The aftermath of the United States 2020 Presidential election has come to be about as tense as anyone expected, if not more. Although Joe Biden has won the majority of electoral votes, and has been recognized as the victory by the national and international mainstream media, Donald Trump and his supporters are strongly contesting the election results.
Trump’s claim to illegitimacy are based on a false narrative of wide-scale voter fraud and conspiracy against him which he has been cultivating during the months preceding the election. This year’s election has taken place during the global COVID-19 pandemic, leading many states to allow for mail-in ballots as an alternative to in person voting. Republicans are generally much more likely to consider COVID-19 to be overblown, while Democrats take it more seriously. As a result, Republicans were more likely to vote in person, even more so because of Trump’s warnings, and Democrats are more likely to vote by mail.
As a result, when states began to count votes, they began with in-person ballots, giving the impression of a Trump lead. Once they started to count mail-in ballots, Biden took the lead and won. Trump has played on this to claim that the election was fixed, but it is well within statistical expectations. Trump is now challenging the election result, trying to bring it to court and asserting that he will not concede. Many Republicans are remaining ambiguous toward his stance, a large share are supporting him fully, and a tiny minority oppose him.
Political crisis aside, this election has seen important realignments. The Democratic platform of diverse neoliberalism and Biden as the candidate of “not-Trump” was a massive failure, even if they won the Presidential election. Democrats lost or failed to gain support among all demographics except white men, in particular latines.
Part of this is owing to class divides within those communities, but the failure of the Democrats cannot be discounted. Running a candidate whose messaging has been that “nothing will fundamentally change” alongside a cop, particularly during a pandemic global economic crisis combo and tailing a summer of mass uprisings against racist police violence, was not in fact the appealing message they claimed it was.
In fact, in swing districts, social democratic policies like Medicare For All proved to be winning demands for voters. This is not surprising, since healthcare is at the top of voter priorities. A large share of Americans are disaffected with the political establishment, but lack ideological development and have certain reactionary tendencies. Thus, they waver between the two “change” currents, the social democratic wing of the Democrats and the populist wing of the Republicans.
This election also exposed, yet again, the deep political polarization of the US, which is only growing. By now, conservatives may as well be living in an entirely different reality from everyone else. Traditional channels of commonly accepted reliable information have been discounted, a blow to the unifying factor of common beliefs and political values. This is at the same time that class inequality sharpens as much as ever, if not more, during the unequally impactful crisis of the pandemic.
Although Trump is moving to stage a coup, and has played on proto-fascist elements, his Presidency is not fascist in nature. As I have written elsewhere, fascism represents the institutionalization of a mass movement, the breakdown of all bourgeois democratic norms, and the radical, open, exclusive racialization of citizenship in the name of distributing spoils from the destruction and enslavement of non-citizens among citizens, working and owning class alike. In class terms, fascism is the alliance of the decaying middle classes and the big national capitalists, who resent the “rootless” international power represented by finance capital.
Trump’s strengthening of the executive and flaunting of bourgeois democratic norms represents something which sets a precedent for fascism, but is not fascism in itself. The mass movement characteristic of fascism has not been institutionalized, which is an important element of fascism. The mass movement is where the true engine for fascism is, with the decaying middle class looking backward rather than forward and hoping to restore and secure their positions through redistribution of imperial spoils.
The mass movement, however, can only form the coalitions characteristic of fascism if it is viable and united. The fascist-conservative populist mass movement is currently in a shaky position. Trump is a uniting figure for them, which is both advantageous to them while he is in power, but harmful to them if he loses power. Without Trump as a single uniting figure, there is the potential for Balkanization, as they lack another single unifying figure currently involved in the Republican Party.
Trump’s coup attempt is unlikely to succeed, meaning there will probably be an ebb in, though likely not a fall of, this mass movement. Trump lacks institutional supports outside of his usual sycophants in the Republican Party, and US imperial allies have already recognized Biden as the President-elect. Biden has had the support of many of the largest capitalists, especially finance capital, from the beginning of the election. At the same time, the Biden campaign has utterly failed to properly respond to Trump’s coup plot, continuing to play to civility. This will give water in the minds of right-wing Americans in relation to the de-legitimization of Biden’s Presidency.
It would, at the same time, be in the interest of Republicans to hand over the deepening COVID-19 crisis to a Democratic administration which they intend to obstruct, as it would harm their opponents and benefit themselves when the crisis response inevitably fails due to neoliberal gutting of social programs and the insufficient healthcare system. They can also take advantage of the de-legitimization of Biden for their own political careers.
The neoliberal establishment wants stability, and those of them that count have already thrown their weight behind Biden. Biden is essentially a stability option for them, a return to respectable normalcy and conduct in imperial administration. The neoliberals have already turned against the right populists characteristic of Trumpism, but now, following the Democratic establishment failures in the election, they are reviving their ongoing assault on the social democratic wing of the Democrats. Neoliberal Democrats and their allied centrist Republicans such as Abigail Spanberger and John Kasich respectively have blamed social democratic policy for “alienating” voters, ignoring that social policy is in fact popular with voters and helps win swing districts.
In this situation, the social democrats can either become the critical “left” opposition of the neoliberal Biden administration, or they can be complacent sycophants. Voter disaffection with establishment Democrats is already high, so the mass momentum behind the progressive Democrats has a clear preference toward criticism. Figureheads like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have criticized neoliberals lightly following their rhetorical assault. Bernie Sanders, however, is moving to head the Department of Labor under Biden, which, though unlikely, would almost certainly result in a refraining from criticism on the part of movement figureheads if realized. The question, however, is whether this stands once Biden is in the White House, or whether Democrats as a whole decide closing their ranks is more important.
Whether the social democrats become the “left” opposition or not, populist criticism of Biden, who was, after all, meant to be a counter to Sanders’ populist campaign, will sustain. The danger we face is a fascist or otherwise right populist monopolization of this opposition. Fascism always criticizes bourgeois normality, enaging in bourgeois-bashing without engaging in social revolutionary anti-capitalism. This is to be expected, given its middle class foundations as a mass movement.
Fascism plays on ideas of imperial humiliation, and the brewing Cold War with China will factor into this. Anti-Chinese sentiment is very popular in the US, Americans recognizing that the rise of China represents a killing blow to US imperial unipolar power. Reactionaries are already decrying Joe Biden as “Beijing Biden,” accusing him of being soft on China. The attacks on Chinese power will certainly drive a militarism which will feed the fascist movement. The rise of China is connected in the consciousness of Americans with the decay of the middle classes and a sense of imperial humiliation, important engines behind fascism.
We may not be living in a fascist society yet, nor a society broken apart by civil war, but we assuredly will be in such a situation quite soon. It can happen here. Fascism positions itself as a radical critique of bourgeois liberal normality, albeit not a social revolutionary one. It is a dark mirror image of socialism, drawing from the decaying middle classes. It works off from political apathy, which both leads people to seek alternatives to the establishment (in America we communists are nowhere near a viable alternative), and creates the conditions for the average citizen to be complacent with intensified social violence and purges.
Most Americans are relatively indifferent to the migrant concentration camps, global US war crimes, and even police brutality, although it has received more public attention in recent months. They care little as long as they can have other pleasures and distractions, believing such politics do not pertain to them. Under fascism, this attitude would be essential to the machine running properly. It is not shocking that Americans do not care very strongly about such atrocities, given the foundations of American society in colonialism and slavery and longstanding dialectic of freedom of some being bought by the unfreedom of others.
The question as far as the future of opposition to a neoliberal Biden Presidency goes is who will be the most viable to become the primary body for such a position. Depending on the circumstances and events between now and his inauguration, whether the fascist-populist conservative coalition splinters by losing its figurehead, whether the social democrat figureheads drop their criticism of the neoliberals and end up alienating their base, we could see either a fascist-dominated opposition or a social democrat-dominated opposition.
If Trump falls as a figurehead, the only way that the fascist coalition might remain together is if another mainstream figure replaces him as a pole of unity. It is also possible that the movement could simply ebb within the next few years and then flow around the 2024 election. One possibility is a fascist populist figure like Tucker Carlson, known for his bourgeois-bashing and class rhetoric, to enter politics and become a new keystone. Carlson already criticizes Democratic neoliberalism from the “left,” using the Jacksonian current of workerist rhetoric in the US (populist, Americanist, white supremacist, and patriarchal) to position himself as a man of the people. It is very possible that a course of events could occur wherein fascists dominate the populist opposition to Biden and Carlson is our figurehead. Such a situation would be very bad for us communists and reflect a dark trajectory.
Another sign for such a dark path is that a segment of the social democrats are amiable to the formation of a left-right populist alliance, such as The Hill’s Rising with Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. This is the classical makings of fascism. In Germany, the NSDAP drew some of its roots from the racialist, völkisch, pro-imperialist Social Democrats. Social democracy in imperialist countries like the US already has a history of merely redistributing the spoils of a global empire, but a merger with fascism would lead to an even more dire situation. The election this year showed that disaffected voters often can swing either way between the social democrats and right populists, meaning that this path is not entirely out of the question. Social democracy is not unfamiliar to such exclusive projects, as the white supremacy of the New Deal, the model for today’s social democrats, made evident.
Right now, we communists are not a viable movement. As Lenin said:
‘’Politics begin where the masses are, not where there are thousands, but where there are millions, that is where serious politics begin.’’
[Report to the Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party]
A political current is not meaningful on a social level if it has no mass momentum, if it has no roots. Communists in America suffer from three main paths of failure: tailing the Democrats, which loses direction and distinction, focusing on purity politics and sectarianism, which leads to absolute isolation, and engaging in symbolic actions before establishing roots, which leads to impotence and lack of discipline. We communists ought to link up with where the masses are, and right now, they are around the growing social democratic movement.
We must become a radical, revolutionary minority within the critical movement against neoliberalism, while retaining our distinction and direction as communists. To establish roots, it is necessary to engage in mass work as a primary goal, serving the working class masses by establishing community programs where the neoliberal state falls behind and earning the respect of a mass base as representative of their interests. People are disaffected with neoliberalism right now and are looking for alternatives. We are not social democrats, and we are harshly critical of them, but we cannot ignore the possible divergence of social democrats (importantly, the movement around them) and the Democratic Party.
This represents an opportunity where the political situation becomes more malleable, enabling us to make major gains in the midst of such consciousness-shifting events such as anti-racist uprisings, COVID-19, the economic crisis, the election crisis, and the neoliberal assault on social democrats. For too long, communists in the US have either failed to distinguish themselves, or they have failed to root themselves. We must take the building of a mass movement seriously if we wish to seriously confront the hard times ahead, both with the decline of the American Empire and the interrelated climate crisis.
Although fascism is not institutionalized and likely won’t be within the immediate future, the violent crackdown on the anti-racist uprisings this year and Democratic support for it represents a warning. The big bourgeoisie in history has always made coalition with fascism as a mass movement when a truly social revolutionary movement threatens it. We cannot be sitting ducks when such a situation arises in the American Empire. Being armed for self-defense is something to support, but it only goes so far when you lack the mass support necessary to survive the machinations of a ruling class which wants you dead so it can distribute your flesh among a large sector of the population to keep them complacent.