Western Morning News
Difficult choices ahead for Biden
The incoming US president faces a tough task uniting a divided America and fixing its broken economy, says Mario du Preez
DONALD J. Trump is off to Mar-a-Lago and Joe Biden has ascended the throne of the most powerful man in the world. But being the newly minted leader of the free world does not offer a readymade reprieve from name-calling and fearmongering, and not unlike Barack Obama, Biden is also sure to be labelled a Marxist and a terrorist sympathizer – the presence of the mitten-wearing Bernie Sanders at his inauguration and the cheerleading support of the influential ‘Squad’ of Democratic members of the House of Representatives led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), notwithstanding. Many hopes have been expressed for the dramatic and immediate reversal of ‘Trumpian’ policies, and the adoption of a more progressive agenda re labour market policy, social welfare, health care, taxation, the environment and immigration. On his first day in office, shortly after his inauguration, Biden did start the process of dismantling and unravelling Trump’s jingoistic and damaging domestic and foreign policy interventions via the signing of seventeen executive orders, memorandums and proclamations. (These were aimed at addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, re-joining the Paris Climate Accords, re-engaging with the World Health Organisation, ending the so-called “Muslim travel ban”, and diverting federal funds from the construction of the border wall, inter alia.)
But the question is: will the USA, under Biden’s rule, become the socialist utopia some are pining for? The answer to this question demands the asking of another question: are the reversals of Trump’s ignominious policies on the first day of his incumbency a precursor to much more penetrating, far-reaching, and progressive policy interventions or will Biden, not unlike Obama, and to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, tread so lightly and deftly that all the impressions he will make in the next four years will be equally slight? My money is on the latter for several reasons.
First, undoing Trump’s policies are easy, quick, and internationally popular, and won’t cause any major domestic political fallout. Enduring change, however, can only be affected by labouring with Congress to pass legislation, and despite the Democrats’ control of both the lower and upper Houses of Congress, Biden’s own party members (cue moderate, centrist senators) may stray from a too-progressive, gungho
‘He knows Americans prefer the nurturing of a majority centrist view and abhor ultra-left political interventions’
party line, and Republicans will inevitably use filibustering to retard progress.
Second, Biden will be hamstrung by his desire for national healing and unity. Why? Because polls have revealed that between 50% and 80% of Trump’s 74 million supporters still believe that the elections were stolen and have subsequently disengaged from the US’s mainstream media and are, for all intents and purposes, unreachable. Biden will, thus, be required to reach out to the disaffected, disenfranchised Trump supporters, and make several gestures of goodwill towards them, such as offering several Republican senators Cabinet posts, and possibly reining in some of the more vocal progressives.
Third, the old guard, under speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, will undoubtedly ensure that traditional, centrist Democratic policy making prevails. Stark differences of opinion between Pelosi and ‘the Squad’ about future policy directions, for example, are well documented. Recall: the Squad favour hardcore, progressive partisanship.
Fourth, Biden’s policy making will most likely resemble a game of give and take.
An example of a ‘take’ policy: Biden’s refusal to ban fracking in the United States. Up to now he has sought to allow fracking while recommending rules to restrict its greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, Biden was Vice President when the fracking boom took place under the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy, and apparently wants to “gradually move away from it”. (By the way, John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy appears to support fracking.)
An example of a ‘give’ policy: Biden’s revoking of TC Energy Corporations’ pipeline permit, which effectively means the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project.
Fifth, Biden has inherited an unemployment-riddled, highly indebted, Covid-19-weakened economy with little prospect of near-term improvement. Left-wing pleasing policies, such as the evisceration of inequality via progressive taxation may, thus, prove unpalatable. After all, Bill Clinton was only able to raise taxes to a significant extent in the 1990s due to the existence of a strong US economy, which was aided by the so-called “peace dividend”.
In the end, Biden has been a longserving member of the Democrat dynasty, and he knows full well that Americans generally prefer the maintenance and nurturing of a majority centrist view and abhor ultra-left political interventions.
Thus, Biden will not upset the Washington establishment too much, but he will need more than just a dose of Obama’s “almost spooky good fortune” to guide a very divided America through the next four years.