Home >Opinion >Columns >America will stay just as divided under the Joe Biden presidency

A Chinese, a Russian, an Indian and an American walk into a bar. The Chinese man says: “We have always known that having more than one political party can only cause complications." The Russian says: “Once you’ve decided on the results, you can always let a few more parties in to contest elections." The Indian says: “There were only 40 million votes cast in Bihar, and they took more than 18 hours to count them and declare the results!"

All of them then look at the American, morosely nursing his bourbon. “Well," he says, “I dunno. Some states haven’t finished counting yet, there are lawsuits about rigging votes, so I guess we’ll have to just wait a bit." The Indian then reminds him: “I just watched that video by Fareed Zakaria that’s gone viral where he contends that Donald Trump can remain president even without winning the election, and your constitution allows that."

To any Indian, the whole US presidential election mess could seem like a bit of a joke. Except that it isn’t. No one knows how long the crisis will drag on, while the country remains confused, angry and rudderless.

Look at the dates when the “contentious" states are supposed to certify the results. Georgia: 20 November; Arizona: 30 November; Michigan and Pennsylvania: 23 November; Nevada: 24 November; Wisconsin: 1 December. Meanwhile, Trump and his lawyers are moving the courts to disrupt the process and declare the results invalid. There is little chance that they will succeed, but who knows what will happen if the cases reach the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 Republican majority?

Compare this to Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister who imposed the Emergency in 1975, curbing freedoms and suspending fundamental rights, but who quietly accepted defeat after she lost the 1977 general elections.

What exactly will change in the US once Joe Biden is officially declared president? The election was hardly the cakewalk for him that US pollsters had predicted. And even though the Democratic Party spent many more millions on the campaign than Trump (including, by one calculation, $15 on every man, woman and child in the state of Georgia), Trump actually increased his number of votes, and lost (which he refuses to accept) several states by only a few thousand ballots. In the House of Representatives, the Democrat majority has reduced, and the Republicans will maintain their primacy in the Senate if the Democrats do not win both the seats in Georgia that go for elections in January—which is unlikely. And if the Republicans keep control of the Senate, with Mitch McConnell as its majority leader, they could effectively sabotage any initiative that the Biden administration proposes.

Simultaneously, with a narrow majority in the House, many Democratic Congressmen, who will be up for re-election in 2022, may not support the more radical policies that the so-called “progressives" in their party espouse. In fact, some of them have already been vocal about this. So the country can say goodbye to the Green New Deal, the winding up of the private medical insurance industry, free college, court packing and other such ideas.

For all of Biden’s talk of “healing" and “restoring decency", America stands as divided as it was during its 1861-1865 Civil War. The chasm between the right and the left seems unbridgeable, and healthy dialogue or compromise impossible. The Democratic Party banked on two beliefs. One, that there existed an anti-Trump wave, especially after his mishandling of the covid-19 pandemic. Two, the American people would go for a mild-mannered avuncular candidate who didn’t look too “socialist", and would be sufficiently vague about the radical proposals. In other words, a “harmless moderate".

However, no anti-Trump wave materialized. Despite all of Trump’s obvious personality flaws, voters refused to reject his policies wholesale. Few could figure out what Biden’s own stance or policies would be. For instance, what did he actually feel about the Green New deal? Or fracking.

While Biden personally campaigned very little, the mainstream media provided extensive coverage to his party’s “progressives", which only ended up scaring a lot of people that a Biden presidency would lead to a socialist nanny state. Add to that the recent riots in the US, lootings and calls by many Democrats to “defund the police". In fact, there grew a belief that the elderly Biden, who, in a speech, got his wife and sister mixed up, would be merely a ceremonial president while the radicals would actually be in charge. “Just imagine," a US-based friend WhatsApped, “This poor 78-year-old guy trying to manage Kamala Harris, (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi and AOC (Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) fighting with one another in the Oval Office."

So what do the results and aftermath of these elections indicate? One, Trump may go, but Trumpism will not. Two, the “progressives" have lost. Three, Biden’s could be one of the most lame-duck presidencies in US history. Four, the world’s big superpower is making a spectacle of itself, undermining its own stature. Lastly, President Xi Jinping may be laughing his head off in Beijing.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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