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Making America 'great' again

Though President Joe Biden has made headway in the right direction, the pathway for his domestic and foreign policy initiatives is dotted by massive roadblocks; asserts Suraj Kumar

Making America great again
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Biden running an eraser over Trump's policies reminded of Trump's own efforts to water down Obama's legacy by reversing his policies one after another. This may give one a deja vu, but in effect, there exists a contrast between the actions of both leaders. Trump's actions were dictated by antagonism while Biden is making sincere efforts to stick to his promises that rekindled hope in the majority of Americans. Biden was elected to the presidential chair as an antithesis of Trump. He promised to be everything that Trump was not.

Undoing Trump

Joe Biden had managed to shape the election campaign as a referendum on Trump's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic — turning the very tide of his flamboyance against him. Containing the pandemic remains Biden's prime policy objective. Trump openly supported White supremacy groups. Biden again adopted its antithesis all through the presidential campaign. The nomination of Kamala Harris as the Democractic Vice Presidential candidate was a firm statement in action. Cities like Philadelphia and Detroit played a crucial role in saving the chair for Biden. Large numbers of Black voters who would have generally skip voting out of their ever-sinking hopelessness were assured that their votes will make a difference to their lives this time. Expectations are high from Biden on this front. He has given them hope, his policies should sustain it. Biden's thrust on climate change is also partly a response to Trump's neglect for the cause.

All in all, it has to be said that Joe Biden faces the twin challenge — to reverse the misdeeds of his predecessor and do all he could to make America great again.

This is a daunting task. Made more so tough by the limitation of time. Biden has made lofty promises, the fulfilment of which not only requires a pure intention and strong will power, but also effective policies and their impactful implementation. Biden's policies can be clubbed under two categories — scrapping the toxic policies of the Trump administration and leaving his own imprint by shaping policies according to his vision.

Joe Biden is very much aware that he has got limited time. The President signed a slew of executive orders, memorandums and moratoriums in the very first minutes after his assumption of office. He reversed many of Trump's orders that he viewed as toxic and froze the rest of them to buy time to figure out which one of them can be continued or discarded. The orders are loaded with symbolic gestures as well as detailed solutions of lingering problems. These are not just consistent with his poll promises but also lend firm footing to the shaking humanitarian apparatus in specific areas.

Trump had openly warned to ouster the leading health expert of the country — Anthony Fauci for he repeatedly raised a red flag against the pandemic and the Government's response. Biden restored ties with WHO and put Fauci in charge of the delegation to the global health body. He also restored the directorate of global health security and biodefense that can play a crucial role in tackling the pandemic. Trump used to throw his mask at his followers — in outright denial of the pandemic that has claimed 4,92,000 lives in the United States — during the last days of the presidential campaign. Biden, on the contrary, has thrown a 100 days mask challenge to Americans. He has even mandated the use of mask and social distancing on the federal property.

Further, Biden's major blow at Trump's flagship scheme of building a wall at Mexico border is reassuring on multiple counts. His executive order announced the immediate termination of a national emergency that was invoked by Trump to divert federal funds for erecting the wall. He also lifted the ban on Muslims from specific countries and further asked officials to ascertain how the damage can be compensated for. This statement of action is a dream assertion for any democracy in the world. Most importantly, it comes from one of the largest democracies. As said earlier, these reversals are not just antagonistic. They carry a stint of humanity and democracy.

Policy footprints

Biden's vision of domestic and foreign policies are closely watched all across the world. It is a larger question as to how he will shape himself as a leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Not only his policies will shape him in stark contrast to his predecessor but also help him to build a parallel identity along towering Democrat leaders like Barack Obama and Bill

Clinton. Biden's signature policies in response to prevailing socio-political scenarios will mould him as a distinct leader.

The values of democracy and equity are inherent in Biden's vision of governance. These are not isolated from his policies but serve as a guiding principle to each one of them. He has pledged to defeat White supremacy on the very first day of his office. Biden's thrust on equity is unmatched in modern American history. He dares to come in direct support of Blacks. Obama was relatively subtle in this regard when he spoke of Americans in a united way. Biden can afford to formulate more overt policies to improve the socio-economic and political conditions of the community as he rose to power on their shoulders.

Joe Biden has hit the ground running with initial policies towards a more equitable America. The Coronavirus package of USD 1.9 trillion comes with the precept that it has to be used equitably. The package is targeted towards the poor and those who lost jobs during the pandemic — to boost employment and credit availability. The Black community has borne the brunt of the pandemic in greater magnitude in comparison to the White community. This fact was highlighted all through the presidential campaign by Biden, and testified by reports.

The President has further sought greater inclusion of the LGBTQ community through his executive orders. He reinstated specific titles of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 that puts a check on the

federal government from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation and gender. These initial steps may seem smaller but come with a greater realisation of the most important value of democracy — equality.

Some intangible provisions are no less important. Biden has stressed upon ethical pledging of officials and accountability on the part of the Government. These abstract notions are reassuring. They may not be counted as separate policy initiatives but should be inherent in every policy, giving them the right orientation.

Biden's foreign policies are yet to take shape. His initial policy stance on China, Indo-Pacific region, Middle East and Europe has thrown some indication that is being read worldwide. India, in particular, will have a keen eye on these policies.

'China' catastrophe

Biden has brushed aside initial predictions that he might act soft on China. He has shifted his tone from earlier when he used to talk of engagement with China to turn it towards a democratic path. Biden seems to take a more realist approach in his initial addresses as the President. The message from Biden is crystal clear and direct. He has described the aggressive and assertive China as the strongest competitor. He is ready to take any challenge posed by the country.

As things stand today, China and the USA represent two completely different forms of capitalism — each loaded with a paramount ambition to expand its base. Joe Biden has expressed willingness to work with China if it is in the larger interest of the United States but that is less probable. Even if the two countries join hand on matters of trade and economy, they are poles apart on the issue of military engagement. Biden can at most remain silent and substantially aloof from China — but then again at a significant cost. Cutting himself away from the issue will make Biden less popular. Foreign policy is indeed based on national interest and not on popular sentiment. But it is also a fact that foreign policy decisions send ripples internally.

President Biden has shown keen interest in realigning with NATO and European nations. It can be inferred that Biden is looking for alternative blocks against China. It could not be a lone walk for the Biden administration. It will have to look for other players to tackle the challenge of assertive China. This is where India comes in. In addition to claiming her legitimacy as a leading player in Indo-Pacific region — who is willing to work for peace, progress and security in the region — India should take proactive steps to join hands with the fresh administration to continue its engagement with the United States. India will also have to give a renewed push to the Quad arrangement to make sure that the countries — USA, Japan and Australia — don't wither away due to lack of cooperation. If it can push for economic engagement among Quad countries, it will introduce pragmatism in the ties and make it longlasting.

A greener tomorrow

It is after four years that the United States is set to rejoin one of the greatest battles of the century in the face of climate change. The United States was to rejoin Paris Climate Accord after 30 days of Biden's reversal of Trump's exit from the leading climate resolution.

Biden passed some quick climate-related executive orders like banning oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife. This threw a sense of hope to Americans and global citizens at large but was too little a step on too long a path. Biden has expressed firm resolve to tackle climate change. The intent is welcome but the task is uphill and loaded with challenges. Trump has undone a lot of Obama era policies related to climate change. Biden finds the arduous task of restoring them by a rollback of Trump's policies. Biden cannot bring many of those changes in a single strike like he blocked the oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife region. It took Trump two years to come with his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Biden will have to go through the same legal institutional process. Also, the Biden administration enjoys a very narrow majority in both houses which will make things difficult for him.

Last year Biden proposed a USD two trillion package plan for tackling climate change in Delaware. The plan included a very important policy approach of boosting investment in emission-free vehicles, green and clean transportation systems and renewables. The detailed plan had the pragmatic approach towards tackling climate change. It remains to be seen how quick and far Biden proceeds with a similar progressive plan. It is not the intent or the vision but the institutional barriers that might fail Biden on this front.

He has made a start by appointing the former secretary of state, John Kerry — who had mediated the negotiations for Paris Climate Accord in 2015 — as his International Climate Convoy. The NYT reported that the United States has consistently failed to meet the requirements of the Paris accord. The US is required to cut its carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025. The UN's Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change has stressed that the world needs to become carbon emission-free by the end of 2050 to avoid the worst climate change scenario. It means that the US will have to reduce its carbon emissions by at least above 40 per cent through the next decade.

It is important to see the proposals Biden administration would come up with on the climate summit that is being hosted by the country on Earth Day on April 22.

Roadblocks

Biden's all major promises and aspirations are very challenging. Tackling of COVID-19 pandemic is circumvented by the limitations of human endeavours. Phenomenon such as mutations among the virus and the coming of new strains are beyond human control. It is reassuring that Biden showed a resolve to make America overcome the pandemic, but it is not a surety. It is limited by two factors — one that it is beyond human control, and the other, that his efforts cannot be presumed to be full-proof. The second factor is particularly true because of the magnanimity of the operations required in a vast country like the US. There is a degree of uncertainty — the extent of which is again uncertain!

Ensuring racial equity and undoing Trump's immigration policies are even more challenging. The pandemic may gradually recede by itself but the deep-rooted notions of racial superiority/inferiority and anti-immigrant mindset in a section of American society will take years of vigorous efforts. Trump's initiatives were widely popular among large sections of American society and also among Senators. Biden faces the uphill task of formulating bipartisan policies and implementing them by taking opposing groups in confidence.

The greatest challenge, however, is containing climate change. Biden is required to make a fresh start on this count. He will have to come out with a detailed plan, introduce huge packages and restructure the fuel-based energy system from one end through investment in related infrastructure. One big impediment that will persist all through for the Biden administration is the institutional resistance. Democrats enjoy a slim majority of 50-50 with Kamala Harris voting the tie-breaker. Important legislation of the Biden administration will be a little complicated saga.

Views expressed are personal

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