By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
A malevolent malaise infects American politics and its democracy. Polls indicate that Trump is surging while Biden is sinking, both products of America’s polarized partisan duopoly. Deep partisan divisions defy the forces of reconciliation; and since popularity begets power in a democracy, American democracy seems doomed by a malaise of human depravity.
A healthy democracy requires that competing parties can reconcile their differences on critical issues. That doesn’t require political unity, only sharing altruistic values that provide for the common good. The Civil War represented a fatal breakdown of altruistic values in American politics, and current partisan divisions could cause another cataclysmic failure of democracy.
The two parties have irreconcilable differences that defy reason and common sense. Most Republicans support a radical-right demagogue whose narcissistic values reject altruism; and President Biden once seemed to be a moderate advocating partisan reconciliation, but now he promotes the unyielding leftist faction of his party.
There is no middle ground in either party, so that nonpartisan independents are left with no voice in the dysfunctional partisan process. The only way to save American democracy from self-destruction is to promote a politics of reconciliation that provides for the common good based on altruism; and there’s a glaring absence of altruism in American democracy.
Before the Moral Majority began promoting Christianity as a Republican religion, the church provided Americans with an altruistic morality that minimized partisan divisions. In 2016 the church lost its moral compass when a majority of white Christians elected Trump as their president, and now partisan divisions threaten the fragile fabric of American democracy.
Until 2016 the altruistic teachings of Jesus shaped America’s standards of political legitimacy, and those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith.
America’s standards of political legitimacy lost their moral anchor when the church lost its moral compass in the 2016 elections; and the resulting lack of political legitimacy has created a moral malaise in American democracy. The church has since lost its credibility, and many Christians have left the church; but they didn’t leave behind their altruistic values.
Can altruistic values be restored as the standards of political legitimacy in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture without the church? The church subordinated the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines long ago; but most Americans still consider the altruistic teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of their faith. They can heal America of the malevolent malaise of its polarized democracy--with or without the church.
Biden’s only real mandate was to not be Trump. This meant a return to normalcy. This meant calming things down, bringing people together, and creating a more tranquil nation. This meant being more honest and empathetic. This meant being competent. Unfortunately, none of those things materialized, which helps explain why his polling with independents mirrors Trump’s. Some of this is normal and to be expected. Presidents always have a tendency to over-interpret their mandate. And presidents are generally rebuked during their first midterm election. Following Trump, Biden—billed as a highly experienced politician who also was a centrist—was supposed to avoid this trap. Remember, Biden won the 2020 election by making inroads with traditionally center-right constituencies—as opposed to winning by juicing traditionally Democratic constituencies. Based on that knowledge, you would think he would attempt to govern in a manner that would keep this coalition on board. Instead, he made a huge mistake and decided to bet big on progressivism—he was lured by the hope of being the next FDR or LBJ but also plagued with a razor-thin majority.
Biden’s campaign promise was to be a competent uniter who calmed things down. And while it isn’t over till the fat lady sings, he has so far failed miserably. His failure is made all the more perplexing and troubling by his experience and presumed preparedness for this role. Americans, for now at least, are not happy with Biden or the direction he has taken this country. And that’s not our fault. It’s his. See https://www.thedailybeast.com/this-one-basic-mistake-is-blowing-up-bidens-presidency.
Liberal Democrats have become the mainstream of the party and are less willing to compromise with dwindling moderates. “Moments after President Biden instructed House Democrats to make concessions or risk derailing passage of his economic agenda, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus hastily gathered in the depths of the Capitol on Oct. 1 to talk strategy about what policies they could sacrifice. No one was ready to compromise. ...While the Progressive Caucus has managed to surprise critics by remaining united and disciplined during tense standoffs this year, that cohesion could soon fracture when members will probably be forced concede that their shared policy concerns addressing climate, immigration, housing, education and health care may not survive the House and Senate negotiations aimed at producing a package that can become law. ...House liberals have said they will continue to threaten to vote against the bipartisan Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package favored by moderates until there is agreement on the broader economic bill.” See
While Donald Trump has held several rallies since the January 6 Capitol insurrection, his rally in Iowa on October 9 was the most alarming by far. “This one was attended by longtime Iowa US Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, and other mainstream Republican officials. Some of these very same people, who just nine months ago were slamming Trump for his role in the Capitol riots, were now only too happy to be seen supporting him. This is politics at its worst -- and at its most dangerous for our democracy. ...To Grassley, it was "smart" to accept the endorsement of the man who spent Saturday's rally spouting the same falsehoods that led to the January 6 violence that caused Grassley to hide in fear. Trump's litany of dangerous election lies at his Iowa rally ranged from irresponsible claims he won Wisconsin "by a lot" in 2020, to lying that the results of the recently released Arizona audit support his false claim that he had actually won that state. He even declared that, "First of all, [Biden] didn't get elected, OK?" The crowd responded to Trump's buffet of lies by chanting, "Trump won! Trump won!" ...it's clear that the party is no longer defined by policy ideas but by absolute loyalty to Trump and his influence.” See https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/10/opinions/trump-iowa-rally-gop-embrace-obeidallah/index.html.
Michael Gerson has said, TheTrumpnightmare looms again. “It’s increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics — unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025 — is also the likely outcome.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/11/trump-nightmare-looms-again/?utm_.