Donald Trump’s reaction to the two major crises in US politics has been to play to the most racist, reactionary sections of society. But it doesn’t look like it’s working for him.
Just under four months until the presidential election on 3 November, polls consistently show Donald Trump is lagging behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
In an average of recent national polls, Biden is ahead of Trump by almost 10 percent.
The Financial Times newspaper’s analysis of state-by-state polling says Biden is on course to get comfortably more than the 270 “electors” needed to win.
What’s more, he’s apparently ahead of Trump in states traditionally won by Republicans such as Florida.
That’s not a sign of Biden’s popularity, his great campaigning, or the widespread appeal of his politics—but of people’s rejection of Trump.
In one recent poll for the CNN network 60 percent of people who said they planned to vote Democrat described it as a vote against Trump rather than a vote for Biden.
This is reinforced by the fact that in several surveys the majority of people—including Republican voters—think Trump has handled the coronavirus outbreak badly. Many also say their states lifted lockdown restrictions too soon—and blame Trump for pressuring them to reopen.
What is more these surveys also showed most people thought racism in US society is a big problem—and they don’t like Trump’s reaction to it.
Those two major, related crises in US society have reshaped the political terrain.
Black Lives Matter—the broadest protest movement in US history—tore apart US politics.
Its expression of rage was not just at the murder of George Floyd but at decades of racist police violence, and deeply entrenched systemic racism. Its explosion onto the streets, and its defiance of the extreme repression with which the state first tried to put it down, transformed opinions.
The movement also dragged to the fore some far‑reaching challenges to the racism that’s embedded in the US’s history and politics.
Suddenly politicians were forced to discuss “defunding police”, in some cases transferring millions of pounds from police budgets to services aimed at the most deprived people in society. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, city councillors even voted to “abolish” their police department.
The movement is linked to the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic.
As US socialist and Black Lives Matter organiser Michael Brown wrote in Socialist Worker in June, “So many working class whites, Latinos and Asian youth are joining these protests alongside black youth partly because in this country there are 40 million people unemployed.
“There are also tens of millions of people without health insurance in the midst of a pandemic.”
Trump’s drive to keep the profit system running has been deadly. Several months into the pandemic, states such as Florida are still recording increases and peaks in the number of coronavirus infections.
And the number of people who have had to apply for unemployment benefits has skyrocketed. New unemployment applications each week since mid-March have been at least three times as high as their worst week of the 2008 recession.
That’s a problem for Trump. His victory in 2016 was above all down to the votes of people in states of high unemployment and poverty caused by the destruction of industry.
Trump promised jobs by putting “America first”. Instead, he’s putting profit ahead of people’s lives and futures.
That doesn’t mean Trump is bound to fail. In those “Rust Belt states” such as Ohio and Iowa, polls show no clear difference between Trump and Biden.
Biden marks a return to the establishment politics that people rejected in 2016 when Hillary Clinton stood. He’s deliberately stayed distant from the radical edge of Black Lives Matter, and the strikes over safety and jobs during coronavirus.
Whether Trump loses depends on if militant struggles continue to grow and shake up politics in the US.