘gas’ prices…
So even if the candidate you vote for can’t improve your life, maybe he can stop the liberal elites from taking away what you still have.
Maybe the real change is that politicians don’t appeal to people’s aspirations any more, but to their fears of losing things.

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benmadigan - November 20, 2020

“their fears of losing things” – maybe for this presidential election they were afraid of losing their lives.

They watched a quarter of a million of relatives, friends, neighbours,workmates etc die of Covid.
They watched Biden in his mask and perhaps they hoped/expected a change in how the country coped with the pandemic.

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CL - November 20, 2020

” Challenging the traditional belief that Hitler’s supporters were largely from the lower middle class, Richard F. Hamilton analyzes Nazi electoral successes by turning to previously untapped sources — urban voting records. This examination of data from a series of elections in fourteen of the largest German cities shows that in most of them the vote for the Nazis varied directly with the class level of the district, with the wealthiest districts giving it the strongest support.”
https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691642017/who-voted-for-hitler

“those 71 million votes aren’t just a fad. The backbone of Trump support still very much stands. In racial terms, whiteness indeed is the most common denominator. So there certainly is truth to the theory that racism, xenophobia and status preservation from that group are fundamental driving forces for voting for Trump.
But there are also other motivators that stem from voters’ immediate self-interest. From the 1%, to large corporates and publicly traded companies, to small business owners and those afraid of or in the grip of unemployment, Trump managed to either create economic benefits or capitalise on tailwinds of economic improvement, to really cut through.”
https://thecorrespondent.com/790/not-every-trump-voter-is-racist-or-misled-theres-a-rational-trump-voter-too/846649476420-2ff85060

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benmadigan - November 20, 2020

I certainly agree ” that racism, xenophobia and status preservation are fundamental driving forces for voting for Trump”

Nevertheless I am confident Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic and its associated deaths must have made an impact in shifting some of those votes to the Democrats.As this Time article shows,some relatives of victims even became activists

https://time.com/5913055/covid-19-grief-politics-trump/

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