nancy pelosi
Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Image: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

As the Trump circus rolls on, testing how a coup might be prepared, the recriminations have begun on the Democrat side.

The majority in the House of Representatives has been reduced right to the bone — it will most likely end up with the Democrats about 7-10 seats down, the House about 225-210.

The Senate was equally disappointing. With eight or so Republican senate seats exposed, the Democrats have taken only one, in Colorado. That leaves them with 48 senators to the Republicans’ 50.

The remaining two slots are both Senate places in Georgia, where there is to be a run-off election, neither race having yielded a 50% plus-one result. The Democrats would have to win both to achieve a bare majority (with Vice-President Kamala Harris, as Senate president, casting the deciding vote).

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But those slim majorities only work when the whole party votes uniformly. And that is a rare thing in the US. Democrat senators in Republican states, such as Joe Manchin in West Virginia, go where they will, according to their political needs. So too will at least a dozen reps.

The Democrat majority isn’t there. And it will soon get worse. Soon, there’ll be a redistribution of districts (and, hence, electoral college votes) based on the results of the 2020 census. That will allow state governments to redraw both the congressional district map and their state assembly maps to their benefit, and most of these governments are Republican.

The national aggregate congressional vote will show a majority for the Democrats, but pundits of right and centre will continue to nod their heads and say sagely that America is a centre-right country, etc etc, and a slice of mainstream progressives will agree.

There seems little prospect that this two-level fix will be remedied for years and years to come.The Democrats needed a “blue wave” to wash over all votes in this election and they don’t appear to have got it.

Having portrayed Trump as a disgrace to the American project, and the sacking of him a moral imperative, the Democrats appear to have got what they asked for: a tranche of Republican voters willing to vote out Trump, and Biden voters with no interest in going down ballot.

Within these dismal results is a greater disappointment; the failure of the Black and Latinx vote to rise or at least remain stable for the Democrats.

They thought they had this one in the bag. How could they not? Trump had begun his march to the White House by driving the Obama birther myth just when it had started to flag; the first speech of his 2016 campaign was to denounce immigrants as “rapists”.

In 2016 that had pushed the Black vote for Trump down to around 8.5%. In 2020 that jumped to 13.5%, with the male vote up to 18%. The Latinx Republican vote in 2012 was 27%. In 2020 it was 32%, plainly going in the wrong direction. 

This is a major blow for the Democrats, since it suggests that the one-off anti-Trump “decency” vote has masked a deterioration in the sort of votes that the Democrats were hoping to rely on in the future. Biden’s victory came because of shifts in white voters — college-educated more than non-college — going the other way. As the Brookings institute exit poll shows this varied significantly from state to state.

The general conclusion might be that some of those who voted for Trump as disruptor — “I can’t stand the man, but going to vote for him because something has to happen” — switched back or stayed home in general disgust. But that’s no basis for a new coalition, and some figures are particularly alarming, such as the apparent zero shift of non-college whites back to the Democrats in Pennyslvania.

There was barely a road to Democratic victory through the new coalition — Latinx, Black, minority groups (LGBTIQ, Asian-Americans), youf, humanities-side college-educated whites — and the fact that it has gone backwards, against Trump, shows that nothing will guarantee it.

Trump got a better Black vote after he praised the tiki-torchlight Nazi parade than before. Who would the Republicans have to put up to weld that coalition together from the outside? Goebbels? James Earl Ray? The two as a ticket? 

There are specific reasons for the low vote. As far as Latinx go, it appears the Democrat campaign was lackadaisical in key areas, and the anti-communist(!) vote snuck up on them in Miami. But they lost the Latinx community in Texas, in the Rio Grande valley, a place where you can go days without hearing English.

How? Is it religion, and abortion? Or that Trump’s economy has plumped up low-end wages, in a way that looks to many like a real recovery? Is this vote fracturing a sign that group/identity politics is fracturing in favour of class?

The Democrats talked of a national $15-per-hour minimum wage, but Biden never talked in the way Trump had about good jobs, or aimed at Trump’s limited success in creating them, or at the Republicans’ obsessive attempt to destroy Obamacare. 

The “class” aspect is one, Crikey readers will be shocked to find, I’m not convinced by per se. It’s not old economic class v identity; it’s that within non-white groups, the class division along the knowledge line is starting to come apart. A section of such peoples are disputing the manner in which they are represented by community leaders. That makes a grand identity coalition unusable as a victorious base — because it cannot be reliably delivered by said leaders.

The party will have to go out and get the votes, each time. This is bad news for those people — knowledge-class feminists, professional people-of-colour — who wanted to forge a progressive coalition with such a poor attitudes test. In the middle run, it’s the only road back to the politics of a majority, against the real elites and dying capital.

But for the moment, the circus is in town.