3 min read.Updated: 08 Nov 2020, 07:35 PM ISTLivemint
Their victory gives the United States of America a new chance to live up to its stated ideals and renew its influence across the world. But they face a daunting economic challenge
Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 election to the White House on Saturday, once it was clear that his count of electors in America’s electoral college had crossed the halfway mark of 269. Whoops of joy and sighs of relief were in evidence across the world, as expectations climaxed of an end to a “grim era of demonization", in President-Elect Biden’s words, and the return of decorum and decency in high office. It was unclear if Donald Trump would concede defeat with grace or continue to pose legal hurdles. Either way, Kamala Harris looked set to be America’s first woman vice-president, a fact that may have redeemed the country in the eyes of those who saw its claim to global leadership hobbled by a patriarchal power complex. With a record 75 million-plus votes for the Biden-Harris ticket, the famed land of cowboys was seen to have taken a double leap—a giddy-up for both racial and gender justice. Back home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the early heads of state to tweet Biden official congratulations, calling it a “spectacular victory" and saying he looked forward to working closely with him for India-US relations to attain “greater heights". Given the current dynamics of the trans-Pacific contest for global primacy, this should not be hard to achieve.
While a Biden presidency could yet be hamstrung by an opposition-heavy Senate, it would probably aid our collective efforts to contain the pandemic of covid-19, which tripped up Trump’s chances of re-election, as much as the ravages of climate change. Biden’s approach to economic affairs would be under watch. Since he has a record as a centrist, and bills that hold appeal across the political aisle would be easier to pass, a leftist lurch looks unlikely. That said, addressing inequality seems quite high on the Biden-Harris agenda. This could spell redistributive policies, perhaps even a push to close the “Piketty gap" between returns on capital and growth in ordinary people’s earnings. Analysts, after all, do trace America’s crisis of confidence to the uneven spoils of economics as usual. For a start, Biden may roll back Trump’s tax giveaways for that money to be ploughed into the US economy for income generation. Soon to turn 78 years old, he has also signalled an intent to be just a single-term president, so Harris’s role will assume special significance as his chosen successor. In his message for her, Modi recalled a Tamil word for aunts that she had used while accepting the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. Her success, tweeted the Prime Minister, was “a matter of immense pride not just for [her] chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans".
For all the goodwill that Biden and Harris have, working for global prosperity will not be easy. A US rebuke of whimsy-led trade deals in favour of principles and its return to form as an actor on the world stage could restrain the rise of mercantilism, the excesses of which had fed hostilities in the early 20th century. Today, a world order based on widely-accepted rules could play the bulwark against us-versus-them misadventures. Zero-sum games of give-and-take must yield to what is best for all. Globalization as we knew it may need to be tweaked, however, and infirmities exposed over the past decade fixed. Solutions are difficult to discern, but the US must find and apply them sensibly. It owes this to itself. “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind," Thomas Paine once said. If governed in this spirit, the US could reclaim not just the ideals of democracy that Biden and Harris fought for, but also the soft power needed to inspire freedom and equality far beyond its own borders.