Biden – The dawn of a new era, unmasking populism
The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th American president was a solemn occasion that has captured the imagination of people of goodwill. Around the world, millions of TV viewers were moved by the healing words in Joe Biden’s speech.
Many parts of his speech reverberated proudly to a small assembly of dignitaries at Capitol Hill. This time, the Mall was filled with thousands of small flags representing Americans who might otherwise have been in attendance, were it not for the pandemic. In my assessment, the unifying message can be paraphrased in these words… “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” Furthermore, the president (who is a practising Catholic) continued to harken the American people to be courageous, united and have faith in the power of democracy.
His energetic speech was fully endorsed by various world leaders. To start with the Pope said he was praying that Biden’s decisions would “be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom”, and that God would guide the efforts of the US president. A similar shower of praise came from Europe.
Von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm said Biden’s swearing-in was “a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy”, and that the EU stood “ready to reconnect with an old and trusted partner to breathe new life into our cherished alliance”.
Von der Leyen was cautious in her words knowing how deep is the rift that marks Trump’s followers, some of whom after being edged on by Trump had criminal intentions when they forcibly entered and mobbed the Senate last month. Biden’s genuine message of peace was so resonant that some Europeans felt it gave a false sense of unity when there is deep division in the US -particularly among Trump’s followers.
Can the world trust the US after four years of Trump’s divisive rule? How difficult will it be for Biden to repair the cracked vase of US democracy in order to fully reverse the reputational damage registered among global leaders? Biden has started in earnest to mend the fences. One of his first moves will be taking executive action requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks on federal property nationwide and by federal employees and contractors.
With 400,000 deaths caused by the virus (a death toll much higher than combined US casualties during World War II), he went on to remark that a united America can triumph (contrast the similarity “yes we can” motto of Barack Obama). These are not vain words of a populist who wants to shake down Jericho’s ostentatious wall of the establishment. These are words of a seasoned politician who faithfully served as a Vice President under Barack Obama for two continuous terms.
Can we ever forget how Biden took his oath of office at the US Capitol just two weeks after a mob of insurrectionists invaded that building seeking to overturn the election result spurned by Trump’s allegations? He stubbornly reneged the November election results (which he lost by over 6 million votes). Regretfully and in a poor show of a sore loser, Trump was the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in 150 years. He left Washington for Florida early in the morning, after candidly addressing a small group of supporters.
He left a divided electorate and there is much to be done by Biden to win over the confidence and faith of the entire American people. Most expressed their wishes to congratulate Biden’s running mate, Dr Kamala Harris. She broke all records in American history of presidential elections as the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, to be inaugurated as a Vice President.
Harris, a 55-year-old senator from California and former state and local prosecutor, is the first coloured woman and first woman of Indian descent. It is no secret to reveal that Biden called his running mate “a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants”.
One must stop and reflect how Biden must grapple with the divisions laid bare by the recent violence (referred to earlier) when the mob invaded Capitol Hill (leaving five dead) and the reckoning around racial justice that came into focus with angry protests about “Black Lives Matter” last summer.
As a new President, he faces many challenges both on home ground and even more as a result of a tainted legacy bequeathed by Trump in the international arena. Without any doubt, Biden’s top priority is to unite the nation by urging Americans to come together as they confront the deadly pandemic, with a cocktail of other demons such as the economic collapse that has left millions unemployed and deep divisions over issues of racial justice and police brutality. Last week, Mr Biden announced a massive $1.9tn stimulus plan to regenerate the economy, saying that “a crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there’s no time to waste”.
With a 50-50 divide in the Senate, if passed, it would include direct payments of $1,400 to all Americans (compare this to a tapered monthly wage supplement of €800/ €250 in Malta).
One cannot help not draw a parallel to the political scene in Malta way back in 1987 when the nationalist party leader, Dr Fenech Adami was elected prime minister amid a lot of internal division and hatred dividing voters of the two main parties. He had set out his premiership facing a daunting task to instil unity and peaceful reconciliation among a deeply divided Malta.
This Herculean task took Dr Fenech Adami many years to partially reach his objective. Back to the new US President, he spoke about pockets of criminal groups in some States verging on brutality in clans of white supremacy fanning racial hatred. Perhaps this is caused by unfair immigration laws and rampant unemployment among ethnic minority groups. Many predict that as an opening salvo, Biden will reverse a number of interior executive orders on immigration and country trade tariffs which Trump hastily signed.
In a smart move, Biden has allocated increased funding to help schools safely reopen thus protecting the educational careers of many students. A particular Trump order effectively made any of the 10.5 million undocumented people in the US a deportation priority – including whole ethnic families being forcibly deported and separated from their children.
Another action in Biden’s to-do list includes the abrogation of the travel ban, one of many of Trump’s skeletons in the cupboard. It goes without saying that justice demands that there will be an honest policy to reconcile the deep divisions in Congress and for America to break away from its current protectionist mode. Ideally, it will start to mend broken fences with the outside world. God bless America.