Dr George Vital Zammit, Senior Lecturer, Public Policy, University of Malta
The transition of power in the United States is seldom an issue.
However, at the time of writing this piece, no formal concession has yet been made by President Trump, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quipped that preparations are undergoing for a smooth transition towards a second Trump administration. What? This is not only outrageous, but it further confirms the ostensible penchant Trump has for undemocratic values. It is unthinkable that any democracy in the world would have a disputed outcome when the winner prevails by over four and half million votes. What is coming to the fore, more prominently in recent history, is the bizarre electoral system in the United States, comprising both suffrage and the ‘notorious’ Electoral College. The latter was conceived more than two centuries ago, at a time when political parties did not exist, and is considered today an anachronistic mechanism, shifting the weight of the decision further away from the people.
The United States is now a further polarized and deeply wounded nation. The concern for Covid-19 (more than 10 million cases and over 250,000 deaths), and the economy (hit by the biggest economic contraction due the pandemic), top the list of concerns of the American voter. But two other issues touch directly with the country’s social fabric; racial injustice, together with crime and policing. More than six decades after the birth of the Civil Rights movement, created to dismantle the institutional racism that existed, thousands took it again to the streets to protest the slayings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, at the hands of police officers. The pattern is ubiquitous and nauseatingly recurring – people of colour keep getting stopped, frisked, interrogated and killed (at the least resistance) by local enforcement for what is blatantly a treatment reserved solely to people of colour. The sensation is that the justice system is ill-equipped to prevent this from continuing to happen.
The country is superlative in the world for many milestones, amongst others; nominal GDP, number of millionaires, military spending, a space force, and innovation. But it also has over two million incarcerated people (equivalent to the combined population of Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska), is ranked in 45th place in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, and in 25th place in the Democracy index by the Economist Intelligence Unit. In addition, there are almost 30 million people without private health insurance, rendering them more vulnerable with limited access to health services (doctors have the right to refuse patients without insurance). America currently has over $20 trillion in debt (or 98% of its GDP), student loan debts stand at $1.56 trillion, while medical debt remains the number one cause of personal bankruptcy.
Biden’s immediate political future is uphill for various reasons. Besides addressing the country’s domestic afflictions, the United States needs to restore its credibility on the international stage. The order is tall; retracting Trump’s withdrawal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, re-joining the World Health Organization, and repair relationships with its allies such as NATO and the European Union. The Trump era ushered a new era of unilateralism where superpowers like the USA, Russia and China, go it alone, with no qualms to bypass the multilateral international system, if need be. If one adds the pledge made by Biden that by his first 100 days in office, he would have reversed the policies that saw the separation of parents from their children at the US-Mexican border, end travel bans from a number of majority-Muslim countries, and protect “Dreamers” (undocumented people that crossed over the United States and were allowed to stay by the Obama administration through the Dream Act), one gets an idea how intense the new Presidency will be.
Time will not be on Biden’s side. Vice-President Kamala Harris will be a key asset in leading the diplomatic efforts to fix a number of these issues. The aura and enthusiasm about a new form of ‘normalcy’ will be gotten used to after a short time, and Americans will soon be returning to the polls for mid-term elections (in 2022).
What this election has shown is that America is not the land of Trump. But the Republican party has become the party of Trump, and the GOP (as it is known) will control the Senate. The post-Trump era still needs to be defined and imagined to an extent.
There is a lot that needs fixing or undoing.
There is an office of the Presidency that needs to have its décor and credibility restored. Biden and Harris are well poised to do this, but will need to lead, by healing their country first.