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OP-ED: America votes for change

  • Published at 06:07 pm November 10th, 2020
Joe Biden Kamala Harris
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris celebrate after learning of their victory REUTERS

The real challenge for President-elect Joe Biden begins now

The extent of the Democratic Party nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory in the US Presidential election means, unlike Donald Trump’s in 2016, he has not only been elected president but has actually won a convincing public mandate to govern America for the next four years.

In 2016, Trump’s entry into the White House was enabled by the margin of votes he got in the Electoral College, although Hillary Clinton had almost 3 million more popular votes than him. Biden, on the other hand, won both quite decisively.

By winning in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, President-elect Joe Biden has succeeded in rebuilding the traditionally Democrat leaning “blue wall” that went for Donald Trump four years ago. If he manages to hold on to his lead in Arizona, which has usually been a tossup state, and the recount in the Republican bastion of Georgia, this will be the additional feather in the cap for the Democrats and a major victory for the Biden team.

The Democrats have retained their control of the House of Representatives, albeit, with a slightly slimmer majority. One now has to wait for the outcome of the Senate run-off elections in Georgia to see what will be the complexion of the next US Congress. If the Democrats win both and tie the numbers in the Senate, the vice president, as the president of the Senate, will have the decisive vote, meaning a Democrat controlled Congress.

The outcome of the elections means that for the first time in the country’s history, the United States will have a female vice president, who also happens to be a person of colour. Joe Biden thus becomes the first person in America’s political history to have served as vice president under an African-American president and now as president, will have a person of colour as his vice president.

With Kamala Harris as vice president, it will be for the first time that both the US Senate and the House of Representatives will have a female at the helm. When President Joe Biden addresses the Joint Session of the US Congress for his first State of the Union speech in 2021, the two persons sitting behind him will be females and of diverse colours, something that seemed unthinkable only a few years ago.

In the meantime, Donald Trump, backed by groups of sycophants and misinformed protesters, has stayed put on his defiance and denials of the election results. Trump is also in the process of litigating in the Courts, questioning the election results. Trump is also yet to felicitate the president and the vice president-elect. This too is a major break from long established traditions.

While the Biden/Harris victory is a clear mandate and is loaded with historical firsts in terms of embracing ethnic and gender diversity, the jury is still out on how much the outcome was an emphatic rejection of Donald Trump’s erratic and divisive politics. That he did manage to get a sizeable chunk of the votes reveals that his “America first” narrative has caught on and his toxic “Trumpism” has resonated well with a large segment of the electorate. This is frightening and may not evaporate anytime soon.

The real challenge for President-elect Joe Biden begins now. He has started off on the right foot by prioritizing combatting the wild spread of coronavirus and deaths from it that have reached frightening magnitudes under Trump. He has made it clear that this is something that he cannot afford to put off for the next day.

Biden’s decision to form a task force with experts is a clear sign that he does recognize the seriousness of the dangers and the urgency to contain its spread. This should be a good starting point, one that is sharply different from his predecessor’s much more dismissive and uncaring attitude. He has also addressed the issue of healing a fractured society, a process that will need more time.

The Biden administration will also have its work cut out in the realm of America’s foreign policy. For Biden and his would be foreign policy team, the challenges are many. Getting the United States re-engaged in the global stage in such critically important areas as climate change, trade, and now, health, should be among the very top of his list.

Donald Trump’s concerted acts of withdrawing from all these areas have effectively isolated the US at the global forum. Restoring America’s close and multi-faceted ties with its long standing allies in the immediate neighbourhood and across the Atlantic should also be a matter of priority. Repairing America’s image in the already divided and volatile Middle East should be another.

Given the reach of the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington, Donald Trump’s move to recognize the illegally occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel presents Joe Biden with a major conundrum. A rising and multi-polar Asia will have to be a matter of serious attention for the incoming administration’s foreign policy makers.

How far and in what manner will the new administration move on the much touted Indo-Pacific Strategy is something that one needs to wait and watch, as much as on what President Joe Biden will do on the now defunct Trans Pacific Partnership(TPP). The future nature of America’s relations with a rising China will most likely be shaped in the context of these two. One does not expect to see any major change in the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the United States under President Joe Biden. The ties are stable and there are no noticeable issues that divide the two.

However, it is in the context of the geo-politics of the region and the new administration’s positions on how this shapes up that could present new challenges for Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already congratulated the President-elect and his VP in very warm terms. This is a good place to start. For Bangladesh, any decision in ensuring forward movement in this very critically important relationship will have to be based on ensuring the protection of our national political and economic interests, mutuality of benefit, and mutual respect.

Balancing relationships with strategic partners who may have competing and conflicting goals is a noble intention; achieving them may prove to be more challenging. This is more so in a fast changing and unpredictable regional and global scenario in which the proverbial ball is not always in your court.

Shamsher M Chowdhury, BB is the former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and Ambassador to the United States

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