Updated: Oct 17, 2021
There are different kinds of tragedy, but the American one follows a rather typical pattern. Unknown or denied past events cause one’s downfall without regard to good intentions or optimistic forecasts. You can hear this in President Biden’s rhetoric of “This is the United States,” or “There is nothing we cannot do when we do it together.” It’s true, we went to the moon, but it’s also true that we came close to losing our democracy not because of a lack of optimism, but a lack of historical consciousness.
I know Trump and Biden are as different as the horse and the donkey, but they sometimes both appear more like a mule than one would expect. “Make America first” is not that different from “make America great again.: “Jobs, jobs, jobs” is not that different from Trump’s policies that provided jobs to more minorities than ever before. They both deserted women in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Biden’s cabinet exists in a totally different world than Trump’s. What is not yet clear is how these two worlds will interact. One option is for Biden’s world to simply expand. “Success will be its own reward.” The other option is to engage in a tangle, a fight, to save our democracy. Biden seems to have taken the first option. Economic success will make dealing with voter suppression unnecessary. “America is a winner; we just need to win for all.”
The character flaw behind tragedy, of course, is hubris, or for us, white arrogance. I would not accuse President Biden of arrogance, but his rhetoric belongs to an American history in which it is endemic.