What Do The Election Results Mean For The American Left?

Guest post by Jason Brownlee

Image from AP: Rebecca Blackwell

Americans are celebrating Biden’s win but this is looking like a pretty terrible election for the American Left, especially for any hopes that Democrats could advance an agenda tackling historic inequality or the climate crisis.

Overall, this was the narrowest of rejections of Trump specifically, but pretty much an endorsement of Republican politics and an implicit repudiation of the Democrats’ non-class appeals. Most importantly, a massive increase in turnout was almost as likely to benefit Trump as Biden. So far Trump has gotten 6 million more votes than he did last time (which adds up to 70 million some votes, more than Obama ever got).  

An extensive poll from AP captures what the polling projections did such a bad job of: Trump improved his vote share among pretty much all demographic groups (LGBTQ, Blacks, Latinos, women, etc.).

Image from the AP poll linked to above.

In addition, Nate Silver (whose prognostication business may never recover from the polling errors that projected a Democratic sweep of Congress) has a fine piece analyzing the actual vote patterns that have come in, i.e., not predicting but looking at actual votes. The map at the bottom, with arrows, shows where Trump did better than last time, including among Mexican-Americans in south Texas.

Image from the Silver article linked to above.

Long story short, Dems have long been selling the story that Americans, through demographic changes, will inexorably deliver their party national power. No such thing is happening, Instead, in a very Kang-vs-Kodos way Americans were left to choose between two anti-socialist parties. They rejected Kang this time, but they have endorsed his minions.

The Question of Trump and Authoritarianism

My scholarship these days is engaging the people warning of authoritarianism. Turkey is very much at the center of that debate and I appreciated Zeynep’s analysis. That literature, not necessarily Zeynep, has a tendency to be – unintentionally but ironically – pretty anti-democratic in the way it handles mass opinion and working class voters. See for example the political psychology studies on how millions of Americans who support Trump “are authoritarians.” 

As academics whose vocation is to cultivate critical thinking I generally get uncomfortable when large numbers of people become deferential to political leaders. But it’s also inappropriate, and elitist, to dismiss voters for Trump, Erdogan, Orban, Bolsonaro etc. as stooges and stormtroopers. After all, we tend not to do that for supporters of leftist populists.   

Turkey, like Venezuela, has crossed the line into heavy amounts of state coercion. But elsewhere – India, Poland, US, Brazil – one needs to reckon with the basically free choice of mass constituencies to repeatedly vest state power in nativist, patriarchal (etc.) politicians. That challenge is very much present right now, not just in 2024 under Trump again or a Trump 2.0 figure.

And what I think that means is we need more serious political economy work explaining how the abandonment of material left policies by parties like the Democratic Party contributes to a rise in support for the so-called rightwing populists. Calling the other side “authoritarian” is a mystification, not an explanation.

Final thing: the “f word” has come up on Progressive Podcast Australia a few times. A few weeks ago Vox asked me and some other scholars whether Trump should be called a fascist: ‘Is Trump a fascist? 8 experts weigh in’.

Donald Trump

Hoping For More Prayers Rather Than Bombs: A Response to Donald Trump’s Comments on Venezuela

By Nick Pendergrast

US President Donald Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer event.
Image from: Evan Vucci – AP.

Following the recent failed coup in Venezuela, Donald Trump said he is ‘sending prayers to the people of Venezuela’. This is great, hopefully he continues to send prayers to Venezuela and not the US military!

US Sanctions

Trump commented about the situation in Venezuela: ‘People are starving. They have no food they have no water, and this was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world’. There is no doubting the current economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela but what goes unmentioned not only by Trump but also all of the mainstream media coverage I’ve seen on Venezuela, is the role of US sanctions imposed by Trump’s regime that contribute to all of these problems Trump is apparently so concerned about.

These sanctions are responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 Venezuelans since 2017, according to a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot. Sachs makes it clear that this is a very imprecise estimate but nevertheless points out that:

‘What is certain, though, staring us in the face, is that there is a humanitarian catastrophe, deliberately caused by the United States, by what I would say are illegal sanctions, because they are deliberately trying to bring down a government and trying to create chaos for the purpose of an overthrow of a government’.

Threat of US Military Intervention

Trump has also said about the Venezuelan people that: ‘we wish them well, we’ll be there to help and we are there to help’. They’ve already “helped” through their sanctions but Trump has also repeated that all options remained on the table, including military action.

Regardless of Venezuelans having a wide range of views about President Nicolás Maduro, an overwhelming majority reject foreign military intervention. Different polls put this rejection at 54% and 86% of Venezuelans but in both cases there is a clear majority. 81% also reject the US sanctions referred to above. So this “help” Trump is speaking about has already had a disastrous impact on the “ordinary Venezuelans” that the Trump administration claims to care about, and both this and further “help” is not wanted by most Venezuelans.

It is very possible to be critical of the Maduro government and still reject US interference. The ABC News (USA) video that I discussed in my last article on Venezuela included footage of a Venezuelan state police/military vehicle deliberately running over anti-government protestors. This was not necessarily directed by Maduro or his administration and it is important to note, not as a way to justify the actions but for appropriate context, that these protestors were throwing fire bombs at these vehicles. Beyond this though Amnesty International has documented many human rights abuses by the Venezuelan government.

Nevertheless, journalist Federico Fuentes has pointed out that those critiquing the government from amongst the poorer and working class neighbourhoods have retreated in their protests against the government because they don’t want to be associated with the US-supported coup attempt from Juan Guaidó. As noted above, there is overwhelming opposition to foreign intervention, including from many who no doubt are not fans of Maduro.

There was a very good discussion on Democracy Now! recently that presented two very different positions on the Maduro government – Carlos Ron is a part of this government while Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander is highly critical of this administration. But nevertheless they agree that it should be Venezuelans that decide the government and politics of that country, rather than the US or any other outside country.

Democracy Now! has had heaps of excellent coverage of the situation in Venezuela. I’d particularly recommend the 1st May and 2nd May episodes that discussed the failed coup attempt as well as some of the broader issues at play.