Post-Trump Liberalism

All around the world, liberals are celebrating the victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Not only because of his regressive policies in areas like health, and his racist and xenophobic rhetoric, but also because his dictatorial style posed a threat of permanent global conflict.

In fact, it seems like the outgoing president, in his unlimited craziness, is prepared to stain U.S. democracy with allegations of fraud, inviting petty tyrants from other parts of the world to use similar tactics in their fiefdoms. But will he go to the extreme of skipping the inauguration ceremony?

When Trump became the president of the most stable democracy that we know, it was undeniably a milestone. But in material terms, and in terms of public policy, the damage was limited. The system of checks and balances set up a formidable barrier to his most delusional proposals, including the construction of the wall and massive deportations. Such are the advantages of living in a republic.

On the other hand, the balance is totally negative in the symbolic field. As never before, populism burst into the civic life of a country where centrist politics had predominated, marked by dialogue and negotiation. Already, the red and blue states do not merely indicate electoral preferences; rather, they reflect an existential struggle between sworn enemies. Argentines understand well the scope of this tragedy.

Whether the United States will turn the page depends in large measure on what the Democrats do — much more so than on what the Republicans do or what Trump himself does. Biden’s speech after his victory suggests that the new president understands the challenge: He called for overcoming internal divisions, presenting himself as the president of all the people, not of just one part. It will be crucial now for his base to stick to this.

According to many political analysts, Trump’s electoral success is explained in part by his voters’ experience of humiliation. Tired of the contempt of the “educated” classes, they would have found in the multimillionaire a way to reclaim their values: Trump promised to redeem an identity that many felt was endangered. The country’s base, rising up against the elites. And in many cases, the response of the Democrats exacerbated the reaction, turning the life of the country into cultural trench warfare.

Rather than appealing to a progressive populist identity politics in opposition to Trumpism, the Democrats should reclaim the liberal arsenal that they inherited from the Enlightenment. The rights of minorities, equality at all levels and the guarantee of fundamental rights all matter because everyone is important.

Affirmative action, integration and the improvement of living conditions are not ways to get vengeance or to retaliate for past injustices, nor do they justify new injustices; they are a genuinely universal imperative. It is up to the Democrats to return to the guidebook for an open society that made the United States a thriving democracy.

Julio Montero is a philosopher, university professor and recipient of the Konex Award for Humanities.

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