President Biden’s fanaticism represents a threat to Australia’s interests. His statements need to be taken literally and seriously. While America’s allies and partners may prefer a Biden re-election, that outcome might be the worst result for global stability and peace.
A Trump presidency would undoubtedly prove seriously disruptive for America domestically, and destabilising internationally, but Biden is an American zealot unable to countenance any challenge to America’s ordained rights and privileges in the world. Blind support for Israel, sacrifice of Ukrainians to weaken Russia, and militarisation of the Taiwan issue, are evidence of this pathology.
Biden’s American ideology is fanatical; in Joel Olson’s sense of exhibiting a “social identity-defining devotion to a sacred value” that demands universal recognition. Dissent from Biden’s conception of America’s nature and mission evokes a hostile antagonism that is pursued with extraordinary fervour toward those who dissent from his ‘sacred’ values.
Olson observes “Fanaticism presents one of the most important political problems of our times”. “Fanaticism” he writes “is the political mobilisation of the refusal to compromise…that divides the world into friends and enemies in order to mobilise people in the service of a cause one is passionately committed to”. Here he is not referring to religious or extremist zealotry, but the employment of fanaticism and ideology in democratic politics. Olson maintains fanaticism’s objective is “to defeat one’s opponent and to install one’s framework as the ‘‘common sense’’ of a society…through an irresolute refusal to compromise”. It’s not hard to see Biden as a fanatic in this context. ‘Sacred’ appears seven times in his Valley Forge address.
Thinking in terms of fanaticism and ideology is important for assessing Biden’s rhetoric. Theorists argue elites use ideology to maintain control by reproducing citizens who believe that the position of the elites within the social structure is a natural one. Marcuse believed that in politics vague terms like “the American people” or “the American way of life” conceal the very different experiences of life that people in America actually have.
Behind Biden’s claim that “Democracy remains humanity’s most enduring means to advance prosperity, security, and dignity for all” lies the reality of a deeply divided and chronically unequal America of billionaires and poverty, with inaccessible and unaffordable health services, homelessness, and mass shootings.
For Biden, America itself is “a sacred cause”. America is not an ordinary nation, and Biden’s repeated assertion that “Unlike other nations on Earth, America is not built on ethnicity, religion, geography” goes beyond normal patriotism or nationalist enthusiasm. America is “the only nation in the history of the world built on an idea” he says, blind to the fact that America was founded by white settlers on slavery and the dispossession of native Americans. Built on the rapacious exploitation of a continent.
Biden replays certain themes in his speeches and addresses along the lines of “we’re a great nation. We’re the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. We really are”. In fact Biden says America is “the greatest nation in the history of the world”. Also “And there’s no country in the world better positioned to lead the world than America”. The zealotry is palpable. It is unbalanced and obsessive.
To any historian these claims are absurd and meaningless, to a philosopher incoherent, and to the visitor from Mars evidence of psychosis. Politically these extreme contentions are dangerous, especially in international relations. Ethically any claim to greatness must be diminished by the abandonment of the Afghans, and now, the ongoing sponsorship of genocide in Gaza. All apparently in America’s ‘sacred’ interests.
It’s not that Trump’s actions leading up to the assault on Congress weren’t reprehensible, possibly criminal, and deserving of the strongest condemnation. Or that Biden’s defence of democracy and of the centrality of a peaceful transfer of power to its legitimacy aren’t worthy. But Biden’s criticism of Trump is couched in the language of one whose views cannot be challenged. Trump “doesn’t understand the most fundamental truth about this country”. Ownership of ‘the truth’ has been the motivation of crusades, wars, and persecutions throughout history. The obligation to protect the ‘sacred’ easily becomes the right to impose ‘the truth’ on others, or destroy them.
President Biden’s regular paeans to America as “the greatest nation in history” need to be a warning to Australian policy-makers that a second term for him could be worse for Australia than the election of Trump. The glorification of America’s uniqueness is not just about a political system, or the justification for political hegemony.
Biden valorises war and exalts sacrifice in the service of the ‘sacred’. American service personnel have “laid down their lives, not for a place or a person or a President, but for an idea unlike any other idea in all of human history… the United States of America”. He proclaims, without a hint of irony, that America’s “military proudly serves and stands as a force for good in the world”. Innumerable non-Americans might disagree.
Places of historical significance in America’s past aren’t just monuments, but “sacred ground”. America’s enemies “live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies”. The idea of America is “the most powerful idea in the history of the world… [and] beats in the hearts of the people”. It is “the American creed”. For Biden. America is “still the beacon to the world” and “There is nothing more important, nothing more sacred”. Biden is in a “struggle for the soul” of America. This is fanatical mysticism.
The persistent presence in Biden’s speeches of a transcendent mission embodied in an ‘idea’, the veneration of America’s unique nature, a mystical union that holds Americans together, all lend credence to an underlying zealotry. Biden is a fanatic. And one who believes military force in protection of ‘sacred’ America is justified and indispensable.
Trump’s transactional nature sustains a repugnance for war, evident most recently in his bizarre comments on the American civil war. Biden’s obsession with the challenge of China is not just geopolitics. It’s a fanaticism that makes war conceivable, possibly inevitable.