Why are Americans so divided

"The social rifts in the USA are deep"

Ms. Schwarzer, three days after the election, the US is more torn than ever. Many politicians and international media accuse the US president of being to blame for the deep division in his country. How much damage did Donald Trump really do to the United States - and how damaged was American society even before his term in office?

Donald Trump did not try to be president of all Americans, but rather worked very divisively out of office. He fueled racism, approved of politically motivated violence, scolded the media and constantly lied. He was a president who, in short, didn't care about the truth. He deliberately undermined the functioning of the government and the secret services and calls democratic processes into question. In doing so, he undoubtedly has massively damaged the office of president and the international reputation of the USA. To blame him alone for the deep rifts that run through American society, however, falls short. Trump's presidency is primarily an expression of deeper problems in the United States.

Is Donald Trump just the product of a split for which the earlier administrations under Obama, Bush and Clinton are also responsible?

In a way, yes. Donald Trump has used both for his own ends: the actual social inequality in American society and the feeling that many people are disconnected from what they perceive to be the political, financial and economic elite.

The Americans never tire of praising the ideal of the melting pot, in which everyone is an equal part of a larger whole, but in reality American society divides into very many groups that are extremely unequal - not only materially, but also in terms of their position the chances of living the American Dream.

Biden will look more closely at the weak than Obama - but he also has to find solutions

In addition, there is the deep-seated racism in parts of society, which Trump played on in the election campaign and deepened during his presidency. And a geographical split between rich, innovative and well-connected regions, for example on the coasts, and areas such as the Rust Belt, where industry has been dying out for years, no buses drive anymore and people are literally disconnected.

What many forget when they now blame Trump for the social chaos in the USA: All of these phenomena were observed even before he took office. However, Trump used it brutally for his political agenda, tightened it further and poured oil on a fire that had been burning for a long time.

Many see Joe Biden as a bearer of hope, a reconciler, someone who should turn back everything bad that happened under Trump. As US President, can Biden really put out the fire in his country?

If Biden succeeds Trump as US President, he will certainly pursue a policy that is even more geared towards the socially weak and decoupled than his democratic predecessors such as Barack Obama took into account. Because these social groups, which Donald Trump also used for himself and his success, still expect answers.

I think that Joe Biden - assuming he becomes US President - will use a completely different tone than Trump in his inaugural address. He can present himself here as a reconciler - but then he must also provide ideas and solutions on how exactly he wants to bridge the rifts in his country.

You can accuse Trump of many things, but not one thing: he identified and addressed deep fears and feelings of disadvantage in American society. But then he steered them into polarizing and unpromising paths. Biden will do that differently. However, it remains to be seen whether he will make it. In any case, it will be a very long, very tough process. Because the social rifts in the USA are deep.

What are the deepest rifts in American society that Biden should bridge?

I see three central fault lines along which the division of American society runs. Firstly, the extremely unequal financial situation, the fact that in the USA no welfare state compensates and millions live without health insurance ensure that society is divided into the more secure and the precarious.

Second, there is a rift in the US between liberal, internationally networked advocates or profiteers of globalization and those who do not even have a passport because they do not want to leave their country and have the impression that America is wasting its money and energy in the world without that being of any use to them.

And thirdly, the USA is also deeply divided on a cultural and ethnic level - between whites and people of color and also in religious terms, for example with fundamental Christian rights.

I don't think Biden is making a 100 percent U-turn on Trump

So when Biden becomes the new US President, he would have a lot to do at home. I therefore believe that his presidency would be very inward-looking.

What does this mean for American foreign policy? There, too, after four years of Trump, Biden would have to act in reconciliation.

In order to regain the damaged trust in the USA as a responsible world power, Biden would have to lead the USA back into the circle of countries that are ready to work and think together in international agreements and institutions. Symbolically, he could achieve a lot here very quickly, for example by having the USA re-join the climate agreement and support the WHO. But the big question would then be how Biden justifies such attempts at home to restore the US's lost international reputation.

In American society there is still great skepticism about the global commitment of the USA. For example, there is concern that climate protection could cost jobs, that comprehensive trade deals would be detrimental to the American economy. So I don't think that Biden, as US President, would make a 100% U-turn on Trump's politics. Domestic policy would have a major impact on his foreign policy and the international openness of the American economy.

When Biden becomes US President, there will be a balancing act between domestic and foreign policy reconciliation waiting for him. What could he do in four years? How is the US doing in four years?

First of all, the situation in the USA is likely to worsen because the economic consequences of the corona crisis are having an even stronger impact. But then, with a clever and balanced policy, Biden could certainly open up perspectives for the protection and a certain reconciliation of American society - for example by taking up the topic of health insurance again or ensuring that there is good education not only at elite universities, but for larger groups there. Driving forward digitization, networking and the renovation of the infrastructure will also be an important key to alleviating the feeling of decoupling many US citizens.

If Biden invests a lot here as US President, it can bear fruit after just four years. However, he will not solve all the problems. The equation: "Trump alone split the US and Biden will reunite it alone" is too short-sighted.