November 3, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
This is what the Republican Party does so well. It exploits white supremacy to divide and conquer a republican union
What are we going to do now?
As you know, I haven’t been looking to Virginia’s governor’s race for clues of what might happen in next year’s midterms or the next presidential election. I have been looking to it for evidence of how powerful the backlash has become against the political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Well, Glenn Youngkin won. It’s strong.
I had hoped it wouldn’t be. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump thanks to the merging of two political energies. One was respectable white people being outraged by the former president’s near-daily outrages. The other was anti-racist reformers associated with Black Lives Matter. Together, these produced the greatest voting coalition in our nation’s history. For liberals, it felt like respectable white people had finally seen the light. Perhaps this was the start of something permanent.
The risk Joe Biden took in vowing a return to normal was respectable white people sliding back into their former bad habit of thinking about their interests to the exclusion of democracy’s.
For that to be the case, however, something had to not happen that I feared would happen, which was this: that respectable white people would believe the myriad dangers posed by Donald Trump were gone now that he’s gone, and would slide back into their former bad habit of thinking about their interests to the exclusion of democracy’s. That was the risk of Biden centering his campaign on getting back to normal. What’s normal is respectable white people being so myopic they find ways of overlooking GOP complicity in mutiny and treason.
Normal also includes receptiveness to the GOP’s endless bad faith. “Education” is rarely a top issue in any statewide race, but it was this time around thanks to concerted efforts by the Youngkin campaign, right-wing operatives (think school board death-threat squads) and the right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, to fabricate a political boogeyman on par with Joseph McCarthy’s invention of a Soviet Communist hiding under and behind every bush and tree.
It didn’t matter that what they said about anti-racism had nothing to do with anti-racism. When a white candidate lies about what nonwhite people say, respectable white people can be trusted to trust the white candidate first. Anyway, they already believed something was “wrong” as a consequence of feeling the effects of political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder (in combination with the practical problem of seeing to the education of one’s children amid a global pandemic). All Youngkin had to do was tell them they were right. The coalition that delivered Virginia to the president last year was broken. This is what the Republican Party does well. It exploits white supremacy to divide and conquer republican union.
What are we going to do now?
Here’s the tip jar!
To answer that, first bear in mind all of the above to see that all the talk about Democrats being too liberal is nonsense. The Democrats should fight against the Republicans. They should not fight against the Republicans as well as the GOP’s cartoon version of the Democrats. They should continue to defend and advance liberal values. The last thing it should do — we should fear this — is appease a boogeyman. So far, I don’t see this happening, but be ready to raise hell if it does.
Second, don’t blame Terry McAuliffe. Not too much. It wasn’t his race to lose. Arguments about what he could have done differently or better or not at all are guesswork. The best way to understand his defeat is by placing in a larger national context — between a Democratic president who rode an anti-Trump wave to victory and respectable white people who resent anti-racists demanding they think about their race. “White moderates,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, are fickle. They say they’ll do the work of anti-racism until the work gets too hard.
Third, policy didn’t matter in Virginia. It probably won’t matter in next year’s congressional elections. Youngkin did not win because the Democrats in Washington have spent months negotiating among themselves over Biden’s legislative agenda. Whether the ultimate package is big or small, thick or thin, probably won’t affect Democratic fortunes. (Gerrymandering and voter suppression laws will have more impact.) They should create a package they want, and pass it. That paid family leave is back on the table is a sign that the Democrats get this.
Fourth, finally, and most important: the White House, especially the president’s strategists, need a better understanding of the press corps. When Trump was in office, it elevated the voices of anti-racist reform. Now that Biden is in office, it is elevating the defenders of white power. This is in keeping with the press corps misguided view of itself as being the people’s check on power. As long as these contours of public information are in place, the Republicans have the advantage.
If I had the president’s ear, this is what I would suggest: make the Republicans deny more things in your favor. Create the kind of heat the press corps loves to cover. This would destabilize the contours of public information. It’s what the Republicans do all the time. Only instead of lying, as the Republicans do, Biden can tell the truth. For instance: “There is so much a democracy can do. Alas, the Republicans are too treasonous to see it.” The republic would benefit from a press corps asking whether the Republicans are traitors to the republic.
The Democrats do not have the media apparatus the Republicans have. With the presidency, however, they don’t need it. It’s the world’s highest, biggest and loudest bullhorn. They should use it more.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.