Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-2020, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

America in election year 2020
Chronicle of a “Fight for America’s soul”

“I’m voting for the president I’ll make more money under” (an unnamed hard-working American on German television)

That is pretty close to America’s true soul: to the false materialism going with the capitalist competition that the land of unlimited opportunities excels at. But it is not even half the truth when it comes to the second wave of Donald Trump’s election campaign for “America first!” after 2016. The officially launched ‘culture clash’ between populist lies and democratic hypocrisy is about nothing less than the nation’s morality — that is, about the obedience of the people that the global might of the state is based on in the land of the free.

I. The impeachment proceedings come to an end, the battle to continue “America first!” gets off to a promising start

At the beginning of the year, the world still looks pretty good to the President. The impeachment business was not that nice, of course — not even for an incumbent who famously couldn’t care less about the procedural rules of politics because it is his political agenda to fight them. On the other hand, he emerges from the affair convinced that it proves him right in every way.

First, the Democrats have revealed themselves to be the enemies he has always treated them as. Now they have also tried to rob the people of their vote and thus deny them the chance to get themselves four more years under Trump. The Democrats obviously will not rest until they have thwarted the will of the people once and for all, that is, dethroned the man they elected three years ago and have since shown their devotion to at every event scheduled for the purpose.

Secondly, the Democrats have proved once and for all that they want to weaken America. They accused Trump of putting his own personal political advancement before national security by withholding military aid to Ukraine while pressuring that country to announce investigations of Joe Biden’s son. But the fact that investigations were opened already shows what the final acquittal later confirmed: Trump was right. Not he but the Democrats are the true threat to national security, since they want American power to be deployed only if some established rules or other are adhered to, meaning it can’t be used with the freedom to blackmail others that the people are entitled to. So the Democrats are the ones who are putting the advancement of their party before the people’s right to free imperialist sovereignty.

Thirdly, it’s not only Trump who sees it that way. The majority of the American people aren’t bothered by the incriminated act either; they also fail to see why blackmailing a foreign power with a free hand should suddenly be a crime. All the dirt the Democrats have dug up in the course of the proceedings and thrown against Trump and his gang leaves them just as cold. The only thing the Democrats might agree with the people about is that they should have taken their party leaders’ original worry seriously, that by puffing itself up with such statesmanlike responsibility the party was committing a crime that Americans would consider far worse than abuse of power: preventing power from being used properly.

Fourthly, Trump need not fear the Democrats. Their constitutional instruments of power can’t harm him as long as the Republicans don’t jump ship. Which they aren’t doing, even when the prosecutors give them the opportunity and rev it up when it comes to being impartial and responsible. So Trump can rest assured: not only eighty percent of Republican voters, but also Republicans of the more powerful kind stand by him without wavering. He is no longer an outsider with his ‘authoritarian’ manner, but the undisputed leader of a party that sees itself as his pawns. And that is of crucial importance not only for the continued success of “America first!” but especially in an election year. Even though authoritarianism, giving orders and obeying do not always have the best reputation in a democracy, the desired result of such frowned upon forms of rule is essential for succeeding politically in one: uniting people behind a personality who has proven his leadership using those very forms.

So Trump is proven right in much more than just this one affair, namely in the two basic equations he has always insisted on: that securing his power is the same as promoting the nation’s security, and fighting his own competitors is the same as fighting enemies of the people. These equations are not true, but the claim they testify to is something Trump is serious about, which is why Americans have to take the term ‘electoral fight’ very seriously this year. Trump doesn’t even have to switch to a separate campaigning mode. For three years he has been proving that the combative hyperbole that democrats like to use to attack their opponents in election campaigns is not, and mustn’t be, just hyperbole. So voters have known for some time where they stand with him and what to expect from him: he turns their nationalism fundamental, into a ruthless fight against the nation’s enemies, and strips the election campaign to its polemical core, an unbridled fight for power. And this is what good Americans have to do their bit for in early November.

These equations basically apply to everything that is at stake on election day — in other words, to everything Trump has achieved in his fight so far. At last, the American world order is no longer a safe place for ideals of a multipolar order with global understanding among nations, i.e., for the American superpower to be exploited the way his predecessors allowed. At last, the nation’s domestic life is no longer a safe place for the ideologies of politically correct liberals, who try to tell people their bigotry and chauvinism are moral vices and not virtues of strength. Trump already makes a big difference here by constantly bombarding the ‘Twittersphere’ and providing so many ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ for right-wingers of the intellectual, militant, and conspiracy-theory variety. A rightward shift he has orchestrated on the Supreme Court and in the judicial system as a whole promises to make gun cabinets and wombs into safe havens, while a wall of steel and legal harassment makes sure America’s cities stop being safe havens for immigrants. No longer will homeland security and the privilege of being American be sacrificed to the moral sensibility of those who can’t bear the sight of blood or children in cages, and who care more about splitting hairs when it comes to Islam and terror than fighting enemies. All these successes in asserting the nation’s interests abroad and upgrading nationalism at home are at stake because the other party is clearly not interested in America’s success any more.

Yet the greatest success that voters must fight to preserve this year is something that there are really no two opinions about in America. Despite all the minor and major ways the country is ‘divided,’ American politicians and citizens are in total agreement that the nation’s wealth is measured in the money growing on companies’ balance sheets. This growth does best when financially powerful speculators looking for greatest and fastest enrichment follow a herd instinct that takes them to the top. In the ‘land of opportunity’ it goes without saying that the nation’s prosperity consists in the accumulation of capital, that is, in the enrichment of the select class who makes the progress that counts. Not that the other economic citizens don’t count, only their prosperity is, for good reason, not measured by whether it grows from quarter to quarter. In their case, the yardstick is definitely more modest. What applies to them is simply the incontrovertible truth that any income is better than none, and having a job serving the growth of others is already prosperity. In this respect, Trump’s emphatically pro-worker populism is actually very conventional. When he poses as the protector of an American working class ravaged by globalists, and exhorts American business to adhere to the principle of ‘American jobs for Americans’; when he stresses the privilege of American workers so militantly and with such candid xenophobia — then this is just his particular way of congratulating these proud masses on being dependent on the other class’s enrichment. He imperiously invites the latter class to take full advantage of this human resource.

It is definitely no ‘alternative fact’ when Trump points out that this most important national matter is thriving under his direction. All the key indicators of success are clearly up, at least at the start of the election year. There is growth, a stock market boom, and no end of jobs. Trump is also not shy about taking the credit himself, as the supreme bureaucrat, for the private success that free businessmen have making money, which they obviously do without any authority’s direction. He instead sees the upswing, popularly known as “Trump bump,” as his strongest trump card in fighting to return to the White House. He does not fear any protest on the part of the free businessmen, although their pride is based on the lie that the power of their money and the fruits of their engagement are entirely their own private doing, and making money off their personnel’s work is merely what they are entitled to for all the trouble they go to to create jobs. After all, Trump has cut taxes and removed legal obstacles especially for such knights in shining armor, doing quite a bit to give free businessmen even more freedom — to exploit all the natural energy resources the country has to offer, to exploit the workers whose unions he has weakened, and to exploit the buying power of an entire world that he makes sure American goods reach… A fight is needed to continue this all-important success story as well, because, as Trump sees it, this election is not merely about competing economic policies, but about freedom versus socialism.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party leadership has its hands full refuting this suspicion.

II. The Sanders challenge is put to an end, America can begin reconciling with itself

This almost went wrong at the very start. A left-wing dinosaur, who called himself a ‘socialist’ without being ashamed and right in the middle of anti-socialist paradise, came close to making it impossible for the party to deny him the nomination. Had Bernie Sanders continued his early victories in the Democratic primaries, it was said, the party would have confirmed Trump’s portrayal of it and handed over the centrist vote to him on a silver platter.

His positions alone made the man pretty much impossible — government-run health care for all, no tuition for public universities, and a ‘Green New Deal’ to push for an American energy transition. That’s not exactly a socialist overthrow, but it’s still communist enough to bear out Trump’s accusation that the Democrats’ attack on him is also aimed at sacred American principles: business freedom, and Americans fending for themselves. The criticism of Sanders is unfair in that this kind of government intervention is well known to be needed and beneficial in American politics, even among Republicans. For industrial policy it’s true in any case — there’s hardly any epoch-making technological breakthrough that hasn’t been based on the world power’s well-funded need for tools of military superiority. In the fields of education and social services as well, the political helmsmen of the freest competition do more than just rely on free business sense to provide the conditions under which this competition will function the way the world power needs it to for its global superiority. Anyway, they are not blind to the fact that when some succeed in business this always means others lose their ability to manage on their own and to reliably contribute to the increasing figures the nation measures its wealth in. But such interventions do not really fit in with the morals of this nation, which adheres steadfastly to the lie that its unique success is basically due to the productive energy of free, self-responsible hard workers, i.e, a textbook example of what a people can achieve if they get to have a truly free market economy. And this is not even just hot air, but a sustaining lie — the moral doctrine by which the American working class contributes to this uniquely successful combination of world money and world power. It is the proud self-image with which working people manage all the demands that American success makes on them. This is not something Democrats want to correct.

What therefore also made Sanders impossible was the way he presented his alternative politics. He did not just propagate a series of ‘progressive’ social and ecological measures, which would be tricky enough, but upheld an aggressive counter-morality (which was the real basis for him calling himself a socialist). He did not just present himself as a supporter of underdogs and the environment, but cast a dubious light on the wealth of the nation itself in the process, at least in the eyes of his critics. He combined this, as well, with the accusation that politicians had neglected, even betrayed, the truly hard-working Americans, and he wouldn’t even say the Democrats had been much better than the Republicans in this respect. Once he attacked the establishment this way, the leaders of the Democratic Party knew that Bernie Sanders was definitely not their guy and it was not his party. That made him absolutely unsuitable for exercising presidential power. For acquiring power, such radicalism does not even have to be all bad, one hears. Such progressive positions and such an aggressive stance in the name of the little guy and a more social class-state may definitely be good for winning especially young voters over to the party, people who are otherwise not so easily lured to the polls; Sanders’ own success proves him right on that score. But for conquering the all-important ‘center,’ whose members are called ‘swing voters’ and live in so-called ‘swing states’ so that nobody can miss what their opinion is good for, this is ultimately political suicide for the party. The mainstream and particularly the leadership of the party are still sure that the majority of voters can be motivated to take a leap by a right-wing populist appealing to their nationalism, but not by a left-wing populist appealing to their social heart.

What voters need instead, and the only thing they can be won for, is a return to economically successful, civically united normality. That may well involve changes in the details. There are of course ways to make it easier for hard-working Americans to reproduce themselves as the wage earners they are, for instance with health insurance for almost everyone, or even a nationwide increase in the minimum wage. Some kind of green energy transition is also fine if it pays off, as is further ‘liberalizing’ American morals to better welcome minorities of all kinds into the family of a truly egalitarian class society. But this kind of desire for change must not, under any circumstances, give the impression of trying to shift the country’s moral compass. It must not construct any opposition between the wealth of the rich on the one hand, and the poverty of the poor and the destruction of the environment on the other, between the freedom of some and the freedom of others; it must not create division where reconciliation is needed. So there must be no change when it comes to this: the enrichment of successful capitalists is the condition and the best means for whatever social deeds can be provided to the mass of hard-working Americans and whatever can be done to sustain the environment; and ‘progressive’ morals must in no way be seen as an attack on the old ones. A candidate who suggests otherwise is disastrous for the economy and the party and must be denied the nomination. Instead, what is needed is a politician who personifies that the Democrats do not want a counter-program to growth and employment as the epitome of economic reason, nor a left-wing counter-morality either. They do not want to terminate the successes achieved in this area under Trump but rather continue them — just without the President, who fails to recognize the Democrats’ good will in this connection, instead inflating the differing ways of watching over and promoting America’s success machinery into irreconcilable opposites. What is needed, then, is a candidate who counters Trump’s aggressive lies with a conciliatory one of his own; who represents an ideal of the most successful class society of all time being a harmonious community effort. ‘Moderate,’ ‘pragmatic,’ ‘centrist’ are the relevant adjectives.

But things are not that simple in the motherland of democracy. The outcome of intraparty competition is not decided by the party leadership but by the base. This is not always too pleasing to the leading party members with their need for control, but the democratic logic behind the procedure is quite compelling. When it comes to the only question that voters are presented with in a democracy — who should come into power? — they are presumably the most competent to decide. And conversely, the party base in this way provides the nominee with a qualification that, in accordance with the circular logic of democratic ruler selection, is far more valuable for winning the main election than anything else the nominee may have to offer in terms of rousing ideas and qualities for ruling: a genuine electoral success. The candidate is definitely going into the main election as a proven natural winner. So just before the biggest primary round dubbed ‘Super Tuesday,’ the ‘centrist’ competitors accordingly withdrew their candidacy and got behind the biggest centrist hope, former Vice President Joe Biden.

From the point of view of the party leadership, there are several reasons why this man fits the intended role. In almost all areas, his positions reflect precisely the conciliating normalcy the party wants to return to and convince voters with, they are basically a remake of Obama’s policies. The man is said to lack ‘charisma’ — which is not really a quality, but the dubious compliment of bourgeois citizens being personally and immediately enthralled by someone who wants to tell them what’s what. But charisma is not really what is needed this year anyway, it is someone who embodies the opposite of division, who radiates the ability to bridge differences, because he just doesn’t treat them as such. What is called for, then, is a dyed-in-the-wool, credible hypocrite who can be labeled ‘decent.’ Against this backdrop, Biden’s half-century in the Senate looks pretty good, especially since during that time he earned the reputation of being a bipartisan pragmatist willing to make compromises. Moreover, his eight scandal-free years as vice president give him a certain advantage of having been in quasi-presidential office — another asset according to the circular democratic logic that an officeholder qualifies to exercise power mainly by having already done it. His former boss’s black skin supposedly also gives him the support of black voters — a good thing in a country where racism has a firm place in election campaigns. And he is not a grotesque face of the establishment like the late Hillary, having built his entire political career on cultivating a closeness to the white working class — very favorable in facing off against the blond guardian angel of the whites, whose racism needs to be catered to if they are to be won over.[1] The strategy of the leading centrists has worked: Biden wins a landslide in the decisive rounds of the primaries. When some in the party still worry that his advanced age and occasional distractedness might suggest his mental faculties are declining, his campaign strategists reply that he basically has it pretty easy this year. He mainly just needs to keep a low profile and that will already make him more attractive than Trump. For the Democrats are certain, at least at the beginning of the election year, that Trump will already expose himself as an un-American anomaly with his malicious divisiveness, showing once and for all that his time in the White House was a one-time aberration.

The Democrats’ alternative to Trump’s fight to strengthen the nation against all its enemies is thus the offer of a harmonious cooperation to promote the nation’s capitalist and imperialist success. While he is escalating the ‘culture war’ between conservatives and liberals, they are offering a nationalism for all the people — with the strong argument that the previous “America first!” agenda has ended up weakening America. Instead it is time for the collective realization that the strength of the nation lies in the unity of the people. And they campaign against Trump’s uncompromising fight for power by denying they are merely fighting for their party to gain power. In short, the Democrats counter Trump’s lie that he represents the only true America against all kinds of enemies among the people, by hypocritically claiming their man represents the entire American people against an actually isolated divider. That is how alive and full of variety American democracy is.


So off it goes, the duel between these two variants of a strong people’s moralism of rule. The duel promptly takes a somewhat unusual course — the candidates get to prove their mettle dealing mainly with two crises.

III. Covid — an assault on America’s body politic challenging the candidates’ leadership qualities

The year’s first major test is not long in coming. The coronavirus is a substantial challenge for any government, forcing it to manage a contradiction between what the people live for and from, namely continuous business growth, and the minimum level of health the people need for that purpose.[2] For democratic rulers with their need to distinguish themselves, however, the virus is a challenge of a special kind.

The incumbent is unlucky that government restrictions on business life are ruining the nice numbers he has been using to promote himself to the electorate. While it is just as irrational that the dramatic slump in business caused by restrictions everyone considers necessary should rub off on Trump himself as that the business boom should cast a good light on the boss, at least it is fair. Yet, for a democratic ruler, natural disasters obviously don’t have to be only bad news. Crises also offer the opportunity to bombard the people with demonstrations of how strong the nation is and how energetic its leading personalities are; that’s certainly the usual practice, put to the test time and time again on dikes and in flight jackets. Trump exploits the opportunity in his own way — simply applying his two basic equations and regarding the virus as an enemy out to weaken America by harming its strong president. His guiding principle for fighting the virus is to prevent this from happening; he is most consistent about following it. And long before he has a remedy for the virus, he provides his people with a corresponding interpretation of the situation, viz., with the greatest possible compliment a combative leader can make: this people would not dream of shying away from losses. Even when faced with a danger to life and limb, they do not let their leadership down, do not fail to deliver the services it requires. Ergo: according to Trump, Covid may interfere with everyday life a bit but it is relatively harmless and will soon take care of itself “like magic”; if any far-reaching measures are necessary they can be quickly scaled back. What is out of the question is that America, of all countries, should let a little virus slow it down, or that its leader should actually slow the great economy down himself. That would mean putting America exactly where its competitors and enemies want it — after all, not even something as unpredictable as a still uncontrolled virus can harm this country unless one lets it.

Any restrictions on business life decided at the individual state level fuel the suspicion that the intention is to weaken America and oppress its people. This suspicion is confirmed where Democrats are at the helm, making it clear that the fight against the virus, too, is a fight for the nation’s soul. The Democrats evidently think the best people in the world are too weak to deal with such a thing while staying free — and this is the party that is supposed to lead these people to victory? The president stands by the maltreated citizens who have to pay the price for their local leaders’ weakness and the insult to their national honor with setbacks and losses in growth and employment. As protector of their freedom, he calls via Twitter for ‘liberation’ from Democratic governors — it being clear that he is not just talking about the next election. As mentioned above, for this man an electoral fight is a real one.[3]

Which doesn’t mean Trump will let anyone say he’s against fighting the virus himself. On the contrary. He recognized the magnitude of the danger earlier than anyone else, of course, and acted more decisively than anyone else to prevent it from spreading. He is just fighting Covid the way a world power should: not cautiously and defensively, with lockdowns and embarrassing masks,[4] but ruthlessly and offensively — using the abundant force and money so characteristic of America’s superiority. He imposes entry bans, launches a new round of China bashing, and funds vaccine development at ‘warp speed’ — all the while claiming the necessary drugs are already there for getting this weak flu under control — to ensure that America will soon stop needing any restrictions but can look forward to an even bigger ‘Trump bump.’

Meanwhile, Biden is doing exactly what his strategists say he should. Unfortunately, he has no office at the moment and no opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership, and having to stay in his basement — being a high-risk patient as well — doesn’t come across as very presidential either. On the other hand, he is keeping a low profile that way and thus cutting the best possible figure. Above all, he is sticking to the script that the liberal public so wishes Trump would follow. He speaks sober yet encouraging words to the unsettled people; he demonstrates respect for doctors’ recommendations and for the complaints of the business community and their proud dependents; he prepares the people for the difficult compromises between protecting their health and protecting the growth of capital whose success they are subordinate to. What he wants to do is steer American class society through these difficult times for profit-making and the healthiness that requires, but what he claims to want is to fulfill an ethical duty that he is mainly shouldering himself, and he offers his empathy to victims of the virus and the business slump. Finally, he cheers up his Americans by assuring them they are experiencing a moment of true common strength as a nation, no matter how visible the differences between them may become in the fight against the coronavirus. So Biden counters Trump’s militant offensive with an image of presidential normalcy — the hypocrisy of a father of the nation, the most powerful one on earth. And to the delight of all those who idealize democracy, he is thereby promoting the pretense that democratic politics and especially the struggle for power are, in fact, all about something like common sense.

IV. Anti-racism protests: A call for a leader to teach ‘law and order’ to anti-American terrorists? Or for a leader who will unify all Americans?

The next crisis for the incumbent comes in mid-May: nationwide protests against racist police violence in particular and racism in general. Trump’s moral instinct already tells him that the resentment on the streets applies to him as well, but he also hears it chanted a thousand times.[5] The uproar doesn’t make him miss a beat; he sees yet more confirmation for his basic equation that being anti-Trump is the same as being anti-America.

The central subject of the protests — racist police violence — is easy for him to handle; regretting there are a few ‘bad apples’ already takes care of it. What he really pays attention to is the protests themselves. He takes them for what they primarily always are for a state authority: unrest, violations of public order, and thus of the state’s monopoly on the use of force. Accordingly, he threatens the protesters with what he promises the rest of the people: “Law and order!” and “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!”[6] In so doing, he twists the goal of the protests to fit in with his sovereign counteroffensive much better than anti-racist outrage does. To him, the violent rioting — against the property behind many a shop window and against the police — and the demonstrators’ unmistakable sense of being in the right are proof that in reality they do not want ‘Justice now!’ but only violence itself, and more and more of it. This gives a few antifascists the honor of being added to the list of domestic terrorist organizations and promoted to leaders of a looming communist takeover. Trump responds to the danger accordingly. He sends in soldiers, spreads state terror, and stresses how happy he is to do so since it demonstrates his will to fight anti-racist protest as an assault on America. Force is thus not being used here to achieve any limited goal like making sure demonstrations with their powerless appeals are orderly; the state is instead demonstrating that law and order require above all submission, and that the authorities are willing and able to break a disobedient will.

The reason why Trump sets to work here with such an aggressively good conscience is that he is sure he is fulfilling his prime responsibility as head of state: restoring the incontestable power of the law, enforcing the order that law regulates. And that — rather than a spirit of reconciliation — is exactly what truly makes a people a people, after all. When his liberal critics accuse him of ignoring the people’s spiritual need by his rhetorical and practical militancy that targets one group in the name of another, they are wrong. His actions reflect the people’s need for the order-keeping force that wonderful bourgeois society so badly requires and that particularly the freest country on earth so wildly celebrates. So he is actually getting down to the foundation and basic constant of bourgeois life. It is also wrong to say Trump is pitting a cold regime of force against the human warmth of civil society. He in fact gives a human face to the order he wants ruthlessly enforced against the enemies. The obedience he exacts is only the respect to be humanly expected toward the virtuous people who do exactly what society so appreciates them for:

“Small business owners have seen their dreams utterly destroyed. New York’s finest have been hit in the face with bricks. Brave nurses who have battled the virus are afraid to leave their homes… A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero was shot and killed. These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.” (Trump, June 1, 2020)

Despite all Trump’s appeals to the principles of civic reason and despite all his use of state force, he does not break the protests but tends to fuel them. Yet this does him no harm at all in terms of election campaigning:

“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.” (Kellyanne Conway, former Trump spokeswoman, September 27, 2020)

What freely competing citizens badly need is superior, hard-hitting state force — that’s still a practically unbeatable campaign pitch fifty years after Nixon. When it comes to this kind of discontent — unlike the virus business — the governors in charge can’t crack down on their citizens enough. If they fail to “dominate” the protesters, as Trump orders them to do, they are evidently conspiring with them. This is certainly a very unfair accusation if you ask the demonstrators on the streets of big cities governed by Democrats, but it again draws an extremely clear frontline: the protests are yet another case of the Democrats betraying the people by their weakness, while Trump protects them with hard-hitting force.


This again requires the Democrats and their candidate to go to some lengths to refute the suspicion. After all, they, too, see themselves first and foremost as guardians of the order people are protesting against; for them, too, violence must be answered with superior force. And where they are in command, only a Trump will berate their actions as ‘lax.’ When it comes to the protesters’ one big concrete demand, a radical reallocation of public funds from the police to social development programs, the Democrats are by no means ready to comply. It is a different kind of tribute the Democrats and their candidate pay the demonstrators. They acknowledge their protest as a moral appeal, as an urgent warning to engage in collective correction:

“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today. Sometimes we manage to overlook it, and just push forward with the thousand other tasks of daily life. But it’s always there. And weeks like this, we see it plainly. We are a country with an open wound, no one can ignore it, no one can be silent, no one can hear those words ‘I can’t breathe!’ and then do nothing… This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now.” (Joe Biden, May 29, 2020)

The way Biden makes common cause with the protesters should not be confused with fraternizing. In Biden’s America, there are no actual racists,[7] only Americans who haven’t gotten rid of the ugly heirloom of racism yet. And it’s also striking that the victim of racism is mainly the nation itself, the unity of the whole people. The great reconciler presents racism as a mentality that supposedly has nothing to do with any ethnic-nationalist thinking. On the contrary, it can only be combated by reaffirming ethnic-national unity — being anti-racist is a nationalist virtue. And to cap it all, he foists a political consequence on the protests that the protesters themselves are certainly not chanting: “We need real leadership right now.” That would put the riots on the right course — a course of national reconciliation while harmoniously casting off a sin nobody really wants. So then the original-sin business would actually not stay so anonymous, since the decisive step would be replacing the man in the White House.


The ‘crisis summer of 2020’ runs its course. The candidates have been settled on, the duel is well underway. Nevertheless, both parties insist, despite the pandemic, on sticking to the time-honored tradition of making the whole thing official at a specially convened party nominating convention, and shift a large part of the event to cyberspace. They have their reasons.

V. The Democratic nominating convention: “Giving people light in the darkness”— or: How Biden intends his leadership to reconcile the people Trump has divided

Nominating conventions now have mainly a formal function in the United States since the primary election result has become binding. They exist to give the winner of the primaries ceremonial confirmation as the party’s official candidate. On the other hand, this event has evidently lost none of its importance; it has turned into the positive climax of the democratic personality cult. The public is invited to get to know the candidate as a figure deserving of enthusiasm — as evidenced by the enthusiasm his party and selected supporters show. What is being festively presented to the electorate in this way is nothing really deserving of enthusiasm. It is just the essence of their democratic existence: democratic citizens entrust a governing person with the power to determine their living conditions — especially in a ‘watershed election.’ In return, they get to have the dependency they consent to every four years take the form of candidates eagerly seeking their support, sparing no expense for a few days of pomp and circumstance and celebrity lineups. They seek this support primarily by pretending quite shamelessly to be oh so close, especially when it comes to shared values, to the ordinary people who are supposed to put them in power. That is a mockery insofar as the candidate is trying to show he is qualified to rule over people, i.e., be anything but ‘close’ to them. The ruling person taking pains to deny he is in any way special is supposed to show how suitable he is for a pretty special position. That is the democratic custom.

This year, the Democrats are carrying this to extremes by familiarizing the public with their candidate’s moving personal history. At the same time, his life story is so stereotypical when it comes to the ideal image of a democratic politician that it makes him seem ordinary again. The man has a humble background, like most of those he will be ruling over. And he has done what they dream of, working his way up to higher posts early on, but without it going to his head, as befits a democratic ruler who needs his constituents’ trust in order to rule over them. Due to his background he can sympathize with his supporters’ poverty and hard work. In addition, he has also been hit by great misfortunes of the more emotional kind. He has had to cope with his first wife and young daughter dying in an accident as well as his eldest son later dying of cancer. In his case this does not just mean he has a sad family history, it means he is able to ‘empathize’ — something democratic rulers are well-advised to demonstrate as accompaniment for all the hardships they impose on the little people. This is a politician you can really accept such cheap consolation from. Despite all his personal setbacks he has always kept going; despite all his successes he has never become elitist — all in all, an extraordinarily human, remarkably normal ruler. His buddy-buddy manner, down-to-earth morals, and well-displayed empathy for the little people qualify him for the power he intends to use to restore harmony among his people so they can achieve more success for the nation.


At the convention, Biden also gets a ‘running mate’ named Kamala Harris — who thus takes on a peculiar job. If all goes well, the sidecar passenger will of course become vice president; that will make her, among other things, president of the Senate, giving her the currently not insignificant power to cast the deciding vote in event of a stalemate in the Senate, when nominating a Supreme Court justice for example. More importantly, she is “just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” giving her the pole position in future races for the White House — see Joe Biden. But the holder of this post has basically already performed his or her most important function if the right side wins the election. The running mate is supposed to serve primarily as a personified strategic figurehead, as a symbolic nod to a certain constituency or wing of the party. This requires, above all else, a figure who is a good complement to the main candidate demographically and visually — maybe voters will imagine that has some kind of effect on how the president governs, and it definitely helps as a gesture of goodwill. It’s not always easy to find the right intersection of features in a single person, and it’s said that this has often been bungled in America’s presidential history. But first of all, this year the job description is extremely simple, since “Me too” and “Black lives matter!” and Biden being an old white man obviously mean a black woman is needed. Everybody knows that she is a token black and a token woman. In a democracy, such tactical maneuvers are transparently discussed; those being wooed are invited to take part in judging the way the manipulators are trying to win them over. And secondly, a suitable figure has actually been found, even one with a brilliant career as a ‘law and order’ politician — let Trump bring it on. Thirdly, she has occasionally flirted with left-wing positions — maybe that will satisfy dedicated Bernie fans. But this year, such blatant cynicism is not enough for the critical public; they manage to top it. They’ve noticed that Kamala Harris is fairly black but is she really an African American? Can a woman with a Jamaican father and an Indian mother really claim the victim status that she wants to adorn the new leading figure with in front of real black victims? The American people will not be so easily bamboozled when it comes to racism.


After the fine speeches the two Obamas hold as expected, the defeated Sanders takes the floor — offering his supporters a good, most defensive reason not only to reconcile with the loathsome establishment candidate, but also to rally for him:

“We need Joe Biden as our next president. … If Donald Trump is reelected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy… At its most basic, this election is about preserving our democracy… Under this [Trump’s] administration, authoritarianism has taken root in our country.”

Any social progress is currently out of the question; the premise of all democratic politics must be saved. That means that dissenting, ‘progressive’ positions must not be fought as a threat to the nation, but acknowledged as alternatives of good governance. So the same goes for the frustrated progressives as well: they have to agree to the lesser evil, which is still a democratic alternative of the good cause — otherwise it could be the last time they get to participate in an event as wonderful as an election.


After the candidate has been personally celebrated, he has to do his duty. He takes the floor himself to convince his audience that he really is the absolutely decent, super-ordinary shining light that his party has been presenting him as. He succeeded, it is said. Firstly, he didn’t get his words muddled once, or offer very much reason to think he had one foot in the nursing home. Secondly, he managed to tell a shining story about an ordinary person’s return to power:

“Give people light and they will find a way. ‘Give people light’ … The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word. If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness. It’s time for us, for we, the people, to come together. … united we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America.”

That is definitely a very high note — so high that it’s hard to imagine a patriot choosing the wrong side. That’s how it’s meant, of course — Democrats can go all out when they want to prove there is really no alternative to them. A win for Biden is a win for all Americans, the only loser being the incumbent president:

“But while I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president. I'll work hard for those who didn't support me, as hard for them as I did for those who did vote for me. who didn’t support me as I will for those who did. That’s the job of a president, to represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment. It’s a moment that calls for hope and light and love, hope for our futures, light to see our way forward and love for one another. America isn’t just a collection of clashing interests of red states or blue states. We’re so much bigger than that. We’re so much better than that.”

Biden knows just as well as Trump how to put an equal sign between himself and the interests of all Americans not named Donald Trump, thereby putting an equal sign between his competitor fighting for power and the enemy of the people who are fighting for their united future. Trump may be running because he wants power, but Biden is running because he wants to fulfill the desire for unity that he actually sees in all those ‘divisions’ sundering the people. To Biden, it is a mere formality of the process that he is involved in a partisan power struggle at all. This is grandiose hypocrisy — and at the same time it is more. What Biden is offering as the promise of national reconciliation and a new path to everlasting light for us all is actually a tough command. After all, if there’s one thing Americans know, it is what they can’t stand about each other and why. His radiant picture boils down to the demand that his citizens disregard all the conflicts they know and keep up over who the American people are and what their nationalism should look like — and finally see that they are one people.

The objective truth to this unity is that American citizens — just like the members of any state — are subject to one and the same state power. If this unity has a subjective truth to it, it is that citizens carry out this abstraction on themselves, making it into the strange entity ‘national identity’ by glorifying their common subjection as a moral community that the state power protects. No matter how much this identity is always celebrated as representing a moral unity of the people, it is not suited for creating harmony. In everyday life, national identity means arguing about who is fulfilling his duty toward the moral community and who is not, thereby curtailing the rights of those doing their duty. There are several escalation stages to such arguments, and also to the means that are considered and, if necessary, utilized for protecting the community that has been violated. Shortly before the end of these escalation stages, the question arises as to who actually belongs to the moral community or who has grown away from it for good, or even betrayed it. The end is reached when this question has been settled. If interested observers cannot talk about America without using the word ‘division’ any more, that is because Americans have settled the question — under the guidance of competing politicians and the interpretation pros and semi-pros of the media they are willingly mobilized by. And if it has become popular to worry about a new ‘civil war’ in view of this so-called ‘culture war,’ that is a testament to how seriously this people take their national identity and the duties resulting from the rights they imagine true Americans to have.

It is this division that Trump is intensifying in his notorious and apparently very successful way, earning him the unfair accusation of being to blame for the nation being divided at all. It is this division that Biden wants to mend in his way by virtually turning back these escalated conflicts within the people to their starting point — the point where the sheer abstraction of being one American people surpasses whatever this people is supposed to be to the various feuding Americans. And this is supposed to happen by Americans realizing that Biden personally, especially the way he demonstrates the will to reconcile through his own life, stands for the unity he sees as their innermost civic desire. What the American people are supposed to want instead of the ‘populist,’ ‘divisive’ furor of a Trump is the ideal of a consummate democratic collective of citizens, an ideal that all democratic rulers have: to rule over citizens who ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country.

VI. The Republican nominating convention: “Make America great again, again!” A great people and their great leader — united in success!

No party nominating convention is needed to familiarize the people with this person; or with the idea that their fate is decided by his. If anyone cultivates how close he is to the people both personally and in terms of values, it is Trump. He is not close to the people merely in a formal way, by preferring to address his followers directly and bypassing the mainstream media. He is close to them because he takes any — typically democratic — trace of willingness to compromise or respect for the opposing camp as hypocrisy that he will have nothing to do with. To citizens, his notoriously thin skin and quarrelsome manner, his ostentatious rudeness, and his willingness to tell the most blatant lies and dismiss the most obvious facts if they do not fit his excessive self-praise, firstly reflect their own competitiveness and sense of justice — at least whenever they are sure they have been wronged, which is all the time. Secondly, it shows them the political message Trump is sending: he is a walking will to win, lying only to underscore that he is honest enough to insist on the one simple truth: you only win by making the opponent a loser. It is part of his core program to reject established, liberal ‘political correctness.’ Firstly, he sees it as undermining America’s self-assured elan and confidence of victory, and, secondly, he thinks American self-confidence being undermined is the reason for America’s supposed international defeats. The vain narcissism that goes with this national purge is not a mere idiosyncrasy: fighting enemies who pose as allies is not merely his personal mission, it is his real political task. Trump’s criterion for distinguishing between friend and foe is so unerring because it is Trump himself. That is how, in this extreme manner typical of Trump, quite a bit is done at this party convention to make it clear that in a democracy, the fate of the voters hangs on the person of their elected leader.

Yet with such a political personality, there is evidently an additional thing that can be done at a nominating party convention to cultivate closeness to citizens. It appears the organizers have come up with the idea that it would be good to expressly make it clear that someone who is an ill-mannered brute is still in line with the values cherished by hard working men, respectable housewives, and modern competition-oriented figures of all ethnic groups that have made America their home. When he denounces anti-racism protests as an assault on America’s basic principles and highest values, this has nothing to do with racism — something black and Asian Republicans can prove by their sheer presence, simply stepping in front of the cameras. They are followed by women from the President’s personal circle — his daughter, his son’s wife — who know the accused personally, off stage. They have never noticed anything other than hard work, an iron will, and human warmth.[8]

The Republicans don’t want to relegate their nominating convention entirely to the virtual world. They round up cheering crowds at least for Trump’s speech (he gives not one but two). A good thousand guests gather in front of the White House for his ceremonial acceptance of the nomination. Perhaps the organizers feel the enthusiasm they have staged for the candidate isn’t palpable enough unless the audience can see the exuberantly clapping supporters with their own eyes. This makes for a minor scandal, not only because of the coronavirus, but mostly because Trump actually makes his speech with the White House in the background. The usual decorum dictates that such party events must draw an at least symbolic dividing line between Trump as a party’s candidate and as the nation’s president — yet another unwritten rule that citizens probably hear of for the first time when Trump breaks it. The advantage of being in office may be in the foreground, but the official residence mustn’t be the background. Trump’s speech itself again shows how little he needs to switch into a special campaign mode in order to campaign. He refers to all the success stories and attacks on enemies that he has entertained his people for three and a half years with. Particularly the ongoing and escalating anti-racism protests provide him with the conflict the election is all about: here the heroes of ‘law and order’ and patriotism, there the agents of chaos and anti-Americanism. Of course, the man in his own way does want to be or remain ‘President of all Americans,’ and presumably an ‘Ally of the Light’ as well. But he is sure that the nation does not first have to be unified to be great, especially by an appeal to set aside the conflicts citizens can reel off by the dozen. The people, the real one, is already united — and if it isn’t that’s because the nation is riddled with internal enemies. Trump counters Biden’s promise of a shared ideal with the harsh reality of this ideal as law and order imposed by force. While Biden expects people to abstract from all antagonistic interpretations of a genuinely American nationalism, Trump demands they make up their minds, i.e., not support a hypocritical reconciliation that would only lead to fewer jobs, more chaos, fewer victories, and more criminals in the country, but applaud a purge of the place in the Trumpian sense. Then nothing would stand in the way of the nation’s success — or unity, for that matter. In his closing speech, Trump himself says it best: “You know, success brings people together — maybe better than anything else.”

VII. Endless revelations don’t do Trump in but only strengthen his will to win

After the Republican nominating convention, Trump enjoys a brief bounce in the polls, prompting his opponents in the liberal press to make their own contribution to fighting for the soul of the nation. They expose the President’s dirty laundry.

Go-getting journalists at The Atlantic turn up numerous sources claiming to have heard that Trump regards America’s soldiers, especially the fallen and captured ones, as “suckers” and “losers.” This casts a bad light on his constant praise for the “greatest military in the world” and the “beautiful soldiers, beautiful,” and on his insisting that every last sports event has to start with everyone in attendance standing on both feet during the national anthem, especially out of respect for the soldiers. All this is exposed as hypocrisy because the President doesn’t really love the soldiers privately and in his heart. Squinting through the keyhole apparently makes you blind to what is obvious. When Trump keeps extolling how great his human projectors of power are, this always goes hand in hand with him demanding they deliver success. With all due respect to the soldiers, they are not trained to die and get captured, especially on missions that Trump thinks are useless to the nation. This in any case gives the Democrats the opportunity to stand up for America’s soul at a crucial point. They give very generous praise and thanks for these brave and loyal people risking their lives to serve the national cause, with the civilian commanders of this cause really giving them a run for their money. They give them not only the world’s best equipment, as everyone knows, but also ample opportunity to demonstrate their virtues. And whether they get killed in the process or not, they in any case get to be used for the worst kind of anti-criticism: How can Americans — and especially the Commander-in-Chief — object to American wars when their great boys and girls are putting their lives on the line?

By repeating his mantra “Fake News!” Trump has more or less taken care of the matter — also because the electorate doesn’t get the time to wonder if they should believe the stories at all, let alone get upset. Barely a week later, the next revelation comes. Legendary reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post — one of the journalists who uncovered the Watergate affair half a century ago — publishes an interview with Trump making it clear that he was aware of how dangerous the coronavirus was a few weeks earlier than previously known and still downplayed the risk. Trump briefly cites Winston Churchill deliberately downplaying the German bombing raids because he didn’t want to undermine the people’s fighting spirit, by which he can’t really dismiss the matter but that’s not the point. His comparison with Churchill already shows that he is using the opportunity to aggressively expand his battlefront against the Democrats. Fighting the coronavirus is a question of national honor after all, and what are the Democrats doing? Buckling before the enemy. When Trump is infected by the virus himself at the end of the month, things don’t look good for the President’s narrative for a bit; when he’s out of the woods a week later, he is sure that once again he’s been proven right on all counts. He only got sick by bravely facing the virus. This shows him firsthand what he already knew anyway but the so-called experts with their mere “school learning” never wanted to understand: the virus is weak, Trump is strong, so America is too. This prompts the President to boost his nation’s fighting spirit in a way that rivals Churchill: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your lives.” Instead, people can meet this challenge, too, by applying their familiar and time-tested sustaining lie of forward-looking self-responsibility that they use to adapt to everything thrown at them.

Two weeks later, the New York Times takes another stab at it, publishing the tax returns that Trump has for ages been refusing to disclose, making his opponents certain that the documents contained his final unmasking. It turns out that, thanks to some pretty impressive accounting techniques, he has managed to pay very little to the treasury, while picking up lots of losses without going broke — at least for now. The only thing is, after this publication it remains unclear what exactly the scandal is. Has it now been proven that Trump is one of the dishonorable rich because he hardly shells out any of his wealth to the government, which people should somehow see as attacking their own wallets? Or has it been proven that his business success is actually fake, giving his critics great satisfaction because it would knock the bottom out of his endless bragging and devalue one of his strongest election arguments? In any case, it is striking that this scandal, too, fails to harm the President in the polls. One reason is surely that it hasn’t revealed anything people don’t already suspect — Americans are much more likely to admire a cunning competitor than to envy someone else’s success, the vice of the weak. Furthermore, they again hardly get any time to decide what aspect of patriotic morality they are supposed to be up in arms about because a few days later, Trump provides new material. In the first TV debate he totally misbehaves, won’t let his rival get a word in edgewise, or even recognize him as a worthy rival, and gives a radical right-wing gang of thugs the hint to get ready for election day. After that, the tax returns are practically forgotten and all the talk is about his outrageous manners, without his poll ratings dropping.

Obviously, there’s method to it. Although all these revelations cause some excitement, none of them gets Trump in trouble — it’s more like one scandal just takes over from the last one. What is especially striking is how adept Trump is at turning all his opponents’ offensives into a chain of evidence confirming exactly what he owes his entire political existence to. It is attacks like these that motivated him to seek the presidency in the first place; and to carry out his first campaign and term in office as a fight against the establishment, and now he’s entering another round the same way. Each newly uncovered scandal just goes to show how determined his opponents are to be against him, or more precisely, how obsessed they are about bringing down a successful businessman and an elected president, i.e., undermining the power and voice of the people. So there is just one reason after another to put a stop to the game the opponents of the people’s favorite president are playing — each time offering a new opportunity to demonstrate that no one can bring this American to his knees. Time and again, he shows that his will to win never lets up but instead grows in the face of all animosity, making him the most reliable president the American people have ever known. He keeps his word even when the chips are down for him personally. For a people who have come to be sure that it is high time for their enemies to be eliminated, such a president is the only right one.

VIII. California is burning, the American dream and American history are in jeopardy — the battle for America’s soul continues

The Californian wildfires and anti-racism protests give the candidates an opportunity for a brief, humorous interlude that shows what democratic politicians are capable of once they get going. Not even forest fires are safe from being sucked into the logic of a democratic election campaign. In mid-September, Trump flies to California to make an on-site appearance as America’s top boss, only to inform all America in public who is to blame for the disaster once he is there. It’s the same ones he left back home in Washington. He has learned that the fires are ultimately due to a failure to ‘clean the floors’ in Northern California forests, which is in turn due to the governor being a Democrat. If you leave these guys in power there will be a mess in the forest and on the streets, there will be fires everywhere…

Biden, actually combative, hits back with an interesting retort:

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater? … We have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?”

The first thing is that when American-led global capitalism causes climatic ravages, he blames this on its latest political manager and cheerleader, so that again only “real leadership right now” (meaning his) can prevent the end of the world. The second thing is that he keeps referring to endangered American suburbs, and there is a separate reason for that. It is where Trump has opened his next front in the battle for the nation’s soul, creating an image for himself as guardian angel of the suburban lifestyle dream. This he does primarily by declaring he will thwart all Democratic efforts to “abolish the suburbs.” He has the suspicion, however unfair, that the Democrats — at least their left wing, if Sleepy Joe doesn’t watch out — might advocate for new public housing and affordable homes even in the suburbs. That definitely won’t happen under Trump, who assures suburban housewives “no low income housing will invade their neighborhood.” Otherwise, the castles their inhabitants once fled to would be gone. Homeowners would firstly lose part of the value of their assets, i.e., the secure basis for going into debt as they have to. And secondly, so goes the usual interpretation, they would be surrounded by the same riffraff they had moved to the suburbs to escape. What riffraff is meant is clear to every good American — and anyone who doesn’t know will be told by vigilant journalists in prime time. Trump’s term ‘low-income housing’ is the traditional code word that has been used for years to keep nonwhites out of the suburbs.

As the average European knows at least from television if not from his own aspirations, this suburban dream that Trump promises suburban housewives he will defend is the epitome of the American dream of rising from the working class to the ‘middle class.’ In this ‘class’ people are still dependent on wages, grapple with all the difficulties that go with that, and pride themselves accordingly on being virtuous workhorses. But at the same time they are genuine property owners and pride themselves accordingly on their independence, because they shell out the money they earn so dependently to one profiteer fewer, and can do what they want with their home sweet home. What a peculiar dream, being a very negative version of prosperity. For starters, it consists of being safe from the usual harassment of renting and from typical inner city crime. Instead you have a house of your own and a first, second, third … mortgage. Secondly, it consists in well-ordered, one could say cookie-cutter normality. The notoriously uniform suburbs where Americans who have made it savor their freedom and independence give their residents very vivid proof that they have managed to meet a valid standard of success — the effort this costs them is part of their self-image. The stereotypical phoniness of this self-image of modest, decent, self-made success offers critics of culture and idealists of freedom on both sides of the Atlantic plenty of material for turning their noses up. They find the sad material reality of suburban life aesthetically dull; there is more variety to the colorful poverty of the inner cities and the dubious pleasure of completely opting out.


Speaking of the American dream,

“To grow up in America is to live in a land where anything is possible, where anyone can rise, and where any dream can come true — all because of the immortal principles our nation’s founders inscribed nearly two and a half centuries ago.”

This has been heard before, it’s true. For Trump it is another suitable theme for emphasizing the frontline between himself and his godless Democratic opponents. On a visit to the National Archives and while announcing a new education offensive, he also presents himself as guardian angel of the Americans’ grand narrative about their national history:

“Today, I am also pleased to announce that I will soon sign an Executive Order establishing a national commission to promote patriotic education. It will be called the “1776 Commission.” It will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding. Think of that — 250 years.”

The enemy he is fighting this time is wreaking havoc in the corridors of American culture. It has become an integral part of that culture — the curriculum of many schools, the books on sale in many bookstores, the film and podcast world — to acknowledge the obvious: the nation’s self-image has never actually been true. The promised dream has pretty often failed to materialize, certainly for blacks. Trump is also up against the “Black lives matter!” protests, which are not too respectful of the symbols and legends of America’s past, especially when they’re cast in bronze and standing around in public places: “The left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.”

As an example of leftist evil, Trump cites the New York Times’ recently launched ‘1619 Project’ (named after the date the first slaves arrived on American soil), which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” That’s also a pretty good summary of the historical facts and stories that come under this heading, and of what is at the core of this now very voluminous critical American historiography. All of this is indeed instructive — on the one hand. It sets straight quite a bit of propaganda about the glorious history of the USA that most people get to experience as students and citizens. On the other hand, what the project organizers are driving at is mainly instructive in showing that a critical narrative of the nation’s history is not the same as a critique of the nation. On the contrary.

“Our people’s [i.e., blacks] contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible, that the United States simply would not exist without us… That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true “founding fathers.” And that no people has a greater claim to that flag than us… In every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought — today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military. … Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights. Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all… For centuries, white Americans have been trying to solve the “Negro problem.” …What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution? … We were told once, by virtue of our bondage, that we could never be American. But it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.” (Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, August 14, 2019)

What an impressive contribution to incorporating blacks into the patriotic self-love of the American nation, to reconciling all citizens, especially blacks, with their country in past and present! First, the stress is on a story of blacks’ oppression, discrimination, and resistance, only to reinterpret it all as the oppressed blacks’ most important contributions to the same nation’s wealth, power, and democratic beauty. A critique could hardly be more affirmative when it comes to the nation’s self-image today, one might think. Only it’s no use; even an affirmatively intended critical reevaluation involves some criticism. The nation’s sins must come to light for the victims to be accepted into the great community. A truly inclusive celebration of the nation cannot be had without qualifying its official celebration of itself and official luminaries. And that, in Trump’s view, is out of the question. That way of accepting blacks into the community of the glorious only divides it:

“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country.”

It’s surely true that Trump has a very specific clientele in mind when he says “us” and “our country.” But again he is probably talking not so much as a racist demanding ‘white supremacy,’ but rather as an anti-anti-racist. And that is not simply a ploy; he really is concerned about the whole polity. What he doesn’t like about anti-racism is not just the way it attacks our forefathers, but its effect on the nation today:

“The narratives about America being pushed by the far-left and being chanted in the streets bear a striking resemblance to the anti-American propaganda of our adversaries — because both groups want to see America weakened, derided, and totally diminished.”

Trump reacts by pulling not one but two decrees out of his pocket. He bans the dissemination of ‘critical race theory’ in all federal agency training, and he announces the creation of a large park in the capital where “the greatest Americans who ever lived” will be safe to stand around as statues.


A few days later, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. She was the liberal shining light on the Supreme Court because, firstly, she acted as a bulwark in defending the right to abortion and, second, she made use of a famous fitness routine to try and hold out long enough for a liberal president to take office again and appoint a liberal successor on the Supreme Court. Her death gives the President an opportunity to score another victory for his conservative voters and appoint a new, young, conservative justice who could make sure the Supreme Court definitely stops being any safe haven for liberal mores or socially conscious ideas. And in case conservative voters have become somehow receptive to the Democrats’ constant barrage against the President’s immorality, Trump is thereby showing them how much his ruthless will to win is crucial for their fight for America’s soul, especially for the souls of the unborn and of all the victims killed by ‘bad hombres’ because no ‘good guy’ with a gun could be there. Moreover, it will help him prepare in good time for the legal battle over the election outcome that is expected in the course of the month…

IX. The finale: A president whose confidence of victory almost bursts the limits of the democratic system

The closer the election date gets, the more confidence of victory the President radiates. Since he’s already been doing this for four years he now has to show significantly more of this democratic discipline than what experienced voters are familiar with. Trump underlines how much he is looking forward to his second term, and applauds his fans who — like all committed voters — love to hear how their vote will be putting them on the winning side again, even if that is hardly the side they will find themselves on in their everyday lives. The President also shows what he is made of by rejecting in advance any election result other than his victory. He provokes questions about what he intends to do if he loses, whether he would recognize a success won by Sleepy Joe he so scorns — only to make it clear that no one should expect him to go without trouble. His losing is firstly unthinkable and secondly could only happen through foul play. His confidence of victory quite seriously takes the form of a statement of fact.

For his critics, this behavior of announcing a desired success as a genuine fact is yet another item in the account they are keeping of an ever-swelling stream of boasts in which he cultivates the art of blatant nonsense and shameless lying, in order to denounce the inevitable corrections as the expected lies from the other side that prove the liar right. This feeds the story of the narcissistic egomaniac slipping into complete denial of reality, refusing to see that more and more polls are making his re-election look unlikely. But critics don’t just indulge in being spiteful about Trump’s psyche. Every time the White House announces that the President will not accept a wrong election result and will know how to correct it, there is more concern that he is sinning against democracy’s holy of holies: the institution of empowerment through free elections.

There’s something to that. But Trump’s rejecting the possibility of legitimate electoral defeat does not come out of nowhere as an individual’s delusion. He is making the most of the contradiction inherent in the finest achievement of the democratic form of state: the purpose of free elections is to empower ruling officeholders, while the method is the vote of a fickle public.

1. The mission

Anyone who seeks to assume the power institutionalized in the highest office of state has a political mission. He has plans, more or less great ones, for his nation and wants the approval of the citizens who are to serve as human material for implementing them. This is what winning a free election achieves; to the candidates, it is the positive side of the procedure for deciding their competition for power. The negative side is that a candidate presents his political project as an alternative alongside that of his opponent, making it dependent on the caprice of an ultimately unpredictable electorate as if it were only a non-binding offer. The procedure relativizes the mission it is to be putting into force; it requires the candidates to relativize the ruling agenda they want to use their nation for. This is a contradiction that is only resolved if the opposing parties frame and recognize the missions they are standing for election on — both their own and the competing one — as different ways of achieving their shared goal of promoting the power and greatness of the nation. Or to put it more objectively: if the political opponents acknowledge a fundamental reason of state that leaves room for their opposing positions. That is why it is the custom in functioning democracies for hostile political positions to tolerate each other when the election is over, the loser recognizing the winner as the defender of the national cause, and the winner granting the loser the status of an oppositional alternative. This procedure is nothing less than the criterion of an intact democracy.

What Trump aggressively insists on in the finale of his campaign — and he has kept stressing at least once a week since taking office — is the fact that he does not see his “America first!” as being a relative concern like that. He is not interested in it coexisting with the political will of the other side, being compatible with institutions that mediate opposing points of view. Faced with the democratic contradiction between what political power is about — the issue of the nation’s destiny as he defines it — and the methods of acquiring and exercising this power, which are above the issue and relativize his political agenda, he resolves it in the other direction. Either the election validates his mission, and does so without qualification, or it has failed and not been a sure method for giving the people what they are entitled to and putting their proper leadership in power.[9]

2. The man

Trump is the perfect example of a politician who doesn’t just have, or just represent, his mission to “make America great again,” but is it. This is a transition to megalomania; but again it is not really undemocratic. On the contrary, it is precisely in its sacrosanct free elections that democracy has the people vote on competing programs of rule in a personified form, as candidates. Accordingly, this empowering by the people not only allows but actually authorizes the winner — within his official competence, which in the case of the US presidency is quite extensive — to make his own willful decisions into guidelines for everything his people do and into his nation’s political destiny, and to enforce whatever he deems necessary. It is and remains a contradiction that democracy puts a time limit on this empowering, that each new election can confirm or else end the person’s being identical to the nation’s will to power. This contradiction also has its place in the way democratic citizens judge politics. It tends to be considered a weakness, particularly in flourishing democracies, for an elected power holder to be simply voted out merely because the constitution has it that way, or for one to actually announce his withdrawal — in the USA that would be a president prematurely giving up a re-election bid — thereby degrading himself to the status of “lame duck.” Strong leadership personalities take the democratic legal situation personally, seeing the new election only as the chance to be confirmed in office, insisting on their “incumbency advantage” — another fine democratic achievement. To them, the residual risk of being voted out is a personal and political insult. An ambitious born leader will in any case always try to tailor the legal situation and institutions to himself in such a way that they serve, and not restrict, his decisive will to rule. The line separating this from what democrats call “autocracy” is quite poorly defined, or at least very elastic.

As an elected president, Trump has made no compromises here. He has pushed aside all institutions, especially the time-honored ones, that might somehow interfere with his political will being put into practice, both within the country and worldwide. He has done everything he could to make executive departments, government agencies, and even the national judiciary functional for himself by appointing compliant personnel. He has governed by “executive order” to eliminate the influence of oppositional or even merely reluctant forces. And he has always made sure to stage himself so as to reach voters, belittling the Democrat-leaning elements in the country’s political system as anti-people “establishment,” flaunting the fullness of his power by signing immediately effective decrees with cameras rolling and obsequious flunkies in the background, using Twitter [now “X” — trans.] to make his fans privileged partakers in his presidential ad-hoc decisions about the nation’s and the world’s fate and the first to receive his political philosophy. The democratic imperative to maintain a modicum of respect for political opponents because they might actually take the incumbent’s place, in view of office and person being only temporarily connected, is something Trump has not merely refused to do; he spurns it as a ploy that powerless enemies use to weaken his, i.e., America’s, power. He exposes such customary restraint and politeness as the hypocrisy it is, replacing it with the honesty of crude insults. It’s only logical that in the end, at the final climax of his campaign, he declares that the possibility his opponents are aiming at — to gain a majority of votes and drive a wedge between him, America’s greatness, and the people’s true will — is actually impossible, and that every such attempt to do so is proof that America-haters are out to defraud him, his supporters, and the nation.

But, again, Trump is not going off the democratic rails here either. It is his way of resolving the contradiction that the procedure for empowering someone includes the risk of losing power. The institution of free elections has brought him to power, certified him as personifying the “America first!” agenda, and thus fulfilled its purpose; if the next election were to go against him the institution would have failed its purpose. This is what he understands democracy to be all about; any other way it would be a pointless form of modern rule to him, and definitely not only to him.

3. The fans

As far as can be ascertained, Trump’s targeted voters show strong approval for his election campaign. The man apparently goes down especially well with the verdict that an election result against him cannot possibly be true and must be fake. Anti-Trump observers like to conclude that his supporters are democratically immature. This is quite in keeping with these observers failing to understand year after year how the President’s fans can lap up and busily propagate the nonexistent successes he announces and the dishonest taunts he hurls at alleged internal enemies of a strong America.

In fact — as numerous reports from the hinterland show — the voters who are devoted to Trump offer a prime example of what citizens value in their politicians, quite in accordance with the democracy manual. They cite as their president’s greatest asset that he does what he’s promised. Of course, “America first!” and identifying oneself with this imperative is not a promise in the sense that specific results would show it has been kept. But that is evidently not what counts when the man is credited with having drive, even if successes he claims are fake in terms of the banal facts. His voters don’t care, and it does not even violate democratic standards either. What the top boss has promised is nothing more and nothing less than his unshakable will to make all the patriotic yearnings of ordinary people come true, whatever they specifically are. And if he stays right on course despite adverse results, proving his will is unshakable by grossly exaggerating successes and simply denying failures, then that is exactly the way to keep this particular promise. The ruler is then proving the sincerity of his will to succeed precisely by taking the liberty of making even facts submit to his will and claim to power and fit in with it — at least theoretically, as long as reality is still resisting. Making facts a matter of interpretation and claiming one’s own interpretation is the only valid one proves to that part of the public not biased against Trump that the boss, as promised, is going after the facts to make the world conform to America’s will to power that he embodies, to thereby restore the world power’s irresistible dominance.

That is Trump’s banal secret to success, which he extends by being absolutely sure of victory regardless of realities. For that’s exactly what his followers follow him in. They take Trump as the personification of “America first!” and ruthless patriotism just as seriously as he offers himself to them. They reject the democratic custom of responding to a campaigner’s political mission without taking it and its upholder literally. That would be the fraud that their boss and role model won’t have any part in, which they thank him for with their approval. Admittedly, they are not doing their job as voters properly in the normal democratic way. In a political system that puts the procedure of empowering a ruler above the empowered person and his mission, the voter’s objective job is to find a political/personal offer so good and important that he approves it, i.e., promises to submit to it — the issue is rule, after all. But at the same time, this approval is understood to mean that his promised obedience does not depend on the election result but applies to being ruled in general, even by the election winner he rejected. This is the contradiction that democracy burdens its voting rank-and-file with. Normally, voters are accordingly quite casual about this sacrosanct institution of their form of state. When candidates make election promises and commit themselves to the nation’s destiny, which is hugely at stake again in every election, voters take that for the hypocrisy it always is in a peaceful consensus democracy. And when the wrong candidate wins, all they do is think lowly of him and entertain a mental reservation that homeland security would always rate a valid opinion. But that is something Trump voters will not do. On the other side, this does not mean Biden voters necessarily subscribe to the method or even just practice of the consensus hypocrisy that democracy calls for. The escalation that Trump has brought about with his campaign along the lines of ‘Triumph of the Will’[*]and his culture of honest lying means that siding with a candidate who sees no antagonism at all in the opposing agendas, persons, and their supporters but can only see America and Americans, is pretty close to refusing to recognize a re-elected Trump as top ruler. That is exactly what Trump does the other way around. When the president says he won’t recognize a wrong election result he is encouraging his voters to reject the prospect of being governed by Democrats and their Joe.


He does this to drive them to the ballot box and secure his democratically sound reelection. That is the particular contradiction President Trump engages in by only recognizing the validity of the election if he is reelected, on the one hand, and keeping to the procedure of democratic empowerment by majority vote that includes the risk of his losing, on the other. He wants power just as much as he wants flawless free approval. The other way around, he wants a free election without the possibility of defeat. And he is sure that every good American sees it that way too, will vote for him as “America first!” in the flesh, and thus fulfill the purpose of a free US presidential election. That will sort out any contradiction perfectly and the election year will end as nice as it began.

X. The result: An election victory with no loser

The culture of brazen-faced honesty that Trump propagates for conducting and escalating his election campaign hits the mark. Approval for him, the reincarnation of American greatness, rises sharply in absolute numbers.

Only not enough. There is more aversion to him. Joe Biden wins.

The first thing Biden does with his success is consummate his election campaign and keep his great promise to restore the democratic normality of cross-party consensus-seeking and -finding. The winner presents himself as Joe, who is there for everyone, personifying the hypocrisy of national unity beyond all conflicts, of whatever kind. He is a winner under whose presidency nobody has to feel like a loser.

Trump reads the relationship between victory and defeat aggressively the opposite way. He proceeds after election day exactly as he said he would — being someone who can be relied on. There is no such thing as Trump losing; definitely not. A result that says otherwise is invalid; strictly speaking, it doesn’t even exist.

What needs to be done is adjust the facts to the political truth. He has his people work on this, using the means that American laws and democracy have to offer in such matters. And these means are surprisingly numerous. First of all, there are ways to manipulate election results in the run-up to free elections in the land of the free by way of numerous modalities of the election procedure. So if results are undesirable one can afterwards find aspects for construing doubts about their legality, possibly even grounds for challenging them. Secondly, the intricacies of the presidential election itself, in particular the role of the individual states that constitutionally make up the US, in the actual, formal act of voting create ways of subsequently correcting the voters’ will that are hardly ever utilized but nevertheless exist. Thus, the final decision about what voters really wanted may ultimately be up to the national judiciary. Trump fairly honestly intimated that he had this eventuality in mind when picking a reactionary supporter to fill that timely vacancy among the nine judgeships on the Supreme Court.

Failure at court of course does not end Trump’s efforts to adjust the election result to its actual purpose as defined by him and his party. Its correction stays on the agenda of his constant election campaign, with its already settled next stops (the senatorial election in Georgia, midterm elections in 2022, revenge in four years). He already started campaigning again on election night. Democracy lives…

Translators’ Note

[*] 1935 German Nazi propaganda film

Authors’ Notes

[1] And this is actually quite a feat when it comes to creating an image, too: “In Mr. Biden, the Democrats have nominated a candidate whom David Axelrod, the former chief strategist for Mr. Obama, likes to call ‘culturally inconvenient’ for Mr. Trump: a … politician who has long emphasized his blue-collar roots, no matter that it has been nearly a half-century since his election to the Senate. (New York Times, October 11, 2020)

[2] See “Chronik der Corona-Pandemie, III” in GegenStandpunkt 2-20 [untranslated].

[3] His followers get the message and some of them proceed to take action. This is how Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who rose to prominence replying to Trump’s State of the Union Address and whose anti-virus policies made her a right-wing hate figure, found herself in the crosshairs of right-wing militias who, since Trump’s victory, see themselves as the armed wing of his fight with the Democrats. In May, state lawmakers were intimidated by machine-gun-toting militiamen during protests against local virus restrictions. Then in October, fourteen militiamen who had taken part in the protests were arrested by the FBI. They had been planning to kidnap the Governor and possibly take lawmakers hostage. After Whitmer accused the President of promoting domestic terror with his bellicose rhetoric, Trump and his supporters, at a campaign rally a few days after the arrests, answered with the now-familiar battle cry “Lock her up!” Finally, two weeks after the election, a leading member in Trump’s coronavirus task force called for an uprising against Whitmer due to new virus restrictions in Michigan.

[4] “As his reason for not wearing a mask, Trump said it did not fit his self-image as President of a world power” (Zeit Online, July 12, 2020).

[5] On the protests, see GegenStandpunkt 3-20: “George Floyd, for example: On the racism of a freedom-based, egalitarian state power.

[6] Besides “Law and order!” this is one of many campaign slogans that Southern police chiefs and politicians once used to lay out the path for combating so-called race riots, especially after Martin Luther King was murdered.

[7] There may be no actual racists, but of course a lot of sinners in the parish — and that’s something the preacher naturally has to take care of. And something he has qualified himself for with an earlier, great legislative sin of his own: the 1994 Crime Law he took credit for. This law, which massively built up the police and toughened criminal laws, leading to the phenomenon known as “mass incarceration,” especially of blacks, has been termed a core element of ‘institutionalized racism’ by the “Black lives matter!” movement. Now he has distanced himself from his then celebrated legislative contribution to the ‘war on crime’: although his intentions were the best, of course, in this case he was a bit off the mark.

[8] “This evening, I want to tell you about the leader I know, and the moments that I wish every American could see. I want to tell you the story of the president who is fighting for you from dawn to midnight, when the cameras have left, the microphones are off … The grief, sorrow, and anxiety during this time is felt by us all. I've been with my father and seen the pain in his eyes when he receives updates on the lives that have been stolen by this plague” (Ivanka Trump). “My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Bee, used to tell us, believe none of what you hear, half of what you read, and only what you’re there to witness firsthand. The meaning of those words never fully weighed on me until I met my husband [Trump’s son Eric] and the Trump family. Any preconceived notion I had of this family disappeared immediately. They were warm and caring. They were hard workers and they were down to earth.… Walking the halls of the Trump organization, I saw the same family environment. I also saw the countless women executives who thrived there year after year” (Lara Trump).

[9] This logic provides the roadmap for Trump’s much-maligned interventions in the electoral procedure. If the purpose of the election is to validate Trump’s will to win, then he is conversely obligated to take action against all modalities of the election that stand in the way. Here, too, he is in good company. The competing parties never miss an opportunity to exploit and shape electoral practices as levers for their own victory whenever it is in their power. This is the exemplary American way of following democracy’s sacred principle that the majority decides who gets to wield state power; if that is true, then what has to be done is produce the right majority. After all, that is the crucial purpose of a free vote: not just to express a subjective preference but to create a winner. This is what billions are invested in election campaigns for — not for people’s voting pleasure! And it can be had with all kinds of legal maneuverings, particularly in the political system of this nation under God with its many living traditions. It’s not for nothing that a large share of campaign donations notoriously goes into hiring an army of lawyers for helping electoral law along in their client’s interests. Above all, they are supposed to prevent vote theft: a purpose that quite appropriately reflects the way candidates consider people’s votes their vested right.

It is very American for the law to be primarily not an impartial set of regulations but rather a weapon for those who can afford it — in general, but of course particularly in a contest as important as the presidential election. This is one of the principles of a society that sees no difference between competition and nation, between competitive spirit and civic spirit.

© GegenStandpunkt 2024