Letter from the US: Midterms offer distorted picture of political state of play

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses a sit-in for climate action.

Looking at elections in the United States, deeper trends in the population can be difficult to discern as the choices are between two capitalist parties that are both staunch defenders of capitalist rule and US imperialism.

There are no mass workers’ parties of any stripe. If there were, we may be in a better position to understand the relation of class forces.

This is not to say there are no differences between the two parties. There clearly are. At present, President Donald Trump has the backing of Republican politicians, with a few exceptions. Democratic politicians are generally opposed to Trump’s authoritarian drive, however ineffectually.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that there are competing factions in both parties, more in the open among the Democrats. For the Republicans, they are muffled by the need to go along with Trump’s significant base or face the crumbling of their party.

Midterm results

The recent elections, called “midterms” as they occur halfway thru the four-tear presidential term, resulted in a shift in the House of Representatives from a Republican to a Democratic majority. Trump said those Republicans who lost did so because they were not sufficiently supportive of him.

The Republicans, however, kept their control of the Senate. That means both parties can thwart any legislation passed by the other, since both houses must agree.

Also, neither party can by itself overturn any presidential veto of legislation passed by both houses.

In the first two years of Trump’s presidency, the only major piece of legislation passed by the Republicans, who controlled both houses, was a giant tax cut for corporations and the rich. Another major decision was to increase military spending to nearly US$1 trillion — passed with enthusiastic support from both parties.

The situation in the new Congress will thus remain basically as it was in the last two years.

The attempt by the Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) failed because of their own differences over a replacement. We can expect similar logjams in the next two years, except where the parties agree on issues like military spending.

Republican control of the Senate is quite important for another reason. The Senate must ratify presidential appointments to not only the Supreme Court, as we saw in the struggle to approve Kavanaugh, but all federal judges. This gives the Republicans the power to continue their drive to pack federal courts with right-wing candidates.

The Senate must also approve some 1200-1400 federal positions nominated by the president. This includes nominations to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Undemocractic

It is revealing of the true state of US “democracy” that, in the Senate elections, many millions more voted for Democrats than Republicans. The Republicans won a majority, regardless, because of an inbuilt gerrymander. Two Senators are elected for each state, regardless of population. This puts sparsely populated states on an equal footing with heavily populated states like California, which voted Democratic overwhelmingly.

On top of this are the growing examples of voter suppression that tends to target African-Americans and Latinos, using a range of technicalities to deny them their right to vote.

Another thing to note is that most African Americans, Latinos, women and young people despise Trump and all he stands for and indicated their opposition, to the extent the two party duopoly allows, by voting against him.

However, the only way to clearly vote against Trump was to cast votes for the Democrats, who do not champion their interests or the interests of the workers.

One result was that the number of women elected to Congress rose. For the first time, two Muslims were elected to the House of Representatives, as were two Native American women. On a positive note, this demonstrates, in the distorted mirror of US elections, that a lot more has been happening in the US than the rise of Trump.

One of the Muslims elected was a Black woman, Ilhan Omar. She was immediately smeared as an anti-Semite by some columnists, and the Anti-Defamation League, which backs every position and action of Israel, expressed “alarm” at her election. The reason? She supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

The other Muslim elected was Rahida Tlaib, daughter of Palestinian immigrants, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Tlaib supports a democratic, secular single state in historic Palestine that would grant equal rights and status to Jews and Palestinians who live there.

She was one of two DSA members elected. The other is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the most famous DSA leader in the country after she defeated a long-time establishment Democratic Party stalwart in the primary election, which paved the way for her election to Congress in the midterms.

Ocasio-Cortez has also caught attention by her outspoken stances, such as opposing Trump’s terrorising of immigrants and in support of a “green New Deal” to tackle ecological destruction.

Democrats

Both the DSA candidates were elected as Democrats and will be part of the Democratic caucus in the House. Ocasio-Cortez urged people to vote for the Democrats across the board in the midterms. This reflected the long-term position of the DSA, which seeks to reform the Democratic Party.

The DSA grew substantially after the 2016 elections, largely by recruiting young people who had supported Bernie Sanders, who identified as a democratic socialist. There is minority support in the renewed DSA to break from its historic position regarding the Democrats, but in the midterms the DSA mainly supported the Democratic candidates, or in some cases made no endorsements.

The policy of socialists giving up their independent status and backing the Democrats goes back to the mid-1930s, when Soviet leader Josef Stalin imposed on the world’s Communist Parties a class-collaborationist policy of seeking alliances with “progressive” pro-capitalist forces. In the US, this meant supporting the Democrats.

The Socialist Party followed suit, as did the trade union bureaucracy. A minority of socialists, principally Trotskyists, rejected this course.

For the next eight decades, this policy of supporting Democrats in the hope of reforming the party has failed. The ruling capitalist class has a firm grip on the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

The DSA faces a choice. Either accept the trap of running in, and/or endorsing the Democratic Party or chart an independent course, which would be a big step forward for socialism in general in the US.

There have been many indications that broader forces would welcome such a policy, such as from Black Lives Matter, many of involved in the big women’s marches and the #MeToo movement, climate change activists, those in the fight for a livable wage in the fast food and hotel industries and the teachers’ strikes, and more.