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The New American ‘Cold-Civil-War’: Looking Beyond The Biden-Trump Debate – OpEd

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Watching the Trump-Biden debate that night was quite an experience I had expected to be immersed in. Though a serious ritual of American democracy it is, my laughter filled the living room the first five minutes: simply because I had expected what a “presidential comedy hour” it could turn out to be.

Then I braced myself for the remaining 85 minutes of seriousness, analyzing the issues being debated, the body language, the in-synchronicity of the whole affair with the rules of debate and dialogue (yes, I was a debate coach back in the day,), and of in the largest scheme of things the level of “boiling point” of American politics.

What is my analysis? What is America debating? Where is she heading?

It is not about Donald Trump the president and his antics: it is about the rise of two seemingly irreconcilable philosophies of economic-social-individualistic sustainability, brought to forefront by the pandemic. It is about yet another end of history.

The pandemic tested Trump’s presidency. And his intelligence. It also brought the best and the worst out of a “war-time president’s” leadership style. Had it not been for the pandemic, the US economy could perhaps be steered according to its free-entreprisal-corporate-capitalist dictates with a shrewd and sloppy real estate agent as president. But Trump was not ready, made worse by the great demands of a presidential learning curve thrusted upon him.

The American response to the pandemic is a truly American one. There is the perspective of “freedom and individual choice” thrown into the complex mix of the road paved for problem-solving. Until now the mask-or no-mask dilemma of choice plagues America. Democrats wear masks. Republicans unmaking themselves.

The pandemic is not just a test for Trump but a brutal economic game-changer, sweeping the nation like the might of a Genghis Khan bulldozing, with a spirit a conquistador like Alexander of Macedonia.

The Jeffersonian-Ben Franklinian tension in the political and economic psyche of America morphed itself to full ripeness in the Trump era.

What do I mean by this? Is this still about Joe Biden and Donald Trump?

Perhaps not at all. It is about the deep-rootedness of the problematique of “democracy in America” as observed in the late 1700s by the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, a classic reading for those studying the Americans.

I shall elaborate the complexity of America, as an evolving experimental republic.

I maintain: perspectives — as many as one can epistemologically conjure — should inform the analysis of what is pushing America into the realm of a “problematic state”. Yes, America the experimental republic since its construction as a modern state that broke away from the reign of King George III of England.

The current American quagmire is that it is not only one bleeding internally and externally from her war with Covid-19, but also from an old would of the irreconcilable base-superstructural-problematique drawn from the writings of Frederic von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes: the continuing tension of searching for the “one-best-system”, i.e. either socialism or free enterprise. This is the problem of economic philosophical orientation and ideology. This is what sets apart the two ruling parties of American politics: The Democrats and the GOP/The Republicans. This is the Marxist dialectics, if we may, of the American struggle to sustain her brand of “pragmatics-democracy”, her dream of a “city-up-on-the hill”, her post-Jamestown experimentation in institutionalization of a “land of the free, home of the brave”. The tension between the “rugged individualism” and the civics consciousness of the ideals of the ‘small-town-America” as perhaps Alexis de Tocqueville would call.

Today, the conflict of the base and superstructure of the republic has reached a boiling point, in which the public is now seeing a new form of “cold civil war” — of race and economic waywardness — exploding.

It is yet another cycle of history, a continuing march of the forces of historical materialism at play, especially with the revisit of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 reincarnated on a grander scale in the form of Covid-19 of 2019, engulfing the skies of this new American “cold-civil war”.

Is this the beginning of the end of America as the world knows it? But is it yet another Social-Darwinist flow of America renewing itself as it enters another phase, as reluctant as how she went “not so gently into the night” of the New Deal of the Roosevelt Era? When, as chronicled by John Reed in Ten Days That Shook the World, after the October Revolution of 1917, America too was descending into chaos and the fear that she too would be plunged into the abyss of “Stalinist Socialism”?

What do I mean all these?

Perhaps this as conjecture: America is experiencing a catharsis, as if a serum of race-ethnic-economic extremism brought about by economic conditions of yet another passing of a new age that has been administered gradually, has already reached full-throttle effect. The nation is now at a boiling point. A high fever. A time for radically and irreconcilable voices to shout at each other: of Black Lives and White Lives Matter -sort of politics. This is not only a consequence of the crisis of capital accumulation but also of race relations: America passing the political baton from a radical Black president to a radical White one. This is a symbol of the rise of multiculturalism as a political power which was then met by the response to “making America great again”, of Democrats’ BLM-Antifa Movement with protests and night-looting and all, and on the other end of the “cold-civil war”, “The Proud Boys, ” with guns and ammo and all, on stand-by.  This is what the Biden-Trump debate is about, albeit a “comedy show” that sounded like an opening act to the forthcoming infamous Saturday Night Live TV show (“SNL”).

And what do the Americans on the street want? Jobs, Peace, and Stability, Law and Order, More Kindness, Less Suspiciousness, and a renewal of American Pragmatism. We need these. To cool things off. To elect anyone that can deal with the new enemy: this Pandemic of 2020. In short, Americans want “To make America Sane Again.”

I think so.

I think no further presidential debate can resolve this ideological issue founded on race and false consciousness of this and that sense of superiority. A different format is needed: a dialogue and a heart-to-heart talk about how all lives matter. 

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books, namely Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), Dark Spring: Essays on the Ideological Roots of Malaysia's General Elections-13 (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia's 'New Politics' (2014), and One Malaysia under God, Bipolar (2015). Five of the books are available here. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University in the City of New York, and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. He currently teaches courses in Global Politics, Cross-Cultural Studies, and Sustainability, in the United States. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

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