More than half of the US electorate and much of the developing world is heaving a sigh of relief because America has dodged a bullet. Reelecting Donald Trump would have amplified the disaster he has brought on America and the world. His blundering effort to wish away Covid-19 has seen the deaths of over 250,000 Americans since March – with daily death tolls continuing to break records even now. His tax cuts and spending spree have worsened America’s national debt by 37%. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and his rolling back of environmental regulations have magnified the threat from climate change. His withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal has damaged prospects for freer trade and handed the pen to China to write the rules for other globalising economies. Meanwhile, his blocking of appointments for WTO judges has turned the body almost as dysfunctional as politics in his own country. The list goes on and on.
Through it all, the question on the minds of millions around the world is: can President-elect Biden undo the damage Trump has wrought, repair relationships, reestablish norms, and roll back toxic policies? There is no doubt about Biden’s desire to return America to its pre-2016 state. Nor is there any question about the competence, experience, and professionalism of his cabinet nominees, who will surely do their best to make America normal again. But the extent to which the new administration can push for change hinges on the outcome of the January 5 Senate runoff elections in the state of Georgia. That vote – involving two seats currently occupied by Republicans – will decide control of the Senate and thus determine whether the Democratic-majority House of Representatives is able to advance Biden’s legislative agenda. Under the five-year reign of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the upper house has become a graveyard for Democrats’ draft legislation and thus for much of the progressive agenda championed by President Obama and, if Georgia runoff so decides, President-elect Biden.
In addition to roadblocks from a potential Republican-controlled Senate, the Biden administration will also face strong opposition from the 74 million or so outraged Trump supporters. Even though he lost by almost seven million popular votes, Trump managed to actually attract more votes overall than he did in 2016 and came within the barest margin of a de facto tie in the Electoral College vote. This enthusiastic backing for Trump, including support for his discredited claims of a rigged election, allows the lame duck leader to continue threatening and coercing Republican officials at all levels of government. He will not have the power of the presidential bully pulpit after January 20, but the echo chamber of conservative television channels, radio, and social media that so effectively mobilised his supporters over the last four years will sustain enormous pressure on Republican lawmakers and state officials to stymie Biden’s agenda right out of the gate.
Trump and his supporters’ denial of electoral reality provides a dramatic demonstration of how two parallel universes can coexist within the same country. Reasonable people around the world are baffled as to how so many people, with unfettered internet access and the ability to access facts and analysis from every corner of the globe, are so eager to suspend disbelief and accept Trump’s blatant efforts to overturn the result of an election that his own Department of Homeland Security described as free and fair. The most likely explanation is perhaps the predisposition of a large number to believe in Trump out of shared racist values. White Americans are worried about the country’s changing ethnic composition, non-college-educated workers are worried about job loss due to foreign competition and all harbour deep distrust of the elite who have allowed this condition to emerge. Though candidate Trump has been defeated at the ballot box, the incoming US administration will be fighting the strong headwinds of Trumpism for years to come.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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