In the last couple of decades, ever since the George W Bush administration, we have been witnessing trends in US politics which flow from one end of the spectrum to the other. Conservative to moderate/liberal, white to black, evangelical Christian to part-Muslim.
The xenophobic, fascist approach of the post 9/11 Bush era gave rise to an Islamophbic era brimming with the establishment of intolerant government organisations and a mass hysteria about the so-called “Radical Islamic terrorism”.
The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 was most definitely a manifestation, a reaction and a rejection of this vilification of the “others” in a society whose very core is based on being a “melting pot”. American society readjusted its priorities and identity. The Civil Rights movement was championed in electing a half-African-American and the “radical Islamic” vilification was tossed out in electing a half-Muslim. Irrespective of whether President Obama’s foreign or domestic policies are likeable to many or not, because that is not the point of this piece, the American electorate voted in the popular vote and the electoral college for an individual who countered the Bush narrative. That is a fact.
In President Obama’s new book, A Promised Land, just released, he writes about “an emotional, almost visceral reaction to my presidency, distinct from any differences in policy or ideology”. We all know what this “visceral reaction” was based on. He goes on to say, “It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered, as deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted.” Once again, we all understand what he is referring to by “the natural order”.
It would not have mattered to many hard core, right wing Republicans and their voters if Barack Obama had found the cure for cancer or world hunger. The colour of his skin, his father’s religion and his middle name, Hussein, was all it took for them to feel that “the natural order” had been disrupted.
In 2011, much before Trump ran for President, he began spreading the beginning of what later in his Presidency became a tragic, destructive reality: untruths. He launched the “birther movement”, in which he made appearances in public and on talk shows urging President Obama to release his birth certificate. The insinuation was clear. He never doubted that Bush Senior and Junior, Bill Clinton, or any other president in his lifetime release their birth certificates because of course, they happen to be white. An African-American president just disturbed “the natural order” of what our President should look like.
This fuelled the fire of a white supremacist base which probably felt defeated and lacking in traction. Trump’s nonsensical, racist blabber gave the white supremacists new hope and probably convinced Trump to run for president realising that there was a market for what he had to sell. After all, he is a businessman.
Just as we had seen the swinging of the pendulum from Bush to Obama, we saw it moving back to something which was unprecedented in US history, a Trump 2016 campaign which threw out every single norm, decorum, civility and diplomacy in the book. Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote by more than 3 million votes but there were many who were not yet ready for a woman president, regardless of how much more qualified, to say the least, she was than Donald Trump.
Everything that the United States had gained respect for in over 200 years was gone, domestically and internationally. The Trump administration began its term with the Islamophobic “Muslim ban,” isolated the United States from NATO and the Paris Climate Agreement and subjected Americans to unprecedented instability with the continuous firing of White House staff and cabinet members. The mode of communication being random, incessant tweets from the president became the new normal. Through all this aberration, the Trump base remained loyal to him and so did the Republican Party. Clearly, there is nothing for us to not believe that for many, even complete incompetence and imbalance in a president is better than one of colour.
Fortunately, many former Trump devotees have realised in the last four years that they were given none of the items they were promised. They perhaps realised that all that did happen was the implementation of stringent restrictions and exponential human rights abuses on the US-Mexico border in the efforts to stop illegal immigration. Meanwhile, many Trump supporters, despite their initial undying support for him in 2016, changed their minds this time around for reasons such as his divisiveness and his negligence and incompetence in handling the pandemic.
As it had done from Bush Jr. to Obama and from Obama to Trump, the pendulum oscillated back to the reversal of everything Trump stood for. The clear and bold statement made by the Democratic Party and the majority of voters (although Donald Trump is still tweeting that he won the election) exceeded anyone’s expectations. In choosing Kamala Harris, the statement is a cumulative response to those who vilified Hillary Clinton based merely on her gender and to those who vilified Barack Obama merely based on his colour.
Kamala is a woman, a second generation American of mixed Indian and Jamaican ethnicity. She is the face of the United States of the present and future. In fact, she is the embodiment of the Trump base’s nightmares! The victory of the Biden-Harris team is the American electorate shouting out that it has had more than enough of divisiveness, of instability of a leadership which haphazardly tweets its policies or lack thereof, of alienating America’s allies.
The pendulum is back to where it is supposed to be but better and stronger than ever. The respect and embracement of other cultures, faiths and colours is what makes America great. We will return to believing in science, in respecting our allies and each other. In fact, now is the time to declare that we are making America great again.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will not be able to heal all our wounds but it’s a return to what America is all about in its foundation. President Obama states in his new book that he still believes in the idea of America. The highest voter turnout for the Biden-Harris ticket in half a century is proof that we still believe in the idea of America, too.
• Sabria Chowdury Balland is a political analyst and author. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Aequitas Review and a former elected member of US Democrats Abroad. She tweets @sabriaballand