Amid the talk from President Donald Trump’s close aides of staging a military coup against President-elect Joe Biden, there is still a bright spot for American democracy: Georgia’s Senate runoffs on Tuesday.
More than two million Georgians have already voted in person and by mail, of a total of 7,729,833 registered voters. That is much higher than in the last runoff 18 years ago and matches the turnout for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Campaign spending on television ads could reach a half-billion dollars. This frenzied activity belies Trump’s claims of “massive fraud” in the general election. If the election was indeed “stolen,” there should not be this level of turnout. But the stakes are high: control of the U.S. Senate and, quite possibly, Biden’s agenda.
The Nov. 3 elections left the Senate with Republicans still in the majority, with 50 seats, Democrats with 46 and two Independents who vote with them, for a 52-48 split. If the Republicans lose, the Senate will be divided 50-50 and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris will preside and cast tie-breaking votes, effectively giving control to the Democrats. Trump was put in the position of calling on his supporters to turn out to vote while simultaneously insisting that the state enables rigging. Obviously, the stage is being set for another protracted court battle if Democrats win.
BETTING ON TRUMP
The contrast between the candidates cannot be starker. The Republicans are David Perdue, a 12-year incumbent and businessman, and Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman appointed to a vacancy in December 2019 and reportedly one of the richest Senate members. Neither received 50 percent of the votes in November, hence the runoff mandated by state law. Both have been accused of insider trading, which they deny.
Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist, is challenging Perdue and Loeffler faces the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation. Perdue has dodged debating Ossfoff. Loeffler did so once and called Warnock a “radical liberal” 13 times. She has also posed with white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, including QAnon believers, Hufﬁngton Post reported.
Perdue and Loeffler are betting that endorsement by Trump is enough to win and they are repaying him by supporting his fantasy that he won their state, even though the ballots have been counted three times and Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state certiﬁed that Biden won.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, declared at a rally that Georgia will decide whether our children grow up under an oppressive government or America remains the land of the free – which is ironic, given that her father the president is listening to aides pushing him to declare martial law, send soldiers to seize voting machines and conduct a “re-run” of the Nov. 3 election. Harris countered at a rally, “Everything that was at stake in November is at stake on Jan. 5.”
The Nov. 3 elections saw the Democrats surprisingly lose seats in the House of Representatives, leading to a lot of the usual soul-searching. The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer recently quoted Ohio Democratic chairman David Pepper as saying that, in Scherer’s words, “the party has failed to communicate directly with the more rural parts of America.” Pepper told Scherer, “We need to go right into these small towns and tell them what the Democratic agenda is for them and why it will lift them. Until we do that, we will be on the defense.”
Economist Thomas Piketty seems to share that view. Cole Stangler, reviewing Piketty’s latest book “Capital and Ideology” in The Nation, notes that instead of pursuing the “redistributive alternative” to predatory capitalism, parties such as Democrats’ have “embraced a more scaled back view of what constitutes a fair society and lost the faith of their working-class base.”
There is, however, a large constituency in today’s Democratic Party for returning to the “redistributive alternative,” stoked by Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who leads the party’s progressive wing. Democrats have just not been good at marketing their brand, seemingly believing that it is so good that it sells itself.
But their brand includes Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security – which were also denounced as socialist – along with the more recent but equally popular Affordable Care Act, which Republicans failed more than 50 times to repeal. The current agenda includes improved public schools, tuition-free college, environmental protection, a $15 daily minimum wage, affordable housing, the right to vote and to unionize and infrastructure upgrade.
Scherer reports that Democratic leaders “worry about the potential emergence of a mostly male and increasingly interracial working class coalition for Republicans that will cut into the demographic advantages Democrats had long counted on.” Biden has indeed said he will “govern from the center” but has also promoted himself as the friend of the working class. His success will depend on whether he can swing his party away from its flirting with Reaganomics, as Piketty said, back to the politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
It will not be easy because even some in Biden’s party have bought into the propaganda that its relatively poor showing recently resulted from talk of “defunding the police” and “socialism.” That may be, but the overriding concern should be the disaffection from the politics of the recent past that created the Trump presidency.