American dilemmaTrumpism may survive even after January 2021, but the Obamas and Harrisses in the US show the hopeful side of the country.
More than 78 million Americans felt a sense of relief the Saturday after the US presidential elections when news networks, including the Associated Press, called the election for Joe Biden. Biden had not only topped the popular votes by a few million but also crossed the 270 magic mark in the tally of electoral votes. Millions all over the world also rejoiced. The thinking was that it would not only be the end of attention-seeking tweets from the White House but also President Trump’s racial dog-whistles, bizarre theories and whimsical anti-immigrant, anti-women and anti-minority statements, giving America and the world some peace of mind, because an American president’s word and actions reverberate throughout the world.
Well, despite President Trump’s refusal to concede, despite his unrealistic desire to have a second term (and presumably his love for the pomp and splendour of the American presidency), come mid-December, he will have to make way for President-elect Joe Biden because the Biden-Harris ticket has clearly won both the popular and electoral votes. American democratic institutions have deep roots and have stood strong for over 200 years through a Civil War, domestic upheavals, two World Wars and a Cold War. It will not allow any tin-pot dictator to rise and hold power by defrauding a genuine election.
A changed country
Trump may have lost and will have to leave office but Trumpism is here to stay. By Trumpism we mean the whims and fancies of Trump’s personality and the baser instincts he has awakened in a sizable portion of the American people. However, anti-Trump Americans need to honestly ask whether it is just Trumpism alone—the dash and flash, garish display of ignorance and tattooed, gun-toting white nationalism and white supremacy—that Trump has awakened in America.
Republicans since the end of Reconstruction and the Great Migration of Blacks to the northern and western American cities have never seriously dealt with the American dilemma that Gunnar Myrdal explored in his epochal study (1944) of the same name about the tensions between poverty among Blacks caused by racial oppression and American democracy. Similarly, the Democrats since Bill Clinton’s rise to the presidency in 1992 have not only ignored but aggravated the second biggest American dilemma of the past decades—namely the emergence of the White underclass that memoirs like Hillbilly Elegy (2016) and sociohistorical studies like White Trash (2016) have explored. Hillary Clinton’s use of the derisive phrase ‘baskets of deplorables’ represents that blindness quite well.
While the Black inner-city ‘hoods’ have festered in the American urban landscape with homicides, drugs and gang violence ever since the Great Migration (1916-1970), terms like ‘white trash’ and ‘hillbilly’ have expanded their geographical reach in the past 30 years, spreading from the backwoods of Appalachia to the rust and coal belts from Pennsylvania to Illinois; since the outsourcing of middle class-producing manufacturing jobs to cheap labour destinations of Asia and Latin America in a globalised economy.
As abandoned farms litter the rural midwestern landscape, so do abandoned factory buildings in small-town America—grass sprouting from the concrete cracks of their parking lots. The rise of the knowledge economy overwhelmingly benefitted college-educated Americans and tech-savvy immigrants, bypassing both the Black inner-city neighbourhoods and non-college-educated blue-collar or rural America. Pockets of new tech cities sprinkle the suburban American landscape, such as the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, Silicon Valley in California, Atlanta in Georgia and so on, where the tech barons existed not far away from the run-down ghettos of minorities while the blue-collar and rural America of quiet dignity, play-by-the-rule ethos and Sunday school turned to addictions and suicides to escape the economic humiliation caused by the new economy. Suicide rates and drug and alcohol addictions among white blue-collar workers have skyrocketed in the past 30 years.
In American cities, concentrations of extreme wealth and liberal values co-exist side by side with extreme poverty and urban decay and pathology. While the White rural and manufacturing America suffered job losses and responded by embracing white supremacy, nationalism, conspiracies and a phobia of the racial other when stripped of staple economic dignity, the urban ghetto of the minority population responded through its nihilism of black-on-black violence.
Path to a resolution?
But both the Republicans and the Democrats have ignored the twin dilemmas of the American body polity. Can democracy survive without addressing the discontented that have turned to Trump? Can it survive without resolving the urban pathology that has turned on itself? Even though Trump has awakened the spectre of white discontent, Trumpism is probably more bluster than any durable economic policy to address the malaise of the White working class.
Similarly, even Bill Clinton, called the ‘first black president’ by Toni Morrison, only aggravated black incarceration rates through his ‘three strike and out’ law in the early ‘90s. And the real black president Barack Obama during his two terms was too reconciliatory of opposite positions that he didn’t do anything impactful for the inner cities, even by issuing presidential decrees if the Republicans impeded his plans. So, the Black and White twin American dilemmas challenge American prosperity and democracy. Will President Joe Biden be able to grab the horns of the twin dilemmas and find a way through them? Can the Republican leadership set aside its slogans and get down to work?
That’s where the Kamala Harris factor in the winning ticket shows possibilities. When Obama was running for president, he always made sure to project the white side of his mother’s family next to his Black side—for good reasons. He married a descendent of slaves and adopted the black identity to be an authentic black American. But he never forgot to rightly project the white side of his racial identity. Kamala Harris has no whiteness in her, and her blackness has roots in her Jamaican father’s slavery-derived African identity and brownness in her mother’s Indian immigrant identity. But she cultivated her blackness by attending an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
And she is the first person of colour and first woman to be vice president in American history. In this sense, America, despite all its historical sins and dilemmas, remains a land of possibilities. And the possibility of resolving its issues remains as alive as ever because of America’s willingness to embrace the new, despite the pull of the old remaining as strong as ever. If America can produce a Donald, the country can equally push to the top a Barack and a Kamala Devi as well. And so can it find solutions to the twin American dilemmas.