By Richard E. Caroll
A popular pop song in 1986 by the singer Bonnie Tyler, I Need a Hero, should have resonance with the American people after the bruising and divisive United States 2020 presidential election. While the presidential election of 2020 had the highest amount of voter participation for some time, approximately 161 million American cast ballots, the bitterness of the campaign itself has shown a deep divide between the American people. The election of 2020 closely mirrors the bitter 1860 presidential election which led to the American Civil War. Charges of fraud, illegal voting, and malfeasance on the part of both parties have led to many Americans no longer trusting the election process of choosing a president, with some sides going so far as to advocate a new Civil War. While many in the mainstream media point the finger of blame on such dysfunction on Donald Trump, in many ways President Trump is but a manifestation of the underlying economic and political tensions in the United State.
What is an interesting clue as to the dysfunction on political life in the United States, is that many of those who supported Senator Bernie Sanders are looking for an alternative to the usual candidate that the Democratic Party supports during an election cycle. Many union members who wound up supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign also had supported Senator Sanders during the Democratic Primaries in 2016. And while some make observations that these union members were on the average older and were overwhelmingly white, the appeal that Donald Trump had for them is unmistakable. The vast majority of the American people, 74%, in June of 2020 felt that there is something deeply wrong with the United States, and that the United States has lost its way. With the post-Cold War ending, and the rise of other powers, particularly China, along with the weariness of the American people of endless wars, the mood of the people of the United States is adrift, and with no clear way forward for a new path into the future.
Neither of the major political parties seem to have a clue as to the depth of the anger of the American people at the current status quo. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons that Donald Trump has been able to seize a substantial minority of American voters, and hold them under his sway. It should not be forgotten that at the beginning of the 2016 presidential election season, President Trump was vilified by many Republican leaders, yet overwhelmingly won the nomination for the Republican Party’s candidate for President. With neither political party able to put forth a leader who could unite the American people under one banner and a sense of unity, it is unclear as to the direction the mightiest power on earth will take in the coming years.
And both sides of the political divide are to blame. Each side demands that their way, and only their way is the right way to go. The left demands that the more conservative element of the country accept the left’s ideas of what is right and what is wrong. The elites of the left sneer at the conservative mindset of the majority of Republican voters, while the conservatives of the middle and southern part of the country despise and taunt the left for their beliefs. The elites of both sides egg on their followers, and more and more of these leaders demand uncompromising positions politically from their followers, until a third party who observed the political climate in the United States would conclude that there is a mutual hatred of both camps. What is painfully apparent is that both sides of the political divide have forgotten what the United States once stood for.
Capitalizing on the political strife in the United States, unscrupulous business’ also throw fuel onto the bonfire of American politics. The left points to the bias of Fox News, OAN and Newsmax, while the right points to the bias of CNN and MSNBC. Both sides accuse the other side of reporting false or fake news. In several of President Trump’s campaign rallies, followers of President Trump often were recorded as chanting “CNN Sucks” while President Trump and his political allies egged them on. And the left is no better, though less visible.
There is No Compromise by Either Political Party
The American system of government is based on a series of compromises by the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. While Madison and his followers wanted the Office of the Presidency of the United States to be chosen by the House of Representatives and the Senate, after objections from several states a direct election of the chief executive was adopted, but tempered by the creation of the electoral college which provided for a check on what Madison called “mob rule.”
The creation of the Senate was made to check the power of the more populated states of the new country. While the House of Representatives is based on population, each state has two Senators. The Senate provides a check on the power of the House, and forces the two legislative bodies to compromise on new laws and amendments to current law.
It was the introduction of machinery that mandated compromise for the governance of the country, that led the United States to have a stable democracy, with the exception of the Civil War period, that has lasted for over two hundred years. It is the lack of compromise by both political parties that has led the United States to a state of almost virtual paralysis that clogs the machinery of government, and threatens the very polity of the United States.
The Lack of a Unifying Leader or Movement
While many on the left decry the politics of President Trump, he was able to articulate the fear and anger of a substantial portion of the American people. While President Trump was defeated in the 2020 presidential elections, his defeat was more a vote against his personality than a vote of confidence for the incoming President-elect Joe Biden. Had President Trump not behaved as he did in the final months of his administration, demanding the spotlight in the fight against Covid-19, and had shown a moderate stance towards the center, he more than likely would have been re-elected. It was his inability to move to the center of American politics is what doomed his re-election chances.
While the country awaits the inauguration of President-elect Joseph Biden, and the outcome of the special election of two Senators from the state of Georgia, the world moves on. The natural strength of the United States prevents any other power from taking advantage of the current weakness of the United States. Yet, the appearance of weakness can allow for mistakes for other powers in not fully realizing the resiliency of the United States, and like Japan and Germany in World War Two, follow a course which might plunge the world into a new world conflict, which they could not win.
The geopolitician Peter Zeihan is fond of saying that for over two hundred years the politicians of America have not been able to squander away the base of American power because of the unique geographical position the country enjoys. So, while there is really no direct threat to American polity from outside influences, there is a danger of the divided nature of the American population, which might force an unworkable government and a paralysis of any type of effective governance.
Without the rise of an effective political leader who will be able to unite the people of the United States, and bring back the spirit of compromise that allowed for the internal political stability that the United States has historically enjoyed, it will be impossible for the country to heal. And a festering self-inflicted political wound can at times result in open political violence. With this in mind, it would behoove the political leaders to remember that unlike other times of internal political crisis in the United States, there is now a professional military.
There is little danger of the military becoming involved in the selection of government leaders at this time, however, the military takes an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and faced with a potential crisis of open warfare between the two halves of the United States, it is not so far-fetched to imagine the US military imposing order on a disorderly nation.
America needs a hero, and he, or she, is nowhere in sight.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and soldier.