The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Working people delivered Biden his victory. Now he needs to deliver for them.

Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gathered at BLM Plaza in Washington, D.C., to celebrate after an anxious week. (Video: The Washington Post)

Nina Turner is a former Ohio state senator and a co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign.

As the dust settles, pundits, political operatives and party insiders are already swarming to tell the story of what really happened in 2020. They’ll zero in on the smallest margins, the most unlikely Trump-to-Biden swing voters, the affluent white suburbanites. But that’s not the story of this election.

The exit polls are still being finalized, but as of now they show that working people — Black, Brown and White families making under $100,000, along with the vast majority of young people — delivered Biden his victory. Not only did they vote for him in overwhelming numbers, they also knocked on doors, made calls and carried out the hard work of democracy during a pandemic. These voters are the heart and the future of a massive progressive movement inside and outside of the Democratic Party, and it is to them that Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris must answer.

Trump has been a disaster for poor and working people, so they used voting as a tool to fight back. Hammered by a government by, of and for the one percent, brutalized by covid-19 inaction and economic disaster, pummeled with racist rhetoric and white supremacist violence, the people have delivered a rebuke to President Trump. But the result was also a warning for Biden: In the midst of overlapping national crises, his administration has a critical window to deliver for the working people and young people who got him elected. If he fails to meet the moment — if he seeks instead to return us to a “normalcy” marked by corporate handouts and extreme inequality — then the next Trump might be far more dangerous than the one we just defeated. We can see hints of this already in the way voters of color — perennially taken for granted by the Democratic Party — shifted marginally toward Trump in 2020. Though they still carried Biden to victory by a 46-point margin, the lesson is clear: The Democratic Party ignores its base at its own peril.

After all, it was working people’s organizations that had millions of conversations with voters this year. It was not the political operatives at the Lincoln Project or the Third Way who knocked the doors, who spoke to the voters, who heard their concerns. It was laid-off union members in South Phoenix; African American community organizers in Kenosha, Wis.; Latinx zoomers in Reading, Pa. None of us intend to let the far-right of the Democratic coalition claim a mandate for status-quo politics.

This goes for Wall St. Democrats as well as Never-Trump Republicans. The latter in particular spent decades using dog-whistle racist appeals and inflaming culture-war fights to throw red meat to their base. We’re glad they finally had their “come-to-Jesus” moment, but that doesn’t mean we are going to invite them to take the pulpit. The people who should lead our country forward are the people who have been building the country all along: the multiracial working class who have helped carry this country through a pandemic and now demand real reform.

Young people in particular showed up this year in historic numbers, increasing their turnout by eight percentage points. This generation is the most racially diverse generation in the history of our country and the most progressive. That’s no surprise: Their future hangs in the balance — economically, politically and environmentally. They turned out this year in force more to defeat the unique threat of Trump than out of love for Biden or the Democratic Party. Biden and Democrats in Congress now have an opportunity to win a generation’s long-term loyalty, but only if they deliver the big changes young Americans demand.

That means passing a Green New Deal to lift our economy out of recession, create millions of jobs and address the climate crisis head-on. It means passing Medicare-for-all to prevent thousands of Americans from dying (or going bankrupt) due to covid-19 and other illnesses. It means making the wealthy pay their share of taxes and reversing the massive tax giveaway that was Trump’s crowning legislative achievement. And it means electoral reform to ensure our government actually reflects the will of the majority.

These and other policies represent not only what Biden should do, but also what he must do. Politically, a return to “normalcy” is simply a circuitous route back to Trumpism. So-called normalcy has never worked if you are poor or among the barely middle class and it will not work now. Being better than Trump is a low bar. This moment demands — and the citizens of this nation deserve — leadership with a vision to provide for the people. Anything less is unacceptable. The Democratic Party’s future and the future of America depend on it.

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Not making the effort to say someone's name correctly is a sign of disrespect. When it's done intentionally, it's downright racist. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara, photographer; Danielle Kunitz, designer/The Washington Post)

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