You’ve probably heard more than a few times something about next week’s presidential election not being a choice between Joe Biden or Donald Trump, but which America you want your kids and grandkids to live in.
Deep, huh? There is some truth to it.
However, the choice isn’t a chaotic Americanized version of socialist Venezuela versus Orange Man Bad’s Third Reich. Those are hyperbolized descriptors meant to evoke an emotional reaction to get you to vote against one of the two candidates.
It is none of that, which is the caricature of an ideology to an extreme.
The divisions in America line up along cultural lines. Everything else seems to be a product of it.
It is not even necessarily that deep or steeped in policy positions. In a lot of ways, it is just aesthetics.
Let’s first consider Donald Trump. There is a policy component to his appeal, for sure. Immigration, trade, regulations, taxation — his administration covered a lot of ground in four years in all of those areas.
If it were just policy, Jeff Sessions would be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate instead of Tommy Tuberville.
It goes beyond just policy. Trump has gone out of his way to brand himself as the patriotic, American kick-ass candidate. It is Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blaring with a military jet flyover while the biggest American flag imaginable waves in the wind, all to say, “In your face!”
It is a throwback to the middle of the last century, from World War II to the end of the Cold War. It is why we watched the Olympics and cheered on the United States and our Western allies against the Soviet Union and other communist powers around the globe.
Somewhere along the way, the popularity of that brand fell out of fashion. Did it fall out of style on its own, or was it forced out?
Donald Trump wants to bring that back, or as he has coined it — “Make America Great Again.”
Joe Biden is not the opposite of any of that. Biden and the Democrats are not anti-patriotism. To many, they are not Trump.
Biden’s presidential campaign is the vessel for what was once the counterculture of the 1960s, but has since evolved and become mainstream culture. It is celebrating diversity, albeit superficial diversity.
Sure, there is a policy component to Biden’s campaign as well, and a lot of it involves using government power as an equalizing force — income, taxation, health care, etc.
Many people will vote on the two very distinct ideologies represented by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
However, the vast majority of Americans, both Republican and Democrat, vote for the brand and what they associate it with. The average person does not think about actuarial tables, marginal tax rates or military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Sure, there are plenty of single-issue voters who vote by party based on historical positions on those issues — Second Amendment, abortion, environment, LGBTQ, etc. Arguably, those voters are acting on their cultural beliefs more than anything.
If you want a good example of how the culture has changed, at least in the minds of the Manhattan elites who make marketing decisions on Madison Avenue, compare any mainstream American product, like McDonald’s or Kellogg’s cereal advertising of the last several decades to now.
The elements of a Coca-Cola ad of the 1960s are much different than they are now.
One must assume these national brands act in their shareholders’ interests and try to sell as much product as possible.
There are also times when marketing evokes a visceral reaction for some. Apple and Nike, two top American brands, seemed to have mastered the art of mixing liberal culture with their branding.
Donald Trump on the ballot is a rejection of that. It is saying “Merry Christmas” instead of the intentionally vague “Season’s Greetings.” It is decrying kneeling for the National Anthem before sporting events.
The drawback is Trump takes it to a vulgar extreme in the eyes of many. You combine that with the perceived flaws in his character, and that also evokes a visceral response, which is not desirable in the game of elections.
There are a lot of other factors guiding next week’s outcome. A global pandemic, chaotic scenes in the streets of major American cities and the economy are a few.
The pandemic will subside. Pandemics always have throughout human history. The turmoil tied to racial strife will ease. The economy has good years and bad years.
The tug of war within American culture is not going away. Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington, D.C., have their thumb on the scale, certainly. Now and then, a Trump-type outsider gets elected, which can be read as either a rejection of the current trajectory of the culture or a desire to return to what it once was.
Next Tuesday’s outcome will validate or call into question what is understood to be the country’s character. There is no right or wrong to any of it, but it is a defining moment.
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