Can America Be United Again?

Donald Trump has lost, but he is not going anywhere and so soon, something that large sections of the mainstream media and half of American voters would want so desperately. He has got massive electoral support, almost 70 million plus votes, half of the American vote bank. He might be openly a racist, an overt and tacit patron of Rightwing fringe groups of white supremacism, a misogynist, sexist and an anti-immigrant, apart from being rather crass in his public conduct.

He might have decisively botched up the Covid emergency in his total denial in public and acceptance in private, as disclosed by a top journalist with whom he shared his views; and by denying masks and the universal danger of this pandemic, he might be singularly responsible for the spread of the epidemic. Almost 250,000 Americans have fallen to the pandemic.

And, yet, Trump is refusing to give way to the new president-elect, Joe Biden and his team, even in carving out an emergency response to the pandemic. On the contrary, he continues to call the poll results a fraud, something even some of his aides in the White House and many Republican leaders are not ready to accept.

Biden, in his victory speech, has emphasised that he stands for not a red or blue America but a United America, which is quite in contrast to the sectarian ‘ultra nationalist’ Trump slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’, which unconsciously reminds of the colonial era of White supremacy, the bloody and genocidal subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants and natives of this vast land by colonisers and missionaries, and the slave trade of Blacks and later their continued brutalisation even in the post-War scenario by the rabid Ku Klux Klan virus of white supremacy.

Biden especially said that he stands for all of America, including those who did not vote for him, acknowledging the tragic and bitter realism of a socially divided and psychology wounded country, which might take years to overcome the fissures and hostilities entrenched after the short Trump era of four years.

Indeed, as the The New Yorker reported, Biden asked for an end to “this grim era of demonization…” “He stressed that, in choosing him, a majority of Americans opted to “marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope”— the forces of everything good, reliable, and familiar that can help us shake the feeling of living in an unstable and unrelentingly dark reality. Biden promised to “restore the soul of America”.

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Surely, America is in a crisis. Despite the upset victory of the Democrats in certain red states like Arizona and Georgia, and the close margin of the final vote count, the vast white countryside, especially the uneducated white working class, both men and women, seemed to have gone along with Trump. So has, surprisingly, a sizeable number of Hispanics, especially Cubans who hate communists and who got sold yet again on the Trump slogan that socialists and the Left are out to take over America. Trump has repeatedly drummed it in the social media that the Left has taken over the Democrats and America is going Left. So much so, some Democrats too have done a kind of campaign that it is because of the progressives led by Bernie Sanders, and others like Rep Alexandria Ocasi0-Cortez and ‘the squad’ of four radical, progressive and emerging women leaders, among others, that the Biden campaign suffered in some states.

Reports from the ground affirm that nothing can be further from the truth, and that it was basically the Sanders, and progressives’ campaign, relentless and dogged, and which went on from the day Trump won the elections in the first instance defeating Hillary Clinton (though she got more votes), and the Black Lives Matter movement, massive and widespread across class, colour and race, apart from the larger rainbow coalition which swung it for Biden and Kamala Harris.

This coalition belongs to educated people, youngsters and students, the millennials, the LGBT collectives, the liberal White, enlightened and feminist women, immigrants and Asians, and almost the entire Black population, who consolidated the huge and unprecedented mass of vote which overwhelmed the support base of Trump, who just did not anticipate the huge ground level work, the door to door outreach, the voters’ enrolment and postal ballot campaign, and the idea of a new, egalitarian and secular America without the racial and sectarian divide. Native Indians campaigned and voted overwhelmingly against Trump. This was against the crass language and conduct displayed in the Trump era, where unbridled capitalism of monopolists, despite the pandemic, mass unemployment, collective uncertainty, depression and anxiety, stalked the American landscape.

The progressives’ agenda will mark the new America in more ways than one. People are desperate for a health sector which is not so shamelessly loaded in favour of the rich, which reaches out to the most ordinary Americans; they want higher education for the vast majority of the working class, across colour, they want social security and financial relief, jobs and homes for the homeless, and a society where the police and law enforcement agencies are not so brazenly biased and partisan. They also want accountability for the rich and super rich, a level-playing field, a new economic order, and an end to the rise and rise of the capitalists who seem to have flourished in an unprecedented manner amidst the despair and distress of the deadly pandemic.

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Surely, amidst the millennials, this is a trend which has been trending since Socialist Bernie Sanders first entered the fray, while being blocked again and again by the big money lobbies, including Barack Obama himself. The Barack-Biden twosome has a bad record on several counts: mass deportations of immigrants, the total insensitivity towards the working class, health and education, and of course, the unbridled killings by the drones in conflict zones across the middle-east and the borders of Afghanistan, and the death and destruction in Syria and Yemen, which continues. At least, in the Trump era, no new wars waged by America in the rest of the world, though his record on Palestine and Iran has been grossly unimaginative and crude.

Stacey Abrams, for instance, a prominent black leader of Georgia, who had earlier run for the post of Governor, has been credited for leading a whole-hearted and successful grassroots campaign for Biden, overcoming the formidable Trump support base in Georgia. Writes The Daily Beast: “The Biden campaign placed Georgia as one of just three reach states that they sought to turn blue, hoping to expand the party’s old electoral map to defeat President Donald Trump. The fact that Georgia is narrowly trending in that direction at the top of the ticket is, in part, thanks to the work Abrams put in place during her first governor run in 2018, where voter suppression contributed to her close loss to unseat (Republican) Kemp. She has since escalated her organizing and mobilizing efforts with Fair Fight, the group she founded in the aftermath of that election, and offered a strong closing pitch to voters to “make a plan to vote early” leading up to November 3.”

So will America heal itself and become united in these edgy days to come… The answer, as the Bob Dylan song says, is once again blowin’ in the wind.

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Welcome Back America, But…

Climate Change, Human Rights, Multilateralism, Anti-racism and the Pandemic challenge, among others, have all suffered in the last four years due to United State either walking out or failing to give leadership. Barring any Trumpian earthquake to US democracy, Joe Biden’s victory has sent a sigh of relief round the world. It gives hope of US re-engaging in these urgent issues. But the balance of power has changed in the world and there is also apprehension that Biden could be tempted back to the Democrat’s habit of interventionist wars.

The United States walked away from the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), partly due to repeated concerns raised about Israel. It must have been Trump regime’s assessment that the HRC might become a useless forum or even fold up if it walked away. None of that happened. The US seat at HRC Geneva usually remains empty or a cheeky NGO sometimes sits there. Its exit or rather absence hasn’t stopped anything. The world carries on regardless, with countries like China and Russia often dominating the scene.

However, the human rights debate is slightly weaker with the leader of the western world on a sort of AWOL. The US is also not there to answer the many issues raised about its record by other countries.

The Human Rights discourse at United Nations is undergoing subtle shifts away from traditional understanding of human rights based on individual rights to a Chinese-led new perspectives of human rights. The Chinese are promoting a Confucius compliment where the individual also has responsibility to collective rights. China wants to dilute individual rights to duties towards the State. While European countries have been putting up a robust challenge, their effectiveness is weakened with the US missing. Countries are increasingly accepting a Chinese leadership. These are challenging times.

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It is the Climate Change field that needs urgent leadership to reverse the suicidal damage that the human race has wreaked on the earth and its atmosphere. Scientists are alarmed at the rapidity of change taking place, especially the melting snow in the North and South Poles. The erosion of Amazonian Forest, the lungs of the world, is causing concern throughout while the number of fires, storms and natural disasters are stretching the ability of the world to cope.

Countries like China have been filling the leadership gap as have some European countries. India has tried but has been credited with more rhetoric than action as Indian cities continue to top the world in pollution rates.

China however is not a natural leader for most of the world used to democracy and free press. It faces cultural barriers to fostering leadership empathy. Moreover there remains considerable distrust of its intentions as has been seen in the 5G technology.

Relations between China and India remain tense. This makes it difficult for the two somewhat unequal but nevertheless important Asian giants to embark on collective leadership of the climate issue. China also has political differences with other neighbours in South East Asia, making it difficult for it to fill a vacuum left by Trump’s America.

Although Europe is increasingly realising that it has to stand on its own feet, its influence is hampered by its bloody history of colonialism. Secondly its own internal structures are weakened by fissiparous tendencies. Besides, rival leaders sometimes compete to become prima donnas on the world stage. Europe has for long depended on the United States to give it extra clout in the world.

The Climate Change putsch needs both the United States and China to work together to give global leadership. This is where the Biden Government will be most welcomed by the world. Trump not only walked away from multilateral efforts but more damagingly walked out of the Paris Agreement. COP 26 at Glasgow might be more promising now with Biden at the helm of United States.

The United States has most miserably failed in providing any leadership or even support in the Covid-19 pandemic crises. Unlike other disasters that are regional, the Covid-19 pandemic has swept the entire world. It has engulfed the United States more than most countries. It may have been a virus that jumped from a market in China, but it is now characterised by the way the United States has addressed this real crises.

Trump quite clearly has been out of his depth to lead his own people in the pandemic crises let alone set up a world leadership drive to contain the Pandemic. Coming out of WHO at a time when the world needed it most, for petty issues of jealousy such as why does the WHO leadership fawn over  China more than Trump at a time when people are dying in thousands is the height of absurdity. When WHO needs funding the most, the USA withdrew it through a tweet.

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There are many world issues in which the United States has effectively been absent. This has also enabled the world to get on with its problems without depending on this biggest superpower and financial payhouse. This new reality may be a challenge for Biden and American sense of its place in the world as it seeks to reclaim leadership.

The world is genuinely multilateral now. Gone is the period of sole superpower dominance. The clock cannot turn back. A returning United States will have to realise that its place is no longer automatically at the head. There is China, there is Russia, there is an upcoming India and there is a Europe learning to assert its own power.

While still the most powerful country in terms of political clout, arsenal and capital, the other powers are no longer a push over. Much as a liberal world might want USA to jump into Hong Kong politics or warn China against South China Sea expansions or its border skirmishes with India, the United States is unlikely to frighten China as it may once have been able to do. China has sat out the Trump economic wars and has enough resourcefulness to outlast even a possible two term Biden Government.

Neither is Russia likely to stop meddling or throwing its weight around. Much has changed in the four years in which the US has been absorbed with itself, defining and fighting the ‘other’ within its own borders. Trump was forever fighting imagined enemies within. He equated the robustness of democracy and free speech to conspirators against him. His tweets targeted fellow Americans rather than enemies of America.

This election has exposed the open underbelly of America. White supremacists and the rest of America have two different visions of the United States. While optimists are calling on Biden to heal the wounds within, the fissures may have gone too deep now. A lot of his energy is also likely to be absorbed to keep the country together. The possibility of United States splitting up in a decade or so, is not far-fetched anymore. His biggest challenge will be to give a new vision to a fractured country.

It is that which makes USA weak on the world stage now. Usually democracies embark on wars abroad to keep unity within. But the fissures are solidifed for that. Moreover, the biggest foe, China, is too experienced and savvy to fall for the trap. It is deft at sidestepping confrontation and then timing it right.

After four years of absence, the United States’ return to the world stage is much welcomed and rejoiced. But Biden and his colleagues must realise that the world is much changed. It is genuinely multilateral. They say a week is a long time in politics. Four years is almost a lifetime in politics.