An American Prayer: The battle for democracy
‘More important than Biden or Trump, this election is about whether we retain American democracy’ – Senator Bernie Sanders, October 31, 2020.
3 November, 2020: US election day. Today the world sits on tenterhooks. The stakes could not be higher.
In many ways the future of human civilization is on the line in this election. This is not because the US is the sole embodiment of either civilization or democracy, far from it. There are many other countries whose democracy is also under threat. Yet, because of its power and influence, what happens in the US will have an influence on all of us.
Yes, the US’s economic power is on the wane, particularly in the face of China’s rise to power. So, too, is its political influence after four years of Donald Trump as the president. Nevertheless, a rogue US under the rule of a nationalist white minority is no laughing matter. It still has enough economic, military and political power to be an impediment to addressing the issues the world needs to act on most urgently: the most important being the gathering climate change storm and all that it portends for the future of humanity.
If Trump is re-elected, he will pose a danger to humanity on many fronts, but none more so than his ability to continue to disrupt and distract the world from united and universal action on the climate crisis.
Ever since the 2015 Paris Agreement, states have been fiddling while the planet burns – or, rather, as the arctic ice melts. Just as with Covid-19, Trump’s antics, rather than the climate crisis, becomes the focus of attention.
Time is running out.
Trump doesn’t give a fig about climate change. He’s the last line of political defence for his friends in the fossil-fuel industry. He also knows that as a hostile climate exacts its toll on the “shit-holes” of the world he and his ilk will be able to find a way to verdant, green valleys where water and food is plentiful, and where the temperature will be pleasant and embracing.
Trump will happily leave the rest of us to our fate on a warming planet. Furthermore, as has been pointed out by UN experts, the social and economic disruption caused by the climate crisis will deepen polarisation, division and dictatorship all over the world (not just in the US). That is why it is not an exaggeration to say that, at this moment, the future of civilisation is connected to American democracy.
So what can we do?
This morning the polls continue to point to a Biden/Harris victory. There seems little doubt that the Democratic Party will carry a majority of the US electorate. Yet, because of dark money and dark politics, we cannot predict the outcome of the election. Because of its arcane electoral college, a majority of popular votes may not be enough.
Trump may not have had the support of Valdimir Putin this time (at least as far as we know) but his campaign has tried every other trick in the book: what is politely called “voter suppression” (changing boundaries, moving ballot boxes, disqualifying voters, etc.) is nothing more than cheating and electoral rigging.
In this respect what the US election shows us again is that the world’s elites can’t win democratic elections fairly any more. In many democracies (Brazil, India, the UK, to name a few) they depend on fear-mongering, fake news and industrial-scale manipulation of social media, through organizations like Cambridge Analytica, Bell Pottinger and via platforms like Facebook.
Ironically it is the archdukes of the new world order who have shown us that for democracy and human rights to survive in the 21st century, neo-liberal capitalism must go. They cannot co-exist peacefully.
This is why civil society may – once again – be the game-changer.
At the end of voting today, if Joe Biden wins and a democractic election removes Trump and gives the Democratic Party a majority in the Senate as well as Congress, it will owe a great deal to civil society-driven voter education and activism.
Although rarely reported on the handful of cable news channels that bring us world news, a victory for Biden will not be the result of big-name politicians or pop stars, even hugely popular singers like Dua Lipa, Beyonce or Cardi B whose support has been important. It will be because of the efforts of a multitude of unacknowledged activists who have been working in communities across the US to overcome deep and understandable skepticism about the political system and democracy among the young, poor and middle classes.
Organisations like the Sunrise Movement, Working Families Party, Movement for Black Lives, Democratic Socialists of America and thousands of unaffiliated community activists have been tirelessly trying to overcome the obstacle course that was deliberately erected to prevent poor, young and mostly black and brown people from voting, or having their vote counted. We should give them their due.
One thing activists would all tell us, however, is that Trump’s fraudulent shenanigans should not distract people from discussing a deeper problem that confronts democracy. As one commentator in the US wrote recently in an article aptly titled The Plot Against America:
“Like all decent people, I hope for a Biden landslide, but we must also grapple, sooner rather than later, with the heart of darkness in this country that has inspired tens of millions of fellow citizens to support this evil miscreant.”
The problem facing democracy is that over the past 30 years, political power and economic power have never been pushed further apart. Through hard knocks and dashed hopes (more than through the study of political science) hundreds of millions of people have learnt that no matter who wins political power in elections – and no matter what they promise – there remain a set of economic “untouchables”; the elites, their property and their finances.
And Covid-19 has only reinforced this lesson in inequality.
At the instigation of elites (who usually disguise themselves as “friends of the people”) we have allowed ourselves to be divided on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity and class. As pointed out by British political commentator Jonathan Pie, when it comes to elections (or any other time for that matter) very few of us are willing to venture out of our laagers to talk to ordinary people on the other side whose desperation has propelled them into the embrace of xenophobia, racism, and tribalism.
In Pie’s colorful words: Making “assumptions [about other people] is the mother of all fuck-ups.”
Reflecting on the US election (and predicting a Trump victory) he complains bitterly that: “There’s no conversation, there’s no national debate. If you like Trump you watch Fox News, if you don’t, you don’t. No one talks to the other side and you only see what you want to see. Politics is no longer about rational choice it’s about a tribal affiliation. There’s no ideology …”
American activists will tell you that they have had an uphill battle. Young people who are supporters of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have temporarily put aside their distrust of the elite of the Democratic Party in the greater interest of preserving democracy. They understand that Biden has long been part of a political elite that is complicit in the multiple social crises they face. Ironically, it was the failure of Barack Obama to keep most of his promises, and particularly to rein in the banks after the 2008 financial crisis, that helped create fertile ground for the Frankenstein of Trump.
As a result, many activists point out that they will be voting against Trump not for Biden. They will vote Biden with their masks blocking their noses, literally, after decades of disappointment.
So, what happens after today?
If Biden wins, activists say they will remain mobilised to demand implementation of the proposal for a Green New Deal, the defunding of the police, an end to institutionalised racism and a just and fair response to overcoming the inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 epidemic.
But if – despite their best efforts – Trump wins, or refuses to concede defeat, it may be the beginning of the end of the United States of America as we know it.
The scenarios are too ghastly to consider and may be best left unpacked until tomorrow morning. DM/MC