Joseph R Biden shall take oath of office of the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021, and begin a tenure which will launch him head-on into what can at best be described the most tumultuous period in global and US affairs of the last 75 years, since WWII. A prescribed order of the world is fragmenting as indeed is the domestic order in the US.
A number of mechanisms first conceived at Bretton Woods when WWII was approaching closure are under threat of becoming obsolete and irrelevant to the current needs of the world community. Either those need to be repaired and recovered or replaced with what may be relevant and will enable a predictable path for nations of the world to coexist and cohabitate. These include the political, economic and the social orders impacted by how mankind and its lifestyles have evolved over the last few decades. To that a little later. For the moment, let’s join Biden on his first day in office.
Biden will have four straight challenges staring him in the face on day one. Covid will touch its peak in its second wave in the initial weeks of the Biden presidency exhausting the capacities of America’s unique medical system despite claims of it needing a wholesome revamp. If there is an advance in medical science it can be found in the US. Yet before the corona microbe the American society reels with numbers mounting by the minute approaching 25 million confirmed cases with a likely death figure of half a million by the time the wave abates, if not higher. Vaccines will need to be ramped up and delivered far and wide for those needing it to defend against the virus. There will be a lot to mourn than celebrate as Biden assumes his presidency.
A Covid-raged economy will be crying for attention at the same time. How many more trillion-dollar relief and stimuli packages can a sick economy afford? Biden will have his hands full. A workforce which exists in absentia and a production base which stands stalled means the American economy has only been downhill save a few big-tech or medical concerns. Tesla too but that is a bubble which can blow at any moment. How does he balance commodities as a sound option in economy considering most political agenda in the Democratic Party situates around ‘green and clean’? Perhaps he will need to coexist with oil and gas as the quickest means to bolster recovery even if it stands in direct contrast to principles of Democratic politics and what differentiates the two political philosophies — imperatives of desperation. That may be his default moment to repair some damage with the Republican base.
And if he is able to conduct his swearing-in ceremony in peace and walk into his office with no further blood than what has already been shed in the days leading to this seminal moment, he shall have something to be thankful for. Such is the state of the society he will govern over; polarised, acutely divided on race and religion, and radicalised and armed to the extreme on the political spectrum. How will he heal this rupture is to be seen if he indeed can or will but for anyone heading the US in its current sociopolitical form shall have to be a messiah and a genius at empathy. Left unattended it will only degenerate into a civil war. The beliefs are so strong on both sides as are the emotions and this combine is a deadly mix. It has agitated violence already across the entire US landscape and has the making of another civil war. How will he appease such extreme sentiment when the agendas and prescriptions for the society and its ailments are mirror opposites in the two political parties and their thought leaders in the US? This sword will hang for long over Biden’s tenure.
Attached to such consummation of attention on internal fissures will mean little for the rest of the world even when a rapidly rising China casts its increasing shadow. When WWII ended the US led the establishment of a global economic order that has governed societies for most part of the last century. While it still is the largest economy and the most powerful military it may have just lost its sheen a bit but still must rise to the expected level of leadership to tweak the economic and political systems to rid off its malignance — inequity and nationalism stare in the face. America’s success at managing and recovering from its sociopolitical turmoil is key to saving democracy as a viable system which still can deliver to the satisfaction of most in a participative society. Else the rise of the Right as evinced all across Europe and in the US will only reinforce. This part of the agenda for the next four and more years ties into how things shape within the US. Hence, the immediacy of it all that has fallen Biden’s way. Democracy in America will need to survive for it to remain a viable system of governance elsewhere.
Four years is just too short to get a handle over all of this in a system where executive authority resides in one person, especially an octogenarian. There are a few things he could do — delegate, delegate, delegate. He has a team of experienced hands. The ideological divide within the Democratic Party will need for him to craft a single sheet of music from which all must sing. Or he will have to sit through tedious follow-up meetings to review if all were indeed sticking to the plan. He will have a good deputy in Kamala Harris; she just may be too progressive for his and the party’s taste but to not use her dynamism would be a waste.
Externally: repairing relationships and alliances — gravely damaged in the Trumpian tenure of an isolationist America; creating a cooperative framework for fighting off the ever-growing threat of climate change and pandemics; and the need for an internationally agreed protocol to monitor and control the profusion of technology and bio-technology into our lives are the frontiers which will need work among major powers. US is no more the sole superpower and will have to co-opt China and major European nations to develop a global cooperative to enable agreed mechanisms. Nuclearisation of Iran and of some anvil Gulf-hopefuls is yet another threshold which will need to be managed to counter proliferation. China may be a competitor but the US will also need to cooperate with her to establish another order of shared ideals for humanity. Competition and cooperation will coexist in the new world.
The almost 80-year-old Biden will have his hands full at a time when they will also need to be steady and unwavering. Notice Pakistan doesn’t appear on the list? Thank God for it. We need to be out of the spotlight. This might find us some respite.
Otto Von Bismarck asserted, “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards and the United States of America”. It just might be America’s saving grace.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2021.