On November 7th, 2020 Joe Biden and Kamala Harris addressed the United States saying that “the people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory.” Thus, affirming that they will become the next President and Vice President of the United States. This victory puts a nightmare to end, for many including myself, of another Trump administration in the White House. Furthermore, to many, Biden and Harris’s win marks a symbolic victory for the preservation of Democracy in the United States – which has been increasingly consumed by right-wing anti-pluralistic populism under the Trump administration.
In fact, this year’s election should be seen more as an achievement of resistance against democratic erosion. The United States is estimated to have seen the highest voter turnout on record at 66.4% in this hotly contested election. With this increase of voter turnout across the country, the Democratic party was able to clinch victory over States such as Georgia which broke their record for number of votes cast in the State at 4 million votes.
This is not a zero-sum game in advantage of Biden and Harris however as Trump will leave behind a marked cultural zeitgeist. I maintain that this marked cultural zeitgeist will shape politics for decades to come unless a there is creation of a united civic political culture that alleviates the discontents of Trump’s populist base. I argue the creation of a new civic political culture will preserve American democracy in the 21st century.
This cultural zeitgeist already existed as suggested by UC Berkeley sociologist, Arlie Hochschild, in her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.[i] The cultural zeitgeist began to manifest more sharply in the main voting base of Trump and now the Republican Party. This is because much of his base feel as if were left behind in the ever-changing US socio-political body – especially during the Obama administration.[ii]
Hochschild’s conclusions have significant implications in understanding Trump’s political base and Trump’s strategy at his rallies. Trump at these rallies paints a bigger picture, a grand scheme, that encapsulates the feelings repressed by many Americans left behind in recent economic transformations. Fundamentally, these rallies were a way to entrench his power within the psyche of his audience.
Power of Rhetoric
At these rallies, Trump’s populist strategies created an oppositional enemy in a morally charged manner as according to Political Scientist Ipek Çinar.[iii] Trump’s enemy, as a right-wing populist, is the Democratic party and any ethnic out-groups as he targets them in many of his rallies. To put in context, when performing a sentiment analysis on Trump’s speech, Çinar et al. note how Trump’s sentiment is negatively skewed toward out-ethnic group compared to past US presidents and populist.[iv] I assert that these attacks toward out-ethnic groups are a means to maintain his power and legitimacy within his base.
In fact, I find this echoes Hochschild’s findings as well. Trump’s attacking of outside ethnic-groups really garners the emotions of Trump’s base who feel like they were betrayed by the new economic system created by the political establishment. Trump’s base feel like they were betrayed by the rising tide of economic transformations of globalization such as manufacturing jobs moving away from the US and the political establishment on the hill.
As pointed out in the Çinar et al. model, Trump’s directly attacks the political opposition in his rallies and outside ethnic groups – “the line cutters” as Hochschild writes – in his political theatre.[v][vi] I assert that this has detrimental effects on the perception of US political institutions and their processes therefore eroding the mechanism of democracy itself. To take a case in point during the last few weeks, in many of his tweets, both Trump and Trump’s campaign tweeted out to his followers:
- “The blatant voter fraud throughout corrupt Democrat-run cities is unprecedented.”
- “I had such a big lead in all of these states late into election night, only to see the leads miraculously disappear as the days went by. Perhaps these leads will return as our legal proceedings move forward!”
These tweets further inflames the divisions in the United States by delegitimizing the election process by putting some doubt of its validity in his base. Accordingly, by putting seeds of doubt, he attends to the emotions of his base as he seemingly wants to maintain their image of America.
Importance of Civic Political Culture
As I write this, Trump has launched legal challenges in political swing states such as Georgia and Wisconsin, claiming fraud and irregularities in the election process. I argue this is purely political theatre to accumulate the emotions of the people that do not want to accept the reality of the elections. In essence, Trump’s actions are undermining and attacking the backbone of American democracy– its political institutions and election mechanisms.
Because of this cultural zeitgeist, because of this political theatre with legal challenges of the elections, Biden and Harris must tread lightly when coming into the White House. The new administration must combat the rightwing extremism that have become more marked in states like Michigan.
Moreover, there are other concerns like legitimacy of the elections and the incoming administration needed to be address. Much of Trump’s base do not see the incoming administration as legitimate with the spread of misinformation concerning the election across the internet and Trump’s rhetoric.
This presents a problem for the new Biden and Harris administration. They must create some policy initiatives for the creation of a new civic political culture in the 21st century that is inclusive of Trump’s base. Through the creation of policies geared toward the creation of a political civic identity, I assert that this would decrease the likelihood of this marked zeitgeist from further manifesting across the country.
During their initial months in office Biden and Harris must produce and follow through with a policy agenda that will unite the country rather than divide. Of course, this strategy has been in the forefront of Biden’s campaign messaging and rhetoric. I want to emphasize that a new civic political culture is important for the durability and unification of a 21st century democratic America. This new civic political culture will strengthen the weakened political institutions to ensure democratic governance in the United States of America. I want to echo Biden’s messaging in his address to the nation on November 7th, 2020 where he said, “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now.”
[i] Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016)
[ii] Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016)
[iii] Ipek Çinar, Susan Stokes, and Andres Uribe, “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 2020.
[vi] Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016). Ch 9.