This was finished right before AP called the election for Biden. Until this thing is official, we are still in Purgatory. The words below have little to do with Biden’s win or loss.
Catholics call it Purgatory, the state an unpurified soul lives in until its sins are washed away and it is allowed entrance into Heaven. In Judaism, sinners spend a year in Gehenna, where their sins are measured against their virtues before they are deemed worthy of ascent to Heaven or condemnation in Hell. The Islamic limbo is called Barzakh, which differs from Purgatory and Gehenna in that no souls are cleansed in Barzakh. It is a place for those who play the middle and “unborn souls.” Some Muslims also believe in rāf, which corresponds to Christian Purgatory, though is more of a waiting room than a rehab center.
My favorite idea of religious limbo comes from Mandaeism. The hundred-thousand Mandaeans scattered around Iran, Syria, and Jordan practice an obscure Gnostic religion in which John the Baptist, not Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed is top dog. Their Purgatory is called Ur. Ur is not a place but a mystical creature – a sidekick of the Leviathan of the Book of Job. When a person dies, Ur eats the sinner’s soul. The soul is trapped in Ur’s stomach until it is barfed into Heaven or shat into Hell. Right now, it feels like we live in Ur’s belly.
Admittedly, the idea that Joe Biden presides over paradise is as disturbing as Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry gazing at his love doll, asking and answering, “Is there a Heaven? I’d like to think so” (“In Every Dream Home A Heartbreak”). But, as we’ve gotten used to saying, we are where we are.
Our Ur is the arcane legacy of American slavery, the Electoral College. Though the popular vote clearly suggests that Joe Biden will be our next president. Here we float in bile and food scraps waiting for a handful of states to get their votes counted. Say Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia come in solid blue, our stay in Ur’s tummy will last until the election finds its way through the courts, where an “educated elite” will determine who the next president is. The whole process of the College and the courts stinks of voter suppression.
As of November 6, 2020, 9 a.m. on the west coast, Joe Biden has received 73.8 million votes (50.5%) to Donald Trump’s 69.7 million (47.7%). Given that the bulk of uncounted votes comes from precincts dominated by Democrats, I’d wager that Biden’s vote total will rise.
In an early report, the United States Election Project estimates that turnout was 66% of the voting-age population, the highest since 1900. This election’s 156 million votes dwarf 2016’s 136 million, an increase that has led many Democrats and those on the left to ask, “What went wrong?” The assumption behind that question is the long-held fallacy that non- and infrequent voters lean left. Lost in all the talk of “expanding the electorate” is an ignorance of why these DNVs fail to vote.
Back in February, FiveThirtyEight
reported on a Knight Foundation poll of people who did not vote (DNV) in the
2016 election (46% of the voting age population). While the survey found that a
majority of DNVs were people of color, women, low income, and inclined to
support Democrats, state-by-state things are different. The Knight
Foundation found that among DNVs Republicans had an edge in Alabama,
Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire. There were an even number
of Democratic and Republican-inclined DNVs in Minnesota and Nevada. Michigan,
Wisconsin, and Georgia showed a slight edge for Democrats.
When asked why they refused to vote, 17% responded that “they don’t like the candidates,” 13% “don’t know the candidates and issues,” and 12% felt that “their vote doesn’t matter.” Other respondents said they did not vote because they didn’t know the candidates (8%), are not interested (8%), the system is corrupt (8%), they don’t know the issues (5%), and they no time for learning or deciding (4%). In all 75% of DNVs refused to vote due to cynicism, apathy, and willful ignorance – states of being that are neither inherently left-wing or right-wing, Democrat or Republican, progressive or conservative.
Conventional wisdom tells us that the key to engaging DNVs is populism. Run “non-traditional” politicians (Bernie Sanders) and “political outsiders” (Trump) and the cynical and apathetic will be moved to vote. While it is too early to come to any 2020 election conclusions, the numbers right now suggest that populism is not the answer.
No doubt that in the 2020 general election, Trump was perceived as the “populist” candidate. If populism engages DNVs, it follows that the majority of 2016 DNVs who voted this time around (around 20 million voters) would go Trump. That didn’t happen. As it stands, at least 54% of new and returning voters chose Joe Biden, the establishment candidate (if uncounted votes continue to break towards Biden, his percentage of ex-DNVs will increase).
So, was the 2020 election a triumph of establishment politics over populism? Not if you look past the presidential election. As of this writing, Democrats added a few seats in but didn’t win the Senate. In the House they lost five seats. The majority of Dem defeats were center-left establishmentarians in the mold of Joe Biden. If the Democratic establishment was in ascendence, these candidates would have done much better against their Republican opponents, many who echoed Trump. So, what happened?
Rather than look at the 2020 election as a contest between the establishment and populist, insiders and outsiders, or progressives, centrists, and the right, let’s look at the power of framing and defined ideas/identity. In the presidential election, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump projected strong identities. Biden also spoke clear ideas. Although Trump’s message was undisciplined and scattershot, his past actions (or inaction) were enough to suss out his thoughts and intentions. Biden’s solid identity and clear ideas contrasted with Trump’s Trumpiness prevented Trump from framing Biden.
Within days of the Democrats’ Congressional disappointments, center-left Dems blamed left-Dems of submarining them with lefty/socialist rhetoric. They complained that their leftist counterparts talk too much about Medicare-For-All, Green New Deal, Defund the Police, and socialism, and that is what led to the defeat of Democratic centrists.
Certainly, Trump’s relentless attack on Biden’s “cop-hating,” “freedom-threatening,” “worker-hating” “socialism” trickled down on vulnerable Democratic candidates running in purple states and Trump-friendly districts; however, blaming the left is an easy out. Trump’s framing only works on Democrats that do not have a strong identity. Lacking Biden’s near half-century in public office, they needed to do more than be anti-Trump, otherwise their right-wing opponents and conservative press easily conflates anti-Trump with pro-socialism and anti-cop, something they will do regardless of how loud or quiet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are.
Democrats would also be wise to stop staring at campaign coffers and start read the country. Many on the left blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer for Senate losses in Kentucky, Montana, Iowa, and Texas, states that were always going to difficult to flip. Certainly, Amy McGrath is electoral dead weight, but no Kentucky Democrat had a chance against Mitch McConnell and his turbo-charged political machine. South Carolina’s Jamie Harrison is as attractive of a candidate as Lindsay Graham is loathsome, but no matter how much cash on hand Harrison had, the Palmetto State is the Republicans’ to lose.
Similarly, left-Dems Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib had no problem winning re-election. Senator Kamala Harris, who the GOP tried to frame as a raging leftist, helped, not hurt, the Biden campaign. Noted, but it would be as wrong to use these politicians’ success as “proof” that unabashed (or projected) leftism is the Democrats’ answer as it would to prescribe the centrist solution.
If the Democrats are looking for an answer to what went wrong in 2020’s elections, perhaps they should look at one place where things went right, Arizona, particularly the Dem’s success with Latinx voters. Democrats would also be wise to contrast how organizers engaged Arizona Latinx with Latinx voters in Florida.
Typically, Democrats, even those on the left, look at Latinx as one solid voting bloc, a community that is in lock step on issues, particularly immigration. Democrats often fail to understand that Latinx-Americans have roots not just in Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, but Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Columbia, Dominican Republic, and a half dozen other countries. Within these ethnic communities there are regional differences. The people of north and south, and east and west of Mexico are as distinct, if not more so, than their American counterparts.
Like European-Americans, Latinx-Americans’ thoughts on immigration are partially dictated by how many generations one family has held American citizenship. Two generations into the Irish and Italian experience in America saw the children of these immigrants adopt neutral to hostile views on immigration. Get into a discussion with a third generation Cuban- or Mexican American and do not be shocked if they echo the Italian-American who says, “Our people came here the ‘right way,’ why can’t the illegals do the same?”
What progressive organizers in Arizona (and Republican operatives in Florida) did to turn out voters was to engage Latinx voters as voter, each ethnicity and individual with their own concerns. They did not try to force Chicano politics on Cuban-Americans or anti-communism on Puerto Ricans. The activists respected those they were trying to organize enough to listen to each community and individuals in each community and use the input in their campaign work. They key was not politics or policy, but effective communication.
The more information we pull from the 2020 election the more we will see that candidates, policy, and especially money have less to do with success or failure than the ability to communicate clearly who a candidate is and what they stand for. The candidates with the strongest identity will be least susceptible to their opponents’ attempts to frame them and their politics. Similarly, organizers who refuse to fall into the trap of “Good ideas will sell themselves” will be able to counter disinformation campaigns by owning their issue’s narrative.
Further, Democrat and those on the left must make peace with the fact that this is a diverse country, where no flat political line is going to animate Democratic-inclined voters everywhere. As noted, Latinx people are not one monolith group, neither are members of the LGBT community, 28% who voted for Trump (according to exit polls). That is double the number of LGBT votes Trump got in 2016.
The Democrats might rule the youth vote, but not among young white men. And those “suburban housewives”? Well, they are a fickle bunch, the new “independents,” the Democrat’s Reagan Democrats…for now. Turn Trump over for a political pro who doesn’t advertise his pussy grabbing and treats others with a tad bit of civility and respect – say a Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse, or, even, gasp, Mike Pence – and who knows where those votes go.
I’m not saying prog Dems and lefties dilute their goals or water down their message, but that they do something which campaign strategists and salespeople have known since the dawn of time: Start your pitch at where people are, not where you want them to be. No English teacher skips past the ABCs, subject/objects, and paragraph construction to teach the expository essay. No activist or organizer should assume that just because the public understands that our healthcare system is screwed up they grok Medicare for All or that being horrified about wildfires leads to the embrace of the Green New Deal or that struggling to pay the bills is all one needs to experience to conclude that the boss-loving Republican Party controlled by extreme wealth is not a “workers party.”
While they might come from different ideological spaces, Democrats and those on the left are closer to each other on solutions to our problems than they are apart. Disagreement about goals is far less a hang up than quibbling over details and how fast change must occur. And, when we are faced with obvious, imminent, universal danger – the pandemic and economic collapse for all but the wealthy – Democrats and the left do unify. Sure, on the pandemic, we live in a serpent’s belly waiting to be barfed or shat, but, as with the election, we can thank President Trump for this purgatory.
If Ur’s belly is where must contemplate our sins before we go on to something better or descend to hell, I suggest we figure this stuff out; otherwise, in four years, we will slide from Ur’s stomach to his colon, staring at a Trumpist president without the laziness, stupidity, narrowness, and bubbling of Donald Trump, shat from Ur into one of the three realms of Hell.*
*”The underworld is made up of four vestibules and three hells properly so called. The vestibules have each two rulers, Zartay and Zartanay, Hag and Mag, Gaf and Gafan, Anatan and Kin. In the highest hell rules alone the grisly king Sh’dum, “the warrior”; in the storey immediately beneath is Giv, “the great”; and in the lowest is Krun or Karkum, the oldest and most powerful of all, commonly called “the great mountain of flesh” (Third rabba d’besra), but also “the first-born of darkness.” In the vestibules dirty water is still to be met with, but the hells are full of scorching consuming fire, except Krun’s domain, where is nought but dust, ashes and vacancy.”