November 6, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
We can finally put the lie to Trumpism
5 myths debunked by Joe Biden's (presumptive) victory.
The counting continues this morning, and the former vice president came another step closer to being the president-elect. Joe Biden overtook Donald Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania. There are now, as of this writing, about 300,000 outstanding votes there. The current president has no path without the Keystone State. With that many votes remaining, Biden will almost certainly be declared the winner some time today.
The counting will continue even after the major outlets call the race. You should pay attention. Biden isn’t only going to win the Electoral College. He isn’t only going to win the popular vote. He’s going to knock off an incumbent whose own share of the popular vote increased over 2016. (He won 62,984,828 votes, or 46.1 percent; so far, he’s won 69,772,933, or 47.7 percent.) Incumbents almost always win. Moreover, Donald Trump did not run for reelection on any issue or problem. Only himself. Put all the above together to appreciate how special Biden’s accomplishment is. As I said Thursday, this isn’t just a victory. It’s an outright rejection of the last four years. (I would add, moreover, that it’s a rejection of forty years of Republican orthodoxy.)
Pundits—even critical, responsible, and neutral ones—tend to interpret elections starting with outcomes and looking back, thereby creating political reality where there is none as well as misleading voters and risking injurious choices.
That rejection should include the myriad myths, falsehoods and lies the pundit corps has told itself about the nature of the two parties, the incumbent’s strengths, and the condition of the electorate. Pundits can be trusted to tell themselves “teleological tales,” to borrow Alex Ross’s term in writing about a subject completely different from politics. Pundits—even critical, responsible, and neutral ones—tend to interpret elections starting with outcomes and looking back, thereby creating political reality where there is none as well as misleading voters and risking injurious choices. Here are a few myths, past and present, that Biden’s election put the lie to, or that will almost certainly gain new life as the pundit corps tells itself, and the public, tall tales.
1. Packing the courts
I’m already hearing pundits say the Democrats didn’t win the US Senate because voters didn’t want them to pack the US Supreme Court. There’s just no way of proving that. More likely is that political polarization wasn’t as strong as many, including me, expected. In Maine, for instance, Susan Collins won reelection, because lots of Republican voters chose her over her opponent, but also voted against Trump. That’s split-ticket voting, which was thought to be extinct. It isn’t. And here we are. (Control of the Senate, by the way, is still in the air. There are going to be two run-off senate elections in Georgia. The outcome will determine Mitch McConnell’s fate.)
This is the idea that the coalitions constituting each party are changing. That much is true, but contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, the change is far from symmetrical. The press and pundit corps presumed during Trump’s term that the Republicans traded white suburbanites for the white working class in the Midwest. The Democrats, meanwhile, were said to have traded the white working class for racially diverse voters in the South and Southwest. 2020 shows this was wrong. Biden won back Wisconsin, Michigan and (soon) Pennsylvania. Arizona and Georgia are on track. (North Carolina seems a longer shot.) This should scramble the conventional wisdom. It should lead to the following: while the GOP coalition is getting smaller, whiter and more regionally and ideologically homogeneous, the Democratic coalition is getting bigger, more racially diverse and more regionally and ideologically heterogeneous. The parties are different. The parties have always been different.
3. Liberal east coast elites
The founding myth of Trumpism is the working class in the “heartland” lost faith in the Democratic Party, because liberal east coast elites are more concerned about “political correctness” than about the forces of globalization hammering “working” Americans. Even Andrew Yang repeated the myth Thursday. “In their minds, the Democratic Party, unfortunately, 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.” I’m really tired of hearing this. Biden won the east and the west, according to exit polling. He split with Trump the south and the midwest. He won the cities. He won the suburbs. He earned 45 percent of rural areas. You could say the Democratic Party under Biden is a bunch of “liberal east coast elites.” But you must also say that those “liberal east coast elites” are popular with a majority of voters around the country. That’s silly, of course, because the myth is silly. American politics is complex.
4. The white working class
All the talk about Trump’s appeal among white working class voters was based on an error. That error was defining white working class by education levels. Fact is, this cohort earned upper middle-class incomes, making Trumpism a revolt of the petty bourgeoisie, not the white working class. Most of the real white working class, households earning less than $50,000, voted for Clinton. They voted for Biden this time around, too. As for Trump, he won voters making more than $100,000 a year, as he did last time. He is a populist, but it’s populism based largely on white supremacy, not economics. The pundit corps did not or would not see the difference. The result has been four years of maddening political discourse based on a demonstrable falsehood. The real working class, as a whole, is racially diverse, but very Black. And it was Black voters in the Midwest, the South and everywhere else who delivered for Joe Biden.
The Democratic Party is a big tent. It now has conservatives (real ones), moderates, independents, liberals, progressives, and self-described socialists. For this reason, it will always be vulnerable to bad actors who define it by its leftmost flank. The problem, for Democrats, isn’t the accusation. It’s complicity in making the accusation stick. The party could lose as many as 10 House seats in swing districts while keeping its majority. Already, Democrats are blaming “socialism.” So are some pundits who really ought to know better but don’t, because it’s convenient not to. Fact is, Trump is to blame. He was at the top of the ticket. But by running away from “socialism,” they are giving credence to the accusation, making it more real and more powerful than it is. “Joe Biden is a moderate who could not have won without the ‘woke left’ [that] centrist candidates and pundits keep openly despising,” wrote Issac Bailey. “They claim to want ideological diversity, except when the ‘woke left’ demands to be heard.”
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.