Biden’s Daunting Date with History; His Odds for Greatness.
After an interminable Election Night, fitting for 2020, Biden defeats Trump. History dictates that he’s destined for either greatness or ignominy - another FDR or another Hoover. He's ready.
Endless Election Day and the Times to Come
At long last, Election Day came, and then almost refused to end. The election results showed a nation divided, and the sitting president’s response to the outcome, predictably, only worsened the rift, creating more problems for the incoming administration. Biden faces an enormous task that will require uniting a polarized nation. As it turns out, he’s exactly the man for to the job.
Highlights in this Issue
Biden’s – and America’s - Date with History. What’s Ahead for Him and the U.S.
Fighting for Democracy: Tanzania, Uganda, Myanmar, Cote D’Ivoire, USA
Bonus: Erdogan and Europe
Biden is Ready for the World’s Toughest Job
Joe Biden first ran for president 32 years ago. He failed, and failed again in his second presidential run 20 years later. History, we now know, had something else in store. He had to prepare for this moment; for the world’s toughest job, at its most difficult time.
And prepare he did. It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to grapple with the mountain of troubles facing America.
Hearing of his victory, the country burst into exuberant celebrations, more reminiscent of reaction to the toppling of a dictator than to a normal democratic contest; a collective sigh of relief after the defeat of President Donald Trump. It was a long four years for at least half of the country, and the joy was palpable - and audible.
The election of Kamala Harris — a woman, the child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, married to a Jewish man — was a first on so many fronts, that it electrified people in the U.S. and beyond.
On Saturday, Biden, at long last celebrating victory, vowed to do what he had promised all along, to heal the nation, bring Americans together, return decency to the country, and serve as president for all, including those who didn’t vote for him. If you missed, hear his speech; watch the celebration.
After the exhilaration dies down, it will be time for tackling a grim reality.
Biden had earlier described himself as a transitional president; a placeholder who would put America back on track after a disruptive presidency. He ran, he had said, to make sure that the ugliness of the past four years was an aberration, not a permanent new America. But circumstances changed. Instead of trying to turn the country back to pre-Trump days, Biden will aim much higher. If he succeeds, he could become one of the most consequential, transformative presidents in modern U.S. history.
These are no ordinary times and Biden’s will be no ordinary presidency. America’s greatest presidents were the ones who faced the greatest challenges; think Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt. But great crises, mishandled, also brand the worst ones; think Herbert Hoover.
Biden -- taking office in the midst of the pandemic, a profound economic crisis, rising economic inequality, heightened demands for racial justice, an exploding budget deficit, and a deeply divided country -- is destined for greatness or ignominy, nothing in between.
His qualifications suggest he is more likely to succeed, but the road ahead will be grueling.
It’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of the challenges he faces. Undoubtedly, he will make many mistakes. We will find much to criticize. But everything in Biden’s past served as training for what’s ahead.
His unfathomable personal losses give him visceral understanding about the meaning of suffering, an invaluable asset when hundreds of thousands have just died of Covid-19, with thousands more dying every week. His experiences in government, building bipartisan bridges, handling crises, representing America abroad, will help him govern with skill and insight unprecedented for a first-term president.
Above all, he will try to redirect American politics toward a more constructive dynamic. On Thursday, with the nation on edge awaiting the results, Biden spoke to the country, striking exactly the right tone, with a reassuring, realistic, unifying, speech.
“The purpose of our politics, the work of the nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everybody a fair shot, to improve the lives of our people...We may be opponents, but we are not enemies. We are Americans”
Biden is getting to work immediately. He has announced his pandemic panel will start working on Monday.
Once in office, he will promptly roll back Trump’s most egregious executive orders. On major legislation, he will need to work with Republicans, which he has done for decades. He even has a good relationship with Mitch McConnell, who will remain Senate majority leader unless Democrats win two January runoffs in Georgia.
The Senate balance will be close; the House will be Democratic. Biden has a better chance than anyone of getting legislation approved in these contentious times.
The Democratic party chose a centrist candidate and Americans elected him president. Biden will have to negotiate with the left flank of his party, the progressives, as well as with Republicans.
Democrats, jubilant about defeating Trump, also faced disappointments. Instead of expanding their House majority and taking the Senate, they lost House seats and have steep odds to take the Senate.
“It is clear that American voters did not resoundingly repudiate President Donald Trump,” I wrote on CNN, explaining the errors in Biden’s campaign, the Trump falsehoods that hurt the vice president, and other forces at play that helped Trump garner the support of 70 million Americans. The election was not the wholesale rejection of Trump that many of us hoped for. I suggested Democrats study why that happened:
“Democrats would do well to delve into these issues and try to learn from the concerns of Trump voters. Anguish and fear of economic dislocation predated the pandemic. This has to do [partly] with long-term changes in the economy, not this temporary crisis.”
Reaction to my article reflects the growing divisions among Democrats.
The rift between centrists and progressives will become a feature of the Biden era. In a leaked post-election call, centrists blamed progressives for a message that pushed away voters. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, an African-American from South Carolina, blasted the party’s left. Speaking of the Georgia Senate runoffs, he warned, if “we are going to run on Medicare for all, defund the police, socialized medicine, we're not going to win.”
Trump, meanwhile, continued to reject reality. On Tuesday, he put on a shocking television spectacle, claiming he won the election in the most lie-filled speech of his presidency. I received a message from an Iran-born friend living overseas. It struck me because he has found much to praise in Trump’s foreign policy, and has told me for months he’s worried about Biden. But he was horrified by Trump’s message.
Here’s what he wrote me:
Trump will ultimately leave office, but he will not disappear. He will remain an outside bomb thrower, undermining Biden’s presidency. Fox News will help him. That is tragic for the country. The problems are real; people are struggling, dying.
Imagine if public officials could work together to find solutions, bringing to the table differing ideas and different philosophies, but all working toward the same goal. That’s not what has been happening.
On the positive side, Biden comes to office, despite the acrimony, with a strong mandate. He is winning with a convincing majority of the Electoral College and with a more than four million vote lead in the popular vote. The majority of voters chose him. There’s no mixed message about voters’ wishes. This is good for democracy. Good for America. And a good omen for the presidency of a man who now takes on his shoulders the weight of a nation’s problems – meeting his moment in history.
Putin’s Prepares for his Future
Two decades after taking power in Russia and steadily dismantling what was a young, fledgling democracy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is making sure all the pieces are in place for his post-presidency life.
Under Putin, Russia has not only lost any semblance of democracy, it has also become a beehive of government-directed corruption, a kleptocracy. And Putin stands at the center of it, trading lucrative favors for support.
With that in mind, Putin’s allies in the Duma, Russia’s parliament, introduced a bill granting former presidents lifelong immunity from criminal prosecution. Current law confers immunity to presidents only while they are in office.
Interestingly, one of Putin’s first moves after becoming president twenty years ago, was to grant immunity to Boris Yeltsin, the president who had handpicked him as his successor. The rumor was that they had made a deal to that effect.
Speaking of rumors, the Kremlin brushed off as nonsense reports that Putin is about to resign due to bad health. Media reports claim he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Some say Putin’s is trying to conceal a tremor in his hand.
The timing of the immunity bill and the rumors would give the speculation credence. But Parkinson’s is hardly reason to retire. The disease can be very well controlled for a long time. Putin will be in office until he decides to leave. That, by the way, is not how democracies work.
Democracy Battles Around the World
Democracy has been struggling across the planet. Freedom House, which tracks such things, says it is in retreat.
This week, democracy suffered in many countries.
In Myanmar (Burma) the fallen hero Aung San Suu Kyi continued her march of shame, with national elections that exclude millions of members of ethnic minorities.
In Uganda, the popular activists and singer Bobi Wine declared his candidacy for the presidency and was promptly beaten and arrested.
In Tanzania, President John Magufuli won yet another landslide victory and his party won almost every seat in parliament, preparing to change the constitution to allow him a third term. Opposition members who said there was fraud were arrested and charged with terrorism.
In Cote D’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara won a third term with almost all the vote. The opposition boycotted the election, noting the constitution allows only two terms.
In the United States, the president refused to accept the result of the election he lost. His term will end on January 20, whether he accepts it or not.
Bonus: Erdogan and Europe
In this week’s World Politics Review column, I wrote about the growing friction between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Europe, particularly France, as Europeans deal with a rash of terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists, and Erdogan seeks to position himself as the defender of all Muslims, with actions and rhetoric that many believe is not only justifying the attacks but making them more likely.
That’s it for this historic week. I firmly believe it was a positive turning point for America. The country stared into the precipice and turned away.
In the coming weeks and months, we will have much to talk about, including Biden’s domestic and foreign policy, battles with his party and the opposition, struggles with the pandemic and the economy. It will be fascinating, and will affect all of our lives, in the U.S. and abroad, because the United States, by action or inaction, has an impact on the entire world.
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Until next week-
Stay healthy; stay informed; stay engaged.