Thursday, February 22, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 31-10-2020 08:43

An election for the soul of America

With both the Democratic and Republican candidates in the United States declaring that this election is a battle to save “the soul of America,” it is time to ask where the soul lies.

With both the Democratic and Republican candidates in the United States declaring that this election is a battle to save “the soul of America,” it is time to ask where the soul lies. There is, of course, no answer to that question, even though both sides claim to have it in their keeping. 

Joseph R. Biden Jr. boldly announces that it is not winning votes that counts, it is “winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America.” Donald J. Trump bases his claim to America’s soul by summoning God’s endorsement: “In America, we don’t turn to government to restore our souls; we put our faith in Almighty God.” To widen his claim to the hearts and souls of an estimated third of the electorate that belongs to the “religious right,” he recently changed his religion from Presbyterian to non-denominational Christian.

Biden is a non-demonstrative Roman Catholic, which is no longer a hindrance. The age-old suspicion that Rome might influence governance was laid to rest with the election of John F. Kennedy aeons ago. The confirmation of  Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett brings the number of Roman Catholics on the nine-seat Supreme Court to six: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh. There are two Jewish justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. The ninth justice, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic but attends an Episcopal church. 

The make-up of the Supreme Court reflects the fact that the United States is a deeply religious country that it is now heavily conservative. Only Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor are not conservative in outlook. 

The appointment of Barrett was a power play by Trump intended to strengthen his support from the right, but it could have the opposite effect. Middle-of-the-road Americans who fear the left may see the conservative majority on the Court as insurance against any swing to the left may well choose to vote for the Democratic Party out of revulsion for Trump, which is widespread among middle-class Republicans.

Leaving aside the soul of America, I believe this election is all about Trump. Personally, I still find it hard to believe that this huckster, a man that many of his supporters describe, quite blithely, as “a horrible human being,” has managed to survive four years of lying and misgovernment. Yet still, he has a chance of being re-elected. 

Trump is a populist leader who has mimicked others before him that it is better not to name. When he rants at his campaign rallies – which he so evidently enjoys more than any other aspect of his unpresidential presidency – it conjures up images of shameful times in history. 

But looking closer to today, I have been fascinated by the similarities in the political styles of Trump and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She is playing Greta Garbo these days, but in her heyday during her presidency she previewed what was to come with Trump. Both revel in sycophancy and slavish adoration – Cristina’s tame audiences reminded me of trained seals clapping their flippers; Trump’s fans are more colourful, with their scarlet MAGA caps. Then there is the scornful treatment of the press and the insults hurled at the opposition, greeted with rapturous applause. But more than anything else, what both have in common is that they are anti-democratic.

It would be funny if the plight of both countries was not so serious. In the United States there is a tiny gleam of hope: the polls signal victory for Biden and sensibility. Yet, in the last election the Electoral College gave Trump and insanity the White House. It has been a presidency like no other before in US history. If it ends in merited defeat, as it should, there is every likelihood that Trump will refuse to accept the outcome and plunge the nation into a dangerous constitutional crisis. Armed militias are springing up and there is a constant threat of violence on the mean streets of America.

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic rages throughout the world. There is no serious effort to deal with the plague and its consequences at an international level. Argentina, I think, will eventually muddle through its current social, economic and political muddle. The future of the United States – and its place in the world – depends on whether, as Winston Churchill famously declared, voters do the right thing, and save America’s soul.

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Robert Cox

Robert Cox

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979).


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