By Howard Green
Every 4 years, the world’s attention turns to the US presidential election. It is widely seen as the most important election in the world, and it’s hard to argue that it will be any less than that this year. In a time of racial injustice, climate crisis and global pandemic, many in America have been looking for their politicians to put forward an inspiring, achievable vision of the future. Instead they have a choice between an egomaniacal incumbent and a lacklustre opposition.
Anyone with any kind of left-wing beliefs will be demotivated by this election. The candidates’ poorly-defined platforms offer little hope for radical change, a shortcoming compounded by the excitement generated around Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Sanders set out a clear vision of American democratic socialism, with a focus on fixing healthcare and meaningfully addressing racial injustice. By contrast, even a week from the election it is difficult to name a Biden policy, let alone form a detailed picture of his actual political agenda.
Part of the problem here is that US Presidential candidates never write manifestos. Although manifesto has become a dirty word in the United Kingdom, at least we can use them as a fixed starting point against which to assess candidates and identify their shortcomings in office. Biden’s ‘vision’ resembles a manifesto if you squint, but it lacks any detail on how he actually plans to enact change, and the loose language of a ‘vision’ relieves him of having to actually commit to anything concrete. Trump, meanwhile, is hardly bothering to set out his ideas for the future at all, instead focusing on the promises he claims to have kept from the last election.
It’s an easy choice for anyone who sees Trump for the danger that he is, but it’s not an inspiring one.
It’s not just the lack of a credible alternative like Sanders that makes this election so demotivating. Constitutionally and institutionally, America is effectively one big political gridlock. The US constitution remains archaic and outdated, due largely to the complex system that politicians must go through in order to change it and the way it is treated like holy scripture by many in office. Americans are forced to live in a form of political Stockholm syndrome, as their representatives are held captive by a set of fixed patriotic ideals that prevent them from making any change. This is the very definition of bourgeois democracy.
Presidents past and present have had their ambitions curtailed by this political gridlock. Obama did not have as radical and inspiring a policy program as Sanders, but he is not solely to blame for the lack of meaningful change in America during his term. Many of his policies were shut down by his own party politicians due to their constitutional patriotism and the bureaucratic nature of the congress and senate system. Biden would likely face similar challenges if elected; Trump, meanwhile, is doing his best to act as though the normal rules of politics do not apply to him. He has continually failed to secure federal funding for his promised wall on the Mexico-US border, leading to the longest ever federal government shutdown from the end of 2018 to the end of January 2019. Although the dramatic and quite dangerous procedure of shutting down government is supposed to deter tyrannical presidents, it merely forced Trump to look elsewhere. He found his funding instead by declaring a state of emergency that authorised the use of the military budget to pay for his pet project. The American people are being asked to choose between a supposed liberal who is probably quite happy for political gridlock to prevent him passing any actual progressive policy, and a demagogue who will disregard all controls on his power to get what he wants. It’s an easy choice for anyone who sees Trump for the danger that he is, but it’s not an inspiring one.
Not content with merely being politically and contextually uninspiring, these two candidates are demographically uninspiring to boot. Both Obama and Clinton offered the possibility of under-represented groups being represented on the highest stage in politics. Yes, they were underwhelming candidates from a policy standpoint, but it was hard not to get excited at the prospect of a person of colour or a woman being given the power to instigate change in a patriarchal and racially unequal society. But this time there is no such prospect; whatever the result, for the next four years the USA will be run by an old, rich, out-of-touch white man, which is enough to demotivate any soul.
However, the world continues to be a politically diverse and engaging place, even if we are constantly confronted by the political hegemon that is America. Bolivia recently re-elected the Movimiento al Socialismo, after the party suffered a US backed coup which led to their former leader Evo Morales claiming asylum in both Mexico and Argentina. Great strides have also been made in Chile, whose populace recently approved a vote for huge constitutional reform and look likely to support a number of left-wing parties in their upcoming 2021 election.
It is one of the most politically uncertain times in human history, and yet the best possible outcome from this election is a US president who actually has a shred of competency and dignity. With Biden’s lack of an effective vision, and the ideological stagnation and systemic fallacies of the US governmental apparatus, we are only setting ourselves up for further disappointment if we hope for anything more progressive than that minimum standard. Yes, this election is extremely important, but as always the true potential for radicalism and change lies in the actions of normal people.
Featured image credit: dbking via Wikimedia Commons
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