Obama America vs Trump America

Barack Obama did not create cosmopolitan America, nor did Donald Trump create brutal and racist America. These parallel worlds are a legacy of the settler era and continue to shape this year’s election campaign.

While the U.S. prepares for a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, many Europeans are cheering for the incumbent president. It isn’t the first time that a Democrat has made a case for an America idealized in the Old World. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton also stood for eloquent cosmopolitanism, for a United States as a country of immigrants where Europe’s forefathers headed in droves to find political freedom and material prosperity.

Trump stands for a different America, one which many Europeans find to be ugly, racist, brutal and loud. And Trump, a bully, is not the first to stand for such an America. Before him was George W. Bush, who was also unpopular on the continent. He was a Republican who went to war for the alleged American virtues of democracy and freedom. But Bush merely pursued the interests of “white America.”

The truth of the matter is that Barack Obama did not create an open and cosmopolitan America, nor did Trump create a white and racist America. Both Americas have existed side by side in the New World since the colonies separated from the British, as Harvard historian Jill Lepore points out in her book, “This America: The Case for the Nation.”

This New World was only new to the European colonizers. People had been living on American soil for thousands of years, and the arrival of these colonists was a nightmare for those who owned the land. Even as it was being born, this new American nation was characterized by ambivalence, the dialectic that men like Biden and Trump still represent today.

The new policy was egalitarian with regard to newly arrived settlers, who now lived side-by-side as equals and farmed the subjugated land, unlike their lives in Europe. They had the right to vote even before they became citizens. One thing which is still clear today as it was then is that, unlike in Europe, any white person in the U.S. is able to feel American as soon as they want.

At the time, all non-European people were treated as others, as non-equals. This included Native Americans, the enslaved people who were forced onto reservations, and later, Mexicans in the south of ta growing United States. The reality was not only socially mediated, but also legally sanctioned. For example, newcomers had a right to own land, but not those who had been living on the land for generations.

In his book “The Two Faces of American Freedom” Cornell University law professor Aziz Rana says a particular circumstance is to blame. Rana believes a decisive reason for the settlers’ secession from the British motherland was that due to an expanding empire, London felt forced to grant colonized subjects a certain autonomy and legally place them next to white settlers who came from England. However, British colonialists rejected the idea of having white Anglo-Protestants be equal to native inhabitants.

At the time, what the Jamaican philosopher Charles W. Mills calls the “racial contract” was created; an explicit hierarchy of ethnic groups in the state, with the white “race” at the top. Much of what was explicit back then is still implicitly alive today in the post-colonial era, and the racial ideology of the colonial age can still be diffusely recalled. Mills wrote in his book, published in 1997, “All whites are beneficiaries of the Contract, though some whites are not signatories to it.”*

Even Lincoln Himself Didn’t Believe All ‘Races’ Were Equal

The fight for the place of race in American society was never more evident than during the Civil War of 1861-65, fought to abolish slavery, which was rampant in the South and had formed the backbone of the southern economy. It’s important to note that even people such as Abraham Lincoln, who was celebrated as a liberator, neither thought nor believed that all “races” were equal. This also applies to the Enlightenment philosophers John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, who were celebrated in Europe.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the prevailing view was that Native Americans and Africans were not human beings in the European sense of the word because they were uncivilized. Consequently, they were denied the right to the land on which they lived. It was only through colonization and cultivation by white European settlers that the land was cultivated. A “real man” In the political and social sense was therefore only a white man.

For the vast majority of people today who read the America’s founding documents, their solemn proclamation that “all men are created equal” refers to everyone everywhere. A political and legal exclusivity that openly favors the white “race” has largely disappeared from the public stage.

You can only see its work in the background if you try to understand its context. Without that, racism in the U.S. may appear to European readers as a fringe phenomenon by a sad, small group of people. However, the inequality of the settler era and the U.S. empire that came afterward never completely disappeared, and the inequality that non-white people still struggle with in the U.S. today is not an accident; it exists by design.

Many Truly Believe in ‘Make America White Again’

For many people in the southern states, losing the Civil War is still a disgrace, the idea of a racial hierarchy may mean above all that they — the white settlers of old — are regaining the prominent position in the country that they believe has always belonged to them.

Once could read Trump’s “Make America Great Again” as “Make White America Great Again” or “Make America White Again.” At countless campaign rallies, Trump intentionally addresses a “southern feeling” that nostalgically glorifies the past (as in the epic movie “Gone with the Wind”). In doing this, Trump is deliberately exploiting the emotions of inferiority and being left behind in the rural states for his own interests.

The presidential election battle in November is once again a battle between two Americas, both inextricably linked to the country’s history. For most European immigrants, America means freedom, democracy and striving for prosperity. For others, it mostly means the opposite.

*Editor’s Note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be independently verified.

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