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.
I’m still hoping Mr. Biden will soon be President-Elect Biden.
I have a different take on the outcome. I was never very optimistic about the outcome of this election, so I’m not surprised at what we are seeing. People voted in a large Democratic House majority in 2018 to hold Trump accountable, and Pelosi inexplicably insisted that voters only cared about healthcare. Insanity. There was no blue wave in the Senate…what lessons did Schumer learn? Apparently none. I would also hope that the polling industry finally closes their doors and slinks away…they clearly failed to understand the dynamics of 3 elections in a row. 1) The fear of socialism was indeed a factor…it worked on an odd array of voters across racial lines. Democratic leadership failed repeatedly to understand (once again) the power of propaganda and to effectively counterbalance its effects. Excepting Pete Buttigieg who has performed brilliantly in his Fox News appearances, there has been almost no effort by Democratic leaders to create a star lineup to bring the arguments where people reside. Constant appearances on Fox News would have allowed punctures to the bubble of fear in which so many on the right exist. I’d venture to say that 90% of Trump supporters haven’t a clue what socialism is, but they fully believe it’s a danger to the country. Cuban Americans were single-issue voters against socialism–they do know what it represents, but they had no countervailing opposition explaining that neither Biden nor the Senate candidates were remotely a danger, while Trumpism is the actual embodiment of everything they fear. 2) Pelosi and Schumer failed spectacularly in failing to hold Trump to account and to highlight his unfathomable corruption or to slow the consolidation of autocracy. The majority of people across the political spectrum despise corruption, yet many are completely unaware of the depths of the GOP self-dealing. The electorate takes its cues from the top–Pelosi just shrugged and insisted that healthcare was the only concern, while Schumer lacks vision, strategy, and imagination. Both failed to ‘show’ not just ‘tell’ the country about the manifest corruption and danger posed by another 4 years of Trump and Trumpism in the form of the McConnell Senate. 3) Taxes–people don’t want their taxes raised. No matter how often they are told that it will only affect 10% of the population, too many privately believe that one day they will reach the coveted 10%…it’s a fantasy, and in the meantime, our entire social safety net is straining at the seams. I don’t have any ideas about how a culture of greed can be changed. 4) Covid-19 – Trump’s magical thinking (and the abject cowardice of the FDA/CDC/Birx and the GOP Senate) created an impenetrable shield resistant to facts and science. Will it take everyone in the US to have a death in their family to realize the danger of believing that you can reopen an economy without controlling a pandemic? Again, I don’t know the answers. Other than failing to adequately communicate to the LatinX populations from Day 1, Biden ran an admirable campaign, while the leadership in the House and Senate failed at every turn (absent Adam Schiff who was brilliant in the much too short and overly restricted impeachment hearings). What will it take for Pelosi and Schumer to finally step aside and allow those who can actually lead take the reins?
So Next Steps, how can we get you connected to the Biden people if they don’t read John’s posts? Your analysis is brilliant.
Excellent article, John. It’s worth noting that the Biden campaign team performed remarkably well. It took little for granted, drew up a playbook that worked, and followed through. If anything it was a clear demonstration (very much in the Obama mold) of what top-quality performance and sticking to a plan looks like. Kudos to the team. I doubt few others would have executed as well. (Of the Democratic candidates, my suspicion is Liz Warren and Pete Buttigieg would have run “playbook” campaigns of this sort. The other candidates not so much.)
Of course campaigning is not governance. What that “playbook” looks like will be anyone’s guess, but the Biden transition team would be wise to develop one right away. (Even better if it was already developing one–now that’s true playbook politics.)
There are still, however, critical weaknesses to the Democratic ground game. Stacy Abrams’ efforts in Georgia really delivered. However, Democratic party efforts in Texas and especially Florida did not. In these arena Democrats are still not giving enough playbook effort to developing these two potential sunbelt swing states. Latino voter engagement is still badly underfunded and, until Beto Rourke had shown up two years ago, badly done. There is opportunity here to build the party rather than a cult. The Republicans, smartly, continued party building with Trump (or even despite Trump) during his administration. Democrats should not shirk this duty even with Biden in the White House. The 2022 and 2024 campaigns have already started.
I agree with you that Latinx outreach has to improve for Democrats to make Florida and Texas swing in their favor. However, the Latino population isn’t a solid block. As Next Steps pointed out below, the Cuban-Americans in southern Florida know what socialism is and fear it. The difficulty is in showing that the Democratic Party is a “big tent” party, not just saying so. We need a Latino Stacy Abrams.
Democrats should really start recruiting in New Mexico, New York, Arizona, and California, as well as Texas and Florida.
Exactly right on the diversity of Latinx voters. They need to be met where they are and where they are coming from. Case in point: Miami: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/joe-biden-donald-trumpp-latino-voters-florida-2020-elections_n_5fa48732c5b623bfac4d930c.
In Myth 4, John writes, “it’s populism based largely on white supremacy, not economics.” Since I experienced Trumpism while undergoing cataract surgery with only sedation, hearing the surgeon discussing “Hunter Biden’s corruption,” I’ve given a lot of thought about Trump voters.
__Yes, I live in Alabama, a notorious “Red” state, but it shocked me to hear a physician discussing politics in such a tribal fashion while I had my left eye clamped open and couldn’t really move away or even order my thoughts well enough to engage in the conflict. My “fight or flight” reaction levels were off the charts but I knew it was in my physical best interests to stay still, but even so, I did manage to tell the doctor and other people in the room that I didn’t feel safe.
__Not feeling safe while undergoing surgery was a truly “eye-opening” event in my life. I’ve known, of course, that I was surrounded by the Cult of Trump, but in a really stereotypical way, I had believed that this sort of irrational tribalism was limited to White people without college degrees, usually categorized as “working class” by pollsters. I thought that any educated person would see through the lies and see the harm being done to our country. Being so wrong was profoundly damaging to my psyche.
__After ruminating about this experience, I believe that Trumpism includes people like my surgeon, who take John’s 5th myth, “Socialism,” and use their repugnance of it as a blanket to cover both greed and White nationalism, seeing themselves above the working class because they are part of the professional elite. If Black people manage to “elevate” themselves into this cadre, they are welcomed as proof that there is no racism among the ranks. They live in denial of their racism because they do not SEE anything in their carefully ordered lives that might demolish their façade of “post-racism” Alabama.
__They may work in cities surrounded by White peers while Black people answer their phones, serve their meals, and clean their offices. They go home to the suburbs where they live in $500,000 homes, play golf, and drive BMWs or Range Rovers. Their children go to private schools. They go to church and give to charity. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. But–
__their world barely intersects with those who live in trailers and scrape by paycheck to paycheck, White or Black. Socialism means socialized medicine to those in medical fields, and that is a threat to the very fabric of their lives. Any attempt to balance the scales of social justice is also perceived as a threat, so Trump’s defense of law enforcement officers and his deployment of federal agents are seen as a defense of this way of life.
__Because this type of elitism is built on the attainment of wealth or at least the intention to attain wealth, which anyone of any color can be a party to, there is the rationale that these “blessings” are God-given as a reward for their efforts. The cloak of religion therefore precludes any hint of racism or other ill intent. They are God’s chosen ones.
__They are asymptomatic White nationalists and racists who deny the darkness that resides within by shielding themselves with arguments provided by Fox News à la Hunter Biden.
__Because I’m White and upper-middle-class, I’m sure my former doctor felt I was part of his political persuasion and a participant in this façade. In the Deep South, racism has only morphed, not gone away. Economic well-being has become code for White nationalism.
I am happy for the Biden win. Saddened about the senate results. I did make significant contributions today to Ossoff and Warnock, for their Jan 5th Georgia US senate runoffs, and I would encourage all to do so, and/or volunteer if you are able to. A contribution to Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight (https://fairfight.com) is also a good idea to. I did.
But I am most depressed about the 70 million Americans that voted for Trump. Apparently being responsible for between 130,000 and 210,000 American deaths (per the Columbia University analysis https://ncdp.columbia.edu/custom-content/uploads/2020/10/Avoidable-COVID-19-Deaths-US-NCDP.pdf), separating kids from parents, etc doesn’t phase these voters.
We need a strategy for the next 2 years. Simply putting the Trump years behind us, like Obama did with Bush, will not work. With control of the House and Presidency, subpoenas for Trump executive-branch documents and Trump administration flunkies will now work, and these hearings will make for great TV moments as well. In addition, there will be both criminal and civil lawsuits.
Imagine declassifying (almost all of) the Mueller Report and the associated depositions, and then having Trump come testify under oath. What great fun!
Divide and conquer the Republican party into Trumpists and traditionalist Republicans, and let them fight amongst themselves.