With Trump trailing in the polls, some people have suggested an “October surprise” looms, such as a provocation against Iran, that could swing the election. But what if this “surprise” is something different. What if Trump decides to outflank Biden on an issue of great importance to ordinary Americans. It’s a scenario that’s more than possible, as the redoubtable M. Davout argues in his latest article for this site. W.J. Astore
In my first contribution to Bracing Views a little more than four years ago, I appealed, as an enthusiastic advocate for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, to fellow Bernie supporters in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming general election. This election cycle I will be taking a different approach.
The virtual Democratic National Convention for the 2020 general election has just ended with the nomination of a candidate, Joe Biden, whose political instincts, record in office, and stated policy goals are in most essential respects updates of Clinton’s. Despite the convention speakers’ almost universal silence about policy, we can expect from a Biden win a continuation of what has largely been the Democratic Party policy agenda of the last forty years: maintenance of the US global military umbrella, protection of neoliberal economic interests, and gestures of racial inclusiveness and multicultural tolerance.
If Biden wins, it will be because of Trump’s catastrophic public health leadership failures in the face of the Covid pandemic, which has radically disrupted social life, tanked many parts of the economy, and thus far killed 175,000+ American lives. And Trump’s heartless and authoritarian response to the mobilization of millions of people in street demonstrations affirming that Black Lives Matter has not helped his electoral prospects.
In his acceptance speech, Biden emphatically told us that if elected he will take effective action to get a grip on the Covid crisis. Yet, on other occasions, he has also told us that if he wins, he will not fundamentally address the more insidious and chronic crisis of tens of millions of Americans with few, if any, health care options, even going so far as to say that he would veto any Medicare-for-All bill passed by Congress. On the issue of policing, he has been up front about his intention not to challenge the militarized and racist institutions of policing in this country other than to call for more training and prohibition of police use of choke holds.
The sad truth is that of the two major party candidates, only one has ever run a national campaign as an economic populist and it isn’t the current standard bearer of the Democratic Party. In 2016, Donald Trump promised Americans that he would get all of them great health care, take on Big Pharma and make prescription drugs affordable, end the hemorrhaging of American lives and treasure in foreign wars and drain the swamp by putting a stop to special interest corruption of members of Congress. Trump was lying, of course, but these lies were just effective enough in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because the Democratic Party had lost all credibility as the party of working people.
So, this cycle, rather than try to persuade my fellow Bernie supporters once again to vote democratic, let me try a different approach and offer Trump some electoral advice. Give a nationally televised Oval Office speech in which you commit to stopping the pandemic and embrace, as one of the main pillars of your pandemic response, Medicare-for-All. Tell the American people the truth—that the private health insurance system in the U.S. has failed to protect the health of the American people and instead has lined the pockets of CEOs, rich shareholders, medical specialists, insurance industry lobbyists and members of Congress. Tell them that ensuring universal and affordable access to healthcare through universal expansion of Medicare is an essential step not only in defeating Covid-19 but also in protecting against the pandemics that might occur down the road. A true nation-state takes care of its own and Medicare-for-All will Make America Great Again.
As a certified political scientist, I can guarantee that you stand only to gain electorally by taking this advice. You won’t lose your business supporters and anti-Communist Republican voters–they will know that you are lying. The idea of universal health insurance based on the expansion of a system on which their parents and grandparents have relied will be attractive to your white working class base voters who have suffered disproportionately from opioid and alcohol addiction and deaths. And, who knows, maybe some progressives, unhinged by Biden’s hostility to universal coverage, will pull the lever for you. It may be enough to keep Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in your column (and maybe even swing Minnesota your way).
I give this advice not because I want Trump to win but because of my conviction that until the Democratic Party is forced to compete for working class votes on the basis of economic populism, we are going to be locked into an ever more dangerous cycle of alternating rule by neoliberal Democrats and nationalist-racist Republican populists.
M. Davout teaches political science in the Deep South.