Can President-Elect Biden start with a serious domestic focus for healing the deep fissures in America?
The nail-biting contest for the White House is over with the President-Elect Joe Biden all set to step into the Oval Office on January20. Despite the havoc unleashed in the US by the deadly coronavirus which has infected more than ten million people and killed a quarter of a million Americans with no signs of abatement, the top presidential candidates for this year broke the records for polling popular votes in the election history of the US. Biden surpassed the previous best of 69.5 million votes polled by Barack Obama in 2008 by a margin of 5.5 million. Even Trump outperformed Obama by getting 70.5 million popular votes.
It is not only the popular vote where Biden beats all previous presidents of the US; he is also setting a new record by becoming the oldest president in American history. He will be 78 years old when he takes the oath of his new office early next year. The top spot for being the oldest president, in office, was till now held by Ronald Reagan who was 77 when he left in 1989.
It does not stop here. Biden brings with him, Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president. She is also the first black woman of South Asian descent and a daughter of immigrants to be elected as vice president of America. Her joy and faith in the future of America was evident in her victory speech when she remarked, “While I may be the first woman in this office; I will not be the last!” A powerful optimistic message indeed, against discrimination in the US.
The number of votes cast and the record-breaking performances of both the winning and the losing candidates of this year’s presidential elections are a clear reflection of a highly polarised American society. The deep divisions in the US are not as easily noticeable in the distribution of the electoral college votes between Biden and Trump which may indicate that Biden has won convincingly. In fact, despite his record of questionable ethics and administrative abilities the outgoing president has increased his tally of popular vote by a whopping 7.5 million votes. America clearly has two very different visions for the future.
These extraordinary circumstances in the US demand a prudent and wise response from the president-elect. Biden has an uphill task in front of him of uniting a divided America. Personally, he seems to be a man with a lot of endurance and courage and a reasonable choice by the Americans to achieve the goal.
In 1972, his first wife, Neilla Hunter, and daughter, Amy, did not survive a road accident shortly after he became a US Senator-elect. In 2015, he lost his eldest son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer. His successful handling of these extremely traumatic personal episodes speak of his resilience.
Another positive about Biden is that he seems to be well aware of the division in the American society and understands the importance of recreating the image of America as a place of “possibilities” for everyone and rebuilding it together with the help of all Americans. In his victory speech he referred to the Bible and said, “It tells us to everything there is a season. A time to build, a time to reap and a time to sow and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.”
With such a divided society, Biden needs to bridge the gulfs at home before preparing America for giving China a tough time as the geo-political contest between the two great powers intensifies over the coming years.
In the speech, he also pledged to be, “a president who seeks not to divide but unify. Who does not see the red states and the blue states; only sees the United States.” He is cognizant of the systemic racism rooted in the American society and has shown the resolve to get rid of it. He has promised to marshal resources and spare no effort and commitment to turn around the pandemic situation which was never, since its outbreak, a priority for the Trump administration. Biden has also indicated his strong commitment to rebuild the US economy and combat the climate crisis.
The agenda sounds very promising. Only time will tell how much success Biden achieves on the various fronts touched upon by him in the victory speech. A major step for progressing towards his stated goals would be to remain focused on domestic affairs and do less in the international arena. This can be a huge challenge as this is not something for which the American body politic has a demonstrated appetite.
Also, this may not be possible as the geo-political contest between China and the US becomes fiercer. The American society has a deep concern about losing the number one position in the world, which they have maintained over a century, to China in the not so distant a future. As a nation it is painful when you see someone else competing against you and almost ready to displace you from the top slot. However, to give China a tough time, the US first needs to be resilient and robust internally. Under the current circumstances it does not make sense at all to carry on with the hostile policies against China such as the trade war and blame game for the pandemic.
Given the divided society, Biden needs to bridge the gulfs at home before preparing America for giving China a tough time as the geo-political contest between the two great powers intensifies. The question remains: can Biden start with a serious domestic focus to heal the deep fissures in America?
The writer is a research scholar. He can be reached at [email protected]