November 3rd’s election confirmed what many polls had told us : that Republican candidates, even the awful Mr. Trump, made significant vote percentage gains among Hispanic voters and Vietnamese voters. The party’s candidates also gained a few more Black voters than in 2016. Even as Joe Biden won back significant millions of white voters who had nixed Hillary Clinton, a million voters of color moved in the opposite direction.
Biden won, by a lot, but his party lost a lot of down-ballot contests.The questions are, first of all, WHY ? Secondly, what does this shift portend ?
I’ll try to answer those questions, but right now I want to talk about these Tuesday results :
( 1 ) Hispanic voter movement caused the defeat of two Democratic Congresspersons in South Florida, the 26th and 27th Districts, heavily Cuban-American. Hispanic voters moved toward the Republicans in other Stares as well. In Florida, many voters of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan immigrant origins appear also to have chosen Republican candidates.
( 2 ) Democrats were unable to flip even one Texas Congressional District.
( 3 ) Democratic vote share in several big cities went down — not much, maybe two or three percent, but down is down — or increased less than expected, given the shift among white voters toward Joe Biden. Boston was one such. In 2016, Trump won 12.7 % of our city’s vote. On Tuesday he won 15.6 percent.
( 4 ) Democrats lost House seats in Iowa, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, California ( 3 so far ), New Mexico, Minnesota, and Utah. None of the Republican Congressmen at risk — in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, New York, California, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota — was defeated.
( 5 ) Hispanic voter movement toward Republican candidates, and even to Trump, appears significantly motivated by the “socialism” and “defund the police” news that were broadcast during the summer of BLM. I will discuss this in another column at a later date.
There is good news here, however. America’s vote is much less racially polarized today than it was four years ago.
The bad news is that a lessening of racial conflict is countered by a sharp increase in economic disparities. And THIS is what I want to discuss now.
Everywhere in America, upper income voters moved sharply toward the Democrat while in most areas., lower income voters either moved only a little bit — with one major exception — toward the Democrats, or move not at all, or even moved away from that party. The exception is, of course, Joe Biden himself : he won back at least one-fifth of the low-income white voters who abandoned Hillary in 2016.
Biden’s success was a purely personal one. In addition to the lost Congress races I have listed, Democrats, as of today, have flipped only one Republican-held Congress seat and only two Democratic Senators (the two Georgia Senate races won’t be decided until January 5th) while losing the seat in Alabama. Biden will find it difficult to get his ambitious legislative agenda through a Congress in which Democratic House members, stunned by losses when they were expecting gains, are wary of 2022 and the Senate is controlled by the Republicans.
Nonetheless, it was, for Biden, a victory, of character and integrity over ugly mendacity, of kindness over the gutter. A majority of American voters are sick to death of Trump and all he says and is.
However, that majority is not sick of the Republican party’s 2020 warning about Democrats’ inclination to defund police forces. Congressman Jim Clyburn, who almost single-handedly won Joe Biden the Democratic nomination, is right when he says that the “defund the police” message cost Democratic House and Senate candidates dearly. “Defund the police” sounded rabidly radical to most voters, and it is.
No important Democrat made “defund the police” her campaign theme, but the damage was all too evident all across the nation during summer protests, even the peaceful ones, at which, occasionally, little children carried “FUCK THE POLICE” placards. This message was all too easy for wealthy, white voters — in few of whose neighborhoods any actual police live — to broadcast. They don’t suffer the consequences of defunded police forces. It’s the inhabitants of low-income, big city neighborhoods in which, as we saw all summer, crime increases when police presence falls back. Young voters, even of color, may have fun calling for “fuck the police,” but the older residents of crimed neighborhoods, most of whom cannot move because they can’t afford to, understandably rejected the entire anti-police them, to the detriment of the incoming Democratic administration.
The Democratic party, despite the best intentions of Joe Biden and his obvious background as a son of the white working class, is rapidly becoming the party of wealth and of white voter, suburban comfort. I don’t see how it can advocate a working-class, economic betterment message when its current voter base relies on — pursues relentlessly — an inequality of wealth and access that has reached crisis proportions. How is a party of meritocrats going to organize a $ 15/hour minimum wage ? A labor union drive ? Housing subsidies like 1946’s GI Bill ? Nor is the Democratic party’s socialist wing — a tiny minority made to seem much larger by Republican ad-makers — any help. Its solution to economic inequality is punitive : tax the rich to extinction, have the Federal government fund and manage health care, transportation, everything. This is unworkable, and, besides, America’s aspiring immigrants and lower-income voters don’t want that. They want opportunity and much better wages. They don’t want buildings named after them at big-name universities, they want their kids to have admission to those universities. Naming a building after a person of color, as my university (Princeton) just did, is flagrant tokenism. Immigrants and voters of color do not, I hope, want tokenism !
Yet if the Democratic party faces a serious reckoning with its upwardly mobile narrowing, the Republican party faces troubles at least as noxious. It is, at present, a party of grievance. It’s all well and good to complain about being screwed by the powerful, but mere complaining doesn’t change anything useful. To do that, you have to have a positive program : OK, we’re being left behind, or losing power to the well off, so what do we do to improve our lot without damaging the entire structure ? And do we trust anybody in power to actually advocate such a program ? Trump’s entire message — assuming that his gutter horking had any — was negative and reactionary : repeal, yes. Replace, no. Even now, with him on his way to well-merited obloquy, his party has nothing to say except NO. NO to “socialism.” NO to “immorality.” NO to anything a Democrat wants to do.
NO is the entire message of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Georgia’s two Republican Senate candidates facing runoff elections on January 5th. No, No, and no.
This cannot stand, because a party of “no” is a party responding to what the other party is trying to do. It leaves the initiative entirely to the Democrats, putting the Republican party in the position of waiting to hear what to say NO to. And this Republican NO has an angry tone to it, a sound of vengeance and bitterness. It is Trumpism without Trump, and it depends for its success entirely upon Democratic failure.
The nation deserves better. The nation needs better. Can our politicians do better ? Can Joe Biden get us to be kind again, to work with each other, to trust reform legislation ?
Can he and they inspire us, the voters, to trust them to bring better to us ? These are the questions all of us are asking, I hope, of our next two Federal government years.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere