Biden era begins: May it revitalise democracy at home and rules based order in the world


President Joe Biden has taken office in a country looking strikingly different than it did on his predecessor’s Inauguration Day. Covid-19 has killed more than 4,00,000 Americans, with a big portion of the socio-economic toll attributable to federal mismanagement. The US has also abdicated its role as leader of the free world, squabbled with democratic allies while keeping authoritarian populists everywhere chuckling at its post-truth misadventures. This month’s attack on the Capitol highlighted how much domestic polarisation has poisoned the polity. In short, the new administration really has its work cut out devising correctives at multiple levels. It is a mighty challenge.

But democracy is premised on elections making a difference. The promise of a new dawn is both powerful and credible. The diversity, sobriety and experience of the incoming cabinet strongly suggest that they have a good measure of the problems at hand, and the ambition to attempt necessary solutions. One clear aspirational target is 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the first 100 days. Then, Janet L Yellen, who will be the new treasury secretary and America’s top economic diplomat, has articulated as priorities both addressing the economic damage of the pandemic at home and repairing relationships with various allies abroad to take on China’s “illegal, unfair and abusive practices” collectively.

After the hollowing of institutions and anarchic flailings seen in the Trump years, it will indeed take solid international cooperation to revitalise the global rules based order. Incoming secretary of state Antony Blinken has indicated a welcome pragmatism in saying, “We’ll engage the world not as it was, but as it is.” Pragmatically speaking, rebukes on human rights issues for India may be part and parcel of Washington’s liberal revival, alongside the many Indian-Americans in the Biden team.

With Blinken having described India as a “bipartisan success story”, there will be overall continuity in the US view of India as balancing Chinese power in Asia. So progress on defence ties should continue apace. But as its suspension of India’s benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences showed, all too often the Trump administration took disproportionate economic swipes against friends. A more strategic and sensible approach is expected from the Biden administration. Against this economic backdrop, India should not just aim at status quo ante but a comprehensive trade agreement. We should let ambition, rather than trepidation and indecision, be our guide.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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