A Plague on Both Your Houses | Dr. Rakib Ehsan


What a hot almighty mess.

The first US Presidential Election debate merely confirmed what many had suspected for some time – that American liberal democracy is in crisis.

The sight of a Republican president and a Democratic presidential candidate who served for 8 years as Vice-President, hurling personal insults and frequently indulging in petty name-calling, was a sorry sight indeed. It may have even helped some non-Americans, usually scathing of their own quality of domestic political leadership, to put things in perspective.

Unsurprisingly, amid the US’s polarising and aggressive culture wars, issues of race and political extremism came to the fore during the debate; and both Trump and Biden let themselves down.

Trump’s “Proud Boys” moment, stumbling on the opportunity to disavow white supremacists and hard-right militia groups, leaves him exposed to the charge of pandering to the nastier ethno-nationalist elements of his support base. Proud Boys, a hard-right organisation which has engaged in acts of political violence, celebrated Trump’s reckless call for the organisation to “stand back and stand by” as he swiftly shifted the discussion onto hard-left extremism in the form of ANTIFA.

But Biden’s reference to ANTIFA as an “idea” was exceptionally poor on his part. ANTIFA is a hard-left militant movement which is guilty of acts of violence, intimidation and harassment across the US. It has been responsible for the mass destruction of private property which has been the cause of great pain and misery in inner-city neighbourhoods which are far from being “privileged”. Its supposedly “anti-fascist” message of peace and inclusivity is far detached from its violent methods, which are all too often adopted with relish.

The reality is that Trump and Biden are more similar than people think. Both are guilty of entertaining race-obsessed extremists on their respective sides of the political spectrum. The former is reluctant to condemn hard-right ethno-nationalists, while the latter is reluctant to condemn hard-left identitarians, no doubt leaving much of patriotic, civic-minded, moderate America bitterly disappointed.

Posing a fundamental threat to American liberal democracy, both the hard-left and hard-right political extremes have been responsible for a further breakdown in race relations over the past months.  

It is a crying shame that neither of the presidential choices on offer were able to provide a well-rounded condemnation of the ideologically-diverse threat of political extremism, in their own country.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Twitter: @rakibehsan


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