American battle

Dr. Dimitrij Rupel. (Photo: Demokracija archive)

A few days ago, on October 23, 2020, the U.S. presidential candidates clashed in Nashville, Tennessee in the final presidential debate. The most interesting fact is that Biden has significantly more money available for the campaign than Trump. Biden – according to the New York Times – has 335, and Trump “only” 223 million dollars. In the confrontation, perhaps the most interesting highlights were regarding Trump’s foreign policy. Biden finds it very difficult to object to Trump’s achievements with regard to the Middle East: Israel is negotiating with Arab countries (Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, United Arab Emirates); America withdrew from Muslim battlefields and Trump responded well in connection with the isolation of Iran. Trump may be exaggerating when he claims to have prevented a war by befriending a North Korean dictator; but he is not wrong to oppose Chinese economic aggression, disrespect for intellectual property, and so on. From the start, he has been warning Europeans, especially Germany, to honour the commitments given to NATO; his opposition to the German-Russian Nord Stream is also understandable.

 Candidates devote most of their time and words to the epidemic. Joe Biden hints that Donald Trump is to blame for the deaths of 220,000 Americans, and the latter comments that the virus was imported to America and Europe by the Chinese. Biden’s main hope is a comfortable victory (including the Democratic majority in the Senate) needed for the so-called “transformative presidency,” a transformation from a selfish and arrogant to a kind and compassionate America that will influence international relations by example. Biden’s method of persuading voters is different from Trump’s. Democrats rely on digital advertising, and Republicans are aggressively knocking on doors.

The most interesting dialogue between the rivals developed in relation to Biden’s predictions of what all he will do for the well-being of American citizens. Trump asked him why he did not introduce the benefits he promises now with Obama in the eight years they ruled America together. There was no convincing answer to this question, but the question is worth a serious consideration. In other words, Trump pointed out that Biden and the Democratic Party want to continue the rule of the period between 2009 and 2017; that Biden’s victory would essentially be a return to the old regime. Not to reshape, but to repeat what America has already seen and rejected with Trump’s victory in 2016. Trump’s assumption is confirmed by the appearances of Barack Obama, who appears in Biden’s campaign – because he cannot run on his own – as an “uncle from the background.” .

Regarding Trump, the Slovenian media fluctuate between contempt, ridicule and restraint. Of course they cheer for Biden. However, the official stance is – especially given the Prime Minister’s messages – more on Trump’s side.  Slovenia’s support or rejection will not have an impact on the outcome of the US elections, but there are some interesting issues related to Slovenia’s stance. After the confrontation in Nashville, Prime Minister of Slovenia issued a short message in favour of Trump, saying that we need a strong America, as Trump represents it. Most of the comments in the Slovenian media were – despite the fact that sending good wishes among politicians of similar orientations is something completely normal – negative. The media, which among many things, dislike the current government, added Viktor Orban to Janša and Trump and came to the conclusion that this is a new political connection, which could be called “illiberal” or anti-liberal in Slovene. This is where a new and rather important debate can begin.

The most paradoxical thing is that the accusation of illiberalism, at least in Slovenia, does not come from liberal, but – simply put – from the leftist circles, which means that these circles are adopting liberal rhetoric or forming a new ideology, which is not so new, as it may seem. An additional paradox is that these leftist circles – if we scratch their surface a bit – were in the past known as fiery anti-liberals (By the way: Slovene liberals after the end of SDZ or DS, after its unification with LDS and after Drnovšek’s departure left the forefront of Slovenian politics in 2002!). In 1977 and later, British Labourites became close to the Liberals and tried to form “Lib-Lab” coalitions, which is quite difficult in the British environment. In Germany, liberals often participated in Christian Democratic governments, at one point even in Schmidt’s Social Democratic government (1969-1982). In the accusation of anti-liberalism, we can easily recognize left-wing “genes” if we remember the accusations in the times of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. At that time, freedom-loving people were labelled as “anti-socialist”, today they are called “anti-liberalist”. (Again, by the way: in addition to anti-socialist and anti-liberal labels, let’s remember another one: liberals could again be compared to the “bourgeois right”.)

Simply put: in multi-party systems, on the one hand, the label “anti-liberal” applies to all parties that compete with and against the Liberals. On the other hand, all multi-party systems are based on the values of so-called liberal democracy, and therefore all participants in the political game are liberal; anti-liberal could at most be a policy that operates outside the party or parliamentary system.

Speaking of paradoxes: “opponents” of anti-liberalism, among other things and mostly oppose liberal – or as it appears – neoliberal capitalism. In doing so, they remain loyal to a leftist, for example Marxist, ideology that is not only anti-liberal but also anti-capitalist. After all, it turns out that leftists and Marxists are not opponents, but both advocates of anti-liberalism. Liberals are, of course – while not compromising on human rights and civil liberties – advocates of a liberal economy, free enterprise, private education, health care, and so on. Liberals doubt the usefulness of state ownership or state intervention in the economy. If Trump or Slovenian Prime Minister are talking about the power of the American state, of course they do not mean the state control over the economy, but a state that promotes economic freedom through its measures/legislation. This is liberal politics.