Can the new US President heal a deeply fissured America?

The nail-biting contest to the White House is over with the President-elect Joe Biden all set to step into the Oval Office on 20th of January 2021. Despite the havoc unleashed in the United States by the deadly coronavirus, which has infected more than ten million and killed a quarter of a million Americans with still no signs of abatement, the two top presidential candidates for this year broke all previous records of getting popular votes in US history. Biden surpassed the previous best of 69.5 million votes fetched by Barack Obama in 2008 by a big margin of 5.5 million and Trump, too, outperformed Obama by getting 70.5 million popular votes.

It is not only the popular votes where Biden beats all the previous US Presidents; he is also setting a new record by becoming the oldest President in American history. He will be 78 years old when he takes the oath of his office early next year. The top spot for being the oldest President, in office, was, till now, held by Ronald Reagan who was 77 when he left in 1989.

It does not stop here. Biden brings with him, Kamala Harris—the first female Vice President in the history of the United States. She is also the first black woman of South Asian descent and a daughter of immigrants to get elected as the US Vice President. Her joy and faith in the future of America was clearly evident in her victory speech when she remarked, “While I may be the first woman in this office; I will not be the last!” A powerful and optimistic message indeed, against discrimination in the US of the future.XFUIV4MUTNBGBKI2O4YW32REU4

The number of votes cast and the record-breaking performances of both the winning and the losing candidates of this year’s presidential election is a clear reflection of a highly-polarized American society. The deep divisions within the US are not easily noticeable in the distribution of the Electoral College votes between Biden and Trump which may indicate that Biden has won convincingly. In fact, the outgoing President, Donald J. Trump, despite his record of questionable ethics and administrative abilities, has increased his popular vote by a whopping 7.5 million votes which shows that America clearly has two very different visions for the future.

These extraordinary circumstances in the US political, social and economic milieu demand a prudent and wise response from the President-elect. Biden has surely an uphill task in front of him and that is to set the direction of a divided America right. Personally, he seems to be a man with a lot of endurance and courage and a reasonable choice by the Americans to achieve the goal of uniting America. In 1972, his first wife Neilla Hunter and daughter Amy could not survive a road accident shortly after he became a US Senator-elect. In 2015, he lost his eldest son Beau Biden due to brain cancer. His successful handling of these extremely traumatic personal episodes indicate his resilience and robust psychological capacities which are direly needed in these difficult times.sackBIDENFINAL

Another positive thing about Biden is that he seems to be well aware of the division in the American society and understands the importance of recreating the image of America as a place of “possibilities” for everyone and rebuilding it together with the help of all Americans. In his victory speech, he referred to the Bible and said, “It tells us ‘to everything there is a season. A time to build, a time to reap and time to sow and a time to heal.’ This is the time to heal in America.” In this speech, he also pledged to be, “a president who seeks not to divide but unify. Who does not see the red states and the blue states; only sees the United States.” He is cognizant of the systemic racism rooted in the American society and has shown resolve to get rid of it. He has promised to marshal resources and spare no effort and commitment to turnaround the pandemic situation which was never, since its outbreak, a priority of Trump administration. Biden has also indicated his strong commitment to rebuilding the US economy and combat climate crisis. 

This agenda sounds very promising and only time will tell how much success Biden achieves on the various fronts touched upon by him in the victory speech. A major step for progressing towards his explicitly stated goals would be to remain more focused domestically and do less in the international arena. This can be a huge challenge as this is not something for which the American body politic has an appetite for. At least, the experience of the last several decades shows this.2020-03-08T144909Z_1_LYNXMPEG270HV_RTROPTP_4_USA-ELECTION-BIDEN-HARRIS-scaled (1)

Also, this may not be possible as the geo-political contest between China and the United States becomes fiercer in the coming years. The American society has a deep concern about losing the number one position in the world, which they have maintained over a century, to China in the not-so-far future. As a nation, it is painful when you see someone else competing against you and almost ready to displace you from the top slot. However, to give China a tough time, the US first needs to be resilient and robust internally. Under the current circumstances, it does not make sense at all to carry on with the hostile policies against China such as the trade war and blame game in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With such a divided society, Biden needs to bridge the gaps at home first and then prepare America for giving China a tough time as the geo-political contest between the two great powers gets intense in the coming years. The question remains: Can Biden start with a serious domestic focus for healing the deep fissures in America?1b87b4ab-c139-407e-bdd6-5ae2e46d11ff


The author is a civil servant presently pursuing a doctorate in technology and innovation policy

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