Last Saturday, after days of collective anxiety, US media finally declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 elections. Trump is defeated. As four years of destructive rhetoric has left a divided country even more divided, much hope is placed on the president-elect on both sides of the Atlantic. Why these hopes may be unjustified explains E&M‘s Louis Westendarp.
On Saturday, millions of people took the streets, dancing, dressing up, singing, and collectively dreaming of a better future. Entranced, enchanted, and fully high on that Love Parade vibe, people around the globe joined the celebration; the Orange man is finally gone.
“It’s Joe Time” is the new mantra of the United States. A fun little wordplay that sounds so catchy, one does not even properly question what Joe Time actually looks like. Time to explore what policies hide behind this veil.
Above all, a Biden presidency constitutes a return to normality, a reestablishment of the 2012 status quo. For the next four years, the new White House will be a somewhat better ally when it comes to combating climate change, as Biden promised to reenter the Paris Climate Accord. Moreover, Europeans do not have to worry anymore about security as they will be safeguarded by a US government that strongly supports NATO. Lastly, the domestic situation in the land of the free will experience marginal enhancements, as through Bidens advocated minimum wage increase to 15$/h. If you were following Joe Biden’s campaign, these three pillars come to mind quickly, but also demand some more critical questioning.
Being in favor of an agreement that has been endorsed by 188 out of 197 nations globally is a pretty low bar, one could say.
First, let’s talk about climate. When asking my European friends why they think a Biden presidency would be better than a second term of Trump, Biden’s commitment to rejoining the Paris agreement is by far the most cited argument. Being in favor of an agreement that has been endorsed by 188 out of 197 nations globally is a pretty low bar, one could say. Yet, it’s better than not endorsing it, right? On the domestic front, where the US emits most of its carbon dioxide, Biden’s positions seem ambiguous. While heavily distancing himself from AOC’s popular Green New Deal on the debate stage, he also stated that he “will not ban fracking in Pennsylvania or anywhere else.”. Leftwing hopes that his cabinet will be filled with environmental activists have also been ended prematurely, as Biden fantasizes to have a cabinet that reaches across the aisle – which is an elegant euphemism for appointing republicans to the executive branch. If those ministers are willing to support an agreement that the republican platform opposes since its existence is questionable. For now, one can only hope that the progressive wing of the democratic party continues to climb in popularity and enforces political pressure from the outside, as they are likely to end up with no executive power.
When it comes to transatlantic security interests, the Biden presidency may be a return to unity. Since Trump took office, European governments were increasingly under pressure to justify their poorly funded militaries to Uncle Sam, who is armed to the teeth. Although the European Union is a great economic power on a global scale, militarily, it too often relies on it’s bigger brother, for whom bullying is not beneath his standards. Trump’s declarations of cutting Nato budgets and demanding European counterparts to take care of their own security lead to demands for a European Army, whose strongest advocator was French president Macron. This position by Trump was not only popular at home, but also could have accelerated European integration and strengthened the European voice in the realm of foreign policy. Biden, on the other hand, is a NATO fan and even wants to assess a redeployment of troops in Germany after some 9,500 had been pulled out by Trump this summer. A majority of the German public liked the withdrawal.
Lastly, the question remains, what does Biden actually offer to Americans domestically? In the socio-economic reality of the US, much is out of balance. Biden admirably managed not to thematize too much policy substance that would be necessary to tackle those issues. The architect of racial over-incarceration is hardly a natural first choice for office in times of Black Lives Matter. Nevertheless, he feeds off his time as Obama’s VP, dominating the black vote in the recent election. Other marginalized communities were unexpectedly split, with Biden only edging Trump in the Latino vote in the crucial battleground state Florida. A victory in the Sunshine State would have completely blocked Trump’s path to victory. Yet, Biden managed to get 250.000 Latino votes less than Clinton, how did that happen? Latinos, who make up over 13% of the electorate, were heavily supporting Bernie Sanders and his economically populist platform in the Democratic primary. Biden, however, rejected to hire any former Sanders Staff, failing to get those Latino Bernie voters on board. In the end, the only Sanders policy that made it into Biden’s platform is a minimum wage increase to 15$/h – but only by 2025. Within that time, inflation will have eaten up to 10% of that increase and Biden will have exactly one month left in office.
Isn’t it mind-boggling that Medicare-for-all, which enjoys an approval rating of 87% among Democrats, is not included in Biden’s platform?
What’s more, Sanders’ most popular ideas remain legalization non grata for the democratic establishment. The root causes of economic hardship remain untouched and highly popular ideas such as student debt cancellation and Medicare-for-all fall victim to Biden‘s promise that „nothing will fundamentally change“. Isn’t it mind-boggling that Medicare-for-all, which enjoys an approval rating of 87% among Democrats, is not included in Biden’s platform? Latinos, who could have turned many southern States blue, are the most uninsured group in the country after native Americans. They were craving for healthcare, a policy that should be a no-brainer for Democrats who want to win elections. Biden instead neglected popular demands, pushing away many likely Democratic voters in Florida. Unsurprisingly, the results in the southern States were a disappointment though they should have been a guaranteed ticket to the White House.
Joe Time looks a lot less exciting when you take a closer look. But less exciting, in the current context, is not necessarily as bad as I portrayed it in this article. It will allow for room to engage and debate with people who are responsive to science, to plan the next steps in a stable environment, and to clean up the mess on our transatlantic hands. Still, the eruption of happiness about Trump being gone should not overshadow the future problems we all will encounter. All the funny little videos of Biden and Harris should not let you forget that this campaign should have obliterated Trump and also taken the House and the Senate. Once the party is over and the soberness sets in, we look back to an election that was too close. Trump’s divisive persona caused a record turnout. How much of it was actually pro-Biden and not anti-Trump is unknown. Biden’s mandate is a “return to normality”. Unfortunately, a “progress to better” was not possible this time.