Joe Biden likely will be the next president of the United States because Black and Latinx people overcame the raging, racist, white Republican shitstorm hellbent on ensuring that he would not overcome their fury.
While Biden will be able to claim victory, the very fact that this race was even close should concern Democrats. Biden breezed through the primaries, buoyed by Black people’s belief that it would take a decent but nonetheless underwhelming white man to beat an extremely racist white one. He was supposed to have blown Trump out, according to polling. Based on media reports, we were supposed to see another “blue wave” help Democrats expand their lead in the House and possibly win back the Senate. Democrats still have the House but lost seats, and they will be lucky if they can come within one seat of the majority in the Senate. At the local level, none of the state legislatures flipped in Democrats’ favor.
What in the hell happened? The immediate and obvious answer: racism.
Commentators, political analysts and operatives—most of whom are people of color—have lamented that much of white America really does not care that Trump is a kleptocrat, files dodgy tax returns, alleged abuser of women, virulent racist, extremely anti-LGBTQ+ and completely mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic to the point where a quarter of a million Americans have died and millions more have contracted the virus and lifelong complications that come with them. These white Americans, in fact, came out in larger numbers in 2020 than they did in 2016. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead because Trump, who contracted coronavirus himself, cared more about reopening the economy than keeping Americans safe.
None of this persuaded white voters from casting ballots for Trump on Tuesday.
Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, told The Root that much of white America saw COVID-19 restrictions less as public safety precautions and more of an infringement on their personal liberties. She mentions Florida, which Trump won again, and how its governor, Ron DeSantis, ignored medical doctors’ guidelines on how to manage it in his state.
“Even though the rates are increasing, he’s more popular than ever because so many white Americans see the management of COVID as just a figment of Democratic imagination and hysteria,” Greer said. “Even though the numbers are almost a quarter million Americans, you’ve got outlets like Fox News saying that those numbers are inflated. So there’s this disinformation, but a lot of white American see wearing a mask, practicing basic public health and public safety as an attack on their first amendment rights.”
She has a point.
Pew Research Center found before the election, only 24 percent of Trump supporters saw COVID-19 as a serious issue and reported that Republicans who get their news on COVID-19 from Trump’s task force are more likely to believe that the media are overexaggerating how bad the pandemic is. Indeed, resistance is palpable. Across the nation, white people are revolting against Democrats who follow science. White people despise Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer so much that they raided the state capital with guns in protest of her coronavirus safety measures and even went as far as planning to kidnap her over it. In Mississippi, where the highest percentage Black Americans live, a local health official wondered if attitudes over masks and social distancing are behind why more white people are contracting the virus at higher rates than Black residents.
Democrats running against their GOP opponents and Trump over the pandemic were not effective because white people do not care about dying. Sen. Mitch McConnell destroyed his well-financed Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, who decried his handling of COVID-19 relief efforts and his state is experiencing a record number of cases. Jaime Harrison plugged holes in Lindsay Graham’s rubber stamping of Trump’s agenda—including the Republicans refusal to challenge the current occupant’s fawning over Putin. It didn’t matter. Trump also outperformed Biden in areas around the nation with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita. This man presided over one of the worst public health crises in American history and he was still competitive.
Why? Because white people will kill themselves if it means preserving the republic—for themselves and no one else.
There is no political strategy Democrats could have deployed that would have swayed these voters to their side. You just have to let them sit in their racism and, instead, lean more into the people of color and progressive-minded whites. During elections, much is said about “energizing the base” and gauging people’s “enthusiasm” for a candidate. Democrats, traditionally, have long chosen boring moderate white candidates in the hopes that “white, working class” voters will be compelled to go blue. This tends not to work all that well. We saw it in Kentucky where millions of dollars were spent on McGrath, a now two-time loser in House and Senate races, instead of Charles Booker, the younger, Black candidate who, in the senate race this year came close to beating her in the primary and polled better against McConnell in one-on-one primary matchups.
Political commentator Avis Jones-Deweever told The Root that many Democrats underperformed this year in national house and local races because they haven’t accepted that white voters left them decades ago in protest of their progressive values on civil rights.
“The Democratic Party is enamored with wanting white people to love them,” she said. “For years, they have been trying to get this elusive white vote. When in reality, the Democratic Party has not seen a majority of white voters since the 1960s. But it continues to be their most desired voter. In this election in particular, we’ve gone through four years of not just the Democratic Party, but the media being very enamored with the Republican voter. So when it came time to this particular election, the Democratic Party fell into the same trap about wanting to win this Republican voter and get the Trump voter to switch and vote for the Democrats.”
Joe Biden was supposed to be the antithesis of Bernie Sanders, a man whose far-left politics were feared to be too polarizing for “middle America,” another moniker for conservative white people who could vote for Democrats if they aren’t too much of a Democrat. There is no indication that that plan bore any fruit. The reality is that Democrats have to start treating people of color voters like they do white ones.
Take Georgia for example, where Black female organizers and political operatives led by Stacey Abrams almost won the governorship in 2018. And though state Democrats missed the mark this go-around, they are within striking distance of eventually taking the state house. The reason why Georgia may very well go to Democrats any day now (and Biden has a slim lead over Trump in Georgia as of Friday) is because Abrams took advantage of the state’s growing people of color population, which is set to outnumber whites by 2028. She set the stage for what is possible because she saw the numbers and worked them. Biden’s moderate approach would not have made the state as much of a possibility for him as it almost was for Abrams two years ago.
The numbers are also in Texas, where Hispanics are set to become the state’s largest population group by next year. Democrats lost ground to Republicans there because, as political experts explained to Vox, they did not invest enough in this group and Biden did not have the same name recognition as did Hillary Clinton in 2016. The numbers were there, but Democrats failed to seize the opportunity. In 2022, they should try and take that state during the midterm elections and try again for the presidency in 2024. The state is definitely in play. Then you have Arizona, where Democrats did well. Though it was not easy, they succeeded because they actually invested resources in the state. Just imagine if Arizona, Texas and Georgia voted blue consistently for Democrats.
That would be a wrap.
White progressives, the working poor and people of color can win year after year for Democrats if they can shake their desire for white moderates. But it would require national Democrats to make a painful paradigm shift in thinking. The type of work that is being done in Georgia requires people in positions of power who fight from the margins, not from within the center. A Black female activist as the chair of the National Democratic Committee would help take Georgia’s playbook national—if she is given the proper resources, of course.
One of the main reasons we saw a blue wave in 2018 was because the candidates running, at least at the national level, were the most diverse in history in regards to race and gender. They ran on abolishing ICE, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal. Even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t care for “The Squad,” she would not be in her position without progressive candidates, who galvanized millions of young people to the polls. The Black women leading street protests pushed Democrats farther left than they wanted to go and consequently generated interest in new voters because they saw their values on the ballot. The blue wave of 2018 was as much an activist movement as it was a midterm. Barring a few trickles like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush, we saw no blue wave in 2020 because national Democrats failed to realize that their true base is farther left than they care to admit. (Also, I honestly think they are too damn lazy to fight for these voters.)
In short, Democrats need more #BlackGirlMagic and less K Street moving forward to avoid the disappointing finishes we’re experiencing now.
And while Black voters are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, they need to do some serious engagement of Latinx voters. Biden won a majority of the Latinx vote, but could have done better, as operatives explained to NPR. Many media pundits and reporters pointed to gains Trump made with Latinx voters. But, as Julio Ricardo Varela of Latino USA points out, this is misleading because Latinx voters—and there are a wide range of them, including those who do not consider themselves “people of color”—have always supported the GOP in one form or another. But more than 80 percent of young Latinx voters say the Black Lives Matter movement and issues around racial inequality are drawing them to the polls, a great opportunity to connect with them on policing and the criminal legal system.
Varela also noted that Florida is not the only game in town when it comes to Latinx voters.
Natalie Montelongo, the executive director of Julian Castro’s People First Future political organization, told The Root that Democrats at all levels could have done a better job of engaging Latinx voters. If there are any lessons they could take from 2020, it’s that they should not run away from progressive issues that are of great importance to Latinx people. Montelongo especially emphasized those between the ages of 18-35.
“It’s a very young electorate that’s ripe to be tapped into,” she said. “Many of these voters are first-time voters, but they have a progressive streak that motivates them to get involved. It’s not just messaging in Spanish or ads in their community. No, these people are young and care about free access to college. They care about the environment. They care about all of these progressive issues. It’s pushing issues that inspire and motivate especially young Latinos who make up the largest part of our electorate.”
The blame for Democrats’ relatively poor showing nationally isn’t their fault alone. We are in our second presidential election since the Supreme Court gutted key provisions in the Voter Rights Act of 1965, which required nine states to notify the federal government of changes in their election laws. Georgia, one of the states under the 1965 statute, saw local Republicans abuse this High Court in 2018 by purging voter rolls of mostly minority residents and mandating confusing and highly subjective matching signature rules that can disqualify ballots. The 2013 ruling also allowed many states to pass repressive voter ID laws, as well as end early voting, same-day registration and close more than 1,600 polling stations in which people of color reside. Texas, Georgia and Arizona have closed the most polls of any states since the High Court decision. Maybe Democrats should spend as much time fighting voter suppression as they do pursuing the white working-class voter.
So, yes. Biden revealed that a white moderate like himself was not a sure antidote against Trump. But this election proves something larger than Biden: White people are very happy with the racist, undemocratic, unequal America we have now. Trump is literally trying to steal the election as I type this article. We are not a united nation, and in order for Democrats to win, they have to get as many of their people (the working poor and people of color) to the polls as possible and abandon the white moderates who left the party in the 1960s because Black people were granted some semblance of freedom.
“A lot of people wanted to believe that Donald Trump was some aberration and what he represents is not indicative of America,” Jones-Deweever said. “But the reality is that he represents millions across this nation. A lot of people did not want to face that, but it’s a stark reality that that’s who America is.”