America appears to be divided into three more or less equal parts, at least when it comes to the election results. Thus far, just under 78 million people voted for Biden; about 73 million voted for Trump and around 78 million of eligible voters didn’t vote at all. It’s likely that a good number of Biden voters were voting against Trump and they would have voted for a giraffe if needed; similarly, a good number of Trump voters were voting against the Democrats for varied reasons, including Democrats’ traditional stance in favor of preserving Roe v. Wade. Nonetheless, why so many people voted for someone who had bungled the most severe health crisis in a century is a question worth serious consideration—that will have to wait for another day. We know very little about the non-voters and it is probably best to be cautious about assumptions regarding what they really think.
Sad to say, there is little evidence of a division that would make the most difference—between the relatively small number of people who rule the country, primarily through their wealth and their decisive role in governmental actions, and the great mass of people who, once again primarily because of their lack of wealth and their inability to exercise sustained control over the various levels of government, are subject to the consequences of the deeds of the rulers.
The theatrics of the Trump regime are different from what is considered “normal.” As the commentators never tire of saying, what Trump has done and not done is “unprecedented.” He refuses to abide by long-established “norms” and “traditions”—some of which are downright silly. Did you hear the one about how the departing president traditionally leaves a handwritten note for his incoming successor in the top drawer of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office? There’s a good deal of speculation and concern that Trump won’t be leaving a note for Biden. He may not even be in town for the Inauguration.
Now there’s a lot to be upset about when it comes to Trump. The cruelty at the southern border; the dispatch of armed federal goons to the streets of Portland; his more or less consistent embrace of and support for white nationalist groups; his endless degradations of Muslims and Blacks. “I can’t breathe” weren’t just the last words of George Floyd; they were the cry on the lips of many millions of people who lived in dread of what terror Trump might inspire his mad followers to do.
And there’s a lot to be jubilant about—as the crowds of people all across the country that spontaneously came together to bang pots, sing songs, dance in the streets and say good riddance to Trump made evident.
But let’s be clear that there are just as many theatrics about to unfold under Biden. They won’t be as obvious and will be praised by various news outlets for being so very presidential. They will include the old favorites of national security, bipartisanship and compromise (“Don’t sacrifice the good to chase the perfect”), and the restoration of strong relations with our “allies” to make the world safe for capitalist domination without all that much noise; it will be reported that the president dutifully reads the daily intelligence briefings and the intelligence community will brief the “gang of eight” (various congressional leaders) when the US is about to do something pretty awful; drone attacks will be conducted discreetly, and so on. So long as Joe and Jill behave as upstanding individuals, there will be no need to pay attention to the real plot.
The political world will not be weird in the way it has been for the last four years; instead, it will be “normal.” But it’s not clear what use people intend to make of this return to normalcy. What’s the relationship between how people voted and what they’re prepared to do?
We can assume that some of the various militia-types who supported Trump will continue to be willing to huff and puff in their camouflage fatigues and, every once in a while, do real harm. We can also assume that the more “moderate” Trumpers will take once again to their cars, trucks and boats to parade around towns. And, believe it or not, it appears that many thousands of them are expected to show up at rallies in support of Trump’s efforts to reverse the outcome of the election. But most of those who voted for Trump will do little beyond lamenting the outcome. None of this is to say that many of those Trump supporters are not motivated by deeply felt anxieties about what they think is happening.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that many of the activists in the anti-police protests of the past summer voted for Biden. They have already provided proof positive of the risks they were prepared to take in the cause of justice and freedom. We don’t think that we have reason to doubt that they remain willing. And of course many self-conscious revolutionaries, individuals who, though they are small in number, stand for the possibility of a fundamental transformation of the society from one that exploits and oppresses to one that frees and nourishes, also voted for Biden.
The pundits of the airwaves and the liberal press are already busy at work in their efforts to shape how the election is interpreted and how the choices that Biden will make are to be made reasonable—in the unlikely case that he is prepared to stray from the established order. By way of example, they caution him not to advocate for Medicare for All lest it jeopardize the election of two Georgia Democrats to the Senate in the special elections scheduled for January. Or conversely, they suggest that a Republican-controlled Senate will allow Biden to blame Republicans for his inability to pursue progressive goals.
But outside all the theater, the crisis remains—an out-of-control virus and a collapsing economy for many people, increasingly faced with no paid work, everyday hunger, the possible loss of their housing and deep-seated worries about whether their kids are learning much of anything. The crisis has become multi-dimensional and the powers that be seem unable to move beyond “churning and flailing.”
From the ruling class point of view, dealing with the crisis is primarily a matter of restoring enough of an acceptable state of affairs that it can return to its main tasks—of maintaining social stability without too much obvious turmoil and allowing the necessary adjustments to their economy so that profit-making across broad sectors can be resumed. For them, effective system management requires the necessity of growth; “acceptable” levels of illnesses and fatalities; the preservation of hospitals, medical supply, pharmaceutical and insurance companies as profitable entities; the continued dodging of financial breakdowns; the maintenance of law and order (fundamentally the protection of existing property relations); the reproduction of commonsensical notions regarding the norms of electoral and governmental processes, and more or less obvious counter-insurgency to deflect or defeat system-level challenges. It is, I think, clear that the powers that be preferred the slow and steady approach of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the topsy-turvy one embraced by Trump.
Before the epidemic, what was developing was almost certainly going to be another financial crisis. The masters of the universe might very well be the only people who were grateful for the outbreak of the epidemic. They got to be bailed out once again by the government and the Federal Reserve, but the reason why the bailout was needed was disguised as the virus. Looking back at the original congressional actions in response to the shutdown of companies and layoffs in the millions, it should be clear that the bills pretty much sailed through the legislative chambers because the important matter of saving the banks and Wall Street demanded attention. More recently, when that no longer seems so pressing, the Democrats and Republicans could go back to their usual squabbles.
Crises create the opportunity for large numbers of people to realize that what appears to be permanent need not be so. There are choices to make about the future we want and the decisions about what we should do.
These have proven to be very challenging times (albeit ones that still possess extraordinary possibilities) and we need to think long and hard about how we should navigate through them and we need to act. Lessons from the past may not prove to be especially helpful. To that extent, we are on our own.
A couple of months ago, Kristian Williams was interviewed by Hard Crackers. When he was asked to talk about undercover infiltration of movement groups, he responded by emphasizing how important it was to “remember that the purpose of good security is to preserve our capacity to act.” I think that it’s helpful to extend the concept of preserving our capacity to act to a larger set of activities beyond the resistance to repression. But that raises an important question: What are we to do?
More than anything, we need to continue efforts to break apart the “white block.” It may well be that we’re in a better position to do so after the months of anti-police violence protests attracted the active participation of hundreds of thousands of young white people. Presumably, many of those who protested came to understand that what needed to be attacked were the systems and structures that maintain white supremacy and black subordination. Better by far for our efforts to remain focused on those systems and structures than to be sidetracked in the perpetual activity of self-flagellation for individuals’ thoughts and motivations that’s put forward by the shameless promoters of white “privilege” and white “fragility.”
We also need to work to deprive armed far-right groups of political support. In some cases, that will mean developing a political tendency that explicitly counters capitalism and makes clear the ways in which our politics differ from the liberal and elitist politics that so many far-right groups abhor. No matter the temptations when it comes to fighting against the far-right, we should refuse to work politically with the state. We should be completely realistic about the dangers we may face from both repression and cooptation and methodically work through the strategies and tactics that we’ll pursue without any assumption of assistance from the authorities.
While the demands of battles on the streets often suggest that we do otherwise, we should deepen our commitments to solidarity and human emancipation. The forces on the side of reaction will all but always be prepared to engage in all sorts of violence. They have no reason not to. But we have many reasons to judge what we do by the standards of the dreams we have for a free society. Those dreams need to be nourished and expanded.
 The exact final totals will not be known for some time but it’s unlikely that they will change the overall picture.
 David Ranney used this phrase in his book, New World Disorder, to capture the profound inability of capitalist legislative bodies to seriously grapple with any enduring important issues.