Joe Biden as healer and unifier faces not only economic problems but also issues of culture and national identity

201
Joe Biden official 2013 portrait and Kamala Harris official senate portrait 2017. (Photo: David Lienemann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons/ https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Joe_Biden_ official_portrait_2013.jpg and United States Senate, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia .org/wiki/File:Senator_Harris_ official_senate_portrait.jpg

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 at a health care rally in Washington DC, 2017. (Photo credit: The United States Senate – Office of Senator Kamala Harris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia .org/wiki/File: Kamala_Harris_ at_protest.jpg)

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.

Joe Biden at rally in Hartford Connecticut 2018. (Photo: United State Senate – the Office of Chris Murphy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org /wiki/File:Hartford_rally_for_ Connecticut_Dem_elections_ 2018_04.jpg)

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.

Mr. Biden at the Decani Monastery, Kosovo, 2009. (Photo: White House by David Lienemann, https://commons.wikimedia .org/wiki/File: Joe_Biden_is_led_ on_a_tour_of_ the_Decani_Monastery _2009.jpg)

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.

Vice-president elect Kamala Harris with activist Malala Yousafzai. (United States Senate – The Office of Kamala Harris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia .org/wiki/File: Malala_Yousafzai_ with_Kamala_Harris.jpg

 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.

Joe Biden receives the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. (Photo: Chuck Kennedy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons/ https://commons.wikimedia.org /wiki/File:Joe_Biden_ Receives_Presidential_Medal_of_Freedom.jpg

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)