US elections: Who can heal a divided America?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: This election’s third and biggest loser is the American people.

TWO SUPPORTERS of US President Donald Trump hold American flags during a ‘Stop the Steal’ protest in North Las Vegas, Wednesday. (photo credit: STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS)
TWO SUPPORTERS of US President Donald Trump hold American flags during a ‘Stop the Steal’ protest in North Las Vegas, Wednesday.
(photo credit: STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS)
The American electoral drama had yet to be decided when Donald Trump set out to prove he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing since launching his attack on America’s soul.
By declaring victory when the contest was wide open, the American president effectively announced that his war on truth will continue and in fact intensify. By claiming he faces a conspiracy, and by vowing to demand that the Supreme Court halt the vote count, he set out to crush the American democracy’s operating system.
At this writing, this fateful encounter’s winner is unknown. The losers, however, can already be counted, and their combination unveils three conclusions: American society is ill, its illness is about leadership, and such will also be its cure.
THE FIRST loser is the polling industry.
One is at a loss to understand how this business lives on, even after its product has proved its utter dysfunction. There was a time when its telephoned interviews worked. It was a time when telephones were rotary, wiretapping was rare, and talking politics felt harmless.
That’s all gone now. Ours is an age of technological intrusion, cybernetic invasiveness and political wrath. People feel vulnerable, cornered and insecure. This is doubly so with many of Trump’s electorate, voters who for the past four years were led to believe that somebody is after them. Such voters, when asked by a pollster whom they will vote for, have evidently lied – by the millions.
It follows that in an era when people fear that their telephoned political statement will work against them, the only efficient way to conduct polls is through physical ballots, like exit polls, which would be located in bustling places like shopping malls, train stations or skyscraper lobbies.
That would, of course, be very expensive, laborious and cumbersome, but it would at least address what the polling industry refuses to admit – namely, that its time-honored product has come to be defunct.
THE ELECTION’S second loser is the American party system, on both its flanks.
Even if Joe Biden wins, the very closeness of the contest is a major failure for the Democratic Party. Defeating a president who bungled everywhere, defamed everyone and defiled everything should have been a cakewalk.
America is overflowing with born leaders, hundreds of whom would have been more energetic, inspiring and electrifying than Biden. These potential national leaders are everywhere – in industry, commerce, academia, entertainment, the nonprofit industry, you name it. They just don’t go into politics, because they tell themselves that someone else is taking care of that.
Well, that’s wrong. American politics is ill to the bone. This sad fact is reflected not only in the Democrats’ fielding of the wrong man to trounce Trump, but also in the Republicans’ failure to undo, and before that to prevent, Trump’s emergence in their midst and conquest of their realm.
And that is why this election’s third and biggest loser is the American people.
AMERICAN SOCIETY is torn, torn as deeply as it has not been since the Civil War.
The Civil War’s origins have been the subject of a fascinating historiographic debate. Some, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president Henry Wilson in his History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power (1872-77), argued that the war was a moral clash between justice and evil, and therefore inevitable.
This deterministic attitude, that “if the Negro had not been brought to America the Civil War would not have occurred” (James Ford Rhodes, History of the US, 1904), was voiced already before the war’s outbreak by Lincoln’s future secretary of state, William Seward, who thought American society had come to face “an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces.”
Others shared this attitude’s deterministic part, but dismissed its moral part.
Charles Beard (The Rise of American Civilization, 1927), for instance, thought the war’s moral rhetoric was designed to hide a clash of economic interests, and Eric Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 1970) thought the North feared slavery’s expansion, but was not out to change the South.
Others thought the conflict was altogether preventable.
James Randall (The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1937) argued that the gaps between North and South were shallow, that slavery was anyhow ready to die, that the war was therefore “needless,” and that it broke out because of bad politicians’ surrender to both sides’ fanatics.
Historian Michael Holt (The Political Crisis of the 1850s, 1978, p. 184) put it this way: “Much of the story of the coming of the Civil War is the story of the successful efforts of Democratic politicians in the South and Republican politicians in the North to keep the sectional conflict at the center of the political debate.”
The current American schism will surely feed a similar debate among future historians, with two big differences.
Firstly, current American wrath, while also reflecting cultural undercurrents, social gaps and economic fears, was nonetheless visibly, audibly, and consciously fanned by one man. In this case, a single man’s culpability is larger than that of any individual’s role in causing the Civil War.
Secondly, and much more importantly, the current crisis can still be prevented from spinning out of control.
If Biden wins, he would do well to create a national reconciliation board – say, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Joe Lieberman, Al Gore and Collin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Michael Bloomberg – and consult it as he sets out to repair the house that Trump divided.
If Trump wins, such a board should assemble by itself, and together field a bipartisan ticket for 2024. This way, the party system will be rebooted, the American people will be reassembled, and the culture of lying that made fools of the pollsters will make way for a culture of hope.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.