What Now, America?

After the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, and given the unspeakable spectacle we have witnessed with the pathetic effort of Donald Trump and his allies to reverse the election results in ways reminiscent of a banana republic, what will happen in the country of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Barack Obama after Jan. 20? And what will America’s international role be?

It so happens that, as the Brazilian journalist Lúcia Guimarães reminded us well in an article published in Folha de São Paulo, “the country [U.S.] is more fragmented than in any other period since World War II, economically vulnerable and institutionally unequal, without even mentioning the cultural chasm carved out by digital age misinformation.”

Neoliberal globalization, which sprung from revolutions in transportation and communication as well as a fervor for privatization and expansion of the economy, has created a huge population of marginalized and disadvantaged people around the world. A mere caricature of “good old” (?) liberalism, this new liberalism has accentuated social inequities and fueled corruption, creating a breeding ground for populism. Trump is the result of this situation, which enabled him and continues to empower him. Don’t forget that 70 million Americans voted for him. All this in response to political inattention and, above all, the intellectual arrogance of democratic liberalism.

The “populism” of the political right (there are those that prefer to simply call it “far-right”) whose most powerful figurehead is Trump, has several enemies: science, intellectuals, career politicians and any kind of “other,” like immigrants or members of ethnic, racial, religious or gender minority groups. Hence, in the case of the U.S., one of the central elements of Trumpism is the reinforcement of white supremacist culture.

The much-praised author Paul Auster said (quoting by heart here), “America’s original sin is racism. That’s why we return to it time and time again.”* The fact is that as the recent election results demonstrate, America is profoundly divided. Joe Biden’s main political challenge domestically will be to reconcile and unify the country. That’s why, among other reasons, he cannot afford not to win over the working class, especially working class white people, who formed the traditional Democratic base before they were marginalized by globalization and fled into Trump’s arms.

The new American president, who is widely considered to be a born peacemaker, has said that he will be a president for every citizen. That’s obvious enough. He himself has defined his four largest domestic challenges as controlling the COVID-19 pandemic; resuscitating the economy with a focus on American-made products; reforming the police and justice systems and eliminating the systemic racism that continues to influence them; and to change the climate policies of the country. Confronting all of these problems with a nation virtually split down the middle will hardly be an easy task.

In addition to the understandable complexity of these four challenges, Biden will have to face yet another: the pressure to hold Trump and certain members of his family and allies accountable for acts committed during his presidency. At the moment, there are already two legal actions pending against the departing president and his family. While the Manhattan district attorney is investigating Trump for tax fraud, the New York state attorney general is conducting an investigation into the tax returns of his daughter, Ivanka.

In the international realm, Biden has already signaled to principal allies that America will once again engage diplomatically with them, taking on its full responsibilities as a member of the international community and signatory to multilateral agreements. Here come the announcements about America’s return to the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement. In other words, diplomacy is back.

Biden, like Barack Obama and other presidents before him, Democrat or Republican, represents American exceptionalism. That is, the view that the United States is the “leader of the free world” and humanity’s “guide” for democracy. As such, in his acceptance speech, Biden said, that the United States will lead the world “not by the example of power, but by the power of our example.”

The problem is that even so, the new American president will have to heal the wounds inflicted by the self-centered, erratic, confused and nationalist Trump era. On top of that, America’s image as an “example” of democracy has been seriously damaged by Trump and his allies’ dangerous refusal to accept his election defeat.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted passage could not be independently verified.

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