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November 3rd, 2020

10 November 2020

The presidential election in the USA is an important event not just for people who live there, but for the entire world, given the USA’s role as the world’s (still) biggest economy and (still) pre-eminent military power; but also the source of much popular culture around the world, something unlikely to be matched by rising powers such as China in the foreseeable future, if ever. I have a personal interest as well: my son and daughter-in-law live there, in addition to my uncle, three cousins and their children. My wife is from Puerto Rico, a US territory, and most of her family lives on the island. So my interest in the election is both political and personal. That is true every year, but it was even more true in 2020.

The incumbent president’s four-year rule since his shocking victory in 2016 has been even worse than feared. The nature of his regime: the breathtaking corruption, the nasty tone of the discourse (if one can call it that), the total disregard for professionalism and science in all aspects of policy, the snubbing of democratic allies and the cuddling of autocrats, the evil to which immigrants and vulnerable groups were subjected…the list is endless. I do not use such words lightly, but the administration of the 45th president of the United States had many characteristics of a fascist regime.

For that reason, Biden’s victory is a huge event. There are many problems facing the country, and one could reasonably ask why anyone would be prepared to take on the job! And one must be realistic. The political process is complicated, the big business lobbies will continue to wield disproportionate power, the Senate will most likely remain in Republican hands. All of this will mean that large parts of Biden’s agenda, for example in the area of the environment, will be difficult to enact.

But as today’s Washington Post points out, many of the worst excesses of the previous administration did not come about through legislative action. The withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change, the withdrawal from the World Health Organisation, the sabotage of the appeals process at the World Trade Organisation, just to name a few, were results of executive orders and can similarly be reversed by executive orders. Some of the nasty tricks used by the Republicans in the last four years, such as appointing “acting” members of the cabinet to avoid Senate confirmation proceedings, will now come back to bite them. Of course, one can hope that at least some of the Senate Republicans will come to their senses and become a constructive opposition, but at this point I do not have high hopes. The Republican party as it exists today is a criminal organisation which makes even the Mafia look honest and honourable.

Other things that Biden can do regardless of what the Senate thinks include reversing his predecessor’s systematic destruction of the civil service and stopping the undermining of vital agencies such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the US Postal Service. Looking beyond US borders, relations with allies need to be repaired and a coherent foreign and security policy must be developed so that both friends and foes know where the USA stands.

Finally, the whole tone of the administration will no doubt improve. No more erratic policy shifts announced on Twitter at 3 a.m. No name-calling of political opponents. No “grab them by the pussy” quotes from the past. In sum: an adult in the White House, again.

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