As Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, the nation he leads is divided to an extent not seen for at least 50 years. The divisions are reflected in the fact that the last presidential election was bitterly contested, with Biden winning around 81 million votes against Donald Trump’s 74 million, and Biden winning 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.
Trump fought the election result in the courts, but was unsuccessful. He, and many of his 74 million supporters, are utterly unreconciled to Biden’s election, just as the Democrats refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s election in 2016, and spent the next four years trying to force Trump out.
The contested election, the divided electorate, the riot at the Capitol on January 6 provoked by President Trump – which will result in hundreds of prosecutions – and the Democrats’ determination to impeach Donald Trump – although he is no longer in office – will ensure that the deep fissures in American society continue for the foreseeable future.
In his inauguration address, President Biden called for Americans to come together and to end the rancour that has characterised public life in the United States in recent years. However, he wants Trump’s supporters to come together on his terms, and to accept his agenda. Neither is remotely likely.
Joe Biden’s supporters say he is a decent person who genuinely wants to end the polarisation of the public debate.
However, there is one thing that has characterised Joe Biden’s long public life, which extends back to the early 1970s, when he was elected as a 29-year-old Senator from the state of Delaware: the ambition to become president of the United States.
He is a career politician who first ran for the presidency in 1988 but was unsuccessful, then again in 2008, when he failed to win the Democratic preselection against Barack Obama. To secure the vote of white working-class voters, Biden was then offered the post of vice-president, which he accepted.
He did not try to win preselection in 2016, because the ground was already occupied by Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, and the left’s Bernie Sanders.
In the 2020 Democratic preselection race, Joe Biden convincingly lost the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, before the party powerbrokers secured an endorsement for Biden from the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, presumably on the promise of a black candidate for vice-president.
After that, Biden’s vote in the primaries surged from less that 20 per cent to nearly 50 per cent, enough to win him the Democratic nomination against left-winger Bernie Sanders.
To unify the party behind himself, Biden adopted key parts of Sanders’ agenda, leading Sanders to endorse Biden in April 2020.
Biden’s personal character is that of a person who fulfils his commitments – to the black caucus that was a key to his nomination, to the green-left constituency of Bernie Sanders, and the secular humanists who control the Democratic Party, dominate the mainstream media networks, and own key social-media companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
His election program was drafted by these forces and, in his inauguration speech, Biden confirmed that he will implement this agenda.
Among his promises and first presidential orders were rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, banning new oil and gas pipelines that were to have secured America’s energy self-sufficiency, lifting travel bans on states that have been centres of Islamist extremism, reinstating funding for pro-abortion and population control bodies such as Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood, and a range of other measures to please his constituencies and outrage those who voted for Trump.
He announced that his first priority in government will be to address the covid19 crisis, which has taken over 400,000 lives in the United States over the past year, and plunged the global economy into recession.
However, the measures that he has proposed, including mandatory mask-wearing in federal buildings, social distancing and an accelerated rollout of covid19 vaccines, is no different to what has failed to stem the spread of the virus throughout Western Europe.
Trump’s failure to give strong positive leadership in response to the pandemic was clearly a key factor in his narrow defeat, with his denial that it was a serious illness contradicted by the soaring death rate in the U.S. and around the world, and his unwillingness to listen to the medical advice on controlling the pandemic.
Fortunately, he secured billions of dollars to accelerate the development of vaccines, which are now being rolled out around the world, in record time. But his enemies will never acknowledge this.
Taking office at the age of 78, Joe Biden is clearly showing signs of old age, including repeated mistakes in reading his teleprompter and, at public events, being prompted by his wife. He will be 82 by the time his term expires in 2024.
Biden is surrounded by people who will keep him “on message”, so the Biden Administration may come to resemble scenes in Weekend at Bernie’s.
In theory, Biden enters the presidency in a strong position: the Democrats hold the presidency and have a working majority in both houses of Congress. This means that there is no obstacle to any piece of legislation he chooses to bring forward.
We must anticipate that he will use his congressional majority to implement his entire program.
But this strength is also a weakness. He cannot blame the Republicans for any failures, whether in the handling of the pandemic, his response to America’s economic downturn, America’s energy security, or the political and strategic challenges that he will face throughout the world.
Many have speculated that Biden will be a temporary president, to be succeeded in the fullness of time by his Vice-President, Kamala Harris (pictured below), whose policy positions on environmental, social, economic and race issues are those of the Democratic Party.
Despite President Biden’s claim that he will pursue multilateralism, the test of his presidency will be how he handles difficult problems with China, Iran and Russia.
How will he deal with the suppression of free speech in Hong Kong? Or the persecution of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs in China? Or Iran’s uranium enrichment program? Or the arrest of Alexei Navalny in Russia?
President Biden has said nothing on any of these issues, despite claiming expertise in foreign affairs, and formerly being chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Biden Administration’s determination to court favour with the media, the United Nations and its agencies, and the left, raises major questions as to whether it will stand alongside its allies in a rapidly changing world, full of new challenges. Additionally, America remains a deeply divided society.
For Australia, it inevitably means that reliance on the United States, which has been the bedrock of Australian foreign policy since 1945, should not be taken for granted. We want an alliance with the United States, but if the Americans go missing in action, we cannot retreat from the geostrategic reality that we are part of Asia.
Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union opens prospects of closer ties with the United Kingdom, but these will extend only to trade and, more specifically, exports of agricultural produce and minerals. Britain is forging a new path that probably centres on the United States. Australia is just too far away to matter.
Australia must look to build new alliances with like-minded countries in our region to meet the looming challenges we face into the immediate future, particularly the multi-faceted threats from China: political, economic, and military, including threats in technology and intelligence.
Very fortunately, there are a number of nations in our region who have similar interests, and will work with Australia, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India.
In some cases, Australia can pursue bilateral relations with these countries, in others, multilateral.
These countries are part of a dynamic and increasingly prosperous region that, despite their differences, have a common interest in the preservation of stable democracies, free from the oppressive political and military domination of Beijing.
If the election of Joe Biden leads Australia to rethink its political and strategic relationships with the nations of the region, perhaps something good will come out of his election after all.