2020 US Elections and the Crisis of Democracy
It’s 2020 and after a media-eventful four years, once again, the whole world congregates as one to partake in the greatest reality show of all time: the US Presidential election. American democracy, just like the country as a whole, have seen better days. Once hailed as the model democracy, the Utopian vision of the nation of freedom and justice, indeed, the American Dream itself has lost its brilliance.
Dotcom bubble, housing bubble, tech bubble. Whole branches of industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural production with millions of jobs have been disappearing and/or moved overseas. In the wake of their retreat what’s left behind are rust belts, population loss and urban decay. In turn, multinational companies in unison with Wall Street, their lobbyists and the politicians eating out of their hands are making better profits than ever. As the American economy grows, so does income inequality, which stands at the highest point for the past 30 years: the rich keeps getting richer, but even faster than before by every major statistical measure.
Let’s not beat around the bush: American politics are in a deadlock. There’s no progression, no alternatives, no signs of change whatsoever. None. If that wasn’t obvious after the mediapolitics of the last four years, it should be perfectly clear after the 2020 elections. The election process itself is a symptom of the condition that permeates the zeitgeist: the procedure of choosing the “leader of the free world” was framed by worries of foreign intervention, a chaotic absentee voting, fears of civil unrest and burning cities with a potential refusal to hand over executive power.
The truth is, as bad as it all sounds, this election never really had anything at stake: politically speaking, there’s no difference between the two candidates, neither the major parties. The difference is the media experience they provide and the personal taste of the voters that they aim to satisfy. Do you prefer the jolly grandpa with the positive, empty slogans in cooperation with multinational corporations and big money he needs to represent? No? Then you can choose the macho grandpa with the attitude of a 12-year-old internet troll with a different group of billion-dollar businesses behind his back. What a contest.
Now, I imagine that many (most?) of my readers at this point would feel a strong urge to shout at me for putting an equation mark between Biden and Trump just like that. Well, that’s not exactly what I mean — or at least it’s not that simple. If I were a politician in 2020, Biden = Trump would be the perfect oversimplified message. Or a Tweet. Since I’m not, let me elaborate.
The differences between Trump and Biden are 100% cultural, and mostly cosmetic. There are no real programs anymore. There are no visions anymore. Policies, directions, international affairs are degraded to the level of slogans fitting a certain narrative of the public. Climate change? Democratic hoax. Covid-19? Free vaccine! Immigration? Build a Wall! No, Welcome immigrants! The whys, the hows, the consequences and the results? Nah, they can’t be bothered about that. Just like a headline.
Well, just like headlines are indeed the new articles (who has the time to read, amirite?), like is the new vote, reaction is the new content, the public’s momentary gut feeling is the new political program. Once upon a time, a politician was expected to have a vision, a goal, a plan or a program that they wanted to achieve and asked for a mandate to carry it out. A national or a local issue, the initiative to build or improve something, a civil rights cause or an economic one. Examples are numerous: labor rights, funding of a local hospital, international trade agreements, ending the Vietnam War, joining the European Union, etc. The party or the politician embraces an issue, suggest a plan or a solution to solve the issue or change the policy in question and the public decides with their vote which candidate’s issues, plans, policies they support. This is what used to be the most basic function of democracy.
Yet, by 2020 the roles seems to have reversed: whatever the public wants at the moment, whatever demands are being cited in the echo chambers of people brought together by corporate algorithms — the political parties will analyze, do the math, and decide which are the correct issues to embrace and which one’s the correct narrative to push. And just like that we find ourselves in the world of what I would call mediapolitics.
We demand stricter laws and instantaneous, retrospective eradication of any men following any accusation during the height of #metoo in 2017. Evidence, legal processes, or fair trials are apparently sexist now. Believe Women! But only until Greta Thunberg appears the next year and now we must rally together to save the world that is ending in a climate catastrophe any second now. Well, only until saving the Earth doesn’t matter anymore because we’ll all die of COVID-19 and suddenly it’s okay again to produce and use single-use plastics that went up by about 50% during the pandemic. In 2020, several allegations are made against Biden claiming sexual misconduct and interactions with women that made them feel uncomfortable, but since it’s the time to finally defeat Trump, they suddenly don’t matter. Or lying. Bang. Just like that, we’ve come full circle. We’ll wait for the next media event that we can all experience together.
While these issues are happening, the Dems and the GOP each probe their target audience and decide how to react in order to maximize their votes. Sure, Biden voters hate men who keep touching women, but they hate Trump more. They did the math, so everything else can just get swept under the carpet. These decisions are never made based on a vision, plan or principles. Only on the momentary feelings of the public: politics themselves became an echo chamber, endlessly repeating the ruling narrative at the time.
The ruling narrative however, always originates in the consciousness of the public, the crowds. Ortega, Le Bon and others warn us about the dangers of the crowd and mob mentality: with the advent of social media, hyperconnectivity, instant messaging and the tumult of real-time information, our natural defenses as individuals by the means of empirical evidence, common sense and withdrawal to process are being dismantled one by one. Instead, these platforms re-invent and interpellate us as members of groups, crowds for their own agendas. Is it really for the best that our politics are based on these volatile impulses for endless exploitation? Is this really the best that we can do?
With that being said, we arrive to my second point, which is the problem of the ruling narrative. The Democratic Party and the so-called “liberal” elite around it embraced identity politics, “being offended” as a legitimate argument, “cancelling” as forms of punishment and labeling everyone outside their narrative as bigot, racist, sexist, redneck, boomer, stupid, etc. By doing so, they created an environment in which they expropriate the ruling narrative and everyone who falls outside it is being forced into the same category. This tactic is also known as alienation.
The problem is, that this not only creates the dangerous precedent of discrediting anyone based on forcing out of the discourse, but also leads to the confusion of anti-establishment struggles with legitimate cases of racism, sexism etc. This confusion is very dangerous, as it in turn often leads to the misunderstanding of what resisting is: if any form of criticism towards a woman is sexist in the ruling narrative, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that being sexist is a legitimate form of resistance.
Fast forward to a character like Donald Trump, and suddenly being sexist is the new rock n roll. Cool guys grab ’em by the pussy. Make no mistakes, Trump is clearly sexist. But because of the labeling practice of the “liberal” elite, in any disagreement he will simply say: “Yes, I have a problem with a woman. And because of that they say I’m sexist. If me having a disagreement means I’m sexist, then I am sexist. I don’t care what they say!” As a result, the confusion between real sexism and labelled sexism is established, the term in turn becomes empty and loses its real meaning. Populists know this very well, and use it in order to appeal to the crowds and distance themselves from the establishment, when they very clearly a part of it. This is the big populist trick. We’re not only seeing this in the US, but everywhere where populists managed to stick due to the lack of political alternatives.
On the other hand, the reaction to the populist bluff is usually more fierce labeling, more outrage and more identity politics, at least that’s the only thing the Democrats did for 4 years. Trump did what he does best and acted as the Internet troll, setting up traps for the Dems every single time, and what happened was that they indeed called his bluff. Every. Single. Time.
They challenged the legitimacy of Trump from day one: Losing the popular vote, conspiring with the Russians, paying WikiLeaks, questioning his health, pressing impeaching, endless protests, silently condoning riots, etc. The number of news, articles, reports calling Trump the cause of every single bad thing in the world and declaring his fall was endless. And yet, the eagerly awaited and prophesied blue wave didn’t come. In fact, Trump could increase the number of his votes in every demographic (except for white men, ha ha), including minority voters that the Dems were heavily banking on. In fact, instead of a majority in the House, the Senate and the Presidency, Biden won by a margin and the Democrats may just barely take control the House.
What the Democrats haven’t done, not a single time, was to ask themselves what’s that THEY did wrong. It is called self-reflection. It is a concept usually unknown to those who are convinced of their own self-righteousness 100% of the time. Yes, Trump is one of those people too. So if you intend to be the better choice, the alternative, the correct side that’s what you need to do. Why did people choose Trump over Clinton? Why is the populist narrative so attractive? What are the systemic issues of the country, what do people want? Why are they ignoring the obvious faults of Trump? These are the type of questions that no one ever asked. I get it. It’s hard to see the other side when tribal hate is so convenient and also pays so well.
The narrative of finally defeating the cardinal evil of Trump so that freedom and prosperity could finally return under the rule of the Democrats failed miserably. What’s left is more confusion. “How can anyone vote for Trump after these 4 years?”, a question often asked. The type of questions I would like to see? No. Once again, self-reflection, a touch of empathy, dialogue or interest in the other side is something no one is interested in. The truth is, division, alienation, the narrative that the Trump voter half of the country is stupid, evil or both is convenient and let’s be honest, it was enough. They won. Barely, but they did. So what’s next?
Rampant inequalities, disappearing livelihoods, sacrifices on the altar of profits and the erosion of the fabric of society itself. Taking away everything from the vulnerable and calling them the source of the problem: the old trick of the bourgeoisie. Hate to break it to you, but for the most part, people didn’t vote for Trump because they are sexist, racist, gullible or stupid. They voted for him because the GOP and Trump at least acts as if they care about them. On the level of words, narratives and slogans, they like they do. It’s a cheap trick and a lie. But it works nonetheless.
Why does it work? Such a blatant lie. Trump as a Christian? Trump is not the establishment? Trump caring about the small people? It’s ridiculous. But people believed it. Or at least, it seemed a smaller lie than Biden bringing changes. The reason is that people are desperate. People are starving for changes. Deep, systemic changes. They are tired of exploitation left and right. Some choose to riot. Some choose to shoot the protesters. These are tragic stories and horrible fates for every single person involved. Every single soul matters.
I strongly believe what the majority of Americans want is a livelihood, social security and the equality of opportunity. They are tired of giving up more and more for the profit of multinational corporations and the elite that makes them the root of all evil in the world. They want an alternative. They want a vision that brings changes. They want politics that serve their interests instead of the rich. They want real solutions instead of the virtual games the parties play in the media.
The good old ways of divide and conquer is stronger than ever, and Biden’s success proves that it still works. Trump’s faults and mistakes are numerous and have been pointed out a million times, therefore I don’t think it’s my job to do so here. I’m happy that he’s gone. But do I think Biden will bring meaningful changes? Sadly, no.
There was a candidate with a vision, a plan and an offer for the American people. The alternative could’ve had a chance to be measured against the troll politics of Trump and the GOP. That would’ve been the election worthy of a healthy democratic process. However, with Sanders successfully eliminated from the race once again and maybe for good, the future looks grim. Let’s hope that there will be people who will carry on what he started. And that it won’t be too late.
Originally published at https://gaborpatkos.com on November 15, 2020.