Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Americans -- too many of them -- abandon their base values

THE ATLANTIC The world watched today as the president of the United States confirmed his critics’—and American allies’—fears, railing baselessly against election fraud, arguing from his perch in the White House that he had won an election whose result remained in doubt. Donald Trump’s remarks signaled a dangerous new episode in the soap opera of his presidency. Waking up to the news that he has claimed victory—despite official and media sources, to say nothing of the Joe Biden campaign, insisting any final result remains some ways off—the world has been forced to confront its faith not just in America, but in the American idea. Before today, the American president himself could be loathed or ridiculed, the nature of American power challenged, and even the corruption of American politics debated. Yet few doubted the strength of America’s constitutional nature, the foundation upon which it built its republic. There have been disputed elections before—hanging chads and worse—but Trump’s comments, made before all the votes have been tallied nationwide and with multiple states up for grabs, signaled a break. This is no constitutional crisis, yet, but a president laying claim to an office he has not won (albeit one he might) is a crisis of its own. The world has long looked at the American experiment with a sense of awe, disbelief, and skepticism that it could hold. In 1835, with the United States a mere fledgling, its original foreign chronicler, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote of the “feverish excitement” that gripped the country at election time, but observed that normality quickly resumed once the result was clear. “As soon as the choice is determined,” he wrote in Democracy in America, “this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level: but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes of the storm.” Today the world watches, wondering whether the latest current has finally broken its banks—the storm of this particular election and this particular president too much for the system to bear. Outside the U.S., there is despair. The impact of what is happening will be felt much further afield, the consequences not just practical and domestic but philosophical and global. Diplomats and officials I spoke with have voiced worry over the future of the U.S.-led Western alliance, and over the implications for countries abroad. Today, with Washington in chaos, its future sovereign unknown, it is the idea of America that risks being submerged, an idea that much of the world has grown to rely on—and, indeed, has adopted. ... De Tocqueville appreciated that underneath the constitutional foundation of American stability lay even deeper trenches—the accepted norms that held its society together. At the root lies its commitment to republican government and the sovereignty of the people. If this goes, then there really is a problem. “Without such common belief no society can prosper,” he wrote. “For without ideas held in common, there is no common action, and without common action, there may still be men, but there is no social body.”
I'm no Brit but during the Brexit fight, it ssure looked like that they, too, had lost track of their norms.

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