On November 6, three days after Election Day, America was waking up to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden leading in four key states – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada – which, if sustained, could put an end to President Donald Trump’s reelection bid and make Biden the 46th president of the United States. Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, spoke to Charmy Harikrishnan on a Zoom call on what this election reveals of America, what a possible Biden presidency could mean and how Trumpism is still alive. Edited excerpts:
How do you look at this election result so far?
Donald Trump got far more votes than he should have. White working class Americans are not helped by Trump or the Republican Party but they are falling in line with the white ethno-nationalist agenda and they are thinking at least they are being placed above Blacks and immigrants. In India, the Dalits voted for the BJP in the last election. You wonder why Dalits are voting for Hindutva. It is the same phenomenon here with white working class Americans.
What does this election reveal of America?
This election reveals that white nationalism is always going to be a powerful force, but that it is a minority force. If you look at the popular vote, the Democrats have repeatedly won it. The Republican Party has been flirting with authoritarianism. Trump has shown that you could always run an ethno-nationalist, white nationalist campaign, and given the anti-democratic structure of the Electoral College, you can get a very sizable support. Working class white Americans should not be voting for a party that doesn’t have their interest in mind and just because that party is going to hurt non-whites more. We have learnt that we are always going to have an ethnonationalist threat. It is in our history. There are ultra-nationalist, ethnonationalist movements all across the world right now and we are not distinct in that way. Each of the countries has its own version.
What explains Cuban Americans in Florida and Hispanics in Texas voting for Trump?
First of all, Cuban Americans have always been Republicans. There is no good reason to think that there has been any significant Latino shift to Trump. On the same-day exit polls, Republican voters massively outnumbered Democratic voters. Many Republican supporters of Trump don’t believe Covid is real. That was the whole strategy – to win Election Day voting. There has been absolutely no major shift of Jewish voters, Hispanic voters, Black voters. In fact, it is white voters who are shifting to Trump.
What is the difference between 2016 and 2020 America?
We had four years of Trump. Black voters are now much clearer than they were before. In 2016, we had the problem of people not turning up for the polls. But there was more enthusiasm about getting Trump out. Stacey Abrams (former legislator and voting rights activist who registered about 800,000 new voters in Georgia and whose campaign put Biden in the lead in the state) made the difference. We have massive voter suppression in our country and she fought back against that. And that should be a model. Stacey Abrams should be the hero of this election.
How do you look back at the four years of Trump? Is there an idea of America that he destroyed?
I don’t think there is an idea of America that he destroyed as much as an idea of America that he reminded us of – ethnonationalism plus ultracapitalism. It was marked by denial of climate change, denial of science, destruction of the press, attack on universities, attack on immigrants, detention camps. Maybe no country understands what America is going through better than India.
What can Biden do?
The seizing of the courts is something that ultranationalist regimes do. So the courts are going to be an obstruction on progressive legislation. If the Republicans keep the Senate, which looks 50-50, then it is hard to see that any progressive legislation will get through. So, it will be a very difficult time. It will be four hard years. The politics that Trump runs – of resentment, of schadenfreude – are detached from material conditions. In 2024, suppose Trump does step down now, Biden will be running against that politics. What you have to promise is, what you have to show is – you have to make the economy better, make the material conditions better. The Republican Party has for several decades said that they are not going to regard the Democrats as legitimate opposition party. So they are not going to allow any legislation.
Do you see a smooth transfer of power,
with the president demanding that counting be stopped and undermining the integrity of election?
It is a standard authoritarian move. He would go to the courts – that is what he said. And that is why he has stacked the courts. There is no mystery at all. The question is, will he get away with it? In the US, there is only a minority supporting this anti-democratic action.
How will a Trump defeat affect other ultranationalist regimes?
He really gave a lot of support to ethnonationalist regimes. He is viewed internationally as a champion of ethnonationalism. There was no surprise that there were anti-Muslim riots in India when Trump visited. When President Biden visits India, there won’t be anti-Muslim riots. People will be trying to behave.
Earlier, it seemed that the American election was a close fight. But now while the counting is slow, do Dems have a clear win?
Biden has won the popular vote by a large margin – a few million votes. Biden will win the Electoral College, too. The only problem is, the president is not going to willingly leave office.
What would America be like under Biden?
The Black Lives Matter movement has made many white Americans more aware of the existence of racial injustice. I am hoping that will have some effect. There will always be resistance from a powerful, white nationalist movement, which also includes some people of colour. It is now much less easy to think or say that racism is over. That’s important.
Has America pulled away from the brink of what you call fascist politics?
No. We pulled away – although we don’t know yet — from the brink of having our election stolen. Trump and Trumpism will continue. There will also be other far right leaders. Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley are far right leaders in the making. But Trump is very good at manipulating the media, which is why you have to watch out for television figures in the future.
A section of the media was quite critical of Trump. Still it was a divided election. Is there a disconnect between the mass media and the masses?
No, there is just different media, like Fox News. The media turned the corner just today after Trump’s speech. I was just prepared for newspapers to be both-sided but thankfully they didn’t. The media has to say the truth even if it is unpopular. The media has to say what the masses don’t want to hear.
Are democracies under threat?
You live in a country I am most worried about. Democracy is under incredible threat. There are different models on how to challenge democracy. India is a classic illiberal democracy that is not respecting minority rights. Then there is the anti-democratic push of Trump and the Republican Party, which says we are going to hold power even though we are in a minority.
If people are coming out and voting in large numbers, can we say democracy is under threat?
Democracy is not just majority vote. If you ask the people of North Korea to vote right now, they will vote for their leader because they have been lied to by the media. So if you are lied to, then you are not going to vote correctly. Democracy requires education, an educated population that has access to the media that tells them the truth so that they can vote in an informed way.
Kamala Harris could be the first woman and the first person of colour to be vice president.
My children are Black Americans and they are very excited about Kamala Harris. But it really depends on what she does. The symbolic politics is important but what matters is what she is going to do as vice-president.
What do you want Biden-Harris to do?
I want them to restore the rule of law. I want them to address racial injustice and racial inequality and the whole system that connects race with poverty. They need to address climate change. They have to address the brutality of a system that is making people miserable, sick, poor and setting them against each other.