The US presidential election process that began about eighteen months ago but gained momentum in the past six months culminated on November 3 handing down a decisive verdict against bigotry, divisiveness and xenophobia. In an unprecedented turn out of about 150 million voters, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., has been elected as the 46th President of the United States. His running mate Kamala Devi Harris would become the Vice President of the United States. Biden, the newly elected President, will take oath on January 20, 2021 bringing an end of a presidency that isolated the United States from the international community and sowed seeds of racial violence, among others, in the country. Incumbent President Donald Trump has been defeated by over 4.5 million votes. Trump became the one-term president in recent history. His much-expected defeat has reverberated a sense of relief and optimism at home and abroad.
Donald Trump has never been in politics nor held any diplomatic assignment at home or overseas. He was drawn into politics in a vacuum orchestrated by a splinter group within the Republican Party. He joined the presidential race and much to the surprise of party stalwarts obtained the nomination of the party. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump defeated the Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton. Though Clinton received more popular votes, owing to electoral mismatch, Trump secured more electoral votes and became the President of the United States. The electoral outcome was a total antithesis of opinion polls after opinion polls. The Intelligence Agencies subsequently attributed this contrast to Russia's successful hacking of the electoral system. President Obama, in his final days in office, imposed a wide range of sanctions against Russian security operatives for its malfeasance.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump harboured a policy of falsehood and deception. The inaugural ceremony of the newly elected President and the joint session of the Congress are always watched live by large enthusiastic audiences at the Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The Joint session of the Congress on January 20, 2016 was no exception. Incidentally, the crowd that assembled at the Pennsylvania Avenue tuned out to be much smaller than that at Obama's inauguration. This was captured in the media. But Trump dismissed it and claimed "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration in history". His office used images and statements under the title "alternative facts" implying a different aspect of the event.
Since the middle of 2017, Trump's deconstruction drive began. He tried to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) popularly known as Obama Care which had encompassed over 20 million people hitherto outside any health insurance coverage and many with pre-existing health conditions. The ACA barely survived at the Senate with a lone vote of John MaCaine. But Trump did not relent. He issued executive orders and excoriated several components of ACA and made it almost dysfunctional. It was defunded in the Republican controlled states but in other states ACA survived with government funding. Nevertheless, millions of people from low income groups lost health insurance. Trump promised repeatedly that he would put in place a better health insurance plan and people would greatly benefit. That famous plan has never seen the light of the day.
Then came the infamous Muslim travel ban. All on a sudden he issued an executive order banning the entry of air travelers coming from seven Muslim countries. The ban was issued without prior notice and there was opprobrium at the major airports in the country with hundreds of passengers stranded. The human rights organisations and American Civil Liberty Union filed lawsuits. The courts declared the travel ban illegal and instructed the concerned authority to let the people with valid documents to enter into the country. The White House challenged the court orders to the superior court and argued that the executive order was issued to protect the Americans from possible terrorists' attacks. Sally Yates, Deputy Attorney General refused to defend the administration at the superior court. She was summarily dismissed, and another attorney was appointed. The court, after a protracted hearing upheld the executive order with some modifications.
Trump has profound hatred for the people migrating to the United States. He accused Mexico for sending "thugs and rapists" to the United States and promised to build wall along the southern border to stop the flow of unauthorised immigrants. It was revealed by a former national security official that Trump instructed the concerned officials to electrocute or gas those attempting to cross the border illegally. The people from Central America are desperately trying to escape their homeland in search of better and safer life in the United States. It was inhuman for the leader of a country to suggest killing these desperate people while trying to set foot in the US. The construction of the promised wall hasn't progressed much. Till now, the wall has been built on 331 miles. Congress approved $5.00 billion but Trump diverted $10.00 billion from the Defence budget to finish construction of another 119 miles. The "diversion of fund" from the Pentagon has been challenged in the court and is still under adjudication.
About 650,000 children came to the United States in recent years along with their parents through the southern border. In April 2018, Trump administration began separating children from their undocumented parents in pursuit of "zero tolerance policy" designed to deter illegal immigration. In the face of opprobrium, Trump suspended this inhuman programme in June. Police also conducted raids in southern states, segregated children from parents and kept them in temporary shelters. The parents were pushed back to Mexico and were advised to seek asylum from abroad. The process has taken months but in the meantime mothers of about 600 children cannot be traced. President-elect Joe Biden has termed the entire episode as criminal and said it should never have happened - this is un-American.
Trump met the formidable challenge with the outbreak of Covid-19. At the outset, he dismissed the severity of the virus and claimed that it would disappear around April. As the pandemic turned intractable with mounting casualties, he faltered. He did not comply with the scientists because he felt that countrywide shutdowns would slow down the economic growth and undercut his chance of reelection. He was slow in responding to the requests of the affected states like New York, California in releasing resources including the basic items and equipment. Hardly the situation eased, Trump urged safety protocols to be relaxed. He made incendiary appeals like liberate Michigan, New York and provoked his supporters to stage rallies demanding "business as usual". Republican governors toeing the lines of Trump allowed bars, restaurants and beaches to open only to embrace a dangerous surge of coronavirus in their region. Now the infection has exceeded 10 million and over 238,000 people have died of Covid-19. Dozens of officials in the White House and Vice Presidents office were taken ill. The inept handling of the pandemic will be a hallmark of Trump's failure in providing leadership during the crisis.
Trump condescended the White Supremacist group like Proud Boys, Neo-Nazis. He never denounced the armed group's attempt to kidnap and harm the Governor of Michigan. His armed cohorts attacked the motor-cade of Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris in Texas. An armed group threatened the polling station in Arizona to stop counting the ballots as Trump's initial lead was eroding. Never in the history of the United States people have witnessed such an affront on democracy.
In external relations, Trump has emerged as an isolationist. His relationship with the European leaders has been acrimonious. He steadily moved away from collective actions in combating the pandemic and withdrew from the World Health Organisation. He repudiated the US leadership in the NATO and European leaders were left to believe that US could no longer be trusted in contributing to their security. Trump withdrew from UNESCO, UNRWA and threatened to slash US financial contribution to the United Nations. He withdrew from the International Climate Agreement which was formulated in 2015 under US leadership. Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement- a trading block of 12 South Asian nations leaving the entire region under Chinese influence. Trump infuriated Canada and Mexico, the two neighbouring trading partners by revising the North American Free Trade Agreement but ultimately settled with previous tariff structure.
Trump has been defeated and will soon be out of power. But the brand of politics he has practised stained by racism, xenophobia, hatred towards people of other faiths will not leave anytime soon. He will continue to patronise the divisive forces from Trump Tower. This will require all democratic forces in the country to double down the efforts to restore American values.
Joe Biden has assured in his victory speech that he would reintegrate the US with the international community. "During my first year in office", he has pledged, "the US will host a global summit to strengthen democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding and forge a common agenda." This will be an amazing episode that the US President would be congregating with democratic leaders rather than dictators and sponsoring multilateral initiative to promote freedom, human rights and greater pluralism around the globe. This is a tall order, but this will be a laudable option to heal the wounds inflicted during the past four years.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.