Saturday, December 5, 2020
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US presidency: It’s not the triumph Democrats were expecting

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SO, Joe Biden is almost certainly the 46th president of the United States, donning the mantle of Lincoln and FDR and ousting the controversial Donald Trump who rocked American politics as never before during four years of constant rodeo.

Trump has not formally conceded. But short of an unlikely injunction by the Supreme Court to give scores of election fraud challenges time to work their way through the state courts, Biden has locked up all the electoral college votes he needs; the media have called the election for him.

This is far from the triumph whose poll-driven prospects made Democrats giddy before election day. Republicans keep the Senate and the ability to exert strong control over the Biden presidency.

His victory is tainted by allegations of Democratic vote-rigging in half a dozen key states. Trump beat Hillary Clinton fairly in 2016. Yet America’s entitled Washington elites will insist Biden’s presidency is legitimate as loudly as they denounced Trump’s as illegitimate because he wasn’t one of them.

At 78, Biden, long regarded as an amiable dunce, will take office with his mental competence in question. His is now the finger on the nuclear button, a reality which terrified the establishment when the responsibility belonged to Trump.

Biden says he wants to be a unifier after the scandals and battles which his party manufactured against Trump, the White House usurper. Trump’s millions of voters who believe he was robbed will not be so easily mollified after the way Biden won with the support of a partisan media that openly despises the outgoing president’s base in Middle America.

Given his physical frailty and record of mediocrity, Biden will put flesh on the bones of the old political jibe ‘in office but not in power’. Truly, US politics is a strange business. The country which boasts that the soaring ideals of its constitution make it the world’s foremost democracy operates at a very low moral altitude.

However, here we are. Joe Biden, the son of a Delaware coal miner, former senator and vice president, will occupy the Oval Office in the White House, though no one knows how active a president he is capable of being, or even whether he will be able to complete his term.

Waiting to take over if necessary is Vice President Kamala Harris, a first-time senator and California lawyer of Indian-Jamaican descent who would make history herself as America’s first woman president if she were called on to replace Biden.

Despite ridding themselves of the hated Trump, Democrats are not cock-a-hoop. The blue wave that pollsters told them to expect did not happen. Republicans performed strongly in the state elections also held on November 3 and gained seats in the House of Representatives.

Crucially, the Republicans kept their majority in the Senate, which will be a powerful check on the ability of Biden and his managers, whoever they may be, to enact the Democrats’ promise of a public spending spree and a green dash to end fossil fuel use.

In the immediate future, the Senate will control the confirmation of Biden’s government and judicial nominees and can block cabinet candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Stacey Abrams who are seen as too pro-socialist. Republicans can also reject Biden’s nominees to the Supreme Court and federal bench.

The revolution that the Democrat Left and their social justice allies outside Washington thought was within grasp with a weak president and control of Congress is on hold. Republicans lost the referendum on Trump but made other gains that keep them in the game pending the 2022 midterm elections.

Establishment Republicans may huff a little for form’s sake about electoral irregularities but still be relatively satisfied with the outcome since the presidency’s power is greatly limited when the same party does not own Congress.

Firstly, they have got rid of Trump, whom they loathed, was uncontrollable and had served his purpose by giving conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court where liberals have spent years getting wins on issues such as abortion and gay marriage that Congress would not pass.

Their majority in the Senate will drive Biden to the centre and stymie Democratic plans to shift government permanently in their favour by packing the supreme court with liberals, adding two states which would reliably elect four Democratic senators and reduce the majority for passage of Senate legislation from 60 to 50.

The more extreme Bills sent from the Democratic-held House to the Senate will be dead on arrival without compromises dictated by Republicans.

Restricted domestically, Biden’s biggest test will be as the West’s point man against Vladimir Putin and communist China’s Xi Jinping, America’s biggest present rival for world influence. Will he be up to it?

No matter what you thought of Donald Trump, he tackled America’s enemies, which also include Iran and North Korea, head on with the same determination that enabled Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to force the collapse of the Soviet Union and end the Cold War.

Biden will be on limited view in the White House but there are some tasks, carried out in the hard glare of the world stage, which only the president can do one-on-one against ruthless opponents.

There will be no opportunity for Biden to hide there. If he is found wanting, as JFK was when Nikita Khrushchev humiliated him at their 1961 Vienna summit, we will all pay the price. ‘Worst thing in my life,’ Kennedy told a New York Times reporter. ‘He savaged me.’

Biden finds himself at the head of a deeply divided country in a divided world where tough and decisive decisions come unbidden from all directions. A senator who went with the flow for 36 years before he became Obama’s vice president, Biden has never been known for decisiveness. He’s the quintessential clubman.

A John McCain campaign ad when he fought Obama to become president asked whom Americans wanted to be commander-in-chief when the phone rang at 3am to report an international crisis. No one would have wanted it to be Joe Biden, even in his prime. Now it’s his call to take.

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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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