by Sima Shakhsari
As we anxiously wait for the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, many who are rightly worried about the ramifications of another four years under Trump’s presidency have hoped that Trump’s removal would restore the American democracy. This hope for restoration raises several concerns, that while not particular to this election, are important to consider.
First, we may ask, what exactly “restoring” American democracy after Trump means. After all, despite the promise of freedom and salvation that sustains the American democracy (or rather its illusion), it is paradoxical to insist on restoring a system of governance that was built on settler colonialism and slavery; a system that has continued to operate through the normalization of racism (in its many forms), economic exploitation, and imperialism since the 17th century.
Second, we may reconsider our faith in what many consider to be a secular democracy. In fact, even as American politicians (Republican or Democrat alike) are eager to liberate the Middle East from “political Islam” or argue against the meddling of Islam in state politics, Christianity remains an important factor in the American politics, including its electoral politics. One might even argue that some of the states denounced as “theocratic” by the U.S. politicians (of course Saudi Arabia and Israel are always exempt from this denunciation) have more meaningful democratic processes than their American counterpart. Despite the prevalence of rigged elections (which is also the case in the U.S., sometimes in more sophisticated forms), the electoral politics in many of these democracies/”theocracies” are not limited to two parties that heavily rely on the capitalist logic, as it is the case in the U.S. Perhaps dismantling the electoral college is one small step towards democratizing the U.S. system of governance.
Third, the promise of freedom and salvation, along with the underlying Christianity of American democracy, translate into the juxtaposition of the “greatest democracy in the world” to its “enemies”: communism and Islam. In fact, the red scare of the cold war and the green scare of the “war on terror” have been quite effective in sustaining the American democracy as we know it. As long as communism and Islam are packaged as looming threats to “our way of life,” independent candidates that are “tainted” by socialism, or people like Bernie Sanders, will never have the chance to win an election as they embody the scarecrow of American democracy.
Fourth, blaming “middle America” or the “south” for the rise of fascism is a fallacy. For one, this wholesale accusation erases the reality of the lives of people who live in these states and actively fight against the rampant bigotry of white supremacists, in more ways that many in the “blue states” do. More importantly, this misplaced blame and provincialization exonerates liberals whose silence in the face of racism, anti-immigrant hate, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia, homophobia, and economic injustice has led to the “crisis” that we are facing today.
Fifth, the assumption that all Blacks, all Latinos, all Indigenous people, all Middle Easterners, or all Asians should vote against Trump is simplistic to say the least. The complexity of race, class, and diaspora politics make a black and white analysis of race that ignores geopolitics and erases the violence inherent to the construction of Human in the logic of American democracy insufficient. The pro-war and pro-Trump segments of the Cuban diaspora, Iraqi diaspora, and the Iranian diaspora, the BIPOC people who voted for Trump, and Twinks for Trump highlight the aspiration for whiteness, heteronormativity, and market virility in American democracy. As long as we don’t come to terms with this reality, we will be shocked and hurt at every election.
Sixth, if Biden wins this election (which many of us hope he will because another four years of Trump might very well mean detention, deportation and death for us and our loved ones), this doesn’t mean that “our democracy” is restored. Considering how close this election has been, Biden’s victory would not elide the fact that almost half of this country supports Trump’s fascism. Neither would his victory erase the reality that many among the other half who voted for Biden are content with the normalized racism, Islamophobia, economic injustice, xenophobia, anti-immigrant hate, transphobia, homophobia, militarism, and imperialism—all of which have existed long before the “Trump era.” The election of Trump in 2016 and the massive support for him in 2020 are not sharp breaks with an ideal past. In fact, this “crisis of American democracy” is not a crisis at all; it is the sedimentation of years, decades, and centuries of racism, capitalist exploitation, and American imperialism. Dismantling, rather than reforming or restoring, might be the strategy that we need, if we are serious about stopping fascism.
Seventh, because “the age of Trump” has meant taking many steps back in so many realms, any improvement under Biden’s presidency might seem like a victory. But we cannot afford to be content if these “improvements” mean slightly better than how things are under Trump, or even how things were under Obama. Lest we forget, more people were killed by drones or deported under Obama than they were under the presidency of many Republican presidents before him.
Eighth, American exceptionalism seems to blind even the most progressive among Americans to the events in the rest of the world. As important as the U.S. elections may be for other parts of the world (because the U.S. is the world police), the U.S. presidential election is not the only, or the most significant, event in the world right now. In fact, what is often characterized as “our state of crisis” in the U.S. has been other people’s normal state around the world, mainly because of histories of colonialism, imperialism, global capitalism, and fundamentalisms—the rise of which often has to do with these histories. Why not take a lesson from other places—many of which were made into dictatorships by the U.S. support—in these times?
Ninth, the record of wars and sanctions imposed by Democratic presidents reveals that Democratic presidents often have the tendency to implement extremely hostile foreign policies towards the “enemy.” Perhaps this is because they must prove to the U.S. conservatives and the Israeli lobby that they are as manly and tough as their Republican counterparts. So, Biden’s election does not automatically translate into an end to imperialism, wars, and sanctions. We need to mobilize and demand an end to U.S. wars and sanctions around the world.
Lastly, once mourning or celebration comes to an end after the election results are announced, the question is, what kind of work do we have ahead of us, regardless of the election results? Surely, restoration of American democracy cannot be the answer if we are to end white supremacy and fascism.
Sima’s work has been shaped by experiences of living through a revolution, a war, and displacement. Multiple itineraries, from Tehran to San Francisco, Oakland, Toronto, Houston, suburbs of Boston, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis have inspired Sima’s activism, poetry, and scholarship on immigration, queerness, refugeedom, and geopolitics. Sima’s commitment to social justice is informed by the relationship between people’s struggles transnationally.
Suggested citation: Shakhsari, S. 4 November 2020. “Some Thoughts on the U.S. Presidential Election.” AGITATE! Blog: https://agitatejournal.org/some-thoughts-on-the-u-s-presidential-election