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The public debate in the United States today has characteristics that bring it very close to situations that are identified more with Latin America than with its political tradition.
I started noticing this phenomenon after I moved to live in the northern country in April 2019. I felt it almost immediately through the media, where I had to watch at least two TV channels (ex. FOX and CNN), not to hear different opinions, but just to get all the news. This biased and partial coverage of the information was a novelty, compared to all my previous stays as a teacher.
The passage of time has only confirmed that initial impression, and today, I have no doubt that a new phenomenon has taken root and very deeply in everything that has to do with its democracy.
Starting polarization and a selective acceptance of political violence, depending on its origin. And with an increasingly accentuated electoral expression, that of the vote against, not in favor of someone, but the one that seems most useful to punish the one I dislike the most, be it Trump, Hillary or someone else. And the final proof that the problem is serious is represented by the fact that each sector refuses to see any defect on its side and places all the blame on its adversary.
It seems strange in a country that rather exports fashions than imports them, but some of what prevails in politics seems to have come directly from the south. To which we must add something that was added here: selective censorship from the big technology companies who did not like their opinion.
And given its power, it scares me very much.
It is impressive how a polarization has been imposed that prevents consensus or bipartisan decisions from being made, and that leads to abrupt changes, practically in all matters, depending on who is the occupant of the White House. It is not about the selection between alternatives typical of a democracy, but a perversion of it, since there is a true cultural war, with conflicting visions of the past and the future, since their elites have ceased to share a common narrative.
The United States not only seems to have doubts about its role as a superpower, but also about the superiority of its system, for example, compared to the Chinese, which is hardly auspicious, when without a doubt this confrontation is going to mark geopolitics of the 21st century. Despite this, the USA today lacks state policies on a variety of strategic and international issues, serving as an example the case of Latin America, in comparison to other regions.
If during the cold war, the USA was full of certainties about the advantages of its political (democracy) and economic system (free market capitalism), today it is full of doubts, starting with the electoral system and its reliability. Thus, it is striking that in 2016 (the “Russian plot”) and in 2020 (who won?), even today the losers do not accept the result, which affects the legitimacy with which broad layers of the population perceives it: a situation that also happens with gubernatorial elections, for example, Stacey Abrams in 2018 in Georgia.
Even if there is no evidence to support conspiracy theories, it is not enough to dismiss them as fake news, given their persistence and the number of people who believe them.
Furthermore, as part of the polarization, the educational system is subject to multiple questions, from the primary levels to postgraduate levels, which has only increased the debate and the questioning of what is perceived rather as indoctrination, which is a novelty in recent decades, since education has entered the partisan debate in elections, as happened in several states, in the last one of this 2022.
The foregoing points to an impoverishment of the public debate, to widespread suspicions of manipulation, and the fatal arrogance of thinking that a supposed exceptionality could prevent this progressive deterioration from ending up affecting both the economic health of the country and the democratic system itself. It is simply arrogant to assume or think that the country can be immune to failure, just because Americans try, in a situation that has also occurred in some Latin American countries, where on different dates, Argentine, Venezuelan or Chilean electorates thought that ideas and processes that have failed everywhere, now they are going to be successful, simply because they are the ones who tried them. The (bad) results are known.
If doses of lawfare are added to these processes, that is, using the legal system and institutions only to harm or delegitimize the adversary, the result can only be negative, since -as is already happening- justice is politicized , the police, even the FBI, among other institutions, in addition to coinciding with electoral results, where emotion increasingly prevails over reason and the narrative or story does so over the facts.
The United States is not just any country but the world”s still superpower, where these internal processes and their expression in international politics have created a scenario where it progressively loses the respect of other countries and falls from the top places in the world rankings of quality of life.
The expected consequence of polarization has been a well-known situation in Latin America and other countries, which is the disappearance of the political center and the difficulties in reaching agreements and in that way resolving the natural differences that exist in every society. The result is the decline in the quality of the democratic system, the lack of respect for the law and political violence, precisely for ideological reasons.
Violence is used not only to demonstrate, being perhaps worse that there is no unanimous and automatic condemnation, as it is mediated by hypocrisy, that is, in the event that this violence is committed by those who think the same as me, it would be acceptable, rejecting selectively only when done by adversaries. And the acceptance of violence always, always degrades democracy, since they are antonyms in a healthy society.
The USA has been experiencing this process for years, not only because of Trump but also because of everything that was done to prevent or hinder the legitimacy of his government. This is the case of violence, which did not start with the attack of a mob on Congress on January 6, 2020, but was preceded by months of constant attacks on federal and public institutions, on law enforcement, with the seizure of cities like Portland and many others, by movements such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter, in addition to proposals to defund the police at the local level, given their dependence on mayors, and with the support of important figures, media and companies in the country .
It is possible that an opportunity was wasted, where after January 6 and as a consequence of the seriousness of what happened, he could have taken all these situations and addressed them comprehensively by a bipartisan commission at the highest level, to review the depth of what was happening to the country as a whole.
I think they made a mistake by creating a commission only anti-Trump, representing a sector, with which I do not think it can fulfill its task, except to upset or complicate Trump. Perhaps he would have been harmed more as part of a broader context than the current one, interpretable as persecution of his person, by his supporters, who are not few, but many.
In other words, both sectors fall into destructive behaviors attributing themselves the monopoly of moral superiority, and that they would represent good and their adversaries could not put themselves on the same level, since they would represent evil, and hence the difficulty to dialogue, due to to prior mutual disqualification, in what is undoubtedly a reading that makes democracy difficult.
The simple exchange of ideas typical of democracy is made difficult not only by the exchange of insults, but also by their “weaponization”, that is, the conversion of arguments into weapons, those that are launched, not to convince, but to destroy the opponent. , which is not associated with the founding fathers, but rather with jurists and political scientists such as Karl Schmitt, who never denied his totalitarian sympathies and who claimed that politics consisted of bending the enemy, rather than convincing the adversary. An example of this is the ease with which in the USA today those who do not think the same are disqualified, calling them “fascist” or “populist”, just as it happens in other countries, and -that is the serious thing- without even remotely being so.
This climate, more than having winners and losers with names and surnames, manifests itself in a systemic way with democracy and freedoms among the losers, that is, what made it possible to win the Cold War.
In this regard, a final question: if these processes have always generated, in every country, a democratic deterioration, why could the case of the USA be different?
This article is part of an agreement between El American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.
Ricardo Israel es un reconocido escritor, bogado, analista político y académico chileno. Fue candidato presidencial de su país en 2013. Actualmente hace parte del directorio del Interamerican Institute for Democracy // Ricardo Israel is a renowned Chilean writer, lawyer, political analyst and academic. He was a presidential candidate in his country in 2013. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy