Make America Great
Headlines across the mainstream regarding the upcoming American election have treated the subject matter with the same feelings of surprise and bewilderment as they would the worst jump scare in the latest on trend A24 hipster horror flick; be this the result of a family’s summoning of the agents of the literal devil, or four more years of Trump, the emotions elicited in both scenarios are indistinguishable. The Guardian have called it “an election like no other”, the New York Times describes the world “holding its breath”, and CNN Politics calling Trump’s words against mail-in votes “a destabilising moment in history.” These headlines bear much of the truth: the election and its consequences have huge and historic stakes: the future of the globally interconnected economy, American access to healthcare, the future of policing in the wake of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the fate of refugees in America and trying to enter America, the political legitimacy lent to the UK’s Johnsonian racist agenda by Trump, and the future of the planet itself. The tone of the coverage somewhat rightfully prioritises a doomsday scenario: the end of civilisation and decency, and the return of anger and bile, how will we all recover from this stain on the history of American democracy?
What the coverage fails to understand; despite waxing lyrical about the romantically ‘historic’ stakes of the election, is the history of the United States, and an analysis of its social, political, and economic problems that should be meatier than what I can only imagine is a vastly overpriced and under seasoned steak at the Trump Tower Bar and Grill. For many America isn’t on a knife edge wedged between a simplistic dichotomy of civilisation and degeneracy, of respectability and dishonour, of progression and regression; for many it has always been that way. Take the African-American experience, disenfranchised and outright institutionally excluded from public life until the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and still face widespread problems from the mass incarceration of Black people and exploitation of their labour under the 13th amendment of the US constitution, to the voter suppression engendered by Supreme Court decisions such as Shelby County vs Holder in 2013, a decision which eradicated federal oversight over racial discrimination in voting state by state by abolishing the preclearance system, leaving states to discriminate and legislate scot free. Thus, the problem many commentators find is that when such people are so tragically underrepresented in all walks of life, the interpretation of “America” and all its so-called virtues is often short of the mark.
The United States as a political project has always failed its most vulnerable, using abstract and archaic 18th century “classical liberal” dogma about freedom, liberty, and property rights as the founding principles for a modern nation state turned empire, evolving and bastardising said principles to become a veritable monstrosity of inequalities, prejudices, and aggressions for ordinary working people to negotiate. Gary Younge’s trip to America in the aftermath of the 2016 election tried to piece together the fragments of America as a nation made up of real flesh and blood people, who when faced with insurmountably treacherous lives, facing addiction to prescription drugs and then opioids, extreme poverty, heinous wealth and income inequality, and next to no access to basic healthcare, lacked a political project that talks to them about these class issues. They were instead ensnared by Trump’s fireside fascism, whether it was the so called invasion by immigrants on the West Coast fleeing corruption and violent crime, the communist-globalist puppets of the democratic party who sought to make a quick buck by flogging the country’s industry overseas, or the threat to law and order represented by the ambiguous enmesh known simplistically in the US as the dreaded Anti-Fa-BLM “leftists”, the bogeyman that points the finger away from authority always remains; Senator McCarthy would be proud.
The truth is that Trump and the Republican Party have unleashed fear, froth and fury from people who are generally blissfully unaware of the fact that they are no further forward than they were four years ago. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the country and disproportionately affected the working class and people of colour, Trump’s tax cuts have made sure billionaires paid less tax than working class families for the first time in history, and the fantastical agenda of making ‘America Great Again’ by bringing industry and community back to American shores in some sort of Reaganite ‘Morning in America’ type wet dream has been revealed to be the fattest of fibs.
While a Biden victory will stem the tide of the far right in America and the world over, protecting people’s rights and privileges, and representing a step in the right direction, it will be by no means the end for a country which has descended into something truly monstrous. Don’t get me wrong, please get out there and vote for Biden, but this can’t be the end of the road to Damascus; to treat the defeat of Trump as the re-birth of American civilisation and prosperity would be that of deluded fantasy, akin to popping the worst boil on your face without the foresight to think about a proper skincare regime. You may have popped the ugly puss-filled commander in chief, but those pesky blemishes have and will continue to rage on beneath the surface.