When the epilogue is just the beginning
At the time of writing this article, the most consequential American election of a lifetime is underway. Joe Biden is projected to overtake Trump by a miniscule margin, with the key battlegrounds being narrowed down to a few constituencies in Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin. There is admittedly something poetic about having the final tally of this election being fought tooth and nail on a block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood basis in a handful of cities that the vast majority of Americans have little to no relation to. The result as it stands right now, and really in any possible outcome from here on out, represents two things in particular. One, this result – for the second time in a row – represents the catastrophic failure of the Democratic Party to resonate with voters, to understand voter constituencies and their grievances, and to take advantage of the political system – being described by one pundit as “an astonishing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. Two, this result represents the palpable reality of the American political divide which has come to permeate the very fiber of American society – dividing people by race, class, intellectual background, religion and worldview down to the most fundamental perceptions of mundane realities.
While the first point is the subject of a very important discussion to be had, the second one is infinitely more pressing. This election may be wrapping up, but it has exposed the social rifts that are tearing the US apart, rifts that have been exacerbated over the last 4 years. Looking at the current state of American political discourse, especially from a European perspective, is a highly surreal experience. To see election day interviews with midwestern rural whites warning of the impending doom in the shape of a cultural war waged on American history and cultural institutions, or to see Hispanic voters in Florida reluctantly salute Trump as the final frontier against the Castroist hellscape that will supposedly come of a Biden presidency, or even young disenfranchised men in suburban communities allured by fascistoid rhetoric and eager to put a torch to a system that they feel has failed them. The worst part might be that if you take a step back to assess the situation, it is surprisingly easy to understand their points of view. For these voters Trump is not a successful businessman, he is not an alleged rapist or a racist, he is not a draft-dodging coward and not even a fearless strongman. These things simply don’t matter, and somewhat rightly so. Because, to them, Trump is the only person willing to stand against what threatens their own conception of America, be that a romanticized picture of an infallible history, a beacon of economic and social freedom, or the social progressivism that young white men feel has left them behind. Unlike other politicians he does not care about decorum or maintaining the status quo; and that’s a good thing. The status quo, after all, is what has led to a slow corruption of all the things that made America great: and Trump was there to subvert it.
Biden on the other hand is as close as you can come to the embodiment of the political establishment. It’s hard to conceive of any voter seeing Biden as a political messiah. Frankly, even calling him a step in the right direction without any hesitation would likely take a pathological optimist. Despite the politically bland and slightly pungent flavor of his campaign, Biden nonetheless represents a last resort for many voters. Like the deep red republicans, democrats have felt the dying breath of American exceptionalism. To many, the last 4 years have come to represent a very real and palpable existential threat. From the abysmal response to Covid-19 on behalf of the administration, to the acute danger posed to minorities by institutional racism festering in policiary and judicial institutions alike, to the small but reinvigorated and increasingly zealous fascist influencers gaining prominence and relevance in the political scene 2020 in many ways represents a point of no return for American progressives. While Joe Biden is unlikely to have the composure and gravitas required to resolve or alleviate these issues, a Biden presidency would signify a moment of repose in which progressives could formulate a strategy to tackle the nation’s domestic issues.
While it is not yet clear who wins this election and might not be for another couple of days or even weeks it is hard to remain convinced that a change in the presidency will represent a moment of substantial change for the United States. Both progressives and conservatives, like powder kegs set to detonate, have been galvanized and it is unlikely that the red-hot emotions will die down any time soon. Black Lives Matter-protests may continue well into the next presidential term, fascist elements will turn to the next in line to represent their ideals, and political demagogues in the media and online will without doubt continue to cultivate hatred and resentment in the people. Mending the political schism will take far more than a sequence of good presidents, it will require institutional overhaul and redemocratization that the current political elite is fundamentally unwilling and incapable of achieving. The Democratic Party has for too long been soft on staunch conservatives and hard on their own constituents, more prone to care about its financial supporters. The Republican Party has for too long been sowing fear and nourishing fascist sentiment for political expedience. None of the parties can or will change the system, because while it might be overwhelmingly clear that it does not benefit the interests of the American people, both parties are its subsidiaries. The path to reform for the US may never have been this obfuscated, but with diligence and keen perception it is not unlikely that the darkest hour of America may yet see new light.
Panorama är en politiskt och religiöst obunden studenttidning och de eventuella åsikter som uttrycks är skribentens egna.
Anton Håkansson, skribent