Joe Biden is now confirmed to be the 46th President of the United States of America. He has defeated the incumbent, as it stands at current count, by 290 electoral college votes to 214, with 270 required for an absolute majority.
Coming in the backdrop of the incumbent’s catastrophic and deliberate mismanagement of the ongoing pandemic, this election was of particular significance, both from the US and a global perspective.
Biden’s win has come after a lot of ugly online and offline sparring and endless charades and trials from the very partisan US media. Both the campaigns fought bitterly against each other and that involved a lot of mudslinging. However, the feud between Biden and his opponent in the election, current president Donald Trump has some history, with Biden once challenging Trump to a fistfight on Twitter, which the latter, never one to let go of an opportunity to be petty on social media, gleefully responded to.
While that punchfest never materialized, it seems that in a figurative sense, at least, Biden has managed to knock Trump out, Trump’s very convenient forewarning about the election being “rigged” if he didn’t win notwithstanding. Now, after most of us have wasted 4 years having to pay mind to a disgraceful spectacle of some of the most abhorrent expressions of human nature, whether or not he eventually vacates the White House gracefully is left to be seen. There is a predictable rule when it comes to Trump, if he is not winning, he is whining. Just a week ago, this was what he was tweeting:
Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2020
Trump couldn’t have been expected to accept an election defeat and move on any more than a pathologically petulant and vindictive bully who has finally got some well-deserved comeuppance could have been.
Even Greta Thunberg managed to take some time off from her campaign against climate change to school Don on anger management and to make him eat his own words. What’s more, 45 has cultivated and empowered people on the political fringes for the last four years, some of them managing to grab lawmaking authority, and now he will be seeking to reap benefits.
As things stand, Trump supporters – many of them armed and very dangerous – who have spent the last few years suckling on post-truth and Trump’s implicit and explicit encouragement to violence, are refusing to accept defeat. Right now, legal challenges and bids for a recount are ongoing, but given how heavily armed the country is, there could be serious escalations to violence if things turn sour.
But let’s focus on the winner right now, as the lame-duck squatter in the White House claims to like doing.
A well-documented list of indiscretions and gaffes notwithstanding, Biden is decidedly a much more mature and knowledgeable individual than his opponent. That aside, he is a lawmaking veteran, a legislator for five decades, with a chequered political career behind him.
Some of his political positions over the years have been very controversial, especially those on criminal justice that influenced his legislative proposal in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, where he was keen on being seen as “tough on crime”, a legal paradigm that has affected black people disproportionately over the years.
This fact was front and centre in opponents’ pitch against Biden throughout his presidential campaign, especially during the Democratic primaries. It achieved greater significance after George Floyd’s murder, which triggered a #BlackLivesMatter wave worldwide, and renewed passion in the unfinished project of securing true justice and equality for black people.
The fact that he picked Kamala Harris as a running mate probably had a lot to do with his campaign’s desperate attempt to improve his anti-Black image. If there is one thing that Biden has on his side, it’s that he was one of the first American lawmakers to introduce legislation on climate change, and therefore can be expected to reverse the damage, both actual and potential, wrought on the environment by the machinations of the denialist vultures in power over the last four years.
He is likely to sign the US back into the Paris Accord, which the country officially exited a few days ago. Since the US is by far the highest per capita industrialized, sizably populated emitter of carbon in the world, this will be of particular significance.
However, given that Biden is a “moderate”, he is unlikely to back progressive legislation like the Green New Deal, sponsored by Democratic Party Congresspersons Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, which would fast-track upgrades of technology and environmental legislation to meet IPCC’s rather desperate 12-year deadline in 2018 to save the world from the effects of temperature rises to 1.5<sup>o</sup>C due to climate change.
So, if there is a peaceful transition of power in the US come January 20 next year, what does a Biden presidency portend for India? In terms of international relations, some expert opinion suggests that Biden would be much more amenable to greater multilateralism than the incumbent.
Multilateralism is important for many reasons. One among them is that it facilitates democratization of the process of decision making on international fora, to the extent possible in a fundamentally unequal world with complex political landscapes.
It is also important because of the simple reason that it achieves positive global results. It has helped the world achieve many major milestones, like eradication of diseases like smallpox, for example.
The Paris deal itself was the victory of multilateral, multilayered efforts to counter the menace of climate change. Relevant for the times we live in, we desperately need functional multilateralism again to help build global and local distribution networks for the COVID-19 vaccine when it eventually comes about.
There are enough vaccine inequalities in the world already. India has officially always been in favour of multilateralism and has always sought resolutions through the use of multilateral and international platforms.
After the pointless devastation that had been wrought on the foundations of multilateralism in the last four years, there will likely be a swift reversal of that trend with Biden in office.
It must be noted, though, that the current Prime Minister of India seems to believe that personal bonhomie between the leaders of nations will strengthen relations between said nations. That is not likely to work in a paradigm defined by rules-based multilateralism, which Biden is likely to be committed to.
In terms of trade and commerce relations, Trump’s commitment to diplomatic petulance, coupled with the Indian external affairs ministry’s failure to push its trade interests, meant that India had lost its “developing country” protection under the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) last year, meaning raised tariffs on imports to the US from India.
While it will be difficult for India to argue its way back in the club, a mature President who believes at some level in multilateralism could be pursued more meaningfully. In terms of foreign policy, India has made a definite shift towards the US camp in the last decade or so.
The US has made India the centre of its operations in South and Southeast Asia, in a bid to counterbalance China’s rising dominance within the region. While many tend to argue that this strengthens Indian security, especially maritime security in the Indian Ocean region, others tend to argue that the US is essentially using India as a pawn in their war games with China.
No matter the pretense of the Raisina Dialogues, India is at best a middle-grade military power, that too heavily dependent on imports from countries like Russia, Israel and the US itself.
India’s rise as an economic power built mostly on service sector boom, as well as small things like faulty GDP calculation has motivated these delusional exercises, but the fact that India’s economy has experienced a massive slowdown since around 2018, and is now officially in technical recession means that glow is fading away.
With Trump having all but demanded full allegiance to US superiority from the rest of the world, India had all but committed itself to being a vassal state to Trump’s America. The next US President is unlikely to do anything that “hurts US interests”, so that movement might not see much of a change under a Biden presidency. However, resort to open threats and unhinged stuff masquerading as diplomacy is likely to see a swift demise.
There have been speculations that Biden’s Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has Indian roots herself, might speak out forcefully against India’s perpetration of human rights violations on its own people, especially Kashmiri Muslims.
Harris was vocally critical of India’s violent and crude nixing of Article 370 last year. Biden has referred to Kashmir on his “agenda for Muslim Americans” in his campaign documents. This has led to a lot of nervous nail-biting in the statist camp – where human rights are seen as repugnant to India’s mystical “national interest” – but once again, since Biden is a political moderate like his presidential forebear Obama on such issues, team Biden-Harris is likely to tread lightly on hurt statist sentiments, which in the world of posh diplomacy weighs heavier on messy stuff like unknown human lives.
But Kashmiris who have been deprived of life and dignity by India’s violence, compounded by Hindutva’s malice, will desperately hope otherwise. They would be rather disheartened, however, if they discovered what Biden might potentially have in store for Palestinians living in territory violently occupied by the Zionist state that is Israel.
A commitment to “protect” Israel against supposed “international hostility” is essentially a disingenuous attempt to deny the power disparities that exist between Israel and Palestine. Obama, towards the end of his second term, had a very public and ugly disagreement with Netanyahu on Israel’s aggression in West Bank, and the latter sought to profit from Trump’s Islamophobia.
Biden is unlikely to reset to late Obama normals with respect to Palestine given his commitment to moderation, but there will be some tension since Biden does talk about Israelis and Palestinians as equals. In a similar way, in “New” India, talking about Muslims, especially Kashmiri Muslims, as equal citizens might hurt certain fragile supremacist sentiments in power. Only time will tell.
To finish, since these are troubled times for democracy itself, regardless of how Biden’s presidency turns out for India, I would like to channel my inner Thom Yorke:
i don’t want my kids inheriting a world run by flag waving facebook tin pot dictators, utterly bereft of moral authority,
while they watch 200 mile winds pick up and blow their lives away like the Wizard of Oz, having internalized this force fed sense of powerlessness. just sayin
— Thom Yorke (@thomyorke) November 4, 2020