6 December, 2022

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The Red Wave That Never Came

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

The Pink Tide happened, the Red Wave did not. The Democrats have tentatively regained a majority in the Senate. The Republican Party, as Fox News – hardly a Democratic media stronghold – affirms, is dead. Harry Enten of CNN argues that Joe Biden “defied midterm history.” “Midterms,” Enten explains, “are supposed to be the time for the opposition party to shine.” Not this time. The party in power is now the party with the seats. While Donald Trump’s dreams may not have been completely dashed, the popularity surge conservative and even liberal outlets kept parroting has failed to materialise.

Both the Left and the Right predicted a different outcome. On the Left, magazines like Jacobin emphasised the party’s alienation of working class and lower middle-class voters. Jacobin’s Neal Meyer, for instance, opined that while there’s “no natural law that says the Democrats have to lose next year’s midterm elections”, the party’s inability to address working class grievances would cost it dearly. Closer to the elections, Nick French argued that the Inflation Reduction Act would improve its prospects, but observed such measures would do little to reverse “hemorrhaging support among working-class voters.”

On the Right, conservative magazines and outlets highlighted what it saw as the Democratic Party’s abysmal economic and law enforcement policies, and its liberal stance on abortion, women’s rights, and minority rights. What it failed to note that these weaknesses actually popularised the Democratic Party and prevented a Red Wave. The National Review calls the midterms “anticlimactic”, and contends that despite its high polling Democrats received a backlash from exasperated voters. It sees the Republican loss as an opportunity to reset the party’s clock and do away with Trumpism, because for the magazine, Trump has turned into a liability to its audience, the so-called “conservative mainstream”, even if, as one American political science commentator told me, “Trump IS the mainstream.”

The exit polls paint a clear picture of who voted for what. Younger voters drifted away from the Democrats, while older voters stuck with the Republicans. White voters went all out for the Republicans, while minority communities like Latinos moved away from the Democrats. The suburbs shifted to the right, as did rural electorates. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there was a diminution of support among moderates for the Democrats, while Republicans took a sharp lead over independents and voters holding critical views of both parties. The key factor in all these cleavages, obviously, was the economy.

More crucial, however, is who voted for who. Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin was widely expected to lose. “Republicans,” Jacobin’s Krystal Ball noted, “flooded her district with millions.” Yet she won, as did John Fetterman, Marcy Kaptur, and Josh Shapiro. The Midwest did not, as some predicted, go red: it voted for the Democrats, retaining them or turning Republican representatives out. The divisions in the Republican Party were as intriguing: a number of candidates handpicked by Trump faced one shock defeat after another. “America First” and election-denying candidates, in other words, lost spectacularly, as did anti-abortion cultural conservatives. What all this means is that while the economy cost the Democrats, issues like abortion prevented the Republicans from claiming the election.

The National Review put it best. This was an anticlimactic election, undoubtedly the most anticlimactic in recent American history. Even critics of the Democratic Party on the Left, like the editors of WSWS, admit that “there is no mass popular support for Trump’s fascistic policies.” The Wall Street Journal put it all in perspective: “Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.” On the other hand, according to the Washington Post and Associated Press, only 11 out of 50 states exceeded the turnout for the 2018 polls. Different communities voted differently, but fewer people went out to vote, at just over 46%. Krystal Ball, in her fine analysis, concludes that “when you promise to do even the bare minimum for people, they tend to vote for you.” This is how several left-of-centre candidates took the lead over more centrist and mainstream colleagues in the Northeast and Midwest.

Joe Biden referred to those describing him as a socialist as “idiots.” Ben Burgis of Jacobin agrees: socialists, he points out, “are committed to putting an end to the brutally unequal distribution of wealth and economic power in our society.” Biden’s record has hardly come close to that. Yet Biden’s actions – such as his salvos against corporations, his student debt relief programme, and his Build Back Better rhetoric, which caught the zeitgeist of a nation still reeling from decades of neoliberal deindustrialisation – did go a long way – certainly longer than Obamist or Clintonian policies – in providing a more moderate and less fascistic alternative to working class and lower middle-class disaffection. In doing so, they prevented the mainstream from being taken over by a right-wing fringe.

The American sociologist David Brooks argues that the “populist convulsion” has ended. It is not true, as Brooks appears to think, that “Boring wins.” Centrist mainstream candidates did not contribute to the Democratic Party’s wins, as much as their centre-left colleagues did. But it is true the midterms showed the weaknesses of both parties: the Democrats because it is seen as “the party of the educated elite”, the Republicans because of Trump. The issue, which Brooks diagnoses correctly, is that a person is easier to expunge than a perception: if the Republicans get rid of Trump, he predicts, “they could become the dominant party.” The Democrats’ elitist credentials can only bolster this.

The US, like the UK, remains a thoroughly bourgeois state. It is for this reason that it will not tolerate a Sanders or a Kucinich. On the other hand, it is possible in the US – more possible than with the parliamentary system in the UK – to incorporate the undeniably progressive ideals of a Sanders into a liberal mainstream. To do so requires a courage of convictions and a resolve to see things through. It is not entirely clear whether the Democratic Party possess these qualities, or whether, emboldened by its victories, it will flush out the Left. Brooks is by temperament a conservative, so it is understandable that he did not add to his prognosis about Trump an important caveat: if the Democrats do go ahead and expunge themselves of Left elements, Trumpism may yet prevail again – sooner than later.

*The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    UdithaDevapriya,

    American politics is usually dominated by local issues, not by international politics. Both democrats and republicans knew this very well.

    Trump in the 2016 presidential elections as an outsider exploited this weakness of American political traditions to the fullest and the American south responded magnificently resulting in Donald Trump’s spectacular victory in the 2016 Precedential elections.

    Trump repeated this strategy again tin the 2022 elections and the result was too narrow and he refused to accept the result so as to challenge the traditions and the democratic way of politics peculiar to USA.

    In 2024 he again proposed to try again and the world outside America passionately hope that Biden contesting again will make a comeback for his second term.

    • 0
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      2016
      Electoral vote:….Trump 304 Clinton 227
      Popular vote: …. 62,984,828……65,853,514
      Percentag ……….46.1% ……………48.2%
      Spectacular?
      Only the the electoral college arithmetic gives such impression.
      2020
      Electoral vote:….Biden 306 Trump 232
      Popular vote: …. 81,283,501[1]…..74,223,975[1]
      Percentage……….51.3% ……………46.8%
      “the result was too narrow”?
      Was it any narrower than the one of 2016?
      *
      I must revisit the arithmetic that I learned at school.

    • 2
      0

      UD,
      I think Trump will have to reckon with all the obstacles in the coming days. He deserves it fully.. At the time, Europe thought of TRUMP as a deadly virus, whose politics greatly affected the transatlantic relations between Germany and the United States. We well knew how the bugger let COVID deaths be extended without doing enough to protect their people. nOT even developing nations, reacted that abusively.

      Going to regain power for the Rajapaksas, they made every effort to fool our people saying that it is world’s trend to support natiionalists. The biggest example depicted was from TRUMPISM.

      I remember them comparing it with that ridiculous MODIsm in Negibouring india. However, as usual, the truth is, this has not been properly analyzed by the low-level journalists in Sri Lanka.

      As we know srilanken main stream media is a big scam and mafia net work because they are bound only to the Rajapakse brothers and their commercial connections, whatever the impact on general public, srilanken media did not care much .

      tbc

      • 1
        0

        cont.
        Sirasa TV owner Kiley was still alive at that time and his political cohorts stood up against RW and destroyed UNP then. That was indirectly supported by their fund givers who are Rajakashe cronies. Then there were rumours that said , “A TV channel made every effort to destroy the UNP.”
        However, world’s biggest clown, pompous trump falling on his nose in the coming days is a good news for the whole world. It doesn’t matter if other Republican leaders replace Trump, but Trump must be stopped.

        https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-63613264

        However, we never know how it will perform in that giant land from time to time because white supremism is governing more in that country than in entire europe.
        Although the influence of the politics of those rich countries will always affect our developing countries, our people should not confuse it with our ridiculous politics in the developed world.

        There is no righteousness in south asian politics, because whole lot of people in those countries would bend their heads to petty advantages, leaving their self-respect and brains easily.

  • 0
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    Almost all election issues were unfavorable to Democrats, including economy, global recession, inflation, economic set back due to Covid / Ukraine, crime ( related to falling economy ), declining Biden popularity among many . But abortion and Trump, which were big winners last time, drove undecided ,independent and few moderate Republican voters to support Democrats, this election. Young voters between 20 and 35 overwhelmingly supported Democrats. Apparently 60 to 75% young women cared more about their rights than Family /religious/ pro life values . Even voters from deep red ,states were discouraged by Trump endorsed extreme candidates, election deniers, and candidates promoting violence. As long economy is concerned , it was not the policy but extraneous/ global factors made things difficult. It has been proven clearly that Republicans being pro economy is nothing but “myth. ( remember near bankruptcy after two terms of Bush. Jr, Trump’s stupid tactics in delaying management of Covid , causing maximum damage to economy)

    • 0
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      As of today, nation wide popularity vote in House race 49,972,478 votes for Democrats and 51,790,446 votes for republicans . Difference of 1,817,968 vote gain for Republicans is not good enough to cause a wave.

  • 4
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    Uditha is taking after his mentor Dayan Jayatilleka and keeping up on “leftist” podcasts and the most marginal, although not necessarily incorrect, “discourse” in the United States and trying to substitute popular culture in the USA for real academic work in Sri Lanka by drawing analogies between a developed country like the United States and a developing country like Sri Lanka. With any luck, he’ll get to go to Moscow and be a “leftist” interlocutor for Putin and become a Sri Lankan opportunist parroting fascist “Eurasian” fascist nonsense and posting articles from sites with articles about “the Jewish question” like our erstwhile ambassador to the Russian Federation. Kuddos for the kid for having ambition at least, but so much for systemic or socialist analysis. Next he’ll be talking about “backstops” and dazzling the plebes with nonsense like his idol.

  • 4
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    This is the interesting example of what Sri Lankan “academics” with some knowledge of English can do to deceive the masses. They can engage in what the great lecturer (who was denied tenure and is available on Youtube) Rick Roderick called “creative plagiarism” (a game Roderick declined to play) in that people like Uditha (who to his credit cites sources) and Dayan (who does not) can just repeat the line of others, as Dayan just repeated the rhetoric of Steve Bannon (not a leftist) during his time in Russia when he essentially took a NazBol (read Gramscian fascist) view and was on Putin’s jock while claiming to be a “leftist”…. A “leftist” who never worked a day in his life and a “revolutionary” who never took up arms. It’s all a scam for upper-middle class poseurs that is fed to the villagers.

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