Can Biden deal with greatness, or white supremacy?

Biden’s political victory in the Presidential elections is only half the story. He now has the challenge of convincing almost half the American population that nostalgia for some mythical greatness based on white supremacy and religiosity is not in their best interests.   The Spanish civil war.. can be understood, as the moral and military confrontation between those nostalgic for the old Catholic empire and the liberals of modern Europe.

“All societies are forever marked by their times of greatness,” says Hugh Thomas in his book on the Spanish civil war. It is true, countries with a glorious past have a problem with the present, and the result is that in moments of crisis they divide into two: one half that requires adaptation to new times and the other half that longs for the past and resists change. The Spanish civil war, says Thomas, can be understood, as the moral and military confrontation between those nostalgic for the old Catholic empire and the liberals of modern Europe.

What is happening in the United States can also be seen this way, only here, the conservatives, in addition to wanting to restore traditional religious society, want to reinstate white supremacy.

In recent years, Donald Trump became the leader of a country and did so with the nostalgic slogan of Make America Great Again. His followers are spread across the country, but they have definite characteristics: they are generally white, have little university education, and are located in rural areas or away from large urban centres. They are parochial groups, convinced that they are the depository of the national soul that was born with Independence, and today, encouraged by Trump, they are not willing to become a minority, or to bend to the multiracial and multicultural values that predominate in the large urban centres, such as New York or San Francisco.

The division between traditionalists and modernists is not new, but it was accentuated with the arrival of Trump when it became a confrontational political war that, as columnist Thomas Friedman says, destroyed the two pillars of American democracy: trust and truth. Trump managed to convince the Republican Party, and his followers, that his was a war that deserved to be won, even if it meant his being ignorant and dishonest.

Joe Biden was the favourite candidate in the polls, and his supporters are hopeful that, as president, he will restore lost confidence in the political system. But such a thing implies not only winning the elections, but also winning over the vast majority to the belief that the previous four years should never be repeated. The former is a political victory, the latter is a moral one. The Democrats have won the former, but not the latter, because it cannot be said that Biden’s victory was overwhelming.

Regaining trust in institutions will not be an easy task. Trump is leaving, but some of his supporters remain: a significant majority on the Supreme Court and most likely a Republican majority in the Senate. Furthermore, and this is the most worrying thing, Trump is less an anomaly of the political system (a madman who sneaked into the Republican Party) than a reflection of society, more precisely of that half or almost half, that maintains an idea of a glorious homeland based on racism and religiosity.

Whether a promising future awaits America will depend on its ability to overcome that idea of greatness. But as Hugh Thomas suggests and as current events demonstrate, those nostalgies are hard to erase.

https://www.elespectador.com/opinion/lidiar-con-la-grandeza/

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Mauricio García Villegas is a Professor of Law at the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá, Colombia and Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is a regular columnist for El Espectador, Colombia. This article appeared on 7 November 2020, was updated by the author and was translated by Kieran Tapsell

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