Liberals can let out a collective sigh of relief, but the job should not end hereCredit: Christopher Dilts

Throughout his career, Joe Biden has staked out a position as the pre-eminent compromiser. As his voting record attests, he has always been a moderate within his own party, a man willing to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to forge a consensus and get the job done. His campaign for President has followed more or less the same theme: a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for normality, and to end the national nightmare of the Trump Presidency. But normality is not enough.

In particular, we cannot go on ignoring those who propelled Trump into office; we must recognise that much of America has been economically and morally devastated over the last thirty years, as once stable communities and ways of life have been torn apart. The economic programme which has caused that devastation – of unlimited deregulation, globalisation, and financialisation – has opened up a new world of prosperity for its winners, but its losers have been abandoned. Even as they have fallen behind, they have been told that they themselves are to blame for being too unskilled, treated as relics of an embarrassing past, whose values and way of life must at the very least be ignored, but preferably erased forever.

The impulse for us to treat a Biden victory as a hard reset on the last four years is a tempting one, and simply pretending that we can return to the old world is the easy option, but doing so will only make things worse.In such circumstances, the allure of Trumpism is understandable: when you have nothing left to lose, why not roll the dice on burning it all to the ground? You can’t lose anything else, but the ‘meritocratic’ elite who look down on you with unconcealed disgust might just lose everything. That resentment, often directed against the most politically vulnerable, particularly immigrants, African Americans, and women, is not justifiable, but understanding of and sympathy with the real social ills which inspire it is the first essential step to overcoming the divisions exploited by Trump.

“The impulse for us to treat a Biden victory as a hard reset on the last four years is a tempting one, and simply pretending that we can return to the old world is the easy option, but doing so will only make things worse.”

Biden might have won this election, but it shouldn’t have been nearly this close. If not for the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a real chance that Donald Trump would have won re-election. In large part, that’s because he was able to win the backing of large segments of the Democratic base. Whilst Biden’s promise of a return to the status quo won the backing of affluent white suburban moderates, Trump built on his success amongst discontented white working-class voters in the Midwest, and attracted more African American and Latino voters than ever before. Democrats have always taken these people’s support for granted, but they shouldn’t. Unless the party adopts a radically new strategy, there’s every chance that a Republican candidate running on Trump's playbook in 2024 will win again, and win large.

If Joe Biden wants to be the President who heals America, then he must accept that the only way to do so is by building an economy that works for everyone. He will have to repudiate the economic consensus which he has championed for much of his career, and embrace many of the programmes of his rivals within the Democratic Party. But the alternative is the further dissolution of the American body politic, the further widening of the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, and the final destruction of the notion of a common national interest which binds all healthy democracies together.

Even then the threat to democracy will likely remain. The polarisation of American political life is such that reconciliation with a large element of the right may simply be impossible. If President Trump loses, many of his supporters will not sit back and accept that quietly. These people, and the terrorist acts which many of them are already plotting, are the greatest threat to the American constitution since the civil war. Biden might have to make hard choices to stop them, hard choices which run counter to the spirit of moderation which has inspired his campaign and career.

“If there is a time for moderation, it is not now”

Likewise, despite the nobility of Biden’s hope that he could reach across the aisle and forge a new compromise, he may have to recognise that the extremism of the GOP today precludes that entirely. Those who would repudiate Trumpism have, for the most part, already abandoned the President: those who have stuck by him are simply in too deep. Even now they are preparing to refuse to concede power in the event of a Trump defeat: having rammed through Amy Coney Barret’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, the risk of their attempting to pull off a ‘legal’ coup in the event of defeat is very real.

If there is a time for moderation, it is not now. The Republicans have shown themselves to be both unable and unwilling to back down in the war for America’s soul: in order to defeat their xenophobic, racist, and authoritarian vision for the country, the Democratic Party will have to accept that cooperation is no longer possible. Those who would sweep away the American republic if it served their purposes cannot, and ought not, to be included in the effort to secure it.


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The late Senator Barry Goldwater was not a man with whom I would agree on almost any issue, but his most famous saying rings true now more than ever; “Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice… moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue!”. In his battle to save American democracy from the titanic threat it now faces, Joe Biden will have to accept that the consensus-based politics for which he has always been known no longer works. He will have to accept that in order to save America he must radically transform it.