Poor United States. What has happened to the “beacon light of hope”, to the “home of the free and the brave”? The nomination of the new judge at the Supreme Court proves that the American political system is antiquated and not able any longer to react to social change and the challenges of the modern world, and that America is in danger of ossifying ideologically. It is becoming more and more obvious: America’s political institutions are trapped in age-old, historically outdated concepts and clichés and do neither reflect pluralistic and increasingly diverse communities, nor do they secure social peace.
This firstly and foremostly applies to the electoral system and to the party system. The majority rule and the ensuing two-party-system makes sure there always is one winner – who takes it all – but nips in the bud a third or even fourth political movement which might represent new, different (and differing) worlds and ideas of life. Most Americans cannot even imagine another party apart from Democrats and Republicans. What is more, in contrast to almost all other democracies they are nothing but election associations. They do not have permanent grass-roots structures like in Europe, they are not anchored in local party groups that deal with political issues on a daily basis in direct contact with people and their personal concerns and worries. That is why over two and a half centuries no new political power has evolved. That is why the common man and woman never gets the impression they are heard! Democrats’ and Republicans’ aims are reduced to election campaigns – for majors, governors and most importantly the White House.
Subsequently the focus in on the president, not on developing political ideas from bottom to top. There is not even a party program (a prerequisite for every party in Europe) in which general and specific aims are laid down. All you get are promises. And thus these two election associations developed into patronage parties, whose first official act, as soon as they get into the corridors of power, is to reward those who helped them getting there with jobs and influence. Whereas in Europe the departmental red tape remains largely unchanged except for the top positions, in the USA personnel is replaced on all levels, the main reason not being fear of workers not doing their job properly or even sabotaging the new administration’s projects, because they do not support this party. No, this is all about posts and sinecure for loyal supporters. Which creates the not completely false impression that these are people, whose main interest is not finding the best solutions for the highest number of citizens, but implementing laws ordered and paid for by lobbyists, by business and big money. Is it any wonder that so many Americans have such a negative attitude towards “the Establishment”?
In addition, campaigns always focus on just two people, and thanks to Trump the questionable effects of this show-down situation are more evident than ever. Two protagonists enter the ring, and whereas in the past at least some basic rules of fairness were heeded, today the contest resembles Ultimate Fighting. It is all about confrontation, about you or me. There is no room for compromise – between the contesters and the factions and the citizens. That is why after every election the new president’s or governor’s foremost task is to heal the wounds of division. But what we see today is the confrontation of two completely opposing world views and rapidly dwindling respect for each other – and one protagonist who is willing to drive this division to its utmost limit. That is why many commentators draw parallels to 1860.
Political content, debates about concrete political, economic, social concepts and aims disappear behind this duel. They are not irrelevant, but of subordinate importance. The focus is on the better person, the better character. That is what the party conventions are all about. From beginning to end people appear on stage and confirm what a nice, reliable, energetic etc. etc. etc. father, husband, colleague, neighbour etc. etc. etc. this candidate is. And the current campaign is about something much more basic, about something almost archaic. It is about the eternal fight between Good and Bad, Angels and Demons, Resurrection or Armageddon. Political culture is gridlocked in apocalyptic visions. Even people who consider Trump a gross, misogynist racist let him get away with any gaffe, with any insult and any barefaced lie in order to prevent chaos and the end of glorious America under Biden. And the Democrates reduce themselves to a simple anti-Trump party in order to prevent chaos and the end of glorious America. Incantations instead of innovations. Not accidentally do both factions make use of the same dark-light symbolism!
The second fundamental problem: the United States are incapable of institutional reform, mostly due to two forms of personality cult. Due to the focus on the president, on the wished-for shining light, any fundamental change must originate from and be carried through by him (or, maybe next century, her). Without a charismatic leader who carries along the masses, nothing will be done.
The second cult concerns the Founding Fathers and their deification. The system created by them is considered sacrosanct, never mind there were no smartphones and no Facebook and no Fox News, no gender debate, no hedge funds, no global warming, no globalisation. But doubting their omniscient, all-encompassing wisdom is most devilish blasphemy. On the one hand America often was avant-garde and pioneering. Hard to believe today, but once this even applied to the protection of the environment, headed by the often derided Jimmy Carter. It was the land of innovation. Today this holds true only with strong reservations even regarding economy and technology, barring I-phones and the most adventurous forms of financial construction and investment.
On the other hand, politically America is extremely conservative and bound by traditions. As yet, nobody intent on pursuing a political career would dare questioning the Electoral College and put abolishing it on his agenda. Nobody would dare seriously advocating a reform of the electoral system. In spite of both having blatant flaws and weaknesses, in spite of the inherent discrimination of disadvantaged people and ethnic minorities. It is not the increasing popularity of the absentee ballot that will result in the manipulation of election results, but the traditional forms via voter registration snares or the right of governors to disenfranchise inmates – overwhelmingly Blacks and Latinos. Nevertheless the country sticks to a system, whose structures can only be explained by the historical circumstances almost 250 years ago, like the disproportionate influence of sparsely populated states, which, like four years ago, distorts the electoral outcome. It wasn’t the person that got the most votes that became president, but, well, if the Founding Fathers wanted it this way …
And now, at this decisive moment, in this heated-up atmosphere, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a beacon light in the fight for true equality and emancipation of the individual, once again casts a dim light on the enormous influence of the executive and the legislative on the judiciary. Trump has successfully levered out the precarious system of checks and balances. Spurred on by the ideology of the Strong Man and the final struggle for the truly American Way of Life conservatives and reactionaries accept the erosion of the separation of powers, e.g. by Trump’s interference into ongoing proceedings and the public denunciation of judges whose upmost intention is not fulfilling his personal wishes and letting his cronies run free. But apart from Trump’s demeanor, never should the executive be able to influence or even decide on the members of the highest constitutional court. Not in a system of separation of powers. And never should these judges hold their position life-long. Not in a democracy. In particular if you want it to move along with social and philosophical changes, with the development of new ideas, mind-sets and the make-up of its population. But if the Founding Fathers said so …
Unfortunately Trump is so regrettably lucky that he can appoint a third judge in four years, which means that he can establish an extremely conservative majority in the Supreme Court for decades to come! In this, despite all the judicial rhetoric, highly political and the precedent-setting institution! The rollback will now really get going.
And who has Trump chosen accompanied by cries of jubilation by his followers? The opposite of an objective, of a conciliatory personality. A woman who is a member of a tiny, ultra-conservative religious sect that preaches obedience towards your spiritual leaders and teaches the subordination of women to men. A woman who opposes abortion even after having been raped, who is liberal only regarding gun laws, who wants to completely abolish Obama-Care. A woman who is a member of the Federalist Society and accordingly will always interpret the constitution in the spirit of the Founding Fathers, , i.e. within the framework and perspectives of the late 18th century. A woman from yesterday. The perfect choice for present day Republican America.
And what about America’s future? After 1990, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, many Americans from George Bush to Charles Krauthammer swaggered and bloviated about a unipolar world, about the Golden American Age that was supposed to have begun and bring peace and prosperity and happiness to the whole world, the most blissful period in the entire human history. Well, it seems this will be the shortest historical age the world has ever seen. China is a new superpower, Europe is increasingly emancipating itself from the US, America’s influence is diminishing world-wide, its image is rapidly going down the drain. And in the next few years this country will primarily be preoccupied with itself, with internal strife, with unrest and with institutional crises – which will start on November 3. Four years ago I was still convinced that one Trump alone would not be able to ruin American democracy, questionable as some of its foundations are. I am afraid I was – how ironical – too American. Too optimistic.