US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate with Moderator Chris Wallace (C) in the first 2020 presidential election debate. Picture: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE
US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate with Moderator Chris Wallace (C) in the first 2020 presidential election debate. Picture: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE

Lack of etiquette between Trump and Biden a microcosm of ideological divisions ravaging the US

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 11, 2020

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Sipho Mabaso

It is high noon for America’s hegemony as the world’s leading latter-day super power.

Watching the polarised society that is America today, it is not difficult to conclude that, come hell or high water, the end is nigh for the once mighty country.

Next month, the Americans go to the polls to elect Democrat Joe Biden as the successor to President Donald Trump, or, in fact, elect to return to the Oval Office a man seen by many of his citizens as one of the most divisive in their illustrious history.

It’s hard to tell which way the scale will tilt in search of the country’s 46th president next month.

It is a heated battle of septuagenarians. Born on November 20, 1942, Biden is 77 years old. Trump turned 74 in June. He was born in 1946. The two elderly men are America’s public faces in an era that marks the beginning of the end of the American empire as the world has known it.

The lack of basic etiquette and courteous interactions between the two political rivals is a microcosm of the deep ideological divisions that are ravaging the once-mighty superpower to emerge out of the Cold War.

Trump has refused to declare his willingness to accept the outcome of the elections in case he loses. This is not a page out of Africa. No! This is the rapidly-changing face of American politics.

Part of Trump’s conspiracy theory is that the Democrats are wont to manipulate the controversial postal votes, which will probably trickle in weeks after the rest of the electronic votes have been long counted.

This is a vexatious issue for Trump and his Republican Party.

The deepening animosity between the warring sides has been captured in a recent poll. Looking beyond the elections next month, one of the polls found that 56% of the Americans were convinced that violence would escalate, regardless of who won the presidential race.

In whichever way one looks at the unfolding complex situation, all indications are that the US is in uncharted territory.

How did it end up this way?

America’s hidden pandemic is its age-old systematic racial inequality.

In the land of the plenty, where the ubiquitous rhetoric among citizens is to “live the dream”, African-Americans know too well the fallacy of this lie.

Although a notable minority, comprising some 45 million in a population of just over 331 million people, according to Worldometer elaboration of the latest US data, African-Americans are invariably at the short end of the stick in relation to the socio-economic dynamics of the country of their birth.

For example, according to the US Bureau of Justice figures as at 2018, black males accounted for 34% of the male prison population, white males 29% and Hispanic males 24%.

The US society’s social coherence has, over the years, been undermined by hordes of over-zealous police officers subjecting black males to random stops and searches.

With huge thanks to technology, the callous killing of black males, such as that of George Floyd in May in Minneapolis, are captured on cellphone cameras and instantly trend on social media across the globe.

A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, leading to his death.

Exasperated by the frequency of similar incidents and the habit of the jury to acquit implicated police officers, African-Americans, supported by like-minded white counterparts, took to the streets to vent their anger.

I pick this example as one of many at various intervals of history during which African-Americans are reminded of their de facto status as second-class citizens in the land that is supposed to be a shining beacon of liberty.

The global spread and popularisation of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been amplified by the visible lack of empathy by the Trump administration, which constantly lambastes BLM protesters as violent anarchist.

In the same vein, right-wing supporters of the US president have, at times, publicly shown their disdain for BLM activists by attacking them.

Among the scores of President Trump supporters are the pro-gun lobby groups. Watching their recent march in Virginia during a gun rights rally, one was left with a sense of déjà vu which has become all so real for the beleaguered African-Americans.

The question now is: How will all this deep-seated enmity and domestic upheaval influence the outcome of next month’s elections?

Let me tackle the question by looking at the story of one Soren Powell, a former water treatment technician who is a die-hard Trump supporter. After voting for Trump in the previous elections, his wife was so incensed that the couple divorced.

Powell’s story is an apt summation of the deep divisions that cut across the US households.

Not so long ago, when such domestic divisions were more subtle and hard to see with the naked eye, the American establishment would have us all blame every cause of its internal strife on the so-called Russia-gate.

Blaming the Russians for allegedly meddling in the elections and helping Trump win the last time, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin had, until recently, been the obvious scapegoats of what causes mayhem in the peaceful land of America.

But now that the Democrats and the Republicans are unashamedly at each other’s throats, blaming the Russians for their locking horns is a long shot indeed.

The BLM has shone the torch on the structural failures of the US democratic order. There is no place to hide anymore. No foreign policy lie that can stick.

My biggest fear is that as the shortchanged African-Americans get ready to flock en masse to the polls next month, to vote for Biden, Trump’s support-base of the conservatives and trigger-happy right-wingers boasts large proportion in the population of 331 million-plus.

As Powell argued in a documentary this week: “The BLM fuel a general atmosphere of lawlessness.”

He added that, in recent times, American society at large was put under severe pressure to “de-normalise aggression towards blacks, but now aggression towards whites is normalised”, he said, before loading his pistol to brush-up on his aiming skills in the nearby shooting range.

Like many of his ilk, he hoped the heightened public protests by the BLM and the violence that often accompany such protests would serve to help Trump win the election instead of hurting his chances at the rendezvous of victory.

Only a fool would bet against Trump being returned to the Oval Office to spew more venom against his opponents, real or perceived.

However, Trump’s return to the highest office in the land of plenty would serve to expedite the demise of the US’s international standing.

His foreign policy is evidently cantankerous, his allies in the EU are jittery and unsure about what his next tweet will say about who is next in his firing line amid his penchant for unilateral economic sanctions and which international treaty he is pulling out of, and so on.

The era of the US as a doyen of democracy and moral uprightness is fast behind us. The Emperor hath no clothes.

* Sipho Mabaso is a freelance journalist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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