Sandra Navidi before the US midterm elections: “You feel like you’re sitting on a powder keg”

The US midterm elections are on Tuesday. The mood in the country is tense. Can the Democrats hold their own under Biden? Or will the Republicans celebrate their comeback with ex-President Trump? Who still understands this deeply divided country? talks to Sandra Navidi about the “DNA of the USA”. “The United States’ greatest strengths are its greatest weaknesses”, says the American-by-choice, financial expert and best-selling author. America was and still is something like the promised land for many people. But the reality is sobering: the United States is deeply divided and brutalized. You’ve been an American by choice for more than 20 years. Are you sometimes frustrated?

Sandra Navidi: I’m shocked, disbelieving and alarmed. The most unbelievable things happen here every day. Anti-democratic, extremist and religiously fanatical Republican MPs are increasingly propagating lies, violence and fascist methods as a matter of course. They cooperate unscrupulously with radical groups and work flat out on their next coup attempt. It is shocking how many Americans are vulnerable to disinformation, propaganda and extremism, and how many are joining in out of opportunism and a lust for power.

The intermediate elections, the so-called midterms, are imminent. President Biden is now just as unpopular as his predecessor Donald Trump. Why are Republicans so popular with voters?

Given the difficult circumstances, US President Joe Biden has done well. However, his administration fails to communicate this effectively. The Republican challengers have the advantage of being able to focus fully on attack. It is hardly noticeable that they do not offer any solutions. They blame inflation on Biden. It is said that he does not promote fossil fuels sufficiently or distributes money too generously to parts of the population who do not deserve it. Republicans oppose Biden’s anti-inflation bill and an excess profits tax on oil companies’ crisis profits, but make no constructive proposals themselves to curb inflation.

What role does foreign policy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, play in Republican prestige?

Many Republicans don’t see why they should support Ukraine with arms sales and financial aid. They think the money should be spent at home, in other words “America First”. They don’t see Russia as an enemy, but as a country with which America has a lot in common: nationalism, conservative Christianity and arch-conservative social values. They admire Putin for his autocratic style of government, his alliance with the Church, and his unyieldingly conservative social policies. They are impressed by his assertiveness and unscrupulousness. 62 percent of Republicans even believe that Putin is a better leader than Joe Biden.

The storming of the Capitol, the theft of confidential documents from the White House, the alleged manipulation of corona information. Do Trump’s legal misconduct play no role?

His strategy works. Donald Trump is brilliant at edging up his opponents. Throughout his life, no one has been able to show him boundaries. As he did as a businessman, he subverts the legal system by misusing and using legal remedies against the system, just as he uses democratic mechanisms to sabotage democracy. He always managed to pull himself out of the affair. And others had to foot the bill – creditors, craftsmen and banks, who were able to write off their loans. Trump paid less in taxes than people living on the poverty line and probably did so throughout his life. No one knows for sure because he was the first president to keep his tax records secret.

That calls for an explanation. In your most recent book, “The DNA of the USA,” you attempt to get to the bottom of American identity. What did you find in those shallows?

The “everything is possible” understanding is a very important component. Everyone in America is free to invent themselves and create their own world. The country has always attracted people who love risk, have great imagination and want to create something new from nothing. People believe in individualism, their own uniqueness and a meritocracy. America has thus risen to become the richest economic nation and the greatest military power in the world. Over time, however, American values ​​have also had negative consequences: a collective selfishness, narcissism and nihilistic materialism. “Everything is possible” has unleashed unexpected powers, but also blurred the boundaries between reality and fiction. This is what has exacerbated division and hostility in American society. America’s greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses.

Does the American dream still exist?

Freedom, equality and prosperity are not that far away. The rags to riches story still exists, but only for very few people. Oprah Winfrey’s career, for example, corresponds to the American dream of rising from the working class to become “the highest-paid talk show host in the world”. But an economic, social, and racial class system has formed that makes it increasingly difficult for people to ascend. The author Isabel Wilkerson describes it in her book “Caste” as a “caste system” in which social rank is determined by ethnicity. If at all, advancement can only be achieved through good training, the costs of which can usually only be financed by credit. This is no longer affordable for most people. Even most middle-class people today are stuck in the hamster wheel of financial survival their entire lives.

The American middle class is “only a few months’ wages away from being homeless,” you write in your book. Apparently, it is easier to come to terms with this injustice and division of society in the USA…

Americans tend to be more tolerant of societal inequality because they don’t see it as unfair, but see it as a sign of their opportunity for advancement. They assume that anyone who has made wealth and success in America deserves it. Conversely, you believe that if you’re unsuccessful, it’s your fault because you’ve had every chance to rise through hard work. So they first blame themselves or those around them, such as immigrants, rather than those who make the rules of the system. I call this the “ammunition” of the American dream against its own citizens, that is, the use of American ideology as a mental weapon.

Record inflation, rising interest rates, the threat of recession – everything is actually calling for less social hardship and more solidarity. That should play into Biden’s cards…

…it helps Trump. Times of economic crisis typically give rise to populists and autocrats. People’s fears and insecurity create ideal conditions for the division of society and the need for strong leadership.

This includes Trump gathering more and more extreme right-wingers around him. Doesn’t that stir up great fears in American society?

Yes, you have the feeling that you are sitting on a powder keg. Social fears are the breeding ground for conspiracy theories. The Republicans add fuel to the fire. They mobilize people emotionally. Angered and indignant, they are easier to motivate to take action and to use violence against political opponents. One of the most effective right-wing conspiracy theories is the “Great Replacement Theory”, according to which liberal elites – and not least Jews – orchestrate the displacement of whites by black people in order to use their votes to gain power. It motivates people to buy guns, which has often prompted violent crimes, such as the racially motivated shooting of 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket by an 18-year-old right-wing extremist in May this year.

How does Wall Street deal with these populist tendencies and the polarization of society?

Financial expert and best-selling author Sandra Navidi is the founder and CEO of BeyondGlobal.

(Photo: picture alliance/dpa)

Wall Street is primarily concerned with economic and financial connections, but since the financial crisis of 2008 at least, investors can no longer avoid taking such influences into account in their analyses. Political unpredictability – particularly under Trump – has increased uncertainty, and nothing is more hated by the financial community than that. Speaking at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos, Ray Dalio, head of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater, said the rise of populism in the U.S. and others Industrialized nations are now more worried than central bank policy. In his opinion, the development of populism over the next year or two is the most important issue for the economy.

Trump and Biden are neck and neck in polls. How will the midterm elections turn out?

A prognosis is almost impossible. The consensus is that Republicans could at least retake the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate. However, I believe that the mobilization of the Democrats is underestimated and that the result will not be so clear. What seems clear, however, is that Republicans are going to go all out with the “electoral lie” and won’t accept losses.

Dare to look forward to the 2024 presidential election?

With the next presidential election, America is at a tipping point where the fate of the country will be decided. The Republicans propagate a predatory capitalism in which the law of the strongest prevails. They advocate deregulation and a downsizing of government. They have already hinted that they want to further reduce taxes on the rich à la Liz Truss. Republicans also intend to cut Social Security, the public pension system, and public health care. Although many Republicans supported financial aid measures for the population towards the end of Trump’s presidency, this was primarily due to the exceptional situation caused by Corona. Socialism has long prevailed in the USA – but for the rich!

Diana Dittmer spoke to Sandra Navidi

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