So, thankfully, Joe Biden got enough Electoral College votes to claim victory in the 2020 US presidential election. However, it is far from the landslide that the more wishful-thinking Democrats had hoped for and which might have obliged Donald Trump to concede defeat.
As it is, Trump is threatening a barrage of lawsuits to challenge the results in several states, alleging electoral fraud. Given that a Michigan judge has already rejected the Trump campaign’s allegations as lacking any substance, as reported by CNN’s Jessica Schneider & Laura Jarrett, Trump may find he simply doesn’t have the backing of his sponsors and donors to pursue his case throughout so many courts. According to Sky News’ James Matthews, some of Trump’s closest advisers are against his continuing Tweets about electoral fraud and senior Republicans such as Maryland governor Larry Hogan and Congressman Adam Kinzinger are calling for Trump to cease these allegations.
However, given Trump’s history of erratic behaviour, it is entirely possible that he may refuse to accept Biden’s victory and resist his own dismissal, using every tactic available to him, from the courts to white supremacist militias like the infamous Proud Boys. So unpredictable is Trump seen to be that there are even rumours that the US Secret Service has plans to remove Trump forcibly from the White House if necessary (Ciaran McGrath, Daily Express).
Despite yesterday’s ringing celebratioons, the next couple of months are likely to be tense and difficult for Americans – and there may well be outbreaks of violence. However, the vast majority of Republicans are believed to support Democracy so the most likely outcome is that Biden does become president on 20 January 2021.
As for Trump, he is likely to be either on his way out of the country or on his way to being prosecuted by at least the State of New York (for tax evasion) and probably several other law enforcement offices.
Understanding the challenge ahead
Biden’s team has some truly mammoth tasks ahead of it. Just for starters, there is the immense task of ‘healing’ the social and ethnic divisions Trump’s politics revealed to be even greater than previously acknowledged and then greatly exacerbated. As part of this there is rebuilding the broad value consensus (Émile Durkheim, 1893) by which the vast majority of Americans will agree to live. That, of necessity, includes the rebuilding/restructuring of the American economy with jobs Trump promised but never delivered. And those jobs have to be sustainable in a globalised world.
There is also is the wreckage of American foreign policy to repair – but that is for another Blog post!
To heal and rebuild the United States successfully, Biden’s team need to understand both the roots of Trump’s hijacking of the right and the challenges the coming decades are going to bring. One of these challenges is directly related to the success of the Trump phenomenon….
Racism – and its manipulation by the rich and the powerful – the Plutocracy and their Elite lackeys, to use the terminology of Guy Standing (2009).
Like the workings of the UK’s Brexiteers in the same year (2016), Trump’s success was largely built on speaking in ‘politically incorrect’ language to the fears and concerns of the disenfranchised white working classes – particularly as mirrored back to them by the right-wing media.
For many in such groups, the language of Trump in the US and Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in the UK has been liberating. It has enabled the throwing-off of GREEN’s political correctness and freed those thinking in PURPLE and RED to speak as they really feel. (See: Has Boris Johnson inadvertently done Us a Favour? for more on this.) Thus, in both countries there has been a consistently higher level of racial abuse since 2016.
While the ORANGE vMEME has driven globalisation, increasingly without any BLUE moral compass or much sense of responsibility to anyone other than corporate shareholders, GREEN thinking has declared that all are of equal worth and that ethnic and cultural differences don’t matter and should be ignored or absorbed into the mush of we-are-all human concepts of ‘spirituality’. It is anathema to GREEN thinking to acknowledge that tribal divisions are real to those in the tribes and people in one tribe usually see themselves as the in-group to defend themselves against the out-group(s). Social Identity Theory shows that simply categorising some people as belonging to one group and other people to a different group lays the foundations for conflict.
Much as it goes against the thinking of people in the more complex systems, when PURPLE thinking dominates, there really is a potential for racism to be natural. (The colour of someone’s skin is one of the easiest ways to recognise someone as being/not being of your tribe – though accents, clothing, customs and religion are other key markers of difference.)
When resources – such as jobs – become scarce, then competition and hostility between the different groups can increase exponentially – as per Realistic Conflict Theory.
PURPLE has a driving need for security and feels threatened by ‘others’ – just the sheer existence of others can be threatening. When there is competition for vital resources, PURPLE is very vulnerable to being taken in by Trumpian-style RED-thinking demagogues offering what Theodore Adorno et al (1951) term ‘magical solutions’ such as Build a wall to keep the Mexicans out! or Leave the EU to stop immigration!
It is more than ironic American – and British – jobs have been exported to South-East Asia, North Africa, etc – termed the New International Division of Labour – by the transnational corporations (TNCS), many of whose owners and senior executives are key sponsors and donors to Trump and Johnson. However, as discussed in How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats…, the aim of the ultra-rich sponsors of Trump and Johnson is not the betterment of the ‘left-behind’ white working classes. Rather, it is deregulation so profits can be increased and personal wealth aggrandised. Trump’s administration has deregulated health & safety, employment and environmental regulation on an industrial scale – nearly 100 rules to do with environmental protection alone have been reversed, according to The New York Times’ Nadja Popovich, Livia Albeck-Ripka & Kendra Piere-Louis. Meanwhile Johnson has all but got the UK out of the European Union and its regulations, bar another month of pretend negotiations on a trade deal. (How much Biden’s election will affect Johnson’s direction is to be seen.)
In terms of social identity mutating into realistic conflict in the US, there is a demographic that Biden’s team must address as part of their healing and rebuilding strategies….
US Census projections have non-Hispanic whites being no longer the majority population by 2045. According to William H Frey for the Brookings Institution in 2018, “the greatest growth is projected for multiracial populations, Asians and Hispanics with 2018–2060 growth rates of 176, 93, and 86 percent, respectively. The projected growth rate for blacks is 34 percent.” See graphic below.
For many whites – particularly those who are used to perceiving Asians, Hispanics and blacks as inferior and minorities to be treated as 2nd Class citizens, this is a scary proposition. It breeds fear that can be exploited. Fear that leads to extreme tribalism and increasing development of white supremacist groups. Fear that leads to them arming themselves against the blacks and the Hispanics they have maltreated for so long. Fear that craves the authoritarian ‘superman’ who can lead them and save them with his ‘magical solutions’.
This, in part at least, offers an explanation as to how Trump has maintained such a strong vote – a red bulwark against the over-predicted ‘blue wave’.
Where to go from here…?
It’s probably too much to expect a vision to transform the United States from Biden himself. He’s an old man, almost certainly with some mild level of cognitive deficits. Almost certainly a one-term president, even if he hasn’t stepped down by 2024. Hopefully, he will surround himself with highly capable people – political, diplomatic and administrative – who will build a team from which new visions can emerge within the broad policy parameters it is for Biden, as president, to lay down. Certainly his pick of Kamala Harris for vice president seems a shrewd one – though neither her gender nor her ethnicity are likely to go down well with hardcore Trump supporters.
Might there even be room for some moderate Republicans on Biden’s team? Perhaps so. A number of prominent moderate Republicans – eg: the Lincoln Project – put their Republican credentials on the line to endorse Biden. (It appears their BLUE was just too offended by Trump’s lies, incompetence and gross indulgences not to want him gone.)
And this is what Biden is good at: reaching out to people, including those across the political divides, and forming alliances. In that sense, as the likes of Michael Grunwald (2019) have described him, he is an old-fashioned wheeler dealer of a politician, a pragmatic centrist – the sort that could attract moderate Republicans, all the while trying not to alienate the radical left too much. In terms of the Assimilation-Contrast Effect (ACE), it’s possible Biden might find it easier to bring moderate Republicans on board than hard-core left wingers. (It will be interesting to see how long Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren contain their criticisms of Biden after 20 January.)
But a moderate centrist government is what the US needs for the post-Trump era of healing and rebuilding. Almost a government of national unity – if not in name, then in values and policies.
To heal and rebuild, Biden’s team have to start preparing the US for that time when non-Hispanic whites are no longer the majority ethnic group. The start of that is to move away just a little from GREEN’s insistence that all people are equal and all values and norms are equal. Not in the eyes of a scared but rapidly diminishing non-Hispanic white majority they’re not. The Facebook graphic below neatly encapsulates the fear meme that circulates amongst whites who feel threatened by other ethnic groups and what they might bring about.
To placate the white working classes – who will be just as vulnerable to exploitation by another white supremacist Trump-type figure – their fears need to be eased.
A key part of that is getting the US working again post-Covid – assuming Covid can be beaten or at least controlled. In 2016 Trump promised old-style jobs – like coal mining and auto manufacturing – would come back. Those jobs didn’t and they won’t – especially if Biden fulfils his promise of a very early return to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Rather, like the UK in the 80s and 90s, the US has to develop new forms of economy that are not so based on heavy industry. Unlike, the UK in the 80s and 90s which neglected much of the Midlands and the North of England (as well as Scotland and Wales), the new forms of economy need to be accessible to all Americans. Security of the practical basics in life – enough money to live, food on the table, etc – is essential if PURPLE fears are not to be exploited again by a Trump-type authoritarian.
Alongside addressing basic security needs, there has to be developed a sense of common identity. Prior to Trump non-Hispanic white Americans actually tended to be fairly good at this: singing the national anthem and saluting the flag at the start of the school day do help to instil a sense of we-are-all-Americans together. However, not all ethnic groups took to the system with that much enthusiasm. So the American common identity needs to be developed into something that all Americans can buy into, from First Nationers to blacks to Hispanics, etc, etc. And, as in South Africa, with the end of Apartheid, there needs to be some special considerations for the non-Hispanic whites. Almost certainly time-limited but enough to ease some of the fears of change as the US transitions. GREEN won’t like positive discrimination for non-Hispanic whites any more than PURPLE will like other ethnic groups gaining parity with them. However, the change in ethnic demographics is not something that Biden’s team can ignore.
The Trump-era has been a nightmare for many Americans; but, now he is going, a smaller but significant number of other Americans feel cheated and are fearful for the future. Perhaps some kind of national consultation process is in order to tease out all the fears and resentments in a safe way to initiate a MeshWORK process in which all the needs of all the disparate interests can be considered and balanced. Bjarni Snæbjörn Jónsson in Citizen-Driven Community and Nation Building and Fred Krawchuk in The 5 Ps describe such consultative processes – on smaller scales – in Iceland and Afghanistan respectively. The ACE model shows us that, by the sides seeking to understand each other and find common ground in the middle, it is possible to isolate the true extremists who are trapped in their rigid dogma – RED/BLUE zealotry – and closed to other viewpoints. From collated research, Monica Bourgeau (2019) believes that 56% of Americans fall into what she calls the ‘exhausted majority’, ranging from the moderately right to the moderately left. Those people should be open to a dialogue to rescue the US from the political extremes.
Much as I delight in Biden’s election and the beginning of the end of Trump, I am not an American and so have limited appreciation of how the issues play out there and what is and is not possible. So it is not for me to attempt to be prescriptive about how the United States should endeavour to tackle its challenges. But the SocioPsychological models I espouse have universal applicability and they show clearly the dangers in the divisions amongst the peoples of the US, some of the roots of those divisions and, in broad terms at least, some of the things that need to be done to rebuild American society to prevent another Trump stealing the ever more-frightened white working classes.
Within a few hours of Biden taking Pennsylvania MEMEnomics Group founder Said E Dawlabani was warning on Facebook: “It is naïve for us to think that the Trump presidency was an anomaly, especially after 70+ million Americans voted for him this year. Will we have another Trumpian candidate in 2024 who vows to destroy American institutions and the rule of law and have half of America support his effort?….. without a civil war within the GOP, that brings it back to the centre right, expect a candidate far more dangerous than Trump in 2024.”
The vulnerability of the white working classes in light of the coming demographic changes simply cannot be ignored.