Why do Americans like excesses

Trump and the USA : Can American Society Ever Find Peace Again?

Whenever Americans have been really frustrated with the political stalemate in their country and the caustic in their politics in recent years, they have always been able to console themselves with one fact: Things in France, their fraternal revolutionary partner of then and now a presidential democracy, the similar to the American one, were much worse.

But with the election of Emmanuel Macron, this sedative pill crumbled. Even if Macron still has to prove his skills in everyday government, one fundamental truth is already certain: the reputation of a dilapidated political system that will be extremely difficult to get back on its feet now clings to the United States.

This statement represents a true earthquake in the political present.

What some may initially think of as excessive exaggeration has a variety of reasons. It starts with the always mantra-like recitation of the “checks and balances”. While these may be able to block Trump's worst excesses, this mechanism does not address the core of the US political problem. And American optimism, which has been reflexively advanced for too long, should also be understood better as a denial of reality.

In the USA the question arises whether it is still a "society" at all

In the United States, the question of the inner peace-making ability of society is not only being seriously raised, but also that of wanting to live with one another, even more radically. Basically, the question increasingly arises whether it is still a "society". Because the necessary willingness to approach politically (!) Differently minded people is increasingly lacking. It seems that the Americans have long recognized the depths of the difficulties. Hence the increasingly urgent hope of finding a truly “transformative” president.

Because of the sclerotization of the political system, so the theory goes, a personality is required in the White House who - equipped with a direct mandate from the voters - is able to overcome the entire defamation. History doesn't mean it well with the Americans. The lofty hopes that were placed in Kennedy or Obama when they took office, for example, fizzled out very quickly. Donald Trump was chosen by his voters in 2016 as a new incarnation of the savior - but who no longer believes in beyond his staunch faithful.

Why is it so difficult for US presidents, who are endowed with omnipotence compared to European prime ministers and German chancellors, to be successful on the home front? The reason for this is as simple as it is surprising. In the US political system, very different from the French one, which was restructured by de Gaulle, nobody - not even a president who was elected by large majorities - really has the power to shape things. He is always just one center of power among several. And the beautiful appearance of emphasizing his almost feudalistic royalty by means of all kinds of pomp is in reality only an illusion. The alleged omnipotence of the president is only fooled into the people.

In reality, American politics as a whole is characterized by great distrust of the other centers of power. That is the core function of the "checks and balances". The extensive minority rights, which are particularly pronounced in the Senate, primarily have one function: They lead to strong obstacles to modernizing changes. Much of the American political scene was created to keep the people in check - so the founding fathers feared - revolutionary people. In theory, the strict two-party system of the United States is supposed to facilitate political decision-making, in reality the two-party state stifles all political dynamics. Political action degenerates more and more into pure partisanism.

In the US there is no real hope of going down a path like Macron's.

In theory, Americans should be hopeful of the fact that France was caught in the same vicious cycle until a few months ago. The French socialists and republicans, the dominant parties in the country, were so fixated on each other that they became less and less responsive to the real needs of the people. Such a political system is inevitably heading towards collapse. Now that French voters have given Emmanuel Macron an amazing free hand, the world will see a live experiment. The precise question is whether such a transformation can work in France, which is allegedly so steeped in tradition, while it is apparently not possible in the (supposedly dynamic) United States.

However, the Americans will come across an unpleasant result: In the USA there is no real hope of treading a path like Macron's. This finding is all the more fatal since the method of Macron's quasi-miraculous ascent was based on mechanisms that the entire world has only ever associated with the Americans. A man throws his hat into the ring - et voilà, he is not only elected president, but the electorate also gives him the majorities necessary in parliament to bring about the overdue change.

Trump may pretend to be doing something similar. But he never cared about the country, just his ego trip. On closer inspection, it is the choleric exaggeration of an understanding of politics that is dangerously close to nihilism. The fact that the US political apparatus is further perverted through the system of campaign financing and "gerrymandering" (i.e. the creation of electoral districts to guarantee election victories for preferred parties) only increases the degree of self-isolation of politics and the distance from the citizens.

Except in the event that Macron turns out to be a real flop, and the chances of this are close to zero, the entire world has to rethink. It is no longer the French who are stuck neck deep in the political morass, but the supposedly flexible Americans. In other words, the nation that until now has always believed that it would be able to evade any mess like a Münchhausen-like due to a providence of world history. This hitherto practiced tendency to pray healthily on one's own behalf does not help. In view of the impossibility of a far-reaching constitutional amendment, for example in the direction of parliamentary democracy, it is difficult to imagine how the United States can heal itself.

This is precisely why the current political crisis in the USA is deeper and more hopeless than the crisis in France ever was in the Fifth Republic. In any case, a deus ex machina à la Macron will not help the Americans.

Stephan Richter is the founder of the foreign policy online magazine "The Globalist".

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page