Joe Biden is finally President of the United States. A passable speaker, he nonetheless made an inspiring inauguration speech. No Indian leader since Jawaharlal Nehru has done better. As India continues to embrace majoritarianism, Biden was urging inclusivity – and putting it on display with two black women on the stage with him in leading roles: his vice-president and the Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.
Impressive as Biden’s start was, he faces enormous problems. The first is his own survival and vitality. The president will face serious threats to his life from right-wing extremists. These include extremists within his own security detail. Veterans from two decades of wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East have filled the police and other forces. A portion of these are right-wing sympathisers and worse. There are others who wish him ill. Beyond Biden’s safety from assassination is concern over his ability to lead energetically given his age. He is the oldest US president ever.
The second problem is dealing with Donald Trump’s followers, from fanatical white supremacists to sedate conservatives. An American friend of mine, an erstwhile staunch Democrat, voted for Trump twice. He detests Trump as a person but would vote for him or a political clone without hesitation. Why? Because Trump is aligned with his new-found social conservatism. Also, a significant portion of white Americans has slipped into poverty, joblessness, and opioid related destitution and despair. Biden must help disadvantaged minorities but also this segment of whites. Otherwise, Trump or a clone could be back in the White House in 2025
The third problem is Trump himself. Should Biden ignore him, from the lofty confines of the White House? Or should he allow Congress and the legal system to go after him on tax and other high misdemeanours including encouraging the invasion of the US Capitol? The former course of action may cut the oxygen off Trump, but it risks alienating the left-wing of the Democratic Party. The latter course may be the correct thing to do legally but seemingly contradicts Biden’s calls for “unity” – or will be made to look that way.
The next problem is dealing with both the Democratic and Republican Party. The Democrats’ leftists are already sniping at the new administration and are unhappy over some of Biden’s appointees. There are in addition conservative Democrats who might side with Republicans on various issues. The Republicans are wounded and divided, but the party is still a force in the two legislative houses. More worrying is the possibility that Trump will either decimate the Grand Old Party or take it over completely. The former president has already hinted he may launch his own party. Third parties don’t have a great history in US politics, but these are extraordinary times. If Trump does launch a new party, many Republicans may join it or lead a rebellion that leads their party into Trump’s new “Patriot Party”. The resulting chaos will not help Biden – it will at the very least shift attention to Trump once again.
Finally, Biden has to bring Covid-19 under control for public health and economic reasons. But this is a political challenge too insofar as millions of Americans refuse to take the most elementary precautions. How to persuade them to change? Vaccination is one way out of the difficulty. But many Americans won’t take the vaccine either, and these are not just right-wing sceptics but the very people that Biden would extol – those who take precautions and worry that the vaccine’s long-run effects on the body are unknown. They would rather “mask up” than be vaccinated.
The world has breathed a sigh of relief with Trump’s exit. His brand of politics though is far from fatally tarnished or defeated. Biden knows it and must find a way to deal with it and the carnage Trump has wrought. No challenge has been greater since the American civil war.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE