On 8th November, a palpable sense of collective relief surged across American cities. The networks had called it; Joseph R. Biden Jr. was to be the 46th President of the United States.
“This feels more like the end of a regime”, reported Channel 4’s Matt Frei from Washington D.C, “than the end of a democratically elected government”.
For many, it was a day of jubilation, an end to four years of perilous governance by the Trump administration – one that had viciously exploited and inflamed racial tensions, peddled conspiracies so far-fetched as to approach the obscene, and continually undermined American democracy.
For progressives, victory over Donald Trump, however cathartic, is bittersweet. The American people may have repudiated Trump, but Trump only. Down-ballot the Republicans fared well, making gains in the House and maintaining their grip on the Senate.
But this could change. In January, the state of Georgia will likely become the campaign capital of the world. A run-off election is scheduled for January 5th, after neither Republican Senate candidate secured a majority. If Democrats win this particular race, the Senate will be deadlocked at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.
If Biden is to advance his policy agenda significantly, victory in Georgia is essential.
So, what are Biden’s policies? Will he achieve them? And what can we expect in the next four years?
At the very top of Biden’s agenda is controlling the coronavirus pandemic. As I write, the lethal virus continues to rage across the country, having claimed more than 280,000 American lives. On 3rd December, the number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals exceeded 100,000 for the first time, nearly double the highest figure seen during the peak of the first wave in the spring.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been nothing short of appalling. From his blatant downplaying of the severity of the virus to the callous politicisation of masks, Trump used the Presidency as a pulpit through which to disparage science in favour of politics.
In the absence of a coherent federal strategy, states have squabbled amongst themselves for coronavirus relief supplies. Under a Biden administration, however, a Washington-led approach is expected. In a clear signalling of intent, Biden has already launched a Covid-19 taskforce and plans to appoint a “national supply chain commander” to ensure the equal distribution of future vaccines.
Vocal in his criticism of the Trump administration’s infrequent use of the Defence Production Act, which gives the federal government power to direct private businesses to produce resources in a national emergency, Biden has vowed to take full advantage of this vital provision.
Although Biden supports a national mask mandate, he recognises that the constitutional grounds for such a measure are shaky. Still, he has committed to issuing an executive order that masks be worn on all federal property, as well as on transportation. When he enters the Oval Office, he is also set to urge all Americans to “mask for 100 days”. Needless to say, the President-elect plans to resume normal relations with the World Health Organisation.
Curbing Climate Change
Of the utmost importance to the progressive wing of the Democratic party is climate change. During Trump’s tenure, ecological concerns were largely ridiculed as the rantings and ravings of ‘radical leftists’, despite the wildfires that ravaged California as recently as September. Given that Democrats failed to hold back a resurgent GOP in the House and have thus far failed to flip the Senate, any Green New Deal-esque policy seems dead in the water.
Even so, Biden could still achieve a lot with only a few drops of his own ink: through executive order. Notably, Biden shall recommit the United States to the Paris Climate Accord and will likely issue a flurry of executive orders to reverse President Trump’s systematic dismantling of environmental regulatory policy.
Biden’s more ambitious policies, such as eliminating fossil fuel in the energy sector by 2035, would likely require an Act of Congress. If the Democrats don’t win in Georgia, such goals could be jeopardised.
Likely to be constrained by an intransigent Republican Senate, Biden will also have to get creative with executive orders to pursue his immigration policy.
The so-called ‘Dreamers’ – children of undocumented immigrants living in the United States – are a top priority. Under Barack Obama these individuals were protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Although phased out by President Trump, Biden has pledged to reinstate the program on day one of his presidency.
The notorious ‘Muslim Ban’, which prohibited the entry of individuals from majority-Muslim countries into the United States, is another of Biden’s targets. Trump’s ban – Islamophobia dressed in the garb of national security concerns – will similarly be overturned on Biden’s first day in the Oval Office.
Prime Minster Boris Johnson lost a close Brexit ally when Trump was voted out of office. With last-ditch negotiations over the UK’s future relationship with the EU on a knife-edge, Biden’s victory could be influential in the coming weeks and months.
Although the much-touted “special relationship” between the US and the UK shall remain, Biden’s ties are firmly rooted in Ireland, his ancestral homeland. In fact, earlier this year, a mural to the President-elect appeared in Ballina, County Mayo!
Eager to respect his heritage, Biden has asserted that the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, cannot become a “casualty of Brexit”. For the President-elect, any trade deal between the US and UK post-Brexit remains contingent on a respect for the Agreement and the prevention of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
What about Trump?
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s response to his defeat was to attack the legitimacy of the entire electoral process and threaten those who refused to respect his authoritarian fantasy of overturning the result. In another country, this would be nothing less than a coup attempt.
But we know Donald Trump. Behind the bluster and bombast, he likely understands that the American people have repudiated him, though admitting so would be unthinkable. Donald Trump doesn’t lose, at least not when “LEGAL” votes are counted, he wails…
Yet, the battle is not quite over as a victory in Georgia remains crucial to Biden’s plans. If the Democrats fail to turn the Senate blue on 5th January, the gridlock of the last four years may well be here to stay.
Image: Gage Skidmore on Flickr