Dr Huma Baqai
BIDEN will take over a morbid and humbled America, where a pandemic has killed at least 400,000 people and a sluggish economy that has left millions jobless. However, Biden’s top task as he prepares to take office on January 20, 2021, is to guide the country through the tumultuous final stretch of Donald Trump presidency. A miscalculation could intensify America’s polarization, threaten Biden’s congressional approval of his cabinets pick and delay Coronavirus response legislation, especially since he wants to hit the ground running, by immediately introducing legislation to deal with the virus and economic growth.
The entire framing of Biden’s presidential campaign was a response to Trump and Trumpism. It aimed at both “healing America” and to “restore the soul” of America. The 5th January 2021 insurrection has sharpened the debate over, how to break away from the Trump era. Many believe the only way is tangible delivery on issues that matter to all Americans – pandemic and the economy. Biden will have to move fast and have a bipartisan approach, this is easier said than done. He will step into the Whitehouse with a slim Senate majority, after Georgia voters elected their first black and Jewish senator, giving Democrats the control of the chamber, and thus increasing President Trump’s isolation and humbling Republicans.
Former Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat, rightly said: “It is a blessing to the country and to the Biden Administration.” It has given the new president requisite numbers to confirm his cabinet nominees and an infrastructure bill through budget reconciliation. However, Biden will continue to face new obstacles and pressure. The razor-thin majority will not let him carry it beyond operational issues; his sweeping plans may not find support. Most of the Republican party is not interested in abandoning Trumpism. After all, he did garner 46.9 per cent votes on his own strength. Biden’s 51.4per cent is an anti-Trump vote.
Biden has responded to Trump’s obstruction of his transition and lies about election fraud by projecting competence and expertise and by making calls for healing. However, what hit most post the capitol riots, was not just an epiphany, it revealed how radical the Republicans have become and the depth of the American divide. The return to normal in terms of pandemic, economy and sanity will not be easy.
The US has faced many national crises in the past. President Lincoln inaugurated at a time when the Southern States were already seceding from the union, Roosevelt took office at the depths of the Great Depression. Reagan was sworn on the day, Iran hostage crises came to an end. Julian E Zelizer, a professor of Political History at Princeton University, US, rightly pointed out that “difference is, this is not just about a national crisis, it is about a crisis of predecessor.”
Good luck President Biden, good luck America! You seem to need it.
The so-called coup by Trump carried a lot of symbolic value. It did shock the world and the US itself. It is being referred to as the darkest chapter in the American political history and will be quoted often. It has become a part of history; the U.S. will have a hard time justifying. Despite alerts and warnings, it was allowed to happen and was poorly handled; five people died, many lives were endangered.
However, the real damage is elsewhere. Trump has both weakened and threatened bedrock political institutions of the Republic. It is his supporters’ complete disregard of the constitution, contempt for the rule of law, which will continue to haunt Biden’s presidency. Is Biden strong enough to hold Trump accountable for what he has instigated on 6 January 2021, and his four years of very controversial presidency? Should he follow into Gerald Ford’s steps and pardon Trump in the longer interest of democracy, or hold him accountable for a crime which is much larger than Nixon’s? Because he truly shattered rule of law that underpins American democracy.
The choice is neither simple nor easy in the extremely polarized and radicalized America. The ultimate pardon to Nixon by Ford was also initially quite unpopular but was later viewed as an important step towards healing. The din in US for accountability is high. Move for Trump’s second impeachment has happened within days. The information coming out is rattling for many. The crowd was armed with guns and explosives and had stated intentions of killing. Some even call it a revolution.
More of same is expected on the inauguration day all over the U.S. There are reports of armed groups planning to gather at all fifty states and in Washington in the run-up to the 20th January inauguration.
It is not the domestic front alone; Biden will step into the Whitehouse with a litany of foreign policy challenges all around the world. His foreign policy must align with America’s domestic needs. The geopolitics of acute confrontation with China may not sit well with that. In fact, the politics of competition and confrontation may not work at all. He may actually have to look at a cooperation model for the United States’ economic recovery.
Challenges of overcoming pandemic and issues of climate change will also make cooperation with China critical. Strat for 2021 forecast predicts a constraint return to multilateralism by Biden. Last, but not the least, bringing an end to the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, is a tall order. The entire foreign policy thrust of Biden could be damage control of Trump’s legacy.
My footnote here is, the text message Biden received from his granddaughter, Finnegan, showing a picture of officers decked out in riot gear on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during Black Lives Matter protests. “Pop, this isn’t fair,” she wrote of the contrast with fearsome police presence at the capital as the mob approached.
Every talk show and private conversations in Pakistan, asked this simple question, what if those who attacked capitol, were black, or Muslims. President Biden, it’s not just your daughter and American that is asking you to be fair. The world is looking at you to be fair and watches with scepticism and perhaps more hope. Global leadership seems to be in short supply.
—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi.