The zealot, the disrupter, and the ideologue: America’s presidential choices

Biden, Trump, or DeSantis; the zealot, the disrupter, or the ideologue are the choices confronting American voters. Individuals matter. Trump’s mercurial and transactional approach to foreign policy and his isolationist tendencies are well known. Back in the Whitehouse he would again be a disrupter, and perhaps worse. But an uncompromising Biden or empowered DeSantis present different threats.

Biden holds that there is “The sacred proposition rooted in Scripture and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that we are all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives”. Biden has acknowledged that “[America has] never fully lived up to that promise” but insists that “[Americans] never walked away from [the Constitutional recognition of equality]”. Here he reframes a vice as a virtue with the mild euphemism “walked”. America has strayed very, very far from that promise of equality, and still does.

Through two-and-a-half centuries of chattel slavery, Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws, racially-based exclusionary immigration, and on to today’s discriminatory practices, the US has persistently exhibited systemic racism and inequality. If Biden believes what he says, how does he manage the cognitive dissonance and reconcile his view with the established historical facts? It seems incredulous, but it does permit him to act on the virtuous and dangerous assumptions of America’s exceptionalism, indispensability, and innocence.

Biden asserts regularly that “the decisions we make in the coming years will determine the course of our world for decades to come. It happens every five or six generations, but we’re at that point”. Biden sees foreign policy as a vocation, a calling, and himself as a sort of crusading Hegelian world historical figure. This attitude transforms every situation into a morality play. And it justifies war.

In Ukraine “The whole world faced a test for the ages” he says and “the stakes are eternal”. Led by America the “choice [is] between chaos and stability”. For him, the alternatives are stark and failing is unacceptable. Like an itinerant preacher Biden has proclaimed, “There is no sweeter word than freedom. There is no nobler goal than freedom. There is no higher aspiration than freedom”. He urges Europeans to “move forward with faith and conviction”, and “to be allies not of darkness, but of light”.

The language of a crusading zealot.

What is this “leftism” that DeSantis will “destroy” or the “woke ideology” he will leave in “the dustbin of history”. They are shorthand DeSantis terms for the liberal, progressive, and universal rights-based advances made in western democracies since the Second World War. It is the premise of equality that he targets.

It is important to look deeply into DeSantis’ supporters and their ideology.

Buzzing around DeSantis, or expressing ideas in tune with his views, is an ecosystem of illiberal intellectuals obsessed with the decline of western civilisation and the fall in the standards of morality and civility. Modernity and secularism are anathemas to them. The influential Claremont institute, for instance, has thrown in behind DeSantis.

A recent article in Claremont’s American Mind online magazine declared that “Ford. Bud Light. Miller Lite. Disney. All these corporations and many more are fully invested in terraforming our nation, replacing any vestige of the old morality that used to undergird our way of life with one that is hostile to the very idea of civil society”. Another argued “Abortion is such a profound disruption of nature and the essence of the divine feminine” that, in justification, leftists have had to elevate it “to a position of high cultural esteem”. To promote abortion, he wrote, leftists have constructed “a new religion out of the rubble of the old, in its inverted image”. A third claimed that something called “The New Left—greedy, woke, elitist, and globalist” has foresworn “democracy, equality, diversity, justice [and] It abjures religion—and Christianity especially—as well as the nation-state, political accountability, and even objective Truth”.

These sentiments, and darker, can be found in a plethora of online publications that maintain America is in the middle of a “cold civil war.” This “conflict is more than a culture war because it is a conflict over the entire American way of life writ large: the politics, culture, habits, sentiments, manners and mores of our nation and people” says a writer on American Greatness. Secularism creates a “moral void” into which “progressives have surreptitiously poured all the noxious assumptions of woke ideology”.

Behind DeSantis’ silly sounding pronouncements is an ever increasing army of literate, educated, and passionate intellectuals. A collection of national conservatives, christian nationalists, conservative catholics, and fanatical illiberal traditionalists capable of articulating their case powerfully and persuasively, referencing the conservative philosophical and literary western canon. They are committed to imposing their morals values and social norms on society. They are certain to be influential in shaping DeSantis’ policies, including foreign policy.

The delusion among Australian policymakers who advocate clinging to America is that in future America will continue be the source of stability and a champion of international law and human rights. The situation is now very different. The idiosyncratic candidates for president are deeply representative of the prevailing internecine culture wars. They are all deeply intolerant in their way.

Commentators are inclined to talk about nations as if they were conscious entities that had agency separate from the decision makers within them. There is a lot of analytical power in that, particularly in the long term. But in the next four to eight years decisions of war and peace, of competition or co-existence, and of tolerance or confrontation will be made by either Biden, Trump, or DeSantis. The foreign policy of America, that is the shape of international relations, will be determined by the zealot, the disrupter, or the ideologue.

Trump is Trump. Biden’s failing democracy crusade is already fracturing the world into opposing camps. A DeSantis executive, however, could lead the world, and America, into a dark time of intolerance and American authoritarianism.

Copyright Mike Scrafton. This article may be reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence for non-commercial purposes, and providing that work is not altered, only redistributed, and the original author is credited. Please see the Cross-post and re-use policy for more information.

Also published in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations.