During the past century, it was often difficult to distinguish between the platforms of the Democratic and Republican Parties. But as an inevitable result of the events of recent years, the gap between the two parties’ visions for themselves, as well as for America’s future and its international relationships, has begun to widen. These differences will become even more clear as next year’s presidential election draws closer.
The changes taking place in American political life are not only the product of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. Indeed, they can be traced to the beginning of this century and the repercussions of Sept. 11, 2001, when the subject of American security became linked to major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to issues related to Arabs, Muslims and religious and racial minorities in America. Of course, these changes also stem from the dangerous role played in American decision-making by the so-called “neoconservatives,” and their nurturing of fear among Americans, which also strengthened the conservative religious trend in a number of American states, as well as the appearance of the tea party movement as a political and popular rebellion amidst the Republican Party and its supporters.
The Democrats’ success in last November’s midterm election, and their retaking of a majority in the House of Representatives, was indicative of the important changes taking place in American society. The Democratic and Republican Parties each witnessed the revolt of its popular base against the aspirations of traditional party leadership, as the election results demonstrated the dominance of a right-wing current among the Republicans opposite the ascendancy of an enlightened left-wing current among the Democrats. This latter current is the one that appeared in the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and it was solidified by Barack Obama’s victory in 2008.
It’s incorrect to say that there is no difference between one American administration and another, or between the Republican and Democratic Parties, just as it was a big mistake in 2008 to imagine that the Obama administration would upend all previous American interests and policies.
The beautiful face of America appeared in 2008 with the election of a president who is the son of a black African Muslim immigrant, rather than another descendant of the white families of European origin who usually inherit positions of influence and wealth. But behind this face of America is another, very ugly face, based on racism against the mixing which was symbolized by Obama’s victory in 2008. It’s a profound racism against Americans with black skin.
The election of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to the House of Representatives last year, as the first Muslim women of Arab descent elected to Congress, was evidence of the winds of change in the Democratic Party’s popular base, which was unaffected by the political and media campaigns opposing Arabs and Muslims since the events of Sept. 11. Something similar also happened in a number of American states in 2016 during the primary elections in the Democratic Party, when many American Muslims and Arabs voted for Jewish candidate Bernie Sanders. This was a testimony to Muslim and Arab Americans, showing that they do not choose candidates based only on religious and ethnic considerations, but instead look to domestic and foreign political values when deciding for whom to vote. It was also a testimony to Sanders that he was able to attract this branch of American society, due to his rejection of racism and discrimination against religious, cultural and racial minorities. Sanders drew their support for many other reasons as well: his rejection of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands and his support for the rights of Palestinians to their own state; his condemnation of the war in Iraq; his rejection of financial support from lobbyists and his dependence on individual donations; and of course, his economic and social programs, which have been, and continue to be, well-received by the younger generation and the middle and lower classes.
These are the unconventional electoral battles taking place now in the United States. These battles are not only about the social and economic issues that sometimes dominate the media, but they are also now connected to issues of religion, race and culture. These are political battles about competing visions of America’s future, and the path that American society will take.