rodrik178_Jason Armond  Los Angeles Times via Getty Images_trump supporters Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Democrats’ Four-Year Reprieve

He may not know it yet, but the most important question US President-elect Joe Biden faces is how Donald Trump managed to win an even larger number of votes than he did four years ago, despite his lies, corruption, and disastrous handling of the pandemic. Unless he addresses it, a rude awakening awaits the Democratic Party in 2024.

CAMBRIDGE – As Joe Biden eked out a victory in the US presidential election after a few suspenseful days, observers of American democracy were left scratching their heads. Buoyed by polls, many expected a landslide for the Democrats, with the party capturing not only the White House but also the Senate. How did Donald Trump manage to retain the support of so many Americans – receiving an even larger number of votes than four years ago – despite his blatant lies, evident corruption, and disastrous handling of the pandemic?

The importance of this question goes beyond American politics. Center-left parties everywhere are trying to revive their electoral fortunes against right-wing populists. Even though Biden is temperamentally a centrist, the Democratic party platform has moved considerably to the left – at least by American standards. A decisive Democratic victory would have been a significant boost to the moderate left’s spirits: perhaps all it takes to win is to combine progressive economic policies with attachment to democratic values and basic human decency.

The debate is already on about how Democrats could have done better. Unfortunately, their narrow victory does not yield easy lessons. American politics revolves around two axes: culture and economics. On both sets of issues, we can find those who fault Democrats for going too far and those who fault them for not going far enough.