An Impossible Choice

As the United States faces another pivotal election, citizens grapple with dwindling trust in leadership and each other, navigating a landscape marked by economic hardship, political division, and a fundamental erosion of democratic values

News Analysis

Illustration by the Atlantic. Source: Getty Images

By Siya Tripathi

In 2024, the US is once again at the world’s centre stage. This year, the United States elections are highly reminiscent of the same event four years earlier. After a tumultuous four years dealing with a pandemic, economic hits and a fundamental lack of trust between one another, citizens are faced with the same choice they were four years ago; a presidential election between two nominees no one is fully content with. After a slew of Republican candidates dropped out, and a failure from the Democratic party to provide another candidate, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are almost cemented as the choices for the United State’s future. Only now, four years on, there is a lot more on the line. The resounding question from the world stage is “how did this happen again?”

In the past four years, Americans have dealt with a large number of difficulties. Mass layoffs in the face of AI, rising inflation rates, and soaring property prices, consequently rendering more and more Americans homeless. Whilst the rich continue to profit off a global pandemic, the middle class in the United States continues to shrink. As a result, more Americans feel burnt out, and a fundamental trust collapse within society has ensued. Americans simply do not trust each other anymore. In 1972, over 45% of Americans said most people are trustworthy. That figure has not risen above 30% since 2006. The government has fared even worse, perhaps with good reason: In 1964, 77 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of or all of the time. In 2022, that number was 22 percent. In the 70s, when the US was in the midst of the Vietnam war, drug epidemics, domestic terrorism, and the Watergate scandal, the public believed that their government would protect them and pave a path towards a stable society. In 2021, President Trump incited his followers to not only question the results of a fair election, but to take anti-constitutional measures that lead to violence at the nation’s Capital. January 6th, 2021 proved two things to the American public; Trump supporters would bleed themselves dry by the words of a man who has twice been impeached, and that said man had a very strong chance of once again being on the ballot- both of which many, both a domestic and global scale, saw as a threat upon the very foundations of America’s democracy.

January 6th, 2021 Capitol Riots. Source: Britannica

Since then, Americans developed a sense of hope; that this election year, their options would be wider. Along would come a candidate that prevailed in the name of democracy and truth. However, slowly but surely, their hope began to diminish. GOP candidates, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamey, dropped out of the race, with DeSantis and Ramaswamey endorsing former President Trump as their candidate. Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former Ambassador to the United Nations, remains the only republican candidate standing against Trump. With Trump’s victory of the New Hampshire primaries on Jan 23rd, the die was cast. The election will indeed come down to two options that most Americans weren’t thrilled with in 2020, and surely are not thrilled with today. On the one hand, the current President of the United States whose age has been a matter of contention for years, and on the other a former President whose leadership changed the paradigm of how the world viewed the United States.

The United States’ democracy hinges on trust. True, bipartisan trust, that allows meaningful legislature and true change to be enacted. In 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, the US saw the highest voter turnout since 1900. At the time, 90% of Americans stated that if the “other guy” won, lasting damage would be inflicted upon the country. Voters turned out in such high numbers not out of hope, but mobilised out of fear. In 2024, the same mindset exists. Only today, the question of Biden’s age is unavoidable, and Trump’s list of debauchery and moral inadequacy is even longer. Americans are faced with an impossible choice; continue being led by a man who is not mentally present, or return to the leadership of a man whose policy is detrimental to everyone except a slim demographic. Consequently, the US is even more polarised than before. This polarisation is pervading into every demographic of American. More pronounced than ever is the newly-emerging gender divide. Women and men in the United States were roughly equally divided in their liberal or conservative views. In just six years, a gap has opened up; women aged 18-30 are now 30 percentage points more liberal than their male counterparts. Women’s reproductive rights have been under attack in the country, and more and more men believe themselves to have a part to play in those decisions. This has added another dimension to the deep mistrust felt amongst Americans.

According to Jebediah Britton-Purdy, professor at Duke Law School, such a deep level of mistrust fosters overheated politics, where even in the face of much at stake, little is accomplished.

He states “[mistrust] also encourages constitutional crisis: If the other side is morally unacceptable and dangerous, supporting extreme efforts to keep it out of power becomes more plausible. The collapse of trust encourages, even if it does not ensure, a collapse of democracy.”

Young Americans today do not believe they will ever be able to afford a home. Many are homeless because their rent increased exponentially after the pandemic due to landlords that knew they could get away with it. Prices have soared so much, $100 at the grocery store is barely enough to afford food for the week. At the same time, the uber-rich use private jets to commute from one sprawling property to another. The American middle class is shrinking, most Americans are burnt out and upset, and this election continues to separate an already divided population. In the midst of impossible political options, Americans have no choice but to unite themselves to better their nation.

Democracy places significant demands on individuals. It necessitates possessing qualities of both intellect and character that foster an equitable political trust. This includes the readiness to attentively listen to differing perspectives and to question one's own biases. Moreover, democracy thrives on the dedication to cultivate a society of active citizens, not merely passive consumers and observers, but individuals who anticipate engaging in collective empowerment and accountability. In today’s America, It's imperative to seize command of the nation’s collective future before it evolves into a reality incapable of trust and unity.

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