On December 23, Heidi Sloan, running for US Congress in Texas 25, tweeted (referring to one of Trump’s Presidential Campaign advertisements), “This ad should terrify us. Donald Trump has a movement capable of winning re-election. The only way we defeat him and his hateful politics next year is by building a bigger movement that brings working people together. It’s socialism or barbarism.”
The barbarism that Heidi Sloan refers to is Trump’s America, posing grave threat to non-white bodies and the environment, where the wealthy gets tax breaks and the poor go hungry. The alternative is Bernie Sanders’ socialist platform, shared by progressives running for office all over the country—a USD 15 minimum wage; a federal jobs guarantee of good, union jobs; universal, single payer healthcare; free college and trade school; and a green new deal to fight climate disaster. Which America will win?
Trump’s three years in office have been a whirlwind of panic and fear: the Muslim ban, fascist rallies, the massacre of Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue, the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, deportations, family separation of migrants, and children locked up in cages.
Meanwhile, democrats are divided, shopping for this candidate or another. Most of my Bangladeshi American friends think Trump will be re-elected; in Bangla, oi dushto lok-tai abar ashbe.
So who has a chance to beat Trump in 2020? Joe Biden is running on returning to the normalcy of the Obama years. His promise—nothing will fundamentally change. Yet, a return to normalcy is not what most Americans want.
In 2016, Obama urged Americans to vote for Clinton if they wanted to pay tribute to the Obamas’ legacy, and yet, this was not enough to bring people to the polls to defeat Donald Trump.
What Biden stands for, and what most Americans reject, are the Iraq War, the crime bill that put millions in prison and tore apart black communities, anti-bussing, and the bankruptcy bill preventing students with loans from filing for bankruptcy. Several speeches show Biden in cognitive decline. In a general election, Trump would crush Biden.
Meanwhile, 71 percent of Elizabeth Warren’s supporters are white, and a majority are college educated, earning an income of more than USD 100,000, which means that she has little support among minority working class voters crucial to win the election. In polls, Trump beats Warren in key swing states.
Bernie Sanders is a self-avowed socialist. Many Americans are afraid of the socialist label. They point to Latin American countries, saying socialism will ruin America. My friends tell me that Bernie is too far to the left, and we need a moderate Democrat to win.
But we ran a moderate Democrat in 2016, the most high-powered Democrat in the party, Hillary Clinton, who invited moderate Republicans to join her. The Bush family supported her. And that failed in 2016, miserably.
The American election is decided by three swing states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, all of which have a large working-class population hurt by trade deals like NAFTA that moved jobs outside America, and the closing of coal plants and auto plants—a deindustrialised, abandoned rust belt of people in economic distress.
In 2016, Trump wooed the working class, opposing NAFTA and TPP, promising to drain the swamp, and scapegoating immigrants for taking away jobs from American workers.
Contrary to popular narratives that Hillary Clinton lost the election because of racism, sexism, Russia, and voter suppression, studies have shown that black voters in the swing states did not come out to vote for Hillary Clinton because they did not feel that the election would alleviate their economic suffering.
In their Jacobin article “Bernie Sanders is the Candidate who can Beat Trump. Here’s Why,” Meagan Day and Matt Karp identify three kinds of voters who decided the election, a small number of Obama voters who voted for Trump in 2016, Obama voters who did not come out to vote, and the tens of millions of non-voters who never vote. Obama voters who voted for Trump were poor, and desperate for a change.
But most Obama voters did not come out to vote at all in 2016. They felt hopeless and they felt their economic suffering would not be relieved by either candidate. In Michigan, people either did not go out to vote (3 million) or voted for every category except president (75,000). Trump won by 10,000 votes.
Similarly, Malaika Jabali writes that in economically suffering Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 88,000 black voters who voted for Obama in 2012 did not vote in 2016, in a historically low voter turnout. White voter turnout also fell by 44,000 votes. Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin by 23,000 votes. A national survey of 2.5 million black voters found that 20 percent did not vote because they did not think their economic lives would change. In a survey of voters in Wisconsin who did not vote, 42 percent said they did not like the candidates or the issues. Jabali interviewed black voters in Milwaukee and heard about joblessness, incarceration, and police brutality, all pointing to people’s deep disillusionment with a government that does not work for them.
In addition, tens of millions of eligible voters do not vote because they don’t think government works for them. In swing states, these non-voters are disproportionately young, working class, and of colour. Bernie Sanders is overwhelmingly popular with all of these groups, and has fired up young voters, Latino voters, students, and workers across the country. If they are given a reason to vote, they will come out.
It is no surprise that Bernie Sanders’ policies, Medicare for all, Green New Deal, College for all, USD 15 minimum wage, housing for all, and ending big money in politics have majority support among working class voters. Communities like the Bangladeshis living in Queens, New York, have organised to fight for issues like housing justice, and they support Bernie Sanders.
In the repeated scrutiny of the 2016 election, no one paid attention to the millions of working class, young, black, Latino, Asian, and White voters who would have come out for Bernie Sanders’ platform, which would have materially changed their lives. The 2020 election, like the 2016 election, can only be won on the grounds of economic populism.
Bernie polls highest with college students at 38 percent, the largest voting bloc in terms of age. 34 percent of Bernie’s supporters are under 30 and 77 percent do not have a college degree. Bernie is the top choice among all voters of colour. Bernie has the highest favourability of all democratic candidates at 74 percent, but his favourability among independents, the largest voting bloc, is at 72 percent, the highest among all candidates.
Bernie Sanders has received more individual donations than Trump or any other candidate, including in Obama-Trump counties, and has raised more total money than all Democratic candidates, all from small dollar donations. Notably, he has received the highest donations from teachers, Walmart workers, Amazon workers, and service workers, the lowest paid workers in America.
Bernie beats Trump nationally in all polls, of 30 polls. In a general election match up by Emerson polling, Bernie beats Trump at 50/49, while Trump beats Biden at 51/49 percent and Trump beats Warren at 50/50. In polls in the three swing states, Bernie beats Trump in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, which is how we win the election. Most importantly, he has rallies as big as Trump’s.
Americans need a candidate who will fire them up and bring them to the polls. They need a reason to vote. It’s that simple.
Dr Gemini Wahhaj is Professor of English, Lone Star College, North Harris, USA.