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Biden Fuels the Flames of Apocalyptic Discourse

Biden alimenta las llamas de la polarización. Imagen: EFE/EPA/Samuel Corum - Pool via CNP / POOL

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President Biden fuels the flames of an apocalyptic discourse, which gets him the applause of his followers but at the same time deepens the political crisis in America and betrays his promises to heal divisions within the country and generate unity. The effects of this rhetoric go far beyond the mere conjuncture, reflecting a deep and disturbing truth about the political struggle in the United States.

There are plenty of examples, but the president’s obsession with comparing his opponents’ initiatives to prevent voter fraud with the infamous racist regulations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as he reaffirmed last July 21, when in a town hall with CNN, Biden described the Republicans’ initiatives as “Jim Crow on steroids”.

And this is not just one more of his now-famous verbal outbursts, but a narrative that Biden has consistently pushed this year. In fact, the president had already used the specific phrase “Jim Crow on steroids” on March 31, during an interview with Sportscenter, and insisted on the comparison during a July 13 speech in Philadelphia.

In other words, it is not coincidence, it is strategy. A lousy strategy that seeks to keep alive one of the most unfortunate and terrible eras in the history of the United States, adapting it now as a partisan scarecrow, in a grave offense to those who were victims of those times and to those who worked to correct the profound injustice of that era.

What were Jim Crow laws?

Roughly speaking, “Jim Crow laws” are known as a set of regulations passed after the Civil War, with the objective of keeping African-Americans under an apartheid system where whites had the power and basically a society of their own, based on the concept of segregation.

This segregation was not only reflected in capricious and absurd limitations to the political rights of the African-American population, but also in the prohibition to share means of transportation, schools, places of leisure and even bathrooms and drinking fountains with the white population.

To this must be added the systematic terror unleashed in the American South by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (linked to the Democratic Party, by the way), which murdered and assaulted with impunity African-American families and those who dared to challenge systemized racism.

For millions of Americans, Jim Crow laws meant spending their lives under the constant condemnation of a system of injustice whose stain of shame will forever remain in American history. Therefore, to trivialize the injustice and suffering experienced for nearly a century by millions of African-Americans, as President Biden is now doing, is simply shameful.

Just that clear, because Joe Biden accuses the new election regulation initiatives presented by Republicans at the local level, of being “Jim Crow on steroids” what he implies is that the suffering, the very real suffering of millions of people for decades, was far less than what the new Republican proposals to require photo voting IDs, reliable voter rolls, and ban food handouts in voting lines will bring.

In other words: 100 years ago, African-Americans faced the very real risk of being literally lynched at the whim of a racist mob. That was terrible, but not as terrible (as Biden implies) as banning the distribution of Coca-Cola in the voting line. It is that absurd.

Biden alimenta las llamas de la polarización, y apostarle al conflicto es una juego muy arriesgado. Imagen: Unsplash
Biden fuels the flames of polarization, and betting on conflict is a very risky gamble. Image: Unsplash

Unintinded consequences

Behind Biden’s words that the electoral regulations proposed by the Republicans are “Jim Crow on steroids,” a crude political pragmatism is hidden. He obviously seeks to wring applause from his supporters and cement the “Republicans=racists” narrative, which the Democratic Party’s media ecosystem has pushed for decades.

That in itself is negative, but the underlying diagnosis is even worse: what Biden is doing is to fuel the flames of the apocalyptic discourse that has become increasingly dominant in the American political struggle. And it’s not just the president, both Republicans and Democrats have fallen into the seductive temptation of framing every political disagreement as an ultimate struggle between good and evil, the proportions of which surpass any previous event.

Preaching apocalypse is useful in the short term to capture attention (and donations) in an environment where content has increasing competition, but it carries two very serious effects.

First, as it becomes more common, apocalyptic rhetoric loses power and maintaining the effect requires increasingly dramatic and aggressive statements. Giving a growing competitive advantage to demagogues on both sides. If you think polarization is a problem today, wait until you see what it will look like in 10 or 15 years. And if that trend is not corrected, there will come a point where the only next step will be to move from rhetorical violence to physical violence.

Second, turning every small dispute into an apocalypse discourages collaboration and multiplies the political cost of reaching agreements. It is no accident that bipartisan work has collapsed in recent years as the drums of war grew louder. Today, for a Republican or Democrat to back an initiative coming from the other side is potentially suicidal in political terms, even if it is a good idea.

The consequence of polarization will be increasing paralysis within congresses and decision-making bodies. This paralysis will strengthen frustration, fuel polarization and eventually lead to physical violence. It is a vicious circle of apocalypse.

In November 2020, after winning the presidential election, the president pledged to “be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify and who sees not red states and blue states, but America.” However, he is not delivering on that promise. He has chosen the easy path of preaching polarization. In doing so Biden is fueling the flames of an apocalypse that could be all-consuming.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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