Why Joe Biden failed to quell the fever of a fractured America

From our correspondent in the United States,

This was perhaps the most important promise of his campaign. Joe Biden had made his duel against Donald Trump an existential referendum and a battle for the “soul” of America. But while he vowed in his inaugural speech, two weeks after the Capitol storming, to do everything to “unify” a battered Nation, Biden has come up against the harsh reality of a deeply fractured country. And the situation could get worse after the November 8 midterms, with the prospect of a divided Congress: a wave of “MAGA” Republicans is likely to sweep the House, but the Democrats are favorites to maintain a majority in the Senate.

Contrary to popular belief, these divisions “are old”, recalls James Campbell, professor of political science at the University of Buffalo. In his book Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America (Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America), the researcher insists: America “is not a Nation of moderates”, with a strong ideological divide between liberals, on the left, and conservatives, on the right, in an almost absolute two-party system. It was first the Democratic Party that moved away from the center in the 1960s and 1970s, in the midst of the civil rights movement. Then the Republican Party followed, with the emergence of the evangelical right, the success of a tough opposition to Bill Clinton in 1994, the Tea Party under Obama and Trumpism. As a result, today, only one in three Americans consider themselves “moderate”.

Filter bubbles and echo chamber

According to Campbell, it was through the electorate that this polarization began before spreading to politicians, and not the other way around. For a long time, elected officials “softened the differences by courting the centrists; today, they have more electoral success by mobilizing their base,” explains the academic. This is particularly true in the House, with electoral redistricting that favors one party or the other. In the Senate, it is necessary to address a larger electorate, on the scale of an entire state, and often to carry out a refocusing after the primaries.

Liberals or conservatives, pro life Where pro choice, gun rights Where gun controlFox News vs. MSNBC, Elites vs. working-class… America is being cut in two by binary choices, and it’s getting worse. “It’s a pernicious cycle of reinforcement because we are mainly exposed to people on the same side,” explains the expert. “Companies promote their values ​​and attract employees who share them. There is less and less discussion of ideas”. The polarization of the media, with the advent of “news cables” also played a role, as did social networks and their multiplying effect on filter bubbles and echo chambers.

Joe Biden’s choice

Coming to power after the violence of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville then the assault on the Capitol, Joe Biden wanted to “lower the temperature”. It failed: two out of three Americans now believe that democracy “is at risk of collapsing”, and as many are worried about the risk of “political violence”. For once, Republicans and Democrats are in unison. Except that they are diametrically opposed on the reasons for the evil. “One side holds Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans accountable, while the other points the finger at Joe Biden and the Socialist Democrats,” write the editorial writers of the New York Times Peter Baker and Blake Houndshell.

Faced with these deep divisions, Joe Biden seems to have made up his mind and is seeking to unify the anti-Trumps. In his speech on “the permanent battle for the soul of our Nation” in Philadelphia, on September 1, he violently attacked his predecessor, but also his supporters:

Trump and the extremist MAGA Republicans have chosen a return to anger, violence, hatred and division. The Republican Party today is dominated and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and this is a threat to democracy. »

This speech and its staging, with armed marines behind him and a blood red light, were criticized by the entire Republican Party, including moderate elected officials. The former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who has presidential ambitions, notably denounced “a speech from hell by the chief divider. Joe Biden is not going to unify us by roughly saying that half of Americans are domestic terrorists. »

And for Joe Biden, talking so much about Donald Trump is a risky bet: traditionally the midterms remain a referendum on the president in place, not on his predecessor.

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