With a few notable caveats, the vote seems to confirm the picture that emerged from the 2016 election. The political geography of the US is not terribly plastic at the moment and is characterized in most places by a widening gulf between the country and the city (the latter including suburbs) This is a split that imperfectly maps onto various identity categories, including race; and then, at least among whites, class and credentials. In Manhattan, where I cast my vote, Biden currently leads by 70%. In Adams County (PA), where I’m visiting, Trump currently leads by 62%. These staggering margins – which are likely a bit inflated at the moment – register a process of political separation that will not easily be reversed, let alone slowed. That said, if Biden does manage to eke out a victory in Pennsylvania this time around, I’d give at least some credit to the intrepid Left organizers who determined to act on the lessons of 2016 and who’ve been building political bases in smaller towns and cities of PA, including Lancaster and State College.
Over the past year, those inclined to support Biden entertained hopes that this election would provide a sharp contrast with 2016. Trump was relatively unpopular. His open courting of white supremacists could no longer plausibly be denied. His administration had fumbled the bag, to put it mildly, on the pandemic. Unemployment had spiked and recovery packages were lacking. A multiracial, mass social movement in defense of Black Lives had shifted the political ground, making law and order appeals ring hollow. For reasons of misogyny, Biden was more popular than Clinton. But, in the end, 2020 was more like 2016 than not.
Over the coming days, Left analyses of the election are likely to feature various permutations of the following three observations:
- Biden’s past involvement in mass incarceration and deportation regimes rendered him a less than appealing vehicle for Black and Latinx voters;
- white people in this country – and particularly those inhabiting certain life-worlds – remain massively committed to racism; and
- neoliberalism holds precious little appeal in our crisis-ridden era.
It will be tempting for many, I think, to imagine democratic socialism as the neat trick to sort out this multi-layered political predicament. The idea here would be that appeals to shared class interest and social solidarity – advanced via renewed organs of class struggle, coalition-based movement work, and campaigns for universal social benefits – could galvanize disaffected workers of color, while peeling enough white working-class people away from reactionary attachments in order to redraw the political map and compose a new hegemonic bloc. I come not to bury this political project, but to point up some potential troubles.