My friend, colleague and co-author John Halpin opines on the meaning of the 2020 election on the European social democratic site Progressive Post. He argues that inclusive nationalism deserves a close look as a potentially successful approach for the left going forward. I agree.
"Pragmatic progressive policies and values won the day over impractical leftist ones. Biden correctly understood that American voters wanted a clear break from Trump without desiring a full-scale leftist revolution. Biden’s approach was smart and more closely aligned with the desires of voters than the ideas of his main primary rivals or Trump.
Biden sought to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and expand health care with a public option without going to a full single-payer model preferred by the left, or worse, attacking the ACA as Trump and Republicans sought to do. Biden proposed ideas to fight climate change with clean energy investments and international action without radical disruptions to the economy set out in the left’s Green New Deal or acquiescing to the climate denialism of the president and his party. Biden committed to racial equality in criminal justice, housing, and employment without agreeing to the unpopular ‘defund the police’ position of left-wing activists or denying that America had any issues with racism as Trump and Republicans argued.
Above all, Biden won by stressing the basics of any smart centre-left politics: jobs, economic security, investments in health care and education, and equal treatment for all people.
A big tent strategy is critical for success but requires constant tending. Preliminary examinations of the data show the basic ingredients of the Biden coalition. To successfully rebuild the Blue Wall and expand into emerging battlegrounds like Arizona and Georgia, Biden was able to considerably cut Democratic margins with Trump’s non-college educated white base; solidify Democratic gains among college-educated whites and suburban voters, and ensure a high turnout and strong support rates from black voters (along with bringing out some newer voters in these communities).
Although Biden did not fully rebuild the Obama coalition demographically or geographically, he successfully pulled together combinations of voters from each of these groups state-by-state. But as the overall closeness of the election in the Electoral College shows – plus the relatively poor showing of House and Senate Democrats in the elections and the clear erosion of Hispanic margins in states like Florida and Texas – this is a tenuous coalition.
In the absence of Trump as a unifying foil, and with critical midterms just two-years away and the House majority on the line, Biden and the Democrats will need to be rigorous in promoting ideas and policies that are broadly popular and focus on basic economic needs while avoiding cultural battles and other distractions that easily fracture voting coalitions.
Inclusive nationalism is the way forward for centre-left parties. The overall lesson from the 2020 US elections is instructive for parties in other countries: a vision of inclusive nationalism – focused on the well-being of all people and national economic development coupled with new forms of international cooperation on challenges like pandemics, climate, and inequality – can successfully beat back authoritarian populism and chart a viable path forward for building more stable political coalitions in a world of increasingly divisive and disunited politics."
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