Authors: Daniel Ho and Sean Region Head: Saumya Rajawat
Editor: Harsh Didwania
The past four years have been marked by chaos and division. Trump has fuelled the left-right conflict, denigrated Democracy and eroded America’s global standing. Biden, as unremarkable as he is, possesses the right quality to reverse some of the damage caused by Trump’s administration.
Ask anyone on the street about Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and you will hear an instantaneous reply. Ask the same question about Joe Biden and you will be met with a couple of puzzled glances and utterances that vaguely resemble “unity”, “soul” and “malarkey”. It is no secret that the Biden campaign has ran on anti-Trump rather than a pro-Biden message. The Economist/YouGov Poll has shown that Trump’s supporters are twice as enthusiastic compared to Biden’s (The Economist, 2020). As unriveting and uninspiring as he might seem, Biden’s moderate approach and temperate demeanour are just the antidotes to Trump’s virulent and divisive legacy.
Raising the temperature
Trump was the first president who has never held a political office or a military role. While his abrasive and combative tone may have suited the New Yorker real estate business, it is hardly appropriate for the leader of the free world and the words of the President do carry weight. Trump did not invent partisanship, but his incendiary rhetoric has certainly deepened the political divide. Through this ‘them or us’ mentality, many of his supporters were driven towards ‘alternative media’, giving conspiracy theorists and far-right movements such as Alex Jones and QAnon an outsized audience within the Trump base. During last year’s Black Lives Matter riots, he bungled the opportunity to unify the country amidst America’s racial reckoning. For the majority of his term, Trump has managed to evade the consequences of his malfeasance but a relentless attack on rivals and the promulgation of a ‘stolen election’ culminated in the storming of the Capitol Hill on Jan 6th, an event that has not occurred since 1814 (Ketchell, 2021). Under the First Amendment, speech that incites “imminent lawless action” is not protected and there can be no doubt that Trump’s suggestion of a “walk down to the Capitol” has inspired the horrors of the late afternoon (Vile, 2009).
Pillars of Democracy
Rhetorics aside, Trump’s antics were also far less innocuous than his sympathizers might suggest. Start with the media. Before Trump, press briefings by the White House were a regular affair. After a series of mortifying encounters, filled with inaccuracies and misinformation, Trump has decided to scrap the tradition altogether especially towards the end of his term. Choosing instead to promote his agendas and launch a unilateral assault on established media on Twitter where he would not be held accountable. This feud over the past four years has fanned the flames of the anti-media narrative now widely accepted in the Republican base. A Pew Research Study (2020) has shown that distrust, among Republicans, for 15 of the established media sources increased sharply between 2014 and 2020. A disparaged media cannot function effectively as a check on the executive branch, just as an administration cannot be held accountable without tough questioning from the press (Lockhart, 2021).
Trump’s tantrums over the election result was another case in point. Most Presidential candidates concede immediately after losing the electoral college count and the transition process would then kickstart. Trump only did so after the Capitol Hill riots. He also chose to skip Biden’s inauguration, a decision that defied a two-century norm (Kamal, 2021). These are not meretricious gestures. Concession and continuity are instrumental to a peaceful transfer of power and these irregularities undermine the strength of American democracy itself. The irony that all these came from a President whose party has long respected traditions made the ordeal all the more disgraceful.
Erosion of global standing
No American President has been quite as successful as Trump in alienating long-standing allies while cosying up to brutal dictators. Trump shows conspicuous disregard for allied relations with Europe, examples including but not limited to: refusing to offer a standard and obligatory handshake between allies (Wojcik, 2017), a timely sanction on French goods following Macron's ‘brain dead’ comment on NATO (Burns, 2019), and massive sanctions on a crucial German energy pipeline with Russia (BBC, 2019). All this, while extending olive branches to strongmen in the Middle East through the sale of weapons to governments clearly carrying out human rights abuses (Ryan, 2020), and ironically having private talks with Putin (Taylor, 2019). His attempts at statesmanship with his ‘deals’ in the Middle East, rings of little more than simply slapping his name on ‘agreements’ which likely found little value-add with him on board, given the nations involved were already on relatively good terms. The old paradigm of America as the world’s powerbroker and the policeman has shifted, with international respect for the US plummeting to new lows. The events of January 6th dealt the final blow to America’s perceived ownership of moral leadership and democracy. All this considered, it was not disruption he achieved, but a near disintegration and dismantling of America’s political reputation the world over. America is no longer as immune to criticism given these events. No longer is it perched high above the international community, and her moral and political currency has depreciated as a result.
Joe to the rescue
America will find it hard to regain its footing in the world, but perhaps one can take heart that Joe Biden is antithetical to Trump in all three aspects outlined. Joe has a phlegmatic and genial presence. The theme of his Presidency as underscored by his inauguration address is “unity” and he aims to be a President “for all Americans” (The White House, 2021). Such a hopeful message is much more palatable compared to Trump’s “American Carnage”. Having served as a senator for 36 years and Vice-President for 8 years, one can be certain that he will respect the long-standing traditions emblematic of the Democratic ideal (History, 2021). For a start, the new press secretary, Jen Psaki, has brought back daily press briefings. Lastly, Biden is the best man to restore multilateralism. On the first day, he signed a flurry of executive orders, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization (Yong, 2021). His belief in an American-led, rule-based international order would be crucial in rebuilding fraught ties around the globe. Yet, significant challenges await him. Inheriting a battered economy and a new cold war would be daunting for any leader. To succeed, he has to leverage his unassuming character, make deals and compromise where he can. The 1.9 trillion stimulus package will be his first litmus test, whether he will come through for the American people or be bogged down by partisan politicking.
Return to normalcy
The past four years have been a rollercoaster ride for American allies, but none more so than for the American people. Half-truths on a good day outright lies on others, America had to live through some of the most tumultuous times under one of the most chaotic administrations. Sanity and, for the most part, decency, have been much in want of late. Biden’s election victory offers hope in this respect. ‘Sleepy Joe’ may have some truth to it, but America would be better off taking the mundane leader than the rambling rouser any day.
1. History. (2021, January 20). Joe Biden. Retrieved from History: https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/joe-biden
2. Jurkowitz, M., Mitchel, A., Shearer, A., & Walker, M. (2020, January 24). U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided. Retrieved from Pew Research Centre: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/24/qa-how-pew-research-center-evaluated-americans-trust-in-30-news-sources/
3. Kamal, R. (2021, January 20). Trump will be first president since Nixon to miss successor's inauguration. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/20/trump-biden-inauguration-richard-nixon
4. Wojcik, N. (2017, March 17). Trump seems to ignore requests for handshake with Merkel in the Oval Office. CNBC; CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/17/trump-seems-to-ignore-requests-for-handshake-with-merkel-in-the-oval-office.html
5. Burns, N. (2019, December 4). The Atlantic. The Atlantic; theatlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/12/at-nato-summit-trump-abuses-americas-closest-friends/602959/
6. BBC News. (2019, December 21). Nord Stream 2: Trump approves sanctions on Russia gas pipeline. BBC News; BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50875935
7. Ryan, M (2020, Decem ber 24). Trump administration pushes forward on $500 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. Washington Post; The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trump-administration-saudi-weapons-deal/2020/12/23/657cdc72-4565-11eb-8deb-
8. Taylor, A. (2019, October 4). Trump has spoken privately with Putin at least 16 times. Here’s what we know about the conversations. Washington Post; The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/10/04/trump-has-spoken-privately-with-putin-least-times-heres-what-we-know-about-conversations/
9. Ketchell, M. (2021, January 9). The US Capitol has been stormed before – when British troops burned Washington in 1814. Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/the-us-capitol-has-been-stormed-before-when-british-troops-burned-washington-in-1814-152843
10. Lockhart, J. (2021, February 4). https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/03/opinions/biden-press-briefings-lockhart/index.html. Retrieved from CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/03/opinions/biden-press-briefings-lockhart/index.html
11. The Economist. (2020). The Economist/YouGov Poll. YouGov.
12. The White House. (2021, Janaury 20). Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Retrieved from THE WHITE HOUSE: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/01/20/inaugural-address-by-president-joseph-r-biden-jr/
13. Vile, J. R. (2009). Incitement to Imminent Lawless Action. Retrieved from THE FIRST AMENDMENT ENCYCLOPEDIA: https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/970/incitement-to-imminent-lawless-action
14. Yong, C. (2021, January 22). Biden signs 17 executive orders on first day in office. Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/biden-signs-17-executive-orders-on-first-day-in-office
15. The Economist. (2021, January 9). The Capitol riot is a godsend for America’s critics. The Economist; The Economist. https://www-economist-com.libproxy.smu.edu.sg/international/2021/01/09/the-capitol-riot-is-a-godsend-for-americas-critics