IO – On November 7th 2020 Indonesians awoke to the news that President-elect Biden had exceeded the minimum number of electoral votes needed in order to win the presidency. With over seventy-four million votes cast Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received more votes than any other presidential ticket in American history.
Joe Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania to a working class family in 1942. Although Biden moved to Delaware and served as Senator for Delaware for many years it was the state of his birth, Pennsylvania that unexpectedly won him the presidency by providing the 20 electoral votes that carried Biden over the threshold needed to win the election.
For the last four years many Americans have felt themselves to be in a state of turmoil. President Trump’s extremely confrontational and aggressive style of leadership in which he regularly insulted not only opponents and the press but even ordinary citizens, where he continually fired members of his administration (the latest being his Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper) as well as his destructive barrage of untruths created a state of divisiveness in America unprecedented since the Civil War. However, it is not only in the United States that Mr Trump’s administration has created tension and concern.
Former Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said on Monday that it is the duty of a leader to unite his nation. He then described President Trump on ABC television as having exacerbated the divisions within American society for his own political advantage by leveraging fear.
Bob Carr the former Premier of the Australian state of New South Wales went even further calling Trump a proto-Fascist. He compared him to Hitler before the War telling the German people that their election was being stolen by a certain group of people. In Hitler’s case he blamed the Jews whereas Trump says that the Democrats stole the election through electoral fraud.
In this tense atmosphere Joe Biden’s election as president was an occasion of relief and jubilation not only to his supporters but for many others worldwide hoping for a less chaotic and more considered style of leadership from the most powerful nation in the world. Kamala Harris went further describing Joe Biden’s victory as a struggle not only for the survival of democracy but for the very soul of America.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris gave their victory speeches in Wilmington, Delaware where Harris appeared on the podium in the sort of white pantsuit that was once the hall mark of Mrs Clinton. It was a salute to Hillary Clinton, signalling Harris’ respect and gratitude for what Clinton had endured and achieved in opening the way for Kamala Harris as the first woman and the first American of Black and Indian heritage to rise to the seat of vice president. As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris became the most powerful woman in American history and many predict that one day she may even become America’s first woman president. As Mrs Clinton commented about the Biden Harris victory, “It’s a history making ticket…” – which Hillary Clinton made possible.
Kamala Harris described Joe Biden in her victory speech as “a healer, a uniter and … a man with a big heart who loves with abandon.” Her words left not only Americans who had voted for him but many all over the world wiping away tears. The world has waited nearly 4 years for America to find a healer and a unifier.
President elect Joe Biden’s speech was just as heart moving. By electing him the American people placed their faith in Joe Biden and in his victory speech Biden reassured them of his faith in them. He did not talk about the tumultuousness of President Trump’s reign, No Chaos Joe as he likes to be referred to spoke instead of hope and resilience. After all the drama, vitriol and at times irrationality of President Trump’s administration Mr Biden has begun that process of healing by reaching out to those who did not vote for him telling Trump supporters, “To those who voted for President Trump, I understand your disappointment. I’ve lost a couple of elections myself, but now let’s give each other a chance.”
He told them that he would work as hard for those who did not vote for him as for those who did. No blue states or red states but only the United States and that the mandate of the American people was for Republicans and Democrats to cooperate.
He then quoted the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible saying, “The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow and a time to heal.” He said. “This is the time to heal in America.”
There is a black and white picture of President Trump that is doing the rounds of social media presently, stamped with the words, “January 20, 2021. The end of an error.”
But was it an error? Nearly half of America voted twice for Mr Trump as president. Currently, he has received more than 71 million votes from American citizens making him the man who has garnered the second largest amount of votes in American history. It of course, begs the question what it is that disturbs and leaves so many Americans so frustrated that they need to elect a president who can express their deepest anger and outrage which President Trump has done extremely well.
Bill Clinton probably expressed it correctly when he said, “It’s the economy dummy, the economy!” The average American family does not have the same standard of living in real terms now as it did in the 1950s. Globalization has seen the disappearance of many jobs in the manufacturing field but not enough new jobs in other sectors. Whole towns have been left decimated as their factories shut down. Mr Trump could gage the level of despair amongst so many of the unemployed and focused his attention on creating jobs for Americans.
It is not however, economic problems alone that America faces. All nations go through transformations in national identity and usually this is a slow process but in the America of today that process seems to have come to a head and reached a great tipping point. Fifty years ago most immigrants to America were Caucasian, Christian and from Western cultures but that has changed added to which the fertility rate of Whites is the lowest among all groups in the US. It is predicted that by 2044 there will be more non-whites than Whites in the United States. This is also frequently accompanied by a change in culture and many White Americans feel not only economically threatened but also culturally. This shift in demographics, values and identity has contributed greatly to the tensions and divisiveness in American society today. Mr Biden however remains optimistic and says that America has always been able to make hard decisions about “who we are and who we want to be”.
By having the audacity to choose a woman, a Black and an Asian as his vice president Biden was able to obtain most of the Black and women’s vote; also the Hispanic vote. President-elect Biden will however, also need to understand the minds and problems as well as speak the language of the Americans who did not vote for him. The COVID pandemic is the first major issue that he intends to tackle and he has said that he will do so by listening to science and here lies another large divide in American society for a great part of the Americans who voted for Mr Trump are evangelicals. It helps Mr Biden that he is a devout Catholic and that he says that his religious faith has been a “bedrock foundation” of his life.
Mr Trump has tried to weaponize religion in his political battle with Biden. In Ohio President Trump tried to say that Biden is “following the radical-left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God.”
Few people will forget the implausible image of President Trump standing in front of St John’s Church near the White House holding the Bible, the wrong way up.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who oversees St. John’s Church speaks of a social contract that Trump appears to have with many Evangelical Christians whereby he will deliver certain things that they believe in and they will draw a blind eye to aspects of his behaviour that would normally draw their vehement disapproval.
Last Sunday after attending mass Biden, walked to the cemetery where his son, Beau, his first wife, Neilia, and their daughter, Naomi, are buried. He is a man who has gone through great pain in his life with the loss first of his wife and daughter and later of his beloved son Beau and he says that it is his faith in God that ultimately helped him heal and that has motivated him throughout his fifty-year career in politics. There is nearly always a rosary in his pocket. He does not always agree with the aims of religious groups including the Catholic Church but because of his own deep faith he understands religious people. In many ways the great losses that Biden has suffered in his life have made him into a healer able to reach out not only to those who voted for him but also to those who did not.
And how does the rest of the world view America’s new President-elect?
Joe Biden has said that President Trump’s unwillingness to concede does not hamper his planning or what he is able to do between now and January 20 2021 when he takes over as president. Many key U.S. allies are in fact already preparing for a new administration even as President Trump refuses to accept defeat. With a deafening silence from China and Russia, leaders from the rest of the world have sent their congratulations to Joe Biden.
Boris Johnson was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Biden. Brexiteers would problably be wise to feel alarm at Biden’s election victory. When a BBC reporter asked him whether he had a word for the BBC, Biden replied succinctly, “I am Irish.”
So, far there have been twenty-two American presidents of Irish stock but only two of them were Catholic and from what is now the Republic of Ireland, namely John Kennedy and Joe Biden. Biden is very clear about his Irish roots and that he will not tolerate any Brexit plan that may threaten the Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to Northern Ireland after the troubles. He is also likely to follow in Obama’s footsteps by putting Britain at the back of the queue as regards trade deals.
Israel is also not happy with Biden’s election. Mr Netanyahu first sent a message to President Trump condoling with him and praising him for helping Israel move its capital to Jerusalem despite international protest. Only then did he see fit to congratulate Biden who is likely to take a much firmer approach to Israel.
For President Trump the priority in the Middle East has been the sale of arms but Biden’s advisers say that he will re-evaluate the United States policy not only with regard to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel but many countries in the Middle East. This includes pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran as well as human rights questions especially as regards the murder of journalist, Jamal Kashoggi.
Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalagawa says, “In the past whenever there was a Democrat administration in the US typically there would arise issues with Indonesia relating to human rights and the environment but I think Indonesia can actually benefit by engaging in these issues. For example, a possible focus by the Biden administration on environmental issues is something that portends well for us because the return to focus on climate change, the environment and the green economy are our issues of the future as well and so we should work together with the Biden administration for our mutual benefit.”
Biden is also likely to continue the Obama administrations Pivot to Asia policy and Indonesia is optimistic that the Biden administration will be open to a partnership that upholds the principles of multilateralism with respect to territorial integrity, sovereignty and international law.
Whether America heals and becomes a nation that is a leader respected around the world is not just about America but also about democracy as a system, for America has been the largest and most diverse experiment in democracy in the world. Too many enemies of democracy have been jeering at it for too long from the comfort of economic growth. As the largest democracy in ASEAN which has modelled many of its political institutions along the lines of America, it will be of deep interest to Indonesia and other fledgling democracies, to see how flexible and resilient the democratic system is in responding to cultural change and compelling transformations in national identity. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)