Identity and Emerging Political Challenges in the United States
Francis Fukuyama’s book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment”, is a critique of his previous book on the idea of “The End of History”. Fukuyama's main purpose in this book is to critically analyze President Trump's social and economic policies. He argues that understanding the equation of politics and power under President Trump is an inevitable necessity and hence the book is an attempt to facilitate this understanding. Trump's identity-based policy has targeted American liberal democracy.
The widespread anti-racism protests in recent months in a country that is the cradle of liberal democracy in the international system indicate that despite some improvements in recent decades, racism has become an institutionalized phenomenon in large parts of the American society. The condition of racial minorities in the United States has improved, but the culture of racism and racial supremacism continue to prevail in the United States. What is prevailing in the United States today is the result of the decline and entanglement of the American political system in this historical process. A question that should be addressed in the light of the recent developments is: are the American popular protests a serious structural challenge for the American liberal-democratic system?
The issue of racial discrimination in the United States is one of the biggest social, political, and economic challenges and problems, which demonstrates the racist structure of this country. Slavery, racial segregation as well as separate schools for Native Americans and racial minorities are symbols of this type of discrimination. This problem is quite visible in universities, service centers, hospitals, schools and stores.
A historical look at the development of racism in the United States shows that this phenomenon has its roots in the colonial era when certain legal and social privileges were granted to the white Americans of which other racial groups were deprived. The Americans with European roots, especially the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, were the highest privileged people, enjoying a wide range of advantages in education, immigration, suffrage, citizenship, land ownership, and litigation. Discrimination against the non-whites, which began in seventeenth century, continued into the 1960s. Jim Crow Laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States between 1876 and 1965. The US courts and judiciary also followed racist procedures.
Civil rights movement against racial segregation and discrimination in southern United States gained national momentum during the mid-1950s. The September 15, 1963 bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, one of America’s most racially discriminatory and segregated cities, which targeted black civil rights leaders shocked the entire world and increased pressures on officials to end racism in the United States.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, approved shortly after the incident, legally put an end to segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Despite the Act, the issue of racism in the United States did not end in practice and Corporate America continued to discriminate against the blacks and Native Indians.
However, despite the approval of progressive laws, practically, racism has been institutionally embedded in American society. Although the United States has legally eliminated racism, it has had little success in eradicating racist beliefs. This gap is quite visible in the day-to-day life of the people. Seemingly, this fundamental problem does not have a simple solution in the American society. Neither the election of a black president nor the departure of Trump from the White House can solve this problem.
While more than half a century has lapsed since the racial equality movement in the United States and the legislation of several laws to ban all forms of racial discrimination in this country, discrimination against the people of color still persists in the economic and social structures. It may sound reasonable to state that in the past, local subcultures and identities in this country were represented as a monolithic identity called American identity; but in recent years, due to economic, social and cultural conditions, and, certainly, the continuation of racial violence, cracks have appeared in the American national solidarity.
The current situation in the United States, particularly during the presidency of Donald Trump, who gives priority to US identity and supremacy over any other issue, and has withdrawn from several international treaties and pacts, have somewhat obscured the components of liberal democracy. Trump's racist stances have fueled extremist sentiments in American society. In “The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities”, John J. Mearsheimer points out that the widening racial divisions, inequalities, and increase in immigrations weaken the popularity of liberal-democratic policies and that of a liberal-democratic system.
It is clear that some referents of liberal democracy in the United States have seriously challenged this system. The history of the United States bears testimony to the unfolding of popular movements and protests against the governments in this country. These developments have somewhat disrupted the orderly functioning of the system. Mass protests and social crises have weakened the liberal democratic system and it seems that one should expect other alternatives from within this system to compensate for the weaknesses of the liberal democracy in the face of such crises. New alternatives within the American social and cultural system must be looked for in the promotion of civil rights. The sociopolitical structure of this country has always had the power to reconstruct and control such crises within itself, and an example of this can be seen in the Wall Street and other popular protests in the United States.
Will Kymlicka who proposed the theory of “Multiculturalism" in 1995 was well aware of the fact that the United States was a multinational community and people could demand for establishment of a federation in the future. Kymlicka points out that multinational groups in the American society include blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics etc. These groups are gradually trying to gain new civil rights within the framework of the right to self-determination.
The civil rights in American society can be considered the missing link of liberal democracy. In his book, “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”, Fareed Zakaria points out that democracy cannot be achieved without liberalism. The main foundation of liberalism is civil rights. In the current context, the question that can be raised is: To what extent does the American power structure have the necessary capacity to secure civil rights?
* Afsaneh Reshad has a Ph.D. in international relations; she is a lecturer at Azad University.