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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Political, Religious, and Self-Interest Drivers in America’s Radical Democracy Challenge

The Political, Religious, and Self-Interest Drivers in America's Radical Democracy Challenge


In a powerful analysis by Washington Post’s Editor at Large, Robert Kagan, a profound challenge to American democracy is delineated, central to which is the figure of Donald Trump and his dedicated base. As Election Day approaches, the overt threats Trump poses to the foundational principles of liberal democracy—equality and universal rights—are unmistakably apparent. His consistent undermining of these principles, along with his disregard for constitutional democratic processes, highlights a deeper, concerning trend of eroding public virtue, a fear that the Founding Fathers harbored at the nation’s inception.

This decline in civic virtue is not merely a reflection of current societal grievances but is deeply entrenched in a long-standing anti-liberal tradition within American history. Efforts to preserve pre-liberal hierarchies and counter the secular, liberal principles that challenge established religious and racial orthodoxies have persisted since the republic’s inception. The current opposition to what is derogatorily termed “wokeness” represents this historical resistance against liberal ideals.

The current electoral stakes are immense, representing not merely a political contest but a crucial battle for the soul of the nation. This election will test America’s commitment to the revolutionary liberal framework established by the Founders against a push towards a vision that seeks to distort this legacy profoundly. Trump’s actions, including his role in the events of January 6 and his threats to the electoral process, emphasize the severity of this challenge.

At the heart of this anti-liberal push are figures like Yoram Hazony and Senator Josh Hawley, who advocate for a redefined American nationhood based on Protestant and Biblical principles, starkly contrasting the Founders’ liberal and inclusive vision. This vision includes a transformation of society to align with specific Christian doctrines, necessitating the abandonment of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Figures such as Glenn Ellmers at the Claremont Institute view democratic processes as futile, advocating for a direct shift to a new regime that reflects the true will of those he deems the genuine American populace—those who supported Trump in the last election. This sentiment is supported by intellectuals like Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule, who view Trump as an imperfect but necessary vehicle for a counterrevolution that would involve a new, self-aware aristocracy capable of imposing radical changes in alignment with their vision.

These changes advocate for a powerful executive free from the constraints of liberal and democratic norms, aiming to aggressively counteract liberal ideologies. This discourse finds echo even within the highest levels of government, as seen in figures like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has publicly questioned the doctrine of the separation of church and state.

This anti-liberal drive is underscored by demographic shifts towards a less White, less Protestant America, creating a perceived urgency among conservatives to implement their vision before they become a definitive electoral minority.

Trump’s control over the Republican Party and the unwavering loyalty of his base provide a unique opportunity to push forward this anti-liberal agenda.

Ultimately, the support for Trump, despite his controversial actions and legal challenges, highlights a deep-seated willingness among his followers to redefine American identity and governance away from the liberal ideals upon which the nation was founded. This election is thus not only a political pivot but a fundamental test of America’s commitment to the principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all.

Next fall, on Election Day, it’s very possible that American voters will face a familiar choice at the top of their ballots: President Biden versus former President Donald Trump. While this scenario isn’t set in stone, it’s increasingly likely. Biden may yet decide not to run, and a dark horse Republican could emerge victorious in the primaries. Surprises can and do happen in politics, reminding us of the old adage from the “Naked City” show: “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City.” Every vote cast in the primaries and potentially 150 million or more in the 2024 election will have its own unique backstory.

A Biden-Trump rematch would be driven by significant divides among the electorate. First, the clash between irascibility and perceived infirmity: While many Americans are weary of Trump’s combative style, others appreciate what they see as his forthright authenticity. Simultaneously, a number of voters are concerned about Biden’s visible decline and whether he is fully at the helm of his administration. Yet, many others look past these concerns, focusing instead on the policies of his administration.

National security forms another stark dividing line, with Biden’s tenure marked by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and perceived border insecurities. In contrast, Trump’s unpredictable approach to national security, such as the drone strike on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, appeals to voters who favor a more aggressive stance.

The most profound divide may center on Trump himself: some voters fear that his re-election could endanger the republic, while others see him as the antidote to elite mismanagement.


Meanwhile, debates over public school performance, public safety, and bureaucracy underscore deep societal cleavages, potentially motivating a diverse range of voter behaviors and attitudes as the election approaches.

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