The first rule of Pundit Club is: election results always mean what your political prejudices want them to mean. Since I am a stickler for rules, and since everyone else is getting in on it, here is my tuppence-worth on what the results so far tell us about the US presidential election.
If Joe Biden is the next President of the United States, it is a clear rebuke of the Trump White House years. The last time a Democrat presidential candidate won Arizona was Bill Clinton in 1996, so flipping the state and its 11 electoral votes is a totemic moment for Biden. The same will be the case if Georgia, which hasn’t backed a Democrat for the White House since Clinton in 1992, ends up in the Biden column. The federal government’s handling of Covid-19 and in particular Donald Trump’s lack of leadership for much of the pandemic will have played its part, and while the amateur demographers on the left and right already have their explanations, there is no taking Biden’s achievement from him: he has convinced at least one red-on-the-cusp-of-purple state to go all the way blue.
A rebuke of Trump, yes, but not quite a repudiation. The electoral college map does not yet seem to tally with pre-poll expectations of a blowout or landslide victory. Americans cast their ballots against a backdrop of more than 200,000 Covid-related deaths, after peaceful protests and violent race riots swept US cities, and on the record of an unusually erratic president whose administration has been plagued by instability and charged with scandal of varying degrees of plausibility. If a Democrat like Biden cannot bury a Republican like Trump with a record like that, his party and their sympathisers need to ask some searching questions of themselves, how they do politics, and even their approach to life. (Spoiler: they won’t. They’ll bag the win, promise to reflect on this or that, then resume normal service.)
The first question even a victorious Democrat Party should ask itself is whether its failure to condemn (and, to a certain extent, its alignment with) the ‘woke’ agenda was wise. By ‘woke’, I don’t refer to the original meaning of awareness of racial and other injustices but the salmagundi of identity politics, speech authoritarianism, cancel culture, ‘defund the police’ sloganeering and violence and intimidation that I place under the rubric of ‘coercive progressivism’. It’s hard to estimate how many Americans are alienated by this incoherent resentment impersonating a political movement – but given that it is an ideology that seems bent on pushing people away (and around) while calling them names, it is not an obvious platform for a party tasked with persuading voters rather than denouncing them.
Connected to this is the deathless question of race (which, in fairness, is deathless in the United States for some very good reasons). Coercive progressivism has set back the hopes for a post-racial America, which is to say an America in which immutable characteristics of race and identity, while undoubtedly meaningful to how some Americans see themselves, become less and less relevant in political behaviour and public policy.
More troubling than the progressive wing’s peddling of the pseudo-social science of critical race theory and its attendant conspiracy theories is the Democrat mainstream’s weak-sauce response. Instead of refuting the lie that America is a white supremacist country, too many moderate Democrats are fearfully silently. Rather than defending America’s founding as an imperfect reach for freedom and self-government, liberals nod along anxiously to the fuzzy revisionism of the 1619 Project. In place of advocacy of police reform, from qualified immunity to firearms and engagement protocols, centrists have stood back and allowed their party to become home to a moral panic about white police officers habitually killing people because of their skin colour.
Progressives tell minorities that they are victims of history and social structures — livers of determined lives, not determiners of their own lives — and the Democrat Party has effectively quote-tweeted this condescending crock with a shrugging-shoulders emoji. Indeed, while Democrats were busy white-knighting minority voters, some of those voters were eyeing up Trump and preferring what he had to offer. NBC News’s Florida exit polls show 55 per cent of Cuban-Americans backing the president, alongside 30 per cent of Puerto Rican voters and almost half of other Latino electors. If Trump somehow pulls off an upset, Latinos in Florida and Texas have no idea the wave of white-left racism heading their way.
Many Democrats, perhaps especially the younger, angrier ones, appear not to have been prepared for anything other than a Biden landslide. This is what comes of a worldview in which progressives regard themselves as advocates of self-evidently virtuous positions — nothing so vulgar as politics — and their opponents as manifestly stupid, racist, selfish, hate-filled and evil. Treating American history, culture, prevailing ethics and around half the citizenry with contempt is a high-stakes approach to cobbling together an electoral coalition and, worse, it does nothing to help create a more perfect union. Democrats need not love Republican and conservative-leaning independent voters but it might help to stop disdaining them and their values so openly.
This brings me neatly to the last thought I would like to offer Democrats: for the love of Mary, Joseph and the sweet, immaculate baby Jesus, get yourselves a better media. Back when the US mainstream media was gently liberal (socially leftish but economically centrist), its bewilderment at these creatures called ‘Americans’ — with their churches and their guns and their little flags — was nothing more than a coastal-heartland comedy of errors. Also, it really seemed to annoy Bill O’Reilly, so something good came of it. The capture of key liberal platforms by the progressive movement — most starkly, the New York Times — has had an altogether less salutary effect.
Progressive news and entertainment media is skewing Democrats’ perspective on the priorities and attitudes of most Americans. Most Americans don’t exist in a permanent paroxysm over Donald Trump’s every tweet. Most Americans don’t respond to the nomination of a mainstream originalist Supreme Court justice by donning their red cloaks for a spot of Handmaid’s Tale cosplay. Most Americans live lives blessedly untouched by politics until The Bachelor gets bumped for a presidential debate. Most Americans should be at the centre of the Democrats’ agenda.
As I said at the outset, these post-election analyses always reflect the pundit’s biases so I’ll be open about mine. Progressivism is a divisive dead-end for Democrats, who should proudly re-hoist the banner of American liberalism, with its commitment to freedom, opportunity, equal rights, good jobs, union wages, security at home and smart strength overseas. What do I know, I’m just a pundit, but that strikes me as an agenda that could have delivered the sort of victory Joe Biden was capable of.