A Man for Last Season: America’s Fight for the Past

There’s nothing more indicative of the current state of American politics than that we are forced to choose between the two oldest presidential candidates in American history, both of whom appear mentally unfit for the office, and stand strongly to starboard in their respective political parties; in short, two men, who, among those still living, could not be further from the present, or what a present America of climate change, coronavirus, and immense wealth disparity requires of its leaders. And yet, somehow, both candidates perfectly represent the political paradigm of the United States. That is because America’s political parties this presidential election are not fighting for the country’s future, but for its past. 

The Republicans, and more specifically the incumbent president, Donald Trump, represent what we will call the mythic past; a purposely ambiguous golden age, wherein the culture or nation in question is idyllic, prior to its being corrupted by the “other”—i.e. foreign cultures, racial minorities, etc. Thus, it stands to reason that for the believer in the mythic past, the only way to return to this undefined period of prosperity and peace is to expel this outside influence. Such a narrative is an essential part of fascist ideology, since it allows for the greater delineation of in and out groups, and a common enemy against which the fascist demagogue will rally his followers.

The modern resurgence of fascism (as if it ever truly disappeared) as well as the fabricated history it espouses are by no means coincidental; it is the fly drawn to the smell of a decaying system. Over the last forty years we have experienced what Francis Fukuyama referred to as the end of history. Liberal democracy and capitalism have become the dominant forms of political and economic organisation and as Margaret Thatcher often reminded us “There is also no alternative.” Yet, for a system which was supposed to be the sole possible form of governance, neoliberalism  has failed to satisfy some of the most basic needs of those living under it: 10.4% of the United States’ population is living in poverty, 10.5% of households are living without food security, and all have undoubtedly been immensely exacerbated by the economic fallout of the coronavirus epidemic. 

If the wealthiest nation on the planet is not able to sufficiently meet the needs of 10% of its population, it is not a functioning state, and people are slowly coming to understand this. The mass protests against police violence and racial injustice, the popularization of more radical political candidates, and the renewed interest in ideologies outside liberal democracy and capitalism are more than enough evidence to prove that the American people see a need for change.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is actively seeking to preserve this status quo, or at least what it was before Trump’s presidency. This is the competing past; a very real one, but responsible for all the pre-nominated injustices of neoliberal capitalism. Appropriately enough, the party’s chosen candidate, Sen. Joe Biden, has always lagged behind his congressional contemporaries, even within the Democratic Party, with regards to political progress. Take for example his sponsorship of a bill which civil rights lawyer Jack Greenberg during a 1975 Senate hearing stated “heaves a brick through the window of school integration.” An article by NBC goes on to note that Sen. Biden was a staunch supporter of legislation which promoted “separate but equal” education—in the Seventies! That the Democrats’ own anachronism allowed them to select a former district attorney who once proudly referred to herself as a “top cop” as a running mate for Mr. Biden during the largest demonstration of anti-police sentiment in the history of the United States, only further evinces the party’s desire to fight the current of history and maintain the systems that continue to abuse its constituents.

In a strange way Donald Trump is the more revolutionary of the candidates we’ve been allowed to vote for, even when his values and those of his party are concerned with the preservation of tradition and hierarchy. For although his opponent has recently begun to wear the cheapest mask of progressivism that slips every five seconds, the incumbent president has fumbled his way into reintroducing the conflict of ideology through his recognition of the plight most Americans face because of the current political and economic system—though rather than recognizing the inherent faults of this system, he directs the ire of his followers towards supposed outsiders. Ironically, because neoliberalism, in addition to causing immense poverty, has sapped educational institutions of resources, those whom it has impacted the most are not able to independently parse out the source of their alienation, and ultimately place their trust in someone who appeals to them with “common sense”, and simplified, bite sized conceptions of a very complicated world. 

Ultimately, whichever possible past you choose, America’s is ugly; those who will insist on a system which continues to sacrifice the many for the excesses of the few will find itself in an unmaintainable position, and those who see its cracks and anger of the people will exploit them for their own elevation. Even if Joe Biden wins this November, it is doubtful that the wide discontent expressed by this nation in the form of protest and populist demagoguery will be stilled by the half-hearted attempts at “progressive reform” of a man who fought for segregation several years after Martin Luther King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But what precisely many Democrats want is the reunification of a system, wherein both parties are simply two sides of the same Ronald Reagan emblazoned coin. They long for the days when it was only a question of how much we should cut Social Security by, not how to approach proactive healthcare reform. That’s why you have John Kasich and similar center-standing Republicans all talking about the existential threat Donald Trump faces to the United States. They’re not wrong, but their motives are backed by a desire to subdue feelings of alienation, to convince the American people that this is how things are, and how they must always be. If only we could turn back time to the days when you could forget who the president was, even while you were crushed under his boot.

So, if we are forced to choose between two pasts, one with all the faults of the last 40 years of poverty, hunger, and war, or a lie based in the fear and hatred of our fellow human beings, where do we turn? Where are the American people to seek their future if it cannot be found in the leader of the country? Well, we’re already seeing it happen: nationwide protests, destruction of monuments to oppression; fucking burning down police stations! The real political authority of the people will never rest in representatives who haven’t walked a day in their shoes, who don’t know their names, and do not care if they can’t pay their hospital bills, but in the power of numbers, and the fear they can incite in the hearts of those with too much to lose. This is how you break from the past, America, this is how you restart the future. Keep it up!