BONNIE GREER on America’s problem with socialism – and the challenges facing The Democratic Party.
When I am asked whether the US has ever been more divided than it is now, I used to reply that the republic, after all, had a Civil War. But now, even that catastrophe may stand alongside what may be called the ‘Cold Civil War’ currently raging – in terms of division, if not bloodshed.
Historians sift through the still smouldering wreckage that, between 1860 and 1865, tore America apart, looking for clues. There are clear markers: the battle over slavery, for example. But what lies beneath that battle is what still rages today: the question of whether the nation is a nation of – as it is said in the USA – ‘laws or men’.
In other words, do human beings in their rugged individuality, make the nation or does the law make the nation: that codified system that refines those aspirations? Is the nation a process, or is it wild, free, personal?
The Democratic Party won the White House with the largest individual vote tally in history. It had at the top of the ticket a seasoned veteran: a former senator and vice president, a guy who ran as “lunch pail Joe”, champion of the working class. His running mate was the child of immigrants, a woman and a woman of colour. This was, as they say in show business, marquee stuff.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris symbolise something that Democrats believe about themselves, believe about what they have become, what they want to be. They are also what the media can market, what it likes.
The 2018 midterm elections demonstrated that the demographic labelled ‘suburban white women’ was finished with Donald Trump. He was too vulgar, too cruel. Those women did not want to be Trumplicans – Republicans who stray from their values to back Trump – and so saw in the Democrats an opportunity to be decent again.
They gave the Democrats their blowout in the House in 2018. But they also returned the Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins, to the senate when it was assumed that she was dead in the water after her vote in favour of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.
The Democrats had money to burn in the recent election cycle. The Republican incumbent in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, was hollering at one point that he was being wiped out against a dynamic African American candidate. But Graham was returned to the senate earlier this month where he champions Trump just as strongly as he championed his best friend, the late Arizona senator John McCain, Trump’s nemesis. And the Republican lock on the governorships and state legislators continues. This is where local law is made, law that affects everyday life. The Republican Party now owns this. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.
The division of America runs through what can be roughly called its rural areas, and the urban centres including the suburbs.
The latter are multicultural; educated; some are research centres. The miracle of Georgia, a state that went for Joe Biden this month in a shock result, is the story of the Atlanta metro area. And it is also a story of turn-out. Stacey Abrams, after her narrow defeat for the governorship in 2018, organised a ‘get out the vote’ campaign. Her motto was ‘stay in line’, and people did. All the way to the polling booth.
Biden winning there is not only stunning. It demonstrates the change. And the Cold Civil War. The war between rural America and urban America. Between their values.
But this month, the Democrats messed up big time with the ‘Hispanic’ demographic. Besides being the fastest growing population in the US, they are the most diverse.
They range from the Cuban Americans of Republican senator Marco Rubio, who tend to be conservative, and the Puerto Rican Americans of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tend not to be.
The Democrats had hoped to win the state of Texas, but the Tejanos helped to defeat that. Before the vote, a Puerto Rican American friend of mine argued me down with the assurance that Trump’s “kids in cages” would finish the Republicans in the Lone Star State. My friend is from the New York City area, like AOC is.
He forgot that the border guards who put those kids in cages speak the same language as those kids. Being a border guard is a job and maybe Trump allowed them to keep their jobs. Plus Biden’s slip-up about fracking may have spooked oil workers in the state. This small example is a snapshot of the new Civil War and there is worse. Much worse.
The Democrats are facing a rift between their left-wing and their moderates. It can be boiled down to the word socialism. Americans, by and large, equate socialism with the gulag, 1984, everybody being made to do the same thing at the same time and so forth.
Anti-mask people in the US are not, for the most part, stupid – they just see masks as a symbol of being told what to do.
Some people are stupid though. A sight to see was Tucker Carlson – the Fox News broadcaster – eyes wide in terror telling his viewers that under Biden, the future of American coffee shops would be affected. “They want to make you drink Starbucks every day from now until forever. No matter how it tastes. That’s the future they promise: everyone doing the same thing.” He said: “These people seek absolute sameness, total uniformity.”
Laugh if you want to, but this is a real fear in many parts of America. It is about freedom of assembly; the right to be where you want to be. After Trump’s hostile takeover of the party of Lincoln, observations like this will only grow larger.
Meanwhile in the Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter and many other organisations and movements that helped to deliver Joe and Kamala to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, want a seat at the table. The top table. Whether the slogan ‘defund the police’ had a lot of America running for the GOP or not, time will tell. But the Old Guard blame that banner and others for losing them House seats and threatening the Dem majority.
In fact, they may lose the House at midterm elections in 2024, what with the grip that the GOP has on the state houses.
The new civil war is real. But Joe Biden, old Washington hand that he is, sees the future. Kamala Harris will be the most powerful vice president in history. She will be co-president. Along with the women and people of colour he is selecting for positions of power around him, he sees the future of the war.
America is becoming a majority/minority nation. Nothing will stop this trajectory. The Blue Wave, predicted for 2020, is still coming.