There was jubilation across a number of cities in the United States as the November 7 news revealed that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump in the presidential election.
No doubt this feeling of jubilation — as well as relief — will have been felt by untold millions all over the world.
Trump’s days as president are numbered, even though he has so far refused to concede.
There is good reason for people across the US and the world to celebrate the sacking of the racist, sexist and arrogant bully.
There is widespread understanding that Biden is simply a new face running the same murderous empire and that “Trumpism” — which has garnered 72 million votes so far — is a long way from being defeated.
The contradictions inherent in US politics defy simplistic characterisations.
All those wanting to change the world for the better — including those of us outside the US — must have a clear understanding of the balance of forces and what it will take to bring about real progressive change.
There are two important contradictions.
First, Trump is both an unusual (even unique) US president, while also being an unremarkable (even exemplary) personification of the authoritarian US empire in decline.
Secondly, Biden’s narrow win provides only some relief from Trumpite racism and all its associated dangers, because his political approach differs little in substance (as opposed to style) from Trump, institutional racism remains.
Much of the “danger” posed by Trump persists in Biden.
Further, Biden’s centrist approach raises the likelihood that more extreme Trump-like figures will gain traction.
These contradictions are understandable when we acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that there is no decent future for most people while capitalism remains supreme.
Republicans and Democrats represent greater and lesser manifestations of the same dangers. The differences between them are real, but so are the similarities.
Trump is more extreme than previous Republican presidents but, in part, that just reflects the accelerating crisis of postmodern capitalism or neoliberalism.
During his time in office, Trump has helped reinforce a trend in authoritarian leaders: Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India and Boris Johnson in Britain.
This trend is a product of mainstream capitalism in crisis and it will not be defeated by the traditional representatives of mainstream capitalism.
What about the “dictator moves” and the threat of a fascist coup in the US today? After all, Trump is refusing to concede defeat.
Again, there is a contradiction. Trump’s politics and his style of leadership have actively encouraged the far-right fascist forces in the US and other countries. Those forces are stronger today than four years ago, aided by Trump.
On the other hand, the US state remains firmly in the hands of its capitalist class. There are no indications that they want the instability of a pro-Trump coup and there is no indication that Trump himself has the inclination to lead one. Trump was, after all, playing golf when the election was called for Biden.
The legal actions launched by the Trump team, dubiously claiming election fraud, have so far not had any success in the courts. Even courts packed with Trump-aligned judges have to respond at some level to public opinion.
It is much more likely that Trump’s refusal to concede is part of some face-saving political theatre rather than a live plan to steal the election.
It is also a narrative that the far right will use to build itself over the next four years.
To defeat not just Trump, but Trumpism, we need genuine solutions to the climate crisis and the inequality crisis.
In other words we need socialist solutions that put people and the planet’s needs first.
However, it is striking that after Biden pulled into the lead, corporate Democrats were quick to attack the left and the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to the Intercept, “centrist after centrist [at a November 6 teleconference] lambasted the party’s left for costing it seats in the lower chamber and threatening its ability to win the Senate”.
A sober analysis leads to the opposite conclusion.
Left Democrats who supported Medicare For All, and who campaigned with the left won their seats more reliably than the corporate Democrats who didn’t.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (“The Squad”) all rewon their positions.
Biden has promised to repeat the “bipartisan” approach of the Barack Obama years, including considering putting Republicans on his cabinet.
This is the opposite of what is needed in such a deeply-divided country.
The same applies in Australia: accommodation to the capitalist establishment is a sure fire way of facilitating the profits of a few over the livelihoods of the many and a safe planet. Those now calling for Australia to match Biden’s climate targets are setting their sights too low.
[Alex Bainbridge is the national convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]