Joe Biden, USA face tough days ahead after Trump
DONALD Trump’s attempt to subvert the US election, has inflamed people without cause, sullied arguably the grandest office on earth and created long-term problems for America.
After a close election, and four draining years, the relief of a slight majority of Americans and many people around the world is understandable as Joe Biden waits to take over. But this must be tempered as Biden still
has his heaviest tests ahead of him.
Not without some merit in this regard, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, compared Trump to Zimbabwe’s late former president Robert Mugabe — following the erratic American leader’s press briefing on Thursday evening.
Breaking his 36-hour silence after prematurely declaring victory on Wednesday, Trump continued spewing unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud and illegal ballot-counting as he addressed Americans from the White House.
Power, the nation’s envoy to the UN during the second administration of Barack Obama, tweeted: “He’s going full Robert Mugabe” — referencing the late Zimbabwean ruler’s ruinous grip on power for decades.
Some on Twitter disagreed with the characterisation, suggesting that Trump was in fact “going full Donald Trump” — and that he was being “thoroughly American”.
Biden’s most immediate task is that Trump remains president for two-and-a-half months at least and is liable to scorch the earth as he makes his retreat from Washington.
While Trump’s legal challenges may not succeed, they could also delay clarity and spur unrest. Some tawdry pardons are also likely in the meantime. In addition, a firing spree of government officials would weaken the “deep state” on which new administrations at first depend.
A rash move in foreign policy could similarly trigger an international crisis. Even if the outgoing president is somehow sweetly co-operative, the new one will find a nation more beleaguered than it has been since 1945.
The coronavirus pandemic is still killing Americans. The economy that it has wounded needs more fiscal relief. Even if a vaccine emerges, the logistical burden of scaling and distributing it will fall in large part on the federal government.
Even if Biden had had a crushing win to his name, and Congress was on his side, this would still be a daunting workload. The balance of the Senate is still unclear — a Georgia race in January might settle it — but the Democrats can expect either marginal control or none. Even their majority in the House of Representatives is diminished.
Immersed in Washington for half a century, Biden will need all the political finesse that his experience implies. It helps that he has bipartisan pedigree: he would rather unite the nation than his party. But even a leader as gifted as his old boss Obama was, he could only do so much in Washington.
Inter-party mistrust is decades-entrenched. It is in the foreign realm that Biden will have a freer hand. Under his leadership, the US will probably rejoin the World Health Organisation and the Paris climate agreement.
The Iran nuclear pact that he helped to shape as Barack Obama’s vice president could find a second life. He will also most likely distance the US from autocrats and hold old friends, such as the EU and its constituent democracies, much closer.
Even here, though, in his natural habitat of diplomacy, Biden faces a test for the ages. It is clear enough that US-China relations are not going back to the comity of the 1990s when trade was king. But then nor can the
two mightiest countries maintain their current animus, at least not without great cost to both and to the rest of the world.
Biden must craft a policy that is vigilant in defence of US interests while avoiding a so-called “second cold war”. It will entail less brute confrontation with China and more alliance-building among nations that feel unnerved by its growing power. Whenever he tries, he will be accused of selling out to Beijing by a Republican party that has been radicalised on the issue by Trump.
There was no landslide, but Biden’s victory, if confirmed, is historic, bucking global trends against political insiders and centreground ideas. He will have inflicted a significant setback to modern populism. It is what faces him ahead that will make his achievement so far seem like the easy part.
The lame-duck interval — the 11-week period before a sitting president is replaced by a successor — is often chaotic and unproductive. In previous lame-duck periods, Congressional leaders have ignored requests from outgoing presidents, while the chief executive has issued 11th-hour executive orders and occasionally controversial pardons for some accused or convicted of crimes.
But Biden’s upcoming lame-duck session could be more tumultuous than ever. Facing a string of legal troubles, Trump could opt to self-pardon, a move with no precedent in American history that could further inflame
tensions within a deeply divided nation.
Trump could also resign and ask acting president Mike Pence to pardon him. Additionally, funding for the federal government is set to expire on December 11, requiring the Trump administration and Congress to work together to avoid a government shutdown like the one seen in 2018 when the government shuttered for 35 days.
An aggrieved and outgoing Trump may not be in a very cooperative mood, resulting in a shutdown-standoff that could bruise an already ailing US economy burdened with an ongoing pandemic.
Biden may also become the first president in almost four decades to take the helm without his party controlling both chambers of Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate. As vice president, Biden saw up close
the perils of divided government when the Republican-controlled Senate obstructed Obama from confirming judicial appointments and passing key legislation.
Biden’s plans on tax reform (including an overhaul of Trump’s tax cuts for high-earning Americans), as well as his ambitious agenda for tackling climate change, would be dead in the water under a Republican-controlled Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell.
That would also undermine his ability to deliver financial aid to Americans whose pocketbooks have been hit hard by the pandemic. Over the past three days, Americans — and non-Americans — have been fixated on
vote tallies in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania. But while everyone was distracted, the US passed a grim milestone on Wednesday, recording 100 000 new cases of Covid-19 — the biggest single-day count
since the pandemic started, as the US surpassed nine million total coronavirus cases, the most of any country in the world.
Biden has campaigned largely on Trump’s failure to contain the virus and his own promise to defer to health officials on issues like how and when to reopen schools safely. But those decisions are largely made at a local
level. Biden has also said that he would consider a nationwide mask mandate, but he would need to convince all 50 governors to enforce mask-wearing in their respective states — a very difficult feat at this hyper-partisan time.
— with the Financial Times, Independent and GZERO Media