by Professor Stephen Davis
Let’s start with an ugly yet undeniable truth: Trump was utterly right when he claimed he won the election “by a lot.” That fact is undebatable if you only count white votes. By one post-election survey, Trump defeated Biden 57 to 42 among white voters, a landslide by any standard. And in that bloc of whites, white men support Trump by higher numbers than white women, a reality which largely explains the horrifying scenes we witnessed around and inside our national Capitol on January 6.
The bulk of the mob, probably 95% of it, was comprised of angry white men of multiple generations. Many of these are undereducated, ill-informed underachievers who feel aggrieved about fundamental changes in the country stemming from demographic shifts and from the rights revolution of the 1960’s that elevated women and people of color. I can personally remember the days when the white men in my own family in the East End of Houston could earn a decent living and feel some degree of personal worth without a high school diploma. Those days are long past, amping up the status anxiety of males from that social cohort. The result in many cases is not only resentment but also the rage that is found in much of Trump’s quasi-fascist base. The assault on the Capitol and the attempt to overturn the election was the perhaps inevitable manifestation.
What are we Social Democrats to do about what will constitute a continuing threat to our democratic republic and to our deepest values? Let me suggest a few preliminary answers, leaving it to others among the readership to extend the list and fill in the spaces.
1) In the short run, we should fully support the effort of the authorities to pursue and punish the perpetrators of the January 6 insurrection. Arrests and stiff prison sentences will go a long way toward legally decapitating the leaders and militants of the far-right groups which took their hateful banners and regalia into the sacred spaces of our democracy. It is reported that Richard Spencer, darling of the alt-right through the Charlottesville outrages, is now largely sidelined due to his enormous legal fees. Let’s make this latest group feel the financial pain as well. At minimum, loss of employment and social ostracism should follow those who so brazenly documented their crimes on social media through that ugly afternoon. There must be consequences and that judgment of course, extends to Instigator-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump.
2) These people are not going away in the near term. We should therefore be determined to beat them repeatedly in elections at all levels for many cycles to come. Check out the remarkable new documentary, All In, on Stacey Abrams’s tireless work in Georgia to combat voter suppression and to expand the electorate. This is an essential strategy all over the country. That work made it possible for Joe Biden to narrowly carry that state and for the shocking Senate victories of Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff---the news of which was overshadowed by the violence that came later the same day those results were verified. We need to continually rout the Republican Far Right at the ballot box and expand the victory margins until its adherents are thoroughly marginalized and demoralized. Ongoing demographic and generational change will accelerate this process over the next few years, given the leftward bias of new voters.
3) We need to work without respite to raise educational levels in this country. I write on the cusp of a new semester and the resumption of the war on ignorance that is ongoing in and outside the classroom. All of us who can play any role as teachers (whether compensated or not in that work) can continually impart the necessity of factual truth and critical thinking. We should inculcate love of books and reading which is the surest antidote to the toxicity found in so much of social media and the internet. We should do all we can to broaden horizons and encourage knowledge of the wider world, combatting provincialism and bigotry in the process. Trump was right when in the 2016 campaign he stated how much he loved the poorly educated. In this instance, his “gut” was right in this understanding that Americans in that category were more susceptible to his fantasies and demagogy.
4) Finally, we need to push social democratic policies that are the surest solution over the long haul to the country’s malaise. President Biden’s first 100 days will reveal a lot in its effort to defeat the pandemic and address the more obvious inequities that COVID 19 has exposed. Beyond that, economic and political reforms---leading examples being free college education, single payer health insurance, full employment at a living wage, and abolition of the Electoral College---that promote equality and true democracy will be the surest path to unite the bulk of the country and to restore faith in the American project. The angry white men with which this essay began would ultimately be prime beneficiaries in both their material and psychological lives of a United States truly committed to “liberty and justice for all.”
A great American intellectual named Irving Howe once wrote of the value of such “steady work” as that outlined above. There will be no shortage of either labor or reward in the path that lies ahead.
January 18, 2021