Sunday, November 29, 2020
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The troublesome loose ends Biden will need to tie up

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EVERY presidency leaves loose ends. Some that Donald Trump is leaving for Joe Biden are significant and will add to the problems of a president many Americans already reject as a fraudulent occupant of the White House.

Biden needed a landslide, which the polls promised him, to be an authoritative president. His party failed to win the Senate and lost House seats. He eked out a contested victory that won the electoral college votes he needed but in a way that damages his legitimacy from the start. The Trumpers says they were robbed by voting irregularities.

Republican fears that Democrats were going to tear up the shop for the next four years have evaporated. Without the distracting public relations battles that Democrats in Congress and the media waged against Trump, the nuts and bolts of Biden’s presidency may be not so different from Trump’s. This will not be an Obama third term.

This will not soothe the outsize Trump ego while the wounds of defeat are sore but it will be a consolation as Biden wrestles in office with a base which is well to his left. Dispassionate historians in future decades probably will see Trump’s achievements more positively that an angry electorate did on November 3. History, which is not written in tweets, may smile on the showman president from New York.

Covid: The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s announcement that it has developed a vaccine claimed to be more than 90% effective against the virus and ready for limited use by the end of December means that Biden will have one less major problem at the start of his presidency. The company said the vaccine would be widely available by the third quarter of 2021. It’s a huge stroke of luck for Biden who had expected fighting Covid to be a time-consuming first priority for his administration. Trump, whose management of Covid had been fiercely attacked by Biden, had forecast a vaccine by the end of the year.

Russiagate: America can no longer walk away from the biggest political scandal in US history as Democrats hoped to do. The Obama administration, the FBI, the intelligence services and career government officials conspired to prevent Trump’s election and then to destroy it.

The Republican Senate has the power to refuse to confirm a Biden attorney general who does not pledge a thorough house-cleaning which assigns blame to named individuals and guarantees there will never be a repetition.

Special prosecutor John Durham is pursuing a criminal investigation of conspirators who occupied some of the highest jobs in the land and Republicans can now insist that any recommended prosecutions happen. It’s crucial to the integrity of the country that they do.

Biden’s own family scandal involving allegations of pay to play with Ukraine and China need to be followed through scrupulously for the same reason and could be dangerous to him.

Immigration: This is a hot button issue for ordinary Americans. Democrats have a record of being more pro-immigration when out of office than in. Remember the pictures of caged children at the southern border for which Trump was excoriated but the cages were built when Obama was president. Biden will be easier on illegal immigrants already in the US, especially the so-called Dreamers brought there as children. But he must decide whether to follow Trump in tightening the southern border.

Foreign policy: Biden’s reputation is as a specialist on foreign policy where Trump made significant progress towards a historic rapprochement between Israel and moderate Arab states at the expense of Iran to whom Obama gave favourite treatment. The new president will want to build on that so may not want to rejoin without strings the failed nuclear deal that Obama made with the mullahs. Biden says he’s always been a friend of Israel whereas Obama was openly hostile.

He promises to be less confrontational with China but Beijing remains a strategic and economic power rival to the United States to whom George W Bush and Obama gave too much away. The question is whether Biden will be his own man or slip back into the lax Obama/State Department consensus.

The Russia problem is perennial. After yelling Russia, Russia, Russia for four years, the Biden administration has no option but to be tough with Moscow which Obama wasn’t.

Biden is sold on greenery in all its forms and promised to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of his presidency. We’ll see. He might have other things to do. 

Law and Order: Leftist and anarchist groups such as BLM, Antifa and a gamut of social justice activists have been rioting nonstop every time a black criminal is shot by the police since May when George Floyd died. The bill is estimated at $2billion nationwide and the militant demands for abolition or defunding the police have not abated.

No one in their right mind thinks this is a good idea but there’s no certainty that Joe’s election will put the genie back in the bottle. They come from part of his base and he can’t ignore them. He needs to find a way to restore order in the cities that reconciles incompatibles. Good luck with that.

Environment: Joe is green but he doesn’t support the Green New Deal that charismatic New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes has bullied much of the Democratic Party into adopting or the planet will be dead in 12 years. No exact date or time for this event which will surely draw a big crowd. Biden knows the GND crowd are mainly utopians or Marxists. He will pursue an environmental incrementalism that won’t satisfy either side.

Election integrity: The 2020 presidential election has been a disgrace and we will never know whether the right man won regardless of the shenanigans. The presidential election is in fact 50 separate state elections and this won’t change. But the president has the clout to push for a unified system that guarantees every American the ability to vote (once) based on verifiable electoral rolls and safe polling stations. The current mess is to the great discredit of what is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy, which it should at least try to be.

The Democratic Party: Republicans were riven by Trump. They can now sit back and watch the Democrats fight over how this election they thought was well won turned out so badly. A president has the power of the executive order to get things done by fiat but he needs control of Congress to pass his legislation.

The present Democrat Party has probably gone too far left and listened too much to its extremist lobbies. Ocasio-Cortes said that under normal circumstances she wouldn’t be in the same party as Biden. Her political centre of gravity would be in a Latin American banana republic and there are millions like her on the US Left.

If Biden doesn’t want the House – still with AOC who has a safe seat in it – to fall to the Republicans and neuter him in the 2022 mid-term elections, he needs to find a way of manhandling the Democrats back into territory where they have a wider appeal than to social justice-driven adolescents, rioters and looters. He won’t have Trump as a sounding board in 2022.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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