Translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-20
America in election year 2020
Chronicle of a “Fight for the soul of America”
“I will vote for the president I will make more money under.” (A nameless hard working American on German television).
This is already very close to the true soul of America: to the false materialism of a capitalist competition in which the land of unlimited opportunities can’t be beat. But as far as the second wave of Donald Trump’s election campaign – after 2016 – for “America first!” goes, this is not even half the truth. The officially unleashed ‘clash of cultures’ between populist lies and democratic hypocrisy is about nothing less than the morality of the nation – that is, the obedience of the people on which the state force of the world power is based in the land of the free.
I. The impeachment process comes 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 for the President. Sure, the impeachment process wasn’t pretty – not even for an incumbent who programmatically doesn’t give a damn about the procedural rules of the political establishment, because fighting it is his political program. On the other hand: he emerges from the affair with the conviction that he is right in every respect.
First, the Democrats have exposed themselves as the enemies he has always treated them as. Now they have also tried to rob the people of their electoral vote and thus deny them the chance to book themselves four more years under Trump. They obviously will not rest until they have finally thwarted the will of the people, that is, dethroned the man they elected three years ago and to whom they have been proclaiming their devotion since then at every event scheduled for that purpose.
Secondly, the Democrats have conclusively proved that they want to weaken America. Their charge was that Trump subordinated national security to his personal political advancement because he made military aid to Ukraine conditional on the Ukrainian judiciary opening, or at least announcing, a corruption investigation into Joe Biden’s son. But the very opening of the case reveals what the final acquittal later confirms: Trump was right – not he, but the Democrats are the real threat to national security. Because they want to tie the use of American power to compliance with some established rules of procedure, that is, not use it with the extortionist freedom which the people have a right to. So it is they who subordinate the people’s right to the security of imperialist supremacy to their partisan advancement.
Thirdly, it’s not only Trump who sees it that way. The majority of the American people don’t care about the incriminated act either; they don’t understand why privately blackmailing a foreign power should suddenly be a crime. All the dirt that the Democrats dig up in the course of the proceedings and hurl against Trump & Co also leaves them cold. At most, the Democrats are close to popular opinion in this respect: they should have taken seriously their leadership’s original concern that their pompous act of statesmanlike responsibility was a crime that Americans see as far worse than the abuse of power: the hinderance of it being used resolutely.
Fourthly, Trump need not fear the Democrats. Their constitutional powers can’t harm him as long as the Republicans don’t jump ship. Which they just won’t do, even if the prosecutors give them the opportunity and really push the envelope in terms of bipartisan responsibility. So Trump can rest assured: Not only 80 percent of Republican voters, but also the most powerful Republicans stand by him unconditionally. With his ‘authoritarian’ tour, he is no longer an outsider, but the undisputed leader of a party that sees itself and proves itself as his maneuverable mass. And that is crucial not only for the continued success of “America first!” but especially in an election year. For while authoritarianism, command and obedience do not always have the best reputation in democracy, the desired outcome of such frowned upon forms of rule is essential for political success in it: unity behind a personality who has proven his leadership.
So Trump is right about much more than just this one affair, namely in the two basic equations he has always insisted on: between securing his power and the security of the nation, between fighting his own competitors and the enemies of the people. These basic equations are not true; however, Trump is serious about the claim they testify to, which is why Americans have to take ‘campaigning’ very seriously this year. For this, Trump doesn’t even have to switch to a separate “campaign mode”; for three years he has been proving that the aggressive escalations of an election campaign, in which Democrats always let themselves go somewhat in hostility toward their opponents, are not and must not be just that. The voters have known for a long time where they stand with him and what they can expect from him: the transformation of their nationalism to the basics, the ruthless fight against the enemies of the nation, and the intensification of the election campaign to its polemical core, to an unreserved fight for power. And the good Americans have their decisive contribution to make to this in early November.
These basic equations basically apply to everything at stake on election day – in other words, to everything Trump has achieved in his campaign so far. The American world order is finally no longer a safe place for ideals of a multipolar order with global understanding among nations, i.e., for the exploitation of the American superpower that was allowed by his predecessors. The inner workings of the nation are finally no longer a safe place for the ideologies of politically correct liberals who want the people to believe that their bigotry and chauvinism are moral vices and not virtues of strength. To this end, Trump alone makes a decisive contribution with his constant bombardment of the Twittersphere and his many ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ for right-wingers of the intellectual, militant and conspiracy-theory variety. A rightward shift orchestrated by him on the Supreme Court and in the judicial system in general promises to make safe havens out of the gun closet and the womb, while a wall of steel and legal harassment ensures that America’s cities are no longer safe havens for immigrants. No longer will the security of the homeland and American prerogatives be sacrificed to the moral sensitivities of those who can’t look at blood or children in cages and who care more about splitting hairs between Islam and terror than fighting the enemy. All these successes of a program of national assertion abroad and nationalist rearmament at home are at stake because the other party clearly no longer wants American success at all.
Yet the greatest success that has to be fought to be preserved this year is one about which there are really no two opinions in America. Despite all the minor and major ‘divisions’ in the country, American politicians and citizens are absolutely united on this: the wealth of the nation is measured in the money that grows and should grow on the balance sheets of companies; this growth is well on its way when financially powerful speculators, in their search for the greatest and fastest possible enrichment, follow a herd instinct that leads 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 whose progress is measured there. Not that the other economic citizens are forgotten, but their prosperity is not measured by whether it grows from quarter to quarter. In their case, the yardstick is definitely more modest: For them, it is simply the incontrovertible truth that one income is better than none, that a job serving the growth of others is itself the prosperity they crave. In this respect, Trump’s emphatically pro-worker populism turns out to be very conventional: When he poses as a friend of an American working class mistreated by globalists and exhorts American entrepreneurship to adhere to the principle of ‘American jobs for Americans’; when he emphasizes the privilege of American workers so militantly and with such open-hearted xenophobia – this is precisely his particular way of congratulating these proud masses on their dependence on the enrichment of the other class. The latter is imperiously invited to take full advantage of this human resource.
It definitely isn’t ‘alternative facts’ when Trump points out that the most important thing for this nation is thriving under his direction. All the key performance indicators – at least at the start of the election year – are clearly up. There is growth, a stock market bump, and jobs without end. Trump is not shy about attributing the private successes of free entrepreneurs in enriching themselves, which is not directed by any ruler, to himself of all people, as the supreme bureaucrat; he sees the upswing, which he likes to call the “Trump bump,” as in fact his strongest trump card in the fight for re-entry to the White House. He does not fear any opposition from free enterprise, which prides itself on the lie that the power of its money and the fruits of its efforts are its own entirely private work, and that its enrichment off the work of its workforce is merely the appropriate reward for its efforts to create jobs. After all, with tax cuts and the removal of legal obstacles, Trump has done a lot precisely for such saviors, so that free entrepreneurs can develop even more freely – in exploiting all the natural energy resources the country has to offer, in exploiting the workers whose unions he has weakened, and in exploiting the purchasing power of an entire world that he no longer lets pass up American goods.... A fight is needed to continue this all-important success story because, according to Trump, this year it is not merely competing economic policy prescriptions that are up against each other, but freedom versus socialism.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party leadership has its hands full dispelling this suspicion.
II. The Sanders challenge is finished off, America’s reconciliation with itself can begin
This almost went wrong from the start. It wouldn’t have taken much for a left-wing dinosaur who unashamedly calls himself a ‘socialist’ in the middle of an anti-socialist paradise to have made it impossible for the party to deny him the nomination. Had Bernie Sanders continued his early victories in the Democratic primaries, the party would have proven Trump’s enemy image right, they said, and delivered the centrist vote to him outright.
His positions alone make the man pretty much impossible – including mandatory health insurance for all, free tuition at all state universities, and a ‘Green New Deal’ to push for an American energy transition. That’s not exactly socialist subversion, but it’s still communist enough to make Trump right that the Democrats’ attack on him is also aimed at sacred American principles: freedom to do business and for every American to fend for themselves. The accusation against Sanders is unfair in that the need for and benefits of such government intervention are really not foreign to American politics, not even to Republicans. This applies to industrial policy anyway – there has hardly been an epoch-making technological breakthrough that was not sponsored by the world power’s well-resourced need for tools of military superiority. Even in the departments of education and social affairs, the political helmsmen of the freest competition do not rely on released business acumen to provide the conditions under which this competition functions as the world power needs it to for its global supremacy. In any case, they are not blind to the fact that the success of the business of some is constantly accompanied by the inability of others to manage on their own and reliably make their contribution to the growing numbers in which the nation measures its wealth. Nevertheless: such interventions do not really fit the morals of this nation; it undauntedly maintains the lie that its unique success is basically the result of the creative power of free self-responsible go-getters, i.e. a lesson in what a nation can achieve if it is expected to operate a truly free market economy. And this is not even merely hot air, but a living American lie – the moral lesson by which the American working class contributes to this uniquely successful combination of world money and world power. It is the proud self-confidence with which it copes with all the demands that American success bestows. The Democrats don’t want to change anything about that.
The way in which Sanders presents his alternative politics is therefore also impossible. Not only does he propagate a series of ‘progressive’ social and ecological measures, which would be tricky enough in itself, but – this is the actual content of his self-designation as a socialist – an offensive counter-morality. Not only does he behave like a friend of the underdogs and the environment, but in doing so – at least in the eyes of his critics – he casts the wealth of the nation itself in a dubious light. He also combines this with the accusation of neglect, even betrayal, by the politicians of the really hard-working Americans, and does not even allow a visible distinction to be made between Republicans and Democrats. At least this anti-establishment challenge makes it clear to the leaders of the Democratic Party that Bernie Sanders is definitely not their guy and they are not his party. In this respect, he is absolutely unsuitable for the exercise of presidential power. For the acquisition of 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 can always be good for getting young voters in particular enthusiastic about the party, who are otherwise not so easily lured to the ballot box; Sanders’ own success also proves him right in this. But for the conquest of the all-important ‘center,’ whose members are called ‘swing voters’ and whose places of residence are called ‘swing states’ so that nobody can miss the respect in which their opinion counts, this is ultimately political suicide for the party. For the mainstream and even more so for the leadership of the party, it is still clear that the majority of their people can be motivated to make great leaps by a right-wing populist in their nationalism, but not by a left-wing populist in their social feelings.
What it needs instead, and what it can only be won for, is a return to economically successful, civically united normality. To be sure, that may well involve changes in the details. Of course, there are ways to make it easier for hard working Americans to reproduce themselves as the wage earners they are, such as possibly universal health insurance or possibly a nationwide increase in the minimum wage. Some kind of green energy transition is also fine if it pays off, as is a more extensive ‘liberalization’ of American morality as a further extended welcome to minorities of all kinds into the family of a truly egalitarian class society. But such a will for change must not, under any circumstances, give the impression of trying to tinker with the country’s moral compass. It must not create an opposition between the wealth of the rich on the one hand, 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 introduce division where reconciliation is needed. So it has to stay this way: The enrichment of success-capable capitalists is the condition and the best means for everything that is afforded to the mass of hard-working Americans in social works and to the environment in sustainability maintenance; and a ‘progressive’ morality must in no way be understood as an attack on the old one. A candidate who flirts with transitions of this kind, deadly in terms of economic policy as well as party politics, must be denied the nomination. Instead, what is needed is a politician who embodies the fact that the Democrats do not want a counter-program to growth and employment as the epitome of economic reason, nor do they want a left-wing counter-morality; they want not the termination but the continuation of the successes that have been achieved in this field under Trump – but precisely without the President who in this does not recognize the good will of the Democrats, who inflates the differences in the care and promotion of the American success machinery into irreconcilable opposites. What is needed, then, is a candidate who sets against Trump’s aggressive lies a conciliatory one of his own; who represents an ideal of the most successful class society of all time as a harmonious community effort. ‘Moderate,’ ‘pragmatic,’ ‘centrist’ are then the relevant adjectives.
But things are not that simple in the motherland of democracy. It is not the party leadership that decides the outcome of intra-party competition, but the base. This is not always pleasing for the leading party members’ need for control, but the democratic logic behind the procedure is quite impressive. In the only question that is put to the electorate in a democracy – who should take power? – the electorate itself is probably the most competent. And vice versa, the party base thus provides the nominee with a qualification that, as defined by the circular logic in which rulers are democratically cultivated for victory in the main election, far outweighs anything else that the nominee may have to offer in terms of rousing ideas and qualities for rulership: a genuine electoral success. In any case, the candidate goes into the main election as a proven winner. In that sense, just before the biggest primary round dubbed ‘Super Tuesday,’ the ‘centrist’ competitors withdraw their candidacy and get behind the biggest centrist hopeful, 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 reveal precisely the conciliatory normality to which the party wants to return and with which it wants to convince the voters, basically a new edition of Obama’s policy. It is said that the man does not have ‘charisma’ – which is no quality in that vein, but rather the dubious compliment that bourgeois subjects are personally and immediately enthusiastic about someone who wants to tell them what to do. But charisma is not really needed this year anyway, rather someone who embodies the opposite of division, who radiates the ability to bridge differences because he doesn’t treat them as such. What is needed, then, is a dyed-in-the-wool, credible hypocrite to whom the label ‘decent’ can be attached. Against this backdrop, Biden’s half-century in the Senate looks pretty good, especially since during that time he earned a reputation as a compromising, bipartisan pragmatist. His eight scandal-free years as vice president also gives him a certain presidential bonus – another advantage according to the circular democratic logic that a person in power recommends himself for power primarily by having had it before. The black skin color of his former boss supposedly also gives him the affection of black voters – a good thing in a country where racism has a firm place precisely in election campaigns. Nor is he an ugly face of the establishment like the late Hillary, having built his entire political career on cultivating a closeness to the white working class – very convenient in the showdown with the blond guardian angel of the whites, whose racism needs to be catered to if you want to convince them. The strategy of the leading centrists works: Biden wins a landslide in the decisive rounds of the primaries. Remaining worries in the party that his advanced age and occasional fidgetiness might give the impression of declining mental faculties are countered by his campaign strategists with assurances that he basically has it pretty easy this year. Above all, he needs to keep a low profile and, precisely by doing so, positively distinguish himself from Trump. Because with the latter’s divisive agitation, the Democrats are certain, at least at the beginning of the election year, Trump will finally expose himself as an un-American anomaly, and his time in the White House will be revealed once and for all as the result of a one-time aberration of taste.
What the Democrats pit against Trump’s struggle for the nation’s strength against all enemies, then, is the offer of harmonious cooperation for the nation’s capitalist and imperialist success. Against his escalation of the ‘culture war’ between conservatives and liberals, they set a nationalism for all the people – with the strong argument that what has so far run under “America first!” amounts to a weakening of America. Instead, collective reflection on the fact that the strength of the nation lies in the unity of the people is due. And against Trump’s uncompromising struggle for power, they set the denial of a merely partisan power struggle as an election campaign. In short, against Trump’s lie that he represents the only true America against a host of enemies among the people, the Democrats put forward the hypocrisy that their man represents the entire American people against someone who is actually a lonely divider. American democracy is colorful and vibrant.
The duel between these two variants of the sovereign moralism of a strong people is ready to begin. The course of the duel quickly turns out to be somewhat unusual – above all, there are two crises that the candidates have to overcome.
III. Covid – an attack on the American body politic as a challenge to the candidates’ leadership
The first major test of the year is not long in coming. The coronavirus is a major challenge for any ruler, who has to deal with a contradiction between what his people live for and from, namely continuous, growing business, and the minimum level of health that the people need for this purpose.  For democratic rulers, however, with their need for an image, the virus is a challenge of a special kind.
It’s unfavorable for the incumbent that government restrictions on business life are ruining the nice numbers with which he has so far recommended himself to the electorate. The fact that the dramatic slump in business, which is due to restrictions everyone considers necessary, is supposed to rub off on Trump himself is no more rational than the boom in business casting a good light on the boss, but it is fair all the same. Natural disasters, however, don’t always have to be bad for a democratic ruler, as is well known. After all, crises also offer the chance to flood the people with invocations and practical demonstrations of the strength of the nation and the energy of its leaders; at least, that’s the accepted practice, tried and tested a hundred times on dikes and in-flight jackets. Trump is capitalizing on the opportunity in his own way – simply applying his two basic equations, taking the virus as an enemy that wants to weaken America by harming the strong American President. Preventing this is the guiding principle for combating the virus, which Trump also follows very consistently. And long before he has a cure for the virus, he provides his people with an appropriate interpretation of the situation, namely with the greatest possible compliment that a militant popular leader can pronounce: This people would not dream of shrinking away from losses. Even in the face of danger to life and limb, it does not let its leader down, it does not deny him the services he needs and demands. Therefore: according to Trump, covid may mess things up in everyday life, but it is relatively harmless and will soon take care of itself – “like magic”; drastic measures, where necessary at all, can be quickly scaled back. What is out of the question is that America, of all countries, should allow itself to be slowed down by a tiny virus; that its leader should even slow down the great economy himself. That would bring about exactly what America’s competitors and enemies want – because not even something as unpredictable as a still uncontrolled virus can harm this country, unless one lets it.
Restrictions on business life imposed at the state level fuel the suspicion that this is intended to weaken America and enslave its people; the suspicion is confirmed where Democrats are at the helm, so that it becomes clear that the fight against the virus is also a fight for the soul of the nation: Apparently the Democrats think that the world’s best people are too weak to deal with such a thing in complete freedom – and this party, of all parties, is supposed to lead these people to victory? The president stands by the battered subjects who have to pay the price for the weakness of their local leadership and the insult to their national honor with slumps and failures in growth and employment: As protector of their freedom, he calls via Twitter for ‘liberation’ from Democratic governors – although it is clear that he does not merely mean the next election. As we said, for this man, campaigning is fighting.
Which doesn’t mean Trump could be accused of not wanting to fight 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 fighting covid precisely as a world power should: not cautiously, defensively, with lockdowns and embarrassing masks , but ruthlessly, offensively – with the force and with the money that America has at its disposal in such a superior way. He imposes entry bans, launches a new round of hostility against China, and – even if he repeatedly asserts that all the necessary medications are actually already available to get this weak flu under control – ensures with funding for vaccines at ‘warp speed’ that America will soon no longer need any restrictions, but can rather look forward to an even stronger ‘Trump bump.’
Meanwhile, Biden is doing exactly what his strategists want him to do. It’s a shame that he – office-less as he is at the moment – doesn’t even get the opportunity to demonstrate leadership. And the fact that he – high risk patient that he also is – has to stay in his basement for the time being doesn’t come across as very presidential either. On the other hand, he keeps a low profile and thus cuts the best possible figure. Above all, he sticks to the script that the liberal public misses so much with Trump: He addresses sober yet encouraging words to the unsettled people; he shows ostentatious respect for the recommendations of the medical profession as well as 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. He presents his determination to steer American class society through these difficult times for profit-making and the health it requires as a willingness to fulfill an ethical duty he imposes above all on himself, and assures the victims of the virus and the business slump of his empathy. Finally, he cheers up his Americans with the assurance that they are about to witness a moment of true communal strength as a nation, no matter how visible the differences between them may become in the fight against covid. Against Trump’s militant offensive, then, Biden sets an image of presidential normalcy – the hypocrisy of a father of the nation, the most powerful on earth. And to the delight of all democracy idealists, he thereby revives the pretense that in democratic politics, and even more so in the struggle for power, something like common sense does matter.
IV. Anti-racism protests: a call for a leader to teach ‘law and order’ to anti-American terrorists? Or for a leader who will bring unity to all Americans?
The next crisis for the incumbent comes in mid-May: nationwide protests against racist police violence in particular and against racism in general. That the resentment on the streets also applies to Trump himself, he already takes from his moral instinct, then also gets it chanted a thousand times. The whole uproar doesn’t embarrass him for a second; he already sees his basic equation confirmed again, that dissatisfaction with him and hostility against America are one and the same.
The central subject of the protests – racist police violence – is easily dealt with; with his regrets about some ‘bad apples’ the matter is already off the table. He pays all the more attention to the protests themselves. He takes them for what they primarily are for a state authority: unrest, violations of 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!”  He thus foists onto the protests a goal that equates with his sovereign counter-offensive much better than anti-racist outrage. He declares the violent riots – against the property of what is behind many a shop window and against the police – and the demonstrators’ unmistakable sense of right and wrong to be proof that they really do not want ‘Justice now!’ but only violence itself, and more and more of it. Scattered Antifas get the honor of being added to the list of domestic terrorist organizations and promoted to the leaders of a looming communist takeover. Trump’s response to the danger is: He sends in soldiers, spreads state terror, and underscores the glee with which he does so as a demonstration of his will to fight anti-racist protest as an attack on America. In this respect, the use of force is not even aimed at such a limited goal as enforcing orderly demonstrations that plead impotently; rather, it is a state demonstration that law and order require submission first, and that law enforcement is willing and able to break a disobedient will.
That Trump is doing so with such an aggressively good conscience owes much to his certainty that he is fulfilling his first responsibility as head of state: the restoration of the irrefutable power of the law and the enforcement of the order it regulates. And that – not a spirit of reconciliation – is, after all, the very thing that truly makes a people a people. That he would ignore the psychic needs of the people with his rhetorical and practical militancy against some in the name of others, as his liberal critics accuse him of, is a rumor. With his actions, he comes back to the people’s need for the order-protecting force that the wonderful bourgeois society so needs and which is celebrated so extensively in the freest country on earth – that is, to nothing less than the foundation and basic constant of bourgeois life. Nor is it as if Trump is setting a cold violent order against the human warmth of civil society. The order he wants enforced without regard to enemies he also gives a human face. The obedience he enforces is only the humanly expected respect for the virtuous people who do exactly what the community 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)
The fact that Trump, despite all his appeals to the principles of civic reason and all his use of the state’s enforcement powers, does not crack down on the protests, but rather fuels them, does not do any harm at all in terms of the election campaign:
“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)
The urgent need of freely competing citizens for superior, staggering state violence – that’s still a hard-to-beat campaign pitch 50 years after Nixon. With this kind of discontent – slightly different from the virus thing – the governors in charge can’t suppress their citizens enough. If they fail to “dominate” the protesters, as Trump orders them to do, they have obviously conspired with them. Certainly a very unfair accusation, if you ask the demonstrators on the streets of cities governed by Democrats, but again a very clear front line: The protests are yet another case of the Democrats betraying the people through weakness, while Trump protects them with staggering force.
This gives the Democrats and their candidate a lot to do to refute this suspicion. Because they, too, see themselves first and foremost as guardians of the order that the protests are against; for them, too, violent riots must be answered with superior violence. And where they are in command, it would take a Trump to berate their efforts as ‘negligent.’ As for the one big concrete demand of the protests, a radical reallocation of public funds from the police to social development programs, the Democrats are by no means standing at attention. The tribute that the Democrats and their candidate pays to the demonstrators is of a different kind. They take their protest as a moral appeal, as a vivid reminder of collective moral improvement:
“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today. Sometimes we manage to overlook it. 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. We need real leadership – right now!” (Joe Biden, May 29, 2020)
The way Biden allies himself with the protesters should not be confused with fraternization. Racism in Biden’s America knows no perpetrators in that sense , only Americans who haven’t gotten rid of the ugly heirloom or still leave it in the corner. And it’s also striking that the victim of racism is above all the nation itself, the unity of the whole people. So the great reconciler presents racism as a spirit that is supposed to have nothing to do with anything like nationalist thinking. On the contrary: combating it requires a reaffirmation of national unity – anti-racism as the reflection of a nationalist virtue. And last but not least, he gives the protests a political consequence that the protesters themselves do not chant: “We need real leadership right now.” That would put the riots on the right course – on a course of national reconciliation through the harmonious rejection of a sin that nobody really wanted, which then does not remain so anonymous: the decisive step would finally be taken if the occupant of the White House were replaced.
The ‘crisis summer of 2020’ takes its course. The candidates have been chosen, the duel has been long been underway. However, despite Corona, neither party wants to do without the time-honored tradition of making the whole thing official at a nomination party conference convened especially for this purpose and are moving the event mostly to cyberspace. They have their reasons.
V. The Democratic nomination convention:
“Giving people light in the darkness”
– or: how Biden wants his leadership to reconcile the people divided by Trump
Nominating conventions have had a more formal primary function in the United States since the primary election result became a mandatory requirement. They are there to ceremonially confirm the winner of the primaries as the party’s official candidate. On the other hand, this event has obviously lost none of its importance; it has rather become the formal climax of the democratic personality cult. It is where the public is invited to get to know the candidate as a figure deserving of enthusiasm – as evidenced by the enthusiasm shown by his party and selected supporters there. What is solemnly presented to the electorate in this way is in fact nothing that deserves enthusiasm, namely the essence of their democratic existence: Democratic citizens entrust a governing person with the power to determine their conditions of existence – in a ‘fateful election’ even more so. In return, they have the pleasure of experiencing this clarification about the dependency which they consent to every four years as an eager courtship of their affection, with no shortage of ‘pomp and circumstances’ and celebrity lineups for a few days. First and foremost, this courtship involves staging the human, values-based chumminess of the power aspirant with the normal people who are supposed to bring him to office, beyond all limits to shame. This is cynical insofar as it is about the candidate’s qualifications for governing over the people, i.e. about a relationship in which ‘chumminess’ really doesn’t apply. A labored denial of the ruling person’s differentness is intended to prove his suitability for a very different position. That’s what is wanted by democratic custom.
This year, the Democrats take this to the extreme when they present the public with the troubled private history of their candidate; at the same time, this is so stereotypical of the ideal image of a democratic politician that he already seems normal again: the man comes from a humble background, like most of his future subjects. And he has done what they dream of, working his way up to higher posts early on, but without the rise going to his head, as befits a democratic ruler who needs the trust of his constituents in order to rule over them. Because of his social background, he can sympathize with the poverty and hard work of his supporters. In addition, he has also been hit by strokes of fate of a more emotional kind: He has had to cope with the early accidental deaths of his first wife and young daughter as well as the later death of his eldest son from cancer, which in his case does not simply show a sad family history, but his capacity for the sovereign virtue called ‘empathy’ – the usual accompaniment to all the hardships that democratic rulers cause for the little people. In any case, one can take this cheap consolation from this politician. Despite all his personal setbacks, he always kept going, despite all the successes, he never became elitist – all in all, an extraordinarily human, remarkably normal ruler. His casual collegiality, down-to-earth morality and polished empathy for the little people qualify him for the power with which he wants to bring his subjects back together spiritually so that they can achieve further successes for the nation.
At the convention, Biden also gets a ‘running mate’ named Kamala Harris – who thus takes on a peculiar post. If all goes well, of course, the sidecar driver will become Vice President; then she becomes, among other things, Chair of the Senate, which brings with it the currently not at all irrelevant power to cast the deciding vote in event of a stalemate in the Senate, e.g., in the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. More importantly, she is “just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” and after that also has a lead in future races for the White House – see Joe Biden. But basically, in the event of an election victory, the holder of this post has already fulfilled its most important function. The ‘running mate’ is supposed to serve primarily as a personified strategic figurehead, as a symbolic nod to a certain constituency or to a wing of the party. This requires, above all, a figure who demographically and visually complements the main candidate – it may well be that the voters imagine that this would somehow have an effect on the government itself, and as a gesture of goodwill this is a good thing in any case. True, it’s not always easy to find the right intersection in a single person, and it’s said that there have been many missteps in America’s presidential history. But this year, the job description is very simple, because after “Me too” and “Black lives matter!” and the agreement on the old white man Biden, one thing is certain: a black woman is a must. Of course, it is clear to all sides that this is a woman and a black quota; tactics of this kind are negotiated transparently in a democracy; the courted are invited to judge how the manipulators intend to win them over. And second, a suitable figure has been found, even one who has had a brilliant career as a ‘law and order’ politician – let Trump bring it on. Third, she has occasionally flirted with left wing positions – maybe that’s enough for dedicated Bernie fans. Such open cynicism, however, is not enough for the critical public this year; she manages to top it. Indeed, it occurs to them that Kamala Harris is quite black, but: is she really an African American? Can a woman with a Jamaican father and an Indian mother really claim the victim status with which she wants to shine as the jewel of the new leader in front of real black victims? The American people do not let themselves be so easily bamboozled when it comes to racism.
After the beautiful speeches which were expected from the two Obamas, the defeated Sanders takes the floor – and offers his supporters a good, possibly defensive reason not only to reconcile with the hated 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 Trump’s administration, authoritarianism has taken root in our country.”
Progress of a social democratic kind is out of the question at this time; the premise of all democratic politics must be saved. This consists in the fact that dissenting, ‘progressive’ positions are not opposed as a threat to the nation, but rather are recognized as good governance alternatives. So the same goes for the frustrated progressives: they have to be mobilized for the lesser evil, which is, after all, still a democratic alternative to the good – otherwise it could be the last time they are allowed to participate in such a wonderful event.
After the celebration of his personality comes the duty: The candidate himself must take the floor and convince his audience that he really is the extremely decent, super-normal shining light that his party is staging him as. It is said that he succeeds. First, he didn’t even make a conspicuous slip of the tongue and hardly gave any reason to suspect that he already has one foot in the old folks’ home. Second, he managed to make the story of a normal man’s return to power shine:
“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’s already a very high note – so high that it’s hard to imagine the patriot who could get on the wrong side of it. That’s how it’s meant, of course – Democrats can be downright merciless when it comes to proving that there really can be 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 will work as hard for those 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 set an equal sign between himself and the concerns of all Americans not named Donald Trump, i.e. between his competitor in the power struggle and the enemy of the people in the fight for their united future. Trump may be running because he wants power, Biden is running because he wants to realize the desire for unity, which should give voice to all the numerous ‘clashes’ that divide the people. That Biden is in a partisan power struggle at all he chalks up to the mere formality of the process. This is grandiose hypocrisy – and at the same time it is more: what Biden offers as a promise of national reconciliation and a common departure into everlasting light is in substance a demanding command. Because a lot can be said about Americans, but certainly not that they don’t know what they can no longer stand about each other and why. His luminous image boils down to the demand that his citizens set aside all their known and cultivated antagonisms about who the American people are and what their nationalism should look like – and look to the fact that they are one people.
The objective truth about this unity is that American citizens – just like the members of any nation – are subject to one and the same state power. Insofar as this unity has a subjective truth, it lies in the fact that the citizens carry out this abstraction by themselves and give it the strange dimension of a ‘national identity’ by glorifying their common subjection into a moral community that the state power protects. As much as the cultivation of this identity always celebrates a moral unity of the people, it is not conducive to creating harmony. The everyday life of national identity is judging who does and doesn’t fulfill their duties to the moral community, so that the rights of the duty-bound are curtailed. This judging has several escalation stages, which also applies to the means that are considered and, if necessary, brought into play to protect the violated community; shortly before the end of these escalation stages, the question arises as to who actually belongs to the moral community and who has finally alienated himself from it or even betrayed it; the end is reached when there is certainty about this question. If interested observers can no longer talk about America without dropping the word ‘division,’ it is because Americans have arrived at that certainty – guided by competing politicians and the interpretive artists of the professional and semi-professional media by whom they like to be mobilized. And if, in the face of this so-called ‘culture war,’ fears of a new ‘civil war’ have become popular, it is a testament to how seriously this nation takes its national identity and the obligations that flow from their imagined rights as true Americans.
It is this division that Trump is sharpening in his well-known, notorious, and apparently very successful way, which earns him the unfair accusation of being to blame for the division of the nation in the first place. It is this division that Biden claims to be mending in his own way by turning these heightened conflicts in the people back to their starting point, so to speak – to the fact that the pure abstraction of being one American people trumps whatever this people is supposed to be for the warring American in each case. And Americans are to do this by appreciating in Biden’s personality, above all in his exemplary desire for reconciliation, the unity that he discerns from their inner citizen as their most urgent desire. What the American people should want instead of the ‘populist,’ ‘divisive’ furor of a Trump – that is the ideal of a perfect democratic civic collective that all democratic regents cherish: 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 its great leader – united in success!
In any case, this person doesn’t need to be made familiar with the people at a nominating party convention; nor the fact that their fate will be decided by Trump’s own. If anyone cares about cultivating his human and values-based chumminess with the people, it is Trump. His chumminess with the people lies not merely in the formal fact that he prefers addressing his followers directly, bypassing the mainstream media, but in the fact that he rejects as hypocrisy any trace of the willingness to compromise and respect the opposing camp that is part of democracy, which he is not prepared to do. First, from his notorious thin-skinned and argumentative nature, his ostentatious indecency and his willingness to tell the most blatant lies and not accept the most obvious facts if they do not fit his excessive self-praise, the citizens can take their own sense of competition and rightness – at least when they are sure that they are being wronged, that is, all the time. Second, they can take from it the political meaning that matters to Trump: Here a will to win is competing on two legs which, with all his lies, only underscores that he is honest enough to insist on one simple truth: Winning is done by making the opponent a loser. His programmatic disregard for established liberal ‘political correctness’ is part of his core program because, first, he sees it as undermining the self-confident, triumphant American spirit and because, secondly, he sees in the undermining of American self-confidence the reason for America’s supposed defeats in the world. The vain narcissism that is part of this national clean up operation is no mere fad: fighting enemies who pose as allies is not merely his personal mission, but surely his political task. Trump’s criterion for distinguishing who is an enemy and who is a friend is so accurate because it is Trump himself. So, in this extreme manner typical of Trump, a lot is also done at this party convention for the democratic clarification that the fate of the voters hangs on the personality of their elected leader.
Yet with such a political personality, something additional can apparently be done at a nominating party convention to cultivate intimacy with the citizens. Apparently, the organizers come up with the idea that it would be good to make it extra clear once again that the indecent rabble rouser doesn’t embody a contradiction to the values cherished by hard working men, staid housewives, and modern competitive figures of all ethnicities that have made their home in America: When he brands anti-racism protests as an attack on basic American principles and its highest values, this has nothing to do with racism – something black and Asian Republicans can prove simply by stepping in front of the cameras and testifying to it with their sheer presence. They are followed on their heels 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. 
The Republicans don’t want to banish their nominating convention entirely to the virtual world. At least for Trump’s speech – he gives two – they drum up cheering crowds. A good thousand guests gather in front of the White House for his ceremonial acceptance of the nomination. Perhaps they feel that the staged enthusiasm for the candidate isn’t palpable enough if the audience can’t see the exuberant clapping supporters with their own eyes. This is good for a minor scandal, not only because of covid, but mostly because the White House is plainly in the background during Trump’s speech. The usual decorum dictates that at such party events, a line of demarcation, at least symbolic, must be drawn between Trump as a party’s candidate and as the nation’s president – yet another unwritten rule that the citizens will probably only learn about, and how sacred it is, the moment Trump flouts it. Incumbency advantage in the foreground, yes; official residence in the background, no. The speech itself again shows how little Trump needs to switch into a special campaign mode in order to campaign. He comes up with all the success stories and declarations of enmity with which he has entertained his people for three and a half years. In particular, he finds in the ongoing and escalating anti-racism protests the opposite of what the election is all about: the heroes of ‘law and order’ and patriotism here, the agents of chaos and hatred for America there. Of course, the man wants to be or remain ‘President of all Americans’ in his own way, and probably an ‘ally of the light’ as well. But he is sure of one thing: The nation does not have to be unified in order to be great, certainly not by calling for the conflicts to be set aside, which the citizens know how to name umpteen times. The people, the real ones, are already united – and if they are not, it’s because the nation is riddled with internal enemies. Against Biden’s promise of a communal ideal, Trump sets the harsh reality of that ideal as a violently enforced order. Against the imposition of an abstraction from all conflicting interpretations of a genuinely American nationalism, Trump sets the demand that a decision be kindly made, i.e., to not applaud a hypocritical reconciliation that only leads to fewer jobs, more chaos, fewer victories, and more criminals in the country, but a sovereign cleansing of the polity in the Trumpian sense. Then nothing will 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. Revelations without end that won’t do away with Trump, but only strengthens 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 do their own part in the battle for the nation’s soul by going public with the President’s dirty laundry.
Tireless journalists at The Atlantic turn up numerous sources claiming to have heard that Trump thinks America’s soldiers, even more so the fallen and captured among them, are “suckers” and “losers.” This casts a bad light on his constant praise for the “greatest military in the world” and the “beautiful soldiers – so beautiful,” as well as on his insistence that every last sports event must not start without everyone standing on both feet during the national anthem, even and especially out of respect for the soldiers. All this is exposed as hypocrisy, because the President doesn’t really love the soldiers in private and in his heart. Squinting through the keyhole apparently blinds one to the obvious: Trump’s obtrusive extolling of the grandeur of his human power projectors has always gone hand in hand with the demand that they should bring success. With all honor to the soldiers, they are not trained to die and get caught, especially not on missions that, in Trump’s judgment, do not benefit the nation. For the Democrats, in any case, this is an opportunity to take a stand for America’s soul at a crucial point: they very generously give praise, awards and thanks for the fact that these brave and loyal people put their lives in the service of the national cause, whose civilian commanders really don’t treat them squeamishly. As everyone knows, they give them not only the world’s best equipment, but also ample opportunity to demonstrate their virtues. And whether they get killed in the process or not, they are allowed in any case to be used for the most vicious anti-criticism: How can Americans – and the Commander-in-Chief even more so – disapprove of American wars where their great ‘boys & girls’ put their lives on the line?
With the repetition of his mantra “Fake News!” Trump more or less settles the matter – also because the electorate does not even get the time to ask themselves whether 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 in which it becomes clear that he knew about the danger of the covid virus a few weeks earlier than known and nevertheless downplayed the danger. With a terse reference to Winston Churchill, who deliberately downplayed the German bombing raids of the time because he didn’t want to undermine the fighting spirit of his people, Trump can’t really wipe the matter off the table, but that’s not the point. The comparison with Churchill alone shows that he is using the opportunity to aggressively expand his battle front against the Democrats: The fight against covid is, after all, a matter of national honor, and what do the Democrats do? They buckle before the enemy. When Trump himself is infected by the virus at the end of the month, things don’t look good for the President’s narrative for about a week; when he’s out of the woods a week later, it’s clear from his perspective that he’s right on all counts. After all, he only got sick by bravely facing the virus. So he also learns firsthand what he already knew anyway, but what the so-called experts never wanted to understand with their mere “school learning”: The virus is weak, Trump is strong, so America is too. This prompts the President to rejuvenate 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, it can apply its familiar and time-tested lie of forward-looking self-responsibility, with which it adapts to everything that is thrown at it, to this challenge as well.
Two weeks later, the New York Times takes another stab at it: it publishes the tax returns that Trump has forever refused to disclose, something that has for years ripened the certainty of his opponents that the documents probably contain his final unmasking. It turns out that, thanks to some pretty impressive accounting techniques, he has managed to pay very little to the treasury on the one hand, and take a lot of losses, on the other, without going broke – at least for now. The only thing that remains unclear after the publication is what exactly the scandal is: Is it now supposed to prove that Trump is one of the indecent rich because he is very wealthy but hardly pays anything to the state, which one is somehow supposed to see as an offense against one’s own wallet? Or is it supposed to prove that his business success is merely simulated, which gives his critics satisfaction because Trump’s endless bragging would thus be deprived of a basis and one of his strongest election arguments devalued? In any case, it is striking that even this scandal fails to deal the President an additional blow in the polls. This is probably due, first, to the fact that no American learns anything here that he has not already suspected – admiration for a cunning competitor is much closer to this people than social envy, the vice of the weak. Secondly, even in this case, they hardly get time to decide what exactly they are supposed to be outraged about, given the questions of patriotic morality this raises. Because a few days later, Trump provides new material: In the first TV debate, he behaves impossibly, doesn’t let his rival get a word in edgewise, doesn’t recognize him as a worthy competitor at all, and tells a radical right-wing group of thugs to get ready for Election Day. After that, there is hardly any more talk of the tax returns, and all the more of his outrageous manner, without the poll ratings pointing any further downward.
It’s noticeable that this thing has a certain system. Although all such revelations cause some excitement, none of them puts Trump in distress – rather, the next scandal just replaces the last one. Above all, it is striking how well Trump knows how to manufacture a chain of evidence from all such offensives by his opponents that confirms precisely the finding to which he owes his entire political existence. Such attacks even once motivated him to seek the presidency in the first place; also to carry out his first campaign and his term as an anti-establishment struggle, and now to enter another round with it. Each newly uncovered scandal demonstrates above all the dogged hostility of his opponents, or more precisely: their obsessive determination to bring down a successful businessman and an elected president, in other words: to devalue the strength and the voice of the people. In this respect, it is just one reason after another to put a stop to the opponents of the people’s favorite president – and thus always a new opportunity to demonstrate that this American does not bow to any opponent. Time and again, he proves that his will to win never wanes, but rather increases in the face of all hostility, 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 the certainty that they can’t go on without getting rid of their enemies, 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 wildfires in California and the 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. Then not even forest fires are immune from being subsumed under the logic of the democratic election campaign. In mid-September, Trump flies to California to make an on the ground appearance as America’s supreme leader, only to publicly blame all of America for the disaster there. They are the same ones he had left back home in Washington. According to his findings, the fires are ultimately due to a failure to properly observe sweeping week in Northern California forests, which in turn is due to the governor being a Democrat. If you leave these guys in power, then there will be disorder in the forest and on the streets, then there’s just fires everywhere...
Biden, still 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?”
It’s one thing that he blames the climatic ravages of an American-led global capitalism on its latest state manager and cheerleader, so that here, too, only “real leadership – right now!”, namely his, can prevent the end of the world. It’s another that he repeatedly refers to endangered American suburbs. There is a reason for this: Trump has opened his next front in the battle for the nation’s soul here; for some time now he has been profiling himself as the guardian angel of the ‘suburban lifestyle dream,’ especially of ‘suburban housewives.’ He does this primarily by declaring his determination to thwart any Democratic efforts to ‘abolish the suburbs.’ He harbors the not entirely fair suspicion that the Democrats – at least their left wing, if Sleepy Joe sleeps through the relevant initiative – might advocate for new public housing and affordable homes in the suburbs, too. That definitely won’t happen under Trump: “There will be no housing for low-income people invading the suburbs.” Otherwise, the protective castles to which their inhabitants once fled would be gone; then there would be, on the one hand, an at least partial devaluation of the assets of the homeowners there, i.e., the secure basis on which they have to go into debt in the usual way, and on the other hand, according to the usual interpretation, they would have the very riffraff back on their doorstep that they once wanted to get rid of by moving to the suburbs. Which riffraff in particular is meant by this is clear to every good American – and anyone who doesn’t already know will be told again by attentive journalists at prime time. With ‘low-income housing,’ Trump is uttering the traditional ‘code word’ that has been used for years to prevent the suburbs from ethnic mixing, so that things don’t get too colorful there, both figuratively and literally.
This ‘suburban dream,’ with whose defense Trump commends himself to the ‘suburban housewives,’ is – this much the average European knows at least from television, if not from his own aspirations – the epitome of the American dream of a rise from the working class to the ‘middle class.’ Its members are indeed still dependent on wages, grapple with all the difficulties that go with it, and cultivate the pride that goes with it as virtuous workhorses; but at the same time they are true property owners and also cultivate the pride that goes with it as independent beings, because they shell out less of their money, earned in all dependence, to a wheeler-dealer and take care of their cozy home as they wish. This is already a strange dream, namely a very negative version of prosperity. On the one hand, it consists of security from the normal chicaneries of rented accommodations as well as the crime normal to the inner cities; this is replaced by a house of one’s own and a first, second, third ... mortgage. It consists, on the other hand, in regulated, even ready-made normality. In the notorious uniformity of the suburbs, where established Americans enjoy their freedom and independence, their residents have a very vivid, absolutely certain criterion for having managed to live up to a valid standard of success – how they wear themselves out for it is part of their self-image. The stereotypical bogusness of this self-image of modest, decent, self-earned success offers cultural critics and freedom idealists on both sides of the Atlantic a great deal of material to sneer at; they find the sad material reality they have before them aesthetically dull; the more colorful misery of the inner cities and the dubious pleasure of a real escape offer more variety.
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, that’s for sure. Trump again discovers a suitable theme with which he can underscore the front line between himself and the godless Democratic opponents. On the occasion of a visit to the National Archives and the announcement of a new education offensive, he presents himself as a guardian angel of the grand narrative that Americans cultivate 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 here is up to no good in the corridors of American culture. Part of that culture – in the curriculum of many schools, the reading options in many bookstores, the film and podcast world – is now also acknowledging the obvious: The nation has never been that in tune with its self-image; quite often the dreamlike promise has not been kept, certainly not for those who are black skinned. Besides, Trump is up against the “Black lives matter!” protests, which aren’t exactly gentle with the symbols and legends of America’s past, even more so 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 the leftist mischief, Trump cites the New York Times’ recently launched ‘1619 Project’ (named after the arrival date of the first slaves 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 perfect summary of what then comes under this heading in terms of historical facts and stories and what is actually at the core of what has become a very voluminous critical American historiography. All of this is instructive – on the one hand. Not a little propaganda is straightened out about the glorious history of the USA, which the vast majority of people may learn as students and citizens. On the other hand, what those running the project are trying to teach is 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)
An impressive contribution to the incorporation of blacks into the patriotic self-love of the American nation, to the reconciliation of all citizens, especially blacks, with their country in history and the present: one first foregrounds a history of oppression, discrimination, and the struggle of blacks against it, in order to reinterpret all this as the most important contributions of oppressed blacks to the wealth, power, and democratic beauty of the same nation. A critique could hardly be more affirmative of the nation’s self-image today, one might think. It just doesn’t help. For even an affirmatively meant critical revision does not come off without criticism; the sins of the nation must come to light so that the victims can be accepted into the great congregation. Without relativizing the official self-celebration and the official figures of light, a truly inclusive celebration of the nation is simply not possible. And that, in Trump’s view, is simply inexpedient. This sort of inclusion of blacks in 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 may well be that Trump has a very specific clientele in mind with “us” and “our country.” But it’s more likely that he does not tread as a racist with a claim to ‘white supremacy,’ but rather as an anti-antiracist. And that, again, isn’t simply a wily move; he really does care about the whole polity. What he doesn’t like about anti-racism is not simply its attack on the ancestors, 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.”
Against this, Trump pulls two decrees out of his pocket at once: he bans the dissemination of ‘critical race theory’ in all federal civil service training; and he announces the creation of a large park in the capital where “the greatest Americans who ever lived” can safely stand around as statues.
A few days later, the liberal shining light on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dies – a shining light because, first, she acted as a bulwark in defense of the right to abortion and, second, with the help of a fitness program that has become famous in America, she tried to hold out long enough for a liberal president to come back to power to appoint a liberal successor on the Supreme Court. Her death gives the President an opportunity to score another victory for his conservative constituents and appoint a new young conservative justice who could ensure that the Supreme Court is no longer a definitive, long-term safe haven for liberal mores and social ideas. And if the conservative electorate should at one point or another have become susceptible to the Democrats’ constant barrage against the President’s immorality, Trump hereby shows them how much their fight for the soul of America – especially for the souls of the unborn and of all the victims killed by ‘bad hombres’ because no ‘good guy’ with a gun was around – hangs on his ruthless will to win. It also allows him to prepare in good time for the legal battle over the election outcome, which also looms later this month....
IX. The finale: Presidential confidence of victory up to the pain threshold of the democratic system
The closer the election date gets, the more the President radiates confidence of a victory. Having been doing this for four years already, he needs and offers significantly more in this democratic discipline than what the citizen have been familiar with in election campaigns. Trump is not only applauding his own anticipation of his second term and his own fans, who – as committed voters always do – are beguiled by the prospect of their vote eventually putting them once again on the winning side, which they usually have so desperately little to do with in their everyday lives. The President boasts of an early rejection of any election result other than his victory: He provokes questions about what he intends to do in the event of a defeat, whether he will recognize a possible success by the despised Sleepy Joe – to make it clear that an unproblematic departure can’t be expected from him because such a result, first, can’t happen and, secondly, certainly not legally. In all seriousness, his confidence of victory takes the form of announcing an already established fact.
For his critics, this way of announcing a desired success as a fact that has already occurred logically follows in their bookkeeping of an ever-increasing stream of boasts that care nothing about facts, but rather cultivate the art of crude nonsense and shamelessly open lies in order to denounce the inevitable corrections as the expected lies of the other side that prove the swindler right. The story continues about the self-absorbed egomaniac who slides into complete denial of reality, namely that he does not want to admit that more and more polls are making his re-election look unlikely. But it doesn’t stop at indulging in psychological spite against Trump’s personality. With every announcement from the White House that a wrong election result will not be accepted but corrected, the concern grows louder that the President is sinning against democracy’s holy of holies: the institution of empowerment through free elections.
There’s something to that. But Trump’s rejection of the possibility of a regular electoral defeat does not come out of nowhere as an individual’s delusion. What he is exploiting is the contradiction inherent in the finest achievement of the democratic form of government: between the purpose of free elections, the empowerment of governing power holders, and the method, the vote of a fickle public.
1. The mission
Anyone who promotes himself in order to take over the power institutionalized in the highest office of state has a political mission. He has something in mind for his nation, something more or less grandiose, and wants the consent of the citizenry which is to serve him as a maneuvering mass. This is what success in a free election achieves; for the candidates, this is the positive side of the procedure that decides their competition for power. The negative side is that the candidate presents his political project as an alternative next to that of his opponent and subjects it, as if it were only a non-binding offer, to the whim of an ultimately unpredictable electorate. The procedure relativizes the mission that is to be enacted; it requires the candidates to self-relativize the program of rule for which they want to functionalize their nation. This is a contradiction that is resolved only when the opposing parties classify and recognize the mission with which they are running for election, both their own and the competing one, as variants of a grand concern for the power and greatness of the nation, on which they agree. Or to put it more objectively: when a fundamental reason of state has been established for political opponents that leaves room for their opposing positions. In functioning democracies, people have therefore become accustomed to the fact that hostile political positions tolerate each other after an election, that the loser recognizes the winner as the champion of the national cause, and that the winner grants the loser the status of an oppositional alternative. The fact that this happens is the very criterion of an intact democracy.
What Trump offensively insists on in the finale of his campaign – and what he has made demonstratively clear at least once a week since taking office – is the fact that for him his “America first!” is not such a relative concern, ready to coexist with the political will of the other side, compatible with institutions that mediate opposing points of view. He resolves the democratic contradiction between the substance, the fate of the nation as he defines it, and the methods of acquiring and exercising political power, which stand above the matter and relativizes his political program, in the other direction: The election either vindicates his mission, and does so unqualifiedly, or it has failed to be a reliable method for helping the people to their rights and their rightful leadership to rule. 
2. The man
Trump is the model case of a politician who not only has his mission to make “America great again,” who not only represents it, but personally is it. This is a transition into megalomania; but it is not really undemocratic either; on the contrary. It is precisely in the sanctum of free elections that democracy puts competing programs of rule, personified in the form of candidates, to the vote. This includes the fact that empowerment by the people not only authorizes the winner, but also – within the scope of the powers of his office, which in the case of the US presidency are quite extensive – gives him the right to make his own decisions the guidelines for everything his people do, and to carry out whatever he deems necessary for the political fate of his nation. The fact that democracy limits this empowerment in time, that each new election confirms the identity of the person with the nation’s will to power but can also dissolve it again, is and remains a contradiction, but as such it also has its place in the political judgment of a democratic citizenry: Particularly in splendidly functioning democracies, it is considered a weakness if an elected power holder allows himself to be voted out of office merely because the constitution wants it that way, or even by announcing his withdrawal – in the case of the USA, this would be a president giving up a re-election bid ahead of schedule – degrades himself to a “lame duck”; strong leader personalities take the democratic legal situation personally, see the new election only as the chance to be confirmed in office, and insist on their “incumbency advantage” – another fine democratic achievement; they already see themselves personally and politically insulted by the risk of being voted out of office. In any case, part of being an ambitious born leader is striving to customize the legal situation and institutions to himself in such a way that the vital will to rule is thereby served, not restricted. The borderline to what democrats call “autocracy” is rather indeterminate, or at least quite elastic.
As President-elect, Trump has made no compromises here. He has pushed aside all institutions, especially the time-honored ones which would and could somehow mediate, i.e. relativize, between his political will and its practical implementation, both in the country and worldwide; he has functionalized agencies, authorities and even the national judiciary to the best of his ability by appointing compliant personnel; he has eliminated the influence of oppositional or even merely reluctant forces by, among other things, governing by “executive order.” And he has always attached importance to staging the election in a way that appeals to voters: He has disparaged the elements in the country’s political operating system that lean toward the Democrats as an elitist “establishment”; he has flaunted his own abundance of power by signing immediately effective decrees in front of running cameras and with obsequious courtiers in the background; he has made his fans via Twitter preferred participants in his sovereign ad hoc decisions about the fate of the nation and the world and the first recipients of his political philosophy. He has not only rejected the democratic imperative, in line with the separable connection between office and person, of maintaining a residual respect for political opponents because they can always take the place of the incumbent, but has also rejected it as a ploy by impotent enemies to weaken his, i.e. America’s, power; he has disgraced the relevant customs of restraint and politeness as the hypocrisy they are and replaced them with the honesty of crude insults. Only logically, in the end, at the final climax of his campaign, he declares the possibility that is sought by his opponents – of using a majority vote to drive a wedge driven between him, America’s greatness, and the true will of the people – to be an impossibility, and any attempt in that direction to be proof that America-haters want to betray him, his supporters, and the nation.
However, this is not an undemocratic aberration either. It is Trump’s way of resolving the contradiction that the procedure of personal empowerment includes the risk of disempowerment. The institution of free elections has brought him to power, certified him as the incarnate reason of “America first!” and thus fulfilled its purpose; if the new election that is due were to go against him, the institution would have failed its purpose. This is how he understands the meaning and purpose of democracy; otherwise it remains incomprehensible to him, and truly not only to him, as a form of bourgeois rule.
3. The fans
As far as can be ascertained, Trump’s election campaign has been met with strong approval by the electorate; the man apparently goes down especially well with the verdict that an election result against him could not possibly be true and could only be falsified. Trump-hating observers like to conclude from this that his supporters are democratically immature; completely in keeping with the lack of understanding they have cultivated over the years that the President’s fans take his counterfactual success stories and mendacious bullying of alleged domestic enemies of a strong America at face value and eagerly spread them.
In fact, the voters who are devoted to Trump – as numerous reports from the hinterland show – offer a prime example of what citizens value in their politicians and, according to the democracy textbook, should also find good: They cite as their President’s greatest asset that he does what he promised. Of course, “America first!” and the identification of one’s own self with this imperative is not a promise in the sense that its fulfillment can be verified by specific results. But if the man is credited with vigor, even if the claimed successes, as far as the banal facts are concerned, are fake, then it obviously doesn’t matter; not to his voters, and not in fact by the standards of democracy either. What is promised is nothing more and nothing less than the unshakable will of the supreme leader to make all the patriotic yearnings of the common people come true, whatever they may be aimed at in detail; and if this will does not allow itself to be thrown off course by adverse results, but rather proves its unshakability by excessively exaggerating successes and simply denying failures, then it is precisely this promise that he keeps. Then the ruler proves the honesty of his will to succeed precisely by taking the liberty to subject even facts to this will and his claim to power and – ideally, as long as reality still blocks it – to adapt them. Making facts a matter of interpretation and asserting the sole validity of one’s own interpretation proves to the public that’s not anti-Trump that the boss, as promised, is getting to bottom of the facts in order to make the world conform to the American will to rule embodied in him and thereby to restore the irresistible dominance of the world power.
That is Trump’s banal secret to success, which he continues with his absolute certainty of victory, above and beyond reality. Because that’s exactly where his supporters follow him. They take Trump as “America first!” in the flesh and as the personification of patriotic assertiveness just as seriously as he offers it to them. They reject the democratic style of entering into an election driven battle for a political mission without them and their messenger being taken strictly at their word; that would be the fraud that their boss and role model won’t put up with, that they thank him for with their approval. Admittedly, they don’t really live up to their job as voters in the sense of the normal democratic case. Because objectively, the political system, which puts the procedure of empowering rule above the empowered person and his mission, is about the voter finding a political-personal offer so good and important that he agrees to it, thus promising to submit to it – it is, after all, about rule; at the same time, however, this consent is evaluated in such a way that his promised obedience does not depend on the election result, but rather applies to rule as such and consequently also to the rejected election winner. This is the contradiction that democracy expects of its voters. Accordingly, the voter normally has a relaxed attitude toward the great sanctum of his form of government, taking election promises and the commitment to the fate of the nation, which is again very much at stake in every election, for the hypocrisy that it always is in a peaceful consensus democracy, and meets the false winner with nothing more than a bad opinion and an inner reservation that every constitutional protection agency tolerates as a pluralism of opinions. Trump voters, as we said, won’t stoop for this – which, on the other hand, does not necessarily mean that Biden voters are methodologists or even just practitioners of the democratically mandated consensus hypocrisy. The escalation that Trump has caused with his campaign based on the ‘triumph of the will’ model and his culture of honest lies also turns partisanship for a candidate who, in contrast to the programs, the persons and their supporters, does not recognize any irreconcilability at all, but only wants to know America and Americans, into a commitment that is close to the decision to deny recognition to a re-elected Trump as the supreme ruler. The very same: a rejection of the prospect of being governed by Democrats and their Joe is the point of view that the President, with his early non-recognition of a false election result, offers to his voters and fetches from them.
That he does this to drive them to the ballot box and to secure his democratically impeccable reelection is the particular contradiction that President Trump allows himself when, on the one hand, he makes recognition of the validity of the election dependent on his reelection and, on the other hand, adheres to the procedure of democratic empowerment by a majority vote, which, of course, now includes the risk of being voted out of office. He wants power as absolutely as he wants flawlessly free consent; or the other way around: he wants a free election without the possibility of defeat. And he assumes that every good American sees it that way too, votes for him as “America first!” in the person and thus fulfills the purpose of a free US presidential election. Then any contradiction will dissolve into nothingness; and the election year will end as beautifully as it began.
X. The result: An election victory without a loser
The culture of unabashed honesty with which Trump conducts and escalates his election campaign catches on. Approval for him, the reincarnation of American greatness, rises sharply in absolute numbers.
Only, not enough. Dislike for him predominates. Joe Biden wins.
The first thing he does with his success is to complete 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; as the personified hypocrisy of national unity beyond all conflicts, of whatever kind; as a winner under whose presidency nobody has to feel like a loser.
Trump reads the relationship between victory and defeat in an aggressively contrary way. He continues after Election Day exactly as he announced beforehand – he can be relied on: there is no such thing as a loser Trump; definitely not. A result that says otherwise is invalid; strictly speaking, it doesn’t even exist.
What is missing is the adjustment of the facts to the political truth. He works on this; with the means that the rule of law and democracy in the USA have to offer in this matter. And there are a surprisingly large number of them. Namely, first, those that allow for manipulative influence on election results in the run-up to free elections in the land of the free through numerous modalities of the election procedure and therefore, in the case of undesirable results, provide reasons for purposefully constructed doubts about their legality, possibly even grounds for challenge. On the other hand, the intricacies of the presidential election itself, in particular the role of the individual states that constitutionally make up the US, justify possibilities for subsequent correction of the will of the voters in the actual formal act of voting, which have hardly ever been realized but nevertheless exist. In the end, the national judiciary can become the final arbiter of what the voters really wanted; Trump let it be known without much hypocrisy that he had this possibility in mind when he filled one of nine judgeships on the highest federal court with a reactionary female supporter.
The adjustment of the election result to its actual purpose as defined by Trump and his party is, of course, not over when the legal process fails. The correction remains in the program of the permanent election campaign, the next stations of which – Senatorial election in Georgia, midterm elections in 2022, revenge in four years – are already determined. And already starts again on election night. Democracy lives ...
 And in its own right, a pretty mature feat in terms of self-stylization, too: “in Biden, the Democrats have nominated a candidate that David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief strategist, calls ‘culturally unfavorable’ to Trump: a politician who has always emphasized his working-class roots, even though he’s been in the Senate for nearly half a century.” (New York Times, October 11, 2020)
 See “Chronik der Corona-Pandemie, III” in GegenStandpunkt 2-20 [untranslated].
 The message is understood, and some of his followers then spring into action. For example, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who rose to prominence as a counter speaker to Trump’s ‘State of the Union’ address and became a right-wing hate figure with her anti-Corona policies, 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 House lawmakers are intimidated by machine-gun-toting militiamen during protests against local Corona restrictions. Then in October, 14 militiamen involved in the legislative action are arrested by the FBI. They had planned to kidnap the Governor and possibly take government officials hostage. Whitmer’s criticism of the President for promoting domestic terror with his bellicose rhetoric is answered by Trump and his supporters at a campaign rally, a few days after the arrests, with the battle cry “Lock her up!” Finally, two weeks after the election, a leading member in Trump’s Corona task force called for an uprising against Whitmer due to new Corona restrictions in Michigan.
 “As a reason for his aversion to masks, Trump said they did not fit his self-image as President of a world power.” (Zeit Online, July 12, 2020)
 On the protests, see GegenStandpunkt 3-20: “George Floyd, for example: On the racism of a freedom-based, egalitarian state power.”
 Meaning: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!” Along with “Law and order!”, this is one of many campaign slogans that Southern police chiefs and politicians used to set the tone for combating so-called race riots, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
 There are no perpetrators, but of course many sinners in the congregation – with whom the priest of course also makes himself base: He has qualified himself for this with his own earlier legislative great moment: the so-called “Biden Crime Bill,” which he was in charge of drafting. The “Black lives matter!” movement calls this law, which led to the phenomenon known as “mass incarceration,” especially of blacks, through massive police expansion and tougher criminal laws, a core element of “institutionalized racism.” He has now distanced himself from his then celebrated legislative involvement in the ‘war on crime’: his intentions were, of course, irreproachable, but in this case he was a bit off the mark.
 “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)
 This logic provides the roadmap for Trump’s much-maligned interventions into the conduct of the electoral procedure: If the purpose of the election is to vindicate Trump’s will to win, then conversely he has a duty to take action against virtually all modalities of the election that stand in the way of this. Here, too, he is in good company: The competing parties never miss an opportunity to use election modalities as a lever for their own victory and to shape them wherever it is in their power. In doing so, they follow the sacred principle of democracy in an exemplary American manner, according to which the majority decides who may exercise power in the state: If that is true, then it is simply a matter of producing the right majority. After all, that is the ultimate purpose of a free vote: Not simply to express a subjective preference, but to create a winner. After all, billions are invested in election campaigns for this – not for the sake of the voter’s joy in his vote! And for this, there’s a lot that can be done with legal tricks, especially in the political system of this nation under God, with its many living traditions. It’s not for nothing that a good part of campaign donations is notoriously spent on an army of lawyers who, in the interest of their clients, help the electoral law along and, above all, prevent the theft of votes: a purpose that quite appropriately books the voter’s vote as the property of the candidates.
The fact that the law in general, and of course in such an important competitive affair as the presidential election, is primarily not an impartial set of rules, but a weapon of those who can afford it, and belongs in any case to the principles of a society that sees no difference between competition and nation, competitive spirit and civic spirit.