Donald Trump’s presidency seems to be based on the simple idea of politics as another “Art of the Deal”. His erratic campaigning and turbulent first months in office do not offer much insight into his underlying political values. Still, his victory in the 2016 presidential election was, at least in part, made possible with the backing of the Christian coalition, whose policy preferences are a strong derivation of faith-based (Christian) values.
In the current age of intense polarization, both major parties rally support by aligning policy proposals with specific ideological backgrounds. However, ideological battles are not a new phenomenon in American politics. The United States was founded during a period of dividing values. Even in times of unrest and turmoil, republican values, the ideal of virtuous politics, and protestant faith vanquished most political differences. The “American Dream” seemed to roll it all into one catchy phrase. But today, it seems as if no all-encompassing normative idea exists anymore.
The promise of “one United States”, as forcefully propagated by President Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, has been challenged by the fortification of numerous distinct “Americas” within the US. In large parts, they are shaped by questions of values and faith rather than class or income. Among other issues, the long and ongoing battles over social issues, America’s role in the world and immigration are evidence of this division. Looking at election maps, the red and blue spaces offer proof of this breakup. The coasts and the heartland, urban and rural America, the North and the South, they all stand for specific value sets and even basic symbols of the American civil religion, like the constitution itself, are now part of ideological contests.
These and other concerns will be at the center of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies.