Last four years of Trump presidency has been the most chaotic if not the most problematic that the US and the world at large have experienced, ever.
Mr. Trump’s governing style has been unique and bewildering. He made White House a twitter factory – made policies, hired and fired people and attacked his opponents through twitters. Furthermore, and not that Mr. Trump is the first US President to do so, he made lying his main policy strategy and found twitter the most convenient medium to indulge in and spread lies as truth. Barack Obama described 4-years of Trump, a period of deepening the “decay of truth” in US political culture.
Good thing is Mr. Trump is gone – almost. Indeed, despite his endless tantrums regarding the election result and his likely legal challenges, the game is truly up. Mr. Biden has won the 2020 US presidential election convincingly and he would be the 46th President of USA, beginning January 2021.
Now that the issue of presidency for the period 2021- 2024 is all but settled and that Mr. Biden’s victory has brought a sigh of relief of a sort, we must ask ourselves – what’s next. The question that we must is whether Biden victory is also a signal of salvation of America from the abyss of moral, political, economic and social decay it has suffered in recent times, made worse by Mr. Trump?
Many aspire to see Biden victory more than a sigh of relief, the victory has triggered numerous expectations and Biden himself has made many promises too.
According to Washington Post, “President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on a transformational liberal policy platform, calling for ‘revolutionary institutional changes’ and $7 trillion of new spending to remake the American economy as he styled himself a modern-day FDR” – the ‘New Deal’ as we know was made up of a range of public works programmes and financial sector reforms that President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) initiated during Great Depression of 1930s to resurrect the depressed economy and save people from destitution.
Although the current situation in US is not as dire as 1930s, with a pandemic raging (mostly result of Trump’s misguided guidance) and economy dwindling and more and more Americans joining the ranks of the poor, an atmosphere of doom and despair has engulfed the entire US society.
Urgent and drastic actions are needed to salvage the situation. Therefore, this election is not like any other US election. Many regard outcomes of this election a triumph of good over the evil and victory of hope over despair. Many now wait for Mr. Biden to take the command and implement his ‘Build Back Better America (BBBA) project, his campaign promise truthfully.
First, what is BBBA? Has anyone defined it? What is its agenda? Moreover, given that so many things have gone wrong at so many levels, can Mr. Biden truly implement his Build Back Better America agenda?
As a non-American I am ill positioned to answer this question. Moreover, I also do not know the specifics of BBBA nor the expectations the Americans espouse of Biden, accurately.
Luckily, an email from a friend, former UN colleague, a very conscientious person, a humane to the core, who lives in New York City and voted for Biden, came handy. In his email he listed 13 items that he believes Biden would/should do. I found the List interesting because it includes items that are both domestic and international. I believe my friend’s UN background may have made him recognise the importance of global/local synergy in domestic development.
I am using my friend’s 13 items – a wish list of a sort – as the framework of analysis of Biden promises, citizen expectations and implementation prospects. Listed below in italics are the 13 Items of Expectations outlined by my friend and below each of these items is my analysis of possibilities or otherwise of meeting these expectations:
- Re-Engagement with the broader international community including the UN, and immediately with WHO
I believe this would happen and not because that US has great affection for global institutions, but because of the realization that Trump’s ill-conceived isolationism and his equally ill-thought decision to withdraw from WHO and his general distancing of the US from international community including the UN has hurt US more than others. Withdrawal from WHO has deprived US of its capacity to engage with and seek solutions to a pandemic that requires global/local synergies in policies and actions.
Thanks to Trump’s withdrawal from the UN body and his refusal to listen to the globally agreed scientific guidance, US ended up suffering the most from the pandemic – as of November 12, 2020 US has had 11.0 million COVID 19 cases and more than 200,000 fatalities and counting.
By re-joining WHO and by re-connecting with the world health body, Biden would ensure much needed global dialoguing in global crisis, benefitting both US and the world.
- Attention to the environment, reduction of subsidies to coal, in practice to all big polluting corporations, and scrutiny of oil drilling and exploration. As a priority these include public lands and bodies of water around the USA;
Biden is quite firm on the issue of climate change and thus would do his best to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord that Trump has withdrawn from quite arbitrarily. However, given that the processes of entering, withdrawal and re-entering international agreements are complicated, the task of re-entering the Paris Accord would take time. Moreover, as the Paris Accord would involve compliance to strict environmental standards on industries and as these stipulations have the potential to threaten certain industries that include some of the key corporations that benefit from lax environmental standards and that these corporations also have enormous influence over the US policy-making institutions, the task of re-joining the Accord and more importantly, abiding by Accord’s sustainability obligations may prove a little daunting. Surely, Mr. Biden can use his Presidential authority to join the Accord, but this would entail costly re-structuring of the economy, and given that currently, the economy is on a downturn and job losses are frequent, adhering to Climate Accord stipulations that would risk jobs in the interim, would require prudent handling. Mr. Biden would have to think of options that would help offsetting business and job losses.
Biden’s commitment to the Accord and his willingness to re-join the international community in climate change mitigation initiatives must be applauded and encouraged.
- Healthcare, in particular Medicare strengthening – it has disenfranchised millions and threatens more. The Supreme Court is now hearing a case. This is not a case of due diligence and jurisprudence alone;
There is little doubt that Biden Administration would do its utmost to strengthen and widen Medicare.
The pandemic has revealed the sad state of America’s public health system – it has revealed that ceding basic public wellbeing functions almost entirely to the market has been a grave mistake and Americans are paying for it especially since the pandemic, grievously. Indeed, the pandemic has demonstrated how the US, world’s richest that has the best in health and science and is endowed generously with resources has completely failed to come to the aid of its people at a time when they needed them most. It is despicable.
I am convinced that Biden Administration would do whatever it takes to reform the health system and make it more affordable and accessible. However, given the strong lobby of the private health insurers that dominate America’s public health sector, it is not clear how comprehensive and extensive the health reforms would roll out, eventually.
- Infrastructural investment commitments, including support for cities, at State and Federal level;
This would happen but may not be to the magnitude it is needed. Again, given limitations of resources which have been exacerbated further by Federal government’s geo-strategic ambitions and its bulging defence budget that have contributed to widening of current account deficits, scope of comprehensive investments in public works of Roosevelt era’s New Deal magnitude is less likely. Furthermore, investments in public works without required checks and balance and sound plans leave much room for corruption and waste.
- To meet the pandemic in a holistic and systematic way. Not just arguments for vaccines around the corner, no worries, and go out celebrate. Scientific community to be respected both when they are brave and when they advise caution. Protocols to be followed, vetted and monitored regularly;
This will happen. Biden has already formed a 13-member COVID 19 Advisory Board that according to Guardian includes “a former US surgeon general, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, leading virologists and experts in bio-defense” and the Board would …play a high-profile role” to tackle the pandemic which has reached its deadliest phase in November. The Biden campaign has already laid out a multi-pronged plan for dealing with the virus and this includes: (i) shared guidance on reopening from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (ii) an enormous expansion of testing and production of protective equipment; (iii) an expansion of health insurance benefits; (iv) a multi-pronged, logistically challenging, vaccination campaign to provide free shots; (v) hiring 100,000 new public health workers; and (vi) lobbying for coronavirus economic relief.
A COVID 19 Board member, Dr Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota has stressed that “Failure is not an option here…we have to do whatever we can to reduce the impact of the virus on our society.”
However, given that COVID 19 control measures would include among other things restrictions in socialising and also given that most Trump supporters (48% of all Americans) do not believe in social isolation and regard it as some sort of socialist conspiracy, Biden Plan would do well to include in its multi-pronged strategies – these are mostly clinical and economic types – provisions that would contribute to behavioural change. This is important.
- Binding commitments at the international level to be followed, not unilaterally abandoned;
Most international commitments especially those that concern wellbeing, human rights and climate change etc are non-binding and therefore, possibilities of US committing to and implementing international agreements that do not meet or contradict its domestic needs have limited to no possibilities of being followed through completely and this has been the practice in the past, US has been selectively signing and implementing internationally agreed commitments. Having said this, the least Biden can do is, remove Presidential authority to approve/cancel/withdraw US international commitments and funding of international agencies at will and vest the authority with the Congress to ensure their permanency through act of law.
- Have a better sense who the friends of the USA are and who suck up or are tyrants to boot;
I would love to see Biden doing this. However, this is tricky. If history is any guide, US has always preferred tyrants over genuinely democratically elected leaders as allies to advance its geo-strategic hegemonic interests. Can’t imagine a radical shift in this strategy. But a change to a more principled foreign policy would change the world for the better.
- An understanding how other people, and societies, have much to offer in their own right. Not to embrace oligarchs in power, because they come to the White House, kiss hands, prostrate or worse;
Departure from US mindset of exceptionalism that has hurt both US and the world at large is a great idea. Indeed, there is much to learn from and give to the world and this would be win-win for all. It would also be great if Biden Administration inaugurates a new culture in the White House and shuns embracing oligarchs, blood-soaked tyrants, the racists and the declared sectarians and ban them from setting their feet on its hallowed red carpet. This would signal a major shift in US position and warn the tyrants to change their ways and in the process, pave the way for a better world. Would love to see this gets done as an important aspect of Biden’s ‘Build Back Better America’.
- At the New York level, both city and state, our problems are exigent. Some self-indicted. MTA, the transport system, is in deficit almost by 8 billion, public services and their providers have been reduced, the sense of inequality in access, never mind in incomes, is there for all to see. Education and disparities between private and public-school performance is a problem and so is homelessness. Management of NYC finances woefully inadequate. A more sympathetic ear from the White House would help, but it is also for State and City to sort out.
Some have argued that “Biden and the Democratic Party are joint partners with the GOP in the facilitation of the ongoing Race to the Bottom” and the Administration of New York City, which has been under the Democrats for a while, is no different. Sadly, entire system is self-seeking, corrupt and inefficient. In these circumstances, Mr. Biden who himself is a product of a corrupt system, is unlikely if not ill positioned to bring about much change in the State of New York. The State itself must take the first step to change itself and ask Biden to support.
- Consider, Electoral College reform to reflect the principle of one man/woman counts for Presidential Elections;
This is a much-needed reform to ensure proper democratic election of US presidents but again, given the intractability of its political arrangements the road to electoral reform looks both arduous and difficult.
- Voter suppression and other shenanigans to disenfranchise persons of color be dealt with at Federal level;
This is realizable and thus, should be implemented.
- Bring more civility and a sense of humility by the Executive, President, Appointed Officials and White House advisors;
Biden is a decent person and therefore, political conversations coming out of the White House are likely to be decent and civil and this by itself would be such a huge accomplishment and relief. Mr. Trump turned White House into a conversational sewerage tank, spewing filth.
- Stop demonizing opponents, or caricature media and critics because of their views. Consider, discuss, and have the courage, where relevant, to concede. Respect works both ways, the right to expect and the responsibility to offer.
This is important to make democracy work worldwide including US. Mutual respect, empathy and learning from one another are key to building societies both within and across.
However, given that this election has polarised the entire nation between Trumpists and the rest where the former regale in caricaturing and demeaning their opponents reveal a character attribute that seems to be intrinsic to US political culture. US for many years has made demonization of its adversaries, within and across, its key policy tool and in the process, has entrenched the practice within the psyche of the nation. This is unfortunate and must stop and only a concerted effort from all especially a media boycott of foul mouths can change the habit but with Murdochs of the world around, I would not bet on it.
In sum, salvation of US from its multi-pronged decay would require drastic changes at many levels. Sadly, Biden is no revolutionary and his victory is no signal for revolutionary changes nor about total salvation either. Referring to institutional limitations of Biden, a recent study suggests, “Biden and the Democratic Party are joint partners with the GOP in the facilitation of the ongoing Race to the Bottom for the working class. Wall Street donated heavily to Biden with full knowledge that his administration will continue to support the right of corporations to drive down wages, increase productivity (exploitation), and concentrate capital in fewer and fewer hands.”
This indeed is the reality and yet US must change. Americans must do their utmost to help their newly elected president who campaigned on the agenda of change to bring change. There are many hurdles but none other than Mr. Biden a veteran politician knows better to chart his way through the mesh, the US policy establishment.
One last thing and this is particularly important to re-invigorate the US economy which currently is in a dire state which is that Biden Administration would need to appreciate that in a globalised capitalist world cooperation and not conflict is the most potent economic stimulus – other measures are temporary and mere band-aid.
US does need to change and it simply cannot afford the predatory forces that have deepened injustices right across the board, both at home and abroad and devoured the very soul of America, to continue. Americans must unite and help Biden to do the beginning – facilitate reconstructing a New and Better America, implement the ‘Build Back Better America’ project for an America which is prosperous, healthy, fair, just and inclusive.
Indeed, a better and fair America is good for America and good for rest of the world.
The author is an academic and former senior policy manager of the United Nations
The article was published in Countercurrents.org on 18 November 2020