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Biden Won: What’s next?

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

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The moment many awaited with bated breath finally arrived, Vice President Joe Biden has been declared as the new elect 46th President of United States of America. Since November 3, the close margin of votes for the Democratic Party candidate and President Donald Trump in key swing states created an anxious atmosphere across the nation. With the final vote count emerging from Pennsylvania and confirming the state turning blue, it thwarted the Republican Party’s dream of four more years in the White House.

As Trump trailed behind in many states, he voiced his concerns and promised taking the issue to the Supreme Court. According to President Trump, there has been voter fraud and media conspiracy in many states that led to losing critical electoral votes. Consequently, his legal team has filed for lawsuits in states like Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona. But this is an uphill battle for his campaign staff. For starters, unlike the electoral crisis of 2000 when the recount issue was raised solely in the state of Florida, this election year’s recount matter involves multiple states. Trump’s legal team would not only have to fight these cases in various states individually, but also present concrete proof of voter fraud which the President claims. Even as some courts have accepted these strings of litigation from the Trump campaign, most legal experts are viewing these cases with skepticism. In Michigan and Georgia, Trump’s case was given a short hearing due to lack of evidence, even though the latter is heading for vote recount. The Trump campaign staff would not only have to envisage a multi-state legal battle plan, but also reserve funds from their donors to proceed. For President Trump to successfully win these various litigations, the election result has to be extremely close. But Joe Biden has electorally surpassed the President in almost all the critical swing states, therefore weakening his case and debatable chances for a second term. 

For Biden, the immediate task at hand is twofold: carefully selecting a qualified, diverse cabinet and preparing policy agendas that will be prioritized the moment he is sworn in as the President. The Biden administration is expected to be an eclectic mix of moderates, progressives and possibly even Republicans to present a united front. Building the cabinet would be Biden’s first challenge. The left side of the Democratic Party would expect one of the most progressive cabinet in the history of United States, whereas the corporate backers who invested money in the campaign would have a completely different economic agenda. Apart from people who have worked with Biden for years, one can expect to see new faces, especially of those people who have worked hard for this win in their respective states. According to reports, the President elect would rigorously assess the potential candidates in the coming months, sliming the possibility of such announcements any time soon.

In terms of policy, Covid 19 and social healthcare measures would be Biden administration’s immediate concern. Biden has promised to launch a Covid 19 task force comprising of scientists and medical experts to get grips with the pandemic escalating coast to coast. A wave of investments in protective gear & equipments, loans to various types of businesses, stern federal public health guidelines and consistent dialogue with state governments can be expected from the Biden government in the first few days of his presidency. The administration would also take steps to assist the medical, nursing and essential workers at the frontlines on various levels. Apart from Covid 19, the administration’s urgent attention would be on rebuilding the economy. Moving ahead his campaign’s economic vision of “Made in all of America”, the elect President would focus on revitalizing the domestic manufacturing while bringing public and private entities together. Fulfilling his campaign promise of increasing minimum wage to 15 dollars, creating 5 million new jobs, investing billions of dollars in renewing American manufacturing hubs, strengthening R&D for science & technology, supporting overtime pay for workers and so on would be addressed within the first few months.

Apart from Covid 19 and economy, focusing on systematic racial inequality in the society and climate change would be in President elect’s top concern list. For racial inequality the campaign promise of providing loans of hundred billion dollars at low interest rate to people of color, providing capital for startups by people of color from economically disadvantaged parts of the country and investing in black and minority colleges/universities would be pushed ahead. Similarly, the long term goal of producing zero carbon emissions by 2050 would be laid into action step by step by the administration. Apart from these plans, the Biden campaign has also expressed their plans for taxes, student loans, housing and healthcare infrastructure.

All these campaign promises are not only ambitious in nature but would also require highest form of political skill for pitching them in the Congress. Even though the President elect would try to push these ahead through multitude of Executive Orders, many promises involving finances would require Senate’s support. Due to Republican Party leading the Senate race, Sen. Mitch McConnell would likely to continue being the Senate Majority leader. It is highly plausible that the White House and the Congress would be at loggerheads due to this development, but there is still hope for the Democrats. Biden’s years of experience at Capitol Hill would be of great leverage for sealing deals with the Senate. During the Obama years, he played a critical role in bridging the gap between conservatives and liberals. Despite differing politically, Biden and McConnell have not only known each other for years but have also formed a respectable personal relationship. This relationship can prove to be a real asset for President Biden and his administration’s plans in heralding the country in a new post-Covid 19 era.

In terms of foreign policy, the Biden administration would attempt at “normalizing” American relations abroad. Firstly, the President will focus towards mending broken bridges in the multilateral settings like admitting America back in WHO, the Paris Agreement, UNHCR etc. He would be utilizing traditional diplomatic channels and his years of foreign policy experience/contacts in sending across a reaffirming message to these organizations. Biden administration’s second task at hand would be reassuring American allies especially in Europe and Asia. As the faith in American leadership has dwindled during the Trump years, Biden administration would upscale America’s charm offensive. Thirdly, on all matters associated to China, the Biden administration would most probably continue Trump’s policies, but with heightened diplomatic maneuvering. Trump’s lasting legacy is his China policy and hence, tensed Sino-America relationship would continue to prevail for the two countries in the coming years. Fourthly, Biden would be critical in shaping the future of America’s Indo-Pacific policy, especially the Quad arrangement. The decisions during his term would solidify Quad’s characteristics as a grouping and eventually America’s role in the Indo Pacific as China expands its influence in the region. And lastly, Biden’s biggest foreign policy challenge would be Iran Nuclear deal. Finding ways to reconnect with the Iranian policymakers, winning their faith, finding means to strike a deal with Tehran and European allies while keeping the concerns raised by JCPOA critics at home would be a job of herculean propotion.

It is important to note that even though President Trump has lost the election, he has electorally surpassed expectations. Irrespective of a global pandemic that claimed thousands of American lives, social unrest due to deepening racial tensions, eroding faith in law & order, wildfires at an unprecedented scale, frequent shootouts and escalation in hate crimes, President Trump was able to garner vast support. This year his voting base not only included traditional white voters, but also saw an increase of voters from Hispanic communities, especially in the state of Texas and Florida. Traditionally, the Hispanic communities from the 1990s began shifting towards the Democratic Party, but this election the President was able to make headway in winning their crucial votes. Ultimately, the election map signals that the “Trump Ideology” would continue to attract millions of people in America even though the president has lost his second bid. In the books of political history, he will always be remembered as a political maverick who revolutionized the Republican Party, for better or worse. Trump’s post presidency years could see him legally defending against slew of lawsuits and attempting to be politically relevant. With time, the conservative force in the American politics would search for a leader who espouses similar ideas and gives voice to the other half of the population. But until then, Joe Biden will be the President of a divided country that is on the quest of soul search.

Aakriti Sethi is a doctoral candidate at US Studies Program (USSP), Center for Canadian, US & Latin American Studies (CCUS&LAS), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She has an Mphil degree in US Studies from the same and a postgraduate degree in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka. Previously, she worked at the US division of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Her area of interest includes US foreign policy, American domestic politics, Northeast Asia (primarily Japan, China and North Korea), Indo Pacific and India's foreign policy. Her work has been featured in various websites, journals and newsletters.

Americas

Why are some Muslims, from India to the U.S Voting against their Natural Allies

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Recent national elections in the U.S. and regional elections in India have presented an interesting conundrum. The numbers show that some Muslims, are voting in a counter-intuitive fashion. Given the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing religious nationalism, both in the U.S. and in India, one would surmise that Muslims would vote overwhelmingly to the left of center. But both, in India and in the U.S., many Muslims have however chosen to send a message to the center-left – your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnations of Islamophobia is not enough, we want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions. Neither the promises of Joe Biden, nor the fear of Hindu-nationalism is influencing their vote. These Muslims are, for sure, in a minority albeit a growing one. Politicians on the center-left may ignore them at their own peril.

In the U.S.

In the U.S., President-Elect Joe Biden’s campaign outreach to Muslims went far beyond that of any presidential candidate in the past. Biden’s campaign had a manifesto for American Muslims and a designated outreach person. Biden spoke at Muslim conventions and even quoted from Islamic scripture. He dropped an “inshallah” in the debates. Biden promised to end the so called ‘Muslim-Ban’ on day one and has repeatedly condemned Islamophobia. Biden spoke up for Uyghur Muslims in China and Kashmiris in India and has opposed the annexation of West Bank. He has promised to resume relations with the Palestinians and restore aid to them. Even Imran Khan, the PM of Pakistan, a self-proclaimed champion of Muslims, does not have such an impressive pro-Muslim curriculum vitae, he has repeatedly refused to speak up for the Uyghurs.

While a majority of American Muslims campaigned very aggressively for the Biden-Harris ticket and raised millions of dollars for the Democrats, the exit polls indicate that only 69% of American Muslims voted for them. On the face value that is a huge win, but if you look at in comparison to the past it is troubling. Despite the fact that Biden went far beyond any other candidate in his outreach to Muslims, and the Islamophobia of President Trump is well documented, Biden has garnered the least percentage of votes by a Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections according to exit polls conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
 A possible explanation for this relatively weak performance is that, for some Muslims his “iron-clad” support for Israel and his willingness to work with pro-Hindutva operatives in the U.S., make his opposition to Islamophobia sound less credible.  Words are not enough. If his electoral promises do not actually translate into actual policies, one can expect further decline in Muslim support for Democrats. American Muslims are a rapidly growing and politically engaged community that is over represented in swing states.

A closer reading of the exit polls suggest that things are worse than they seem. The exit polls show that while 17% American Muslims voted for Trump (up from 13% in 2016), 11% declined to reveal who they voted for. It is possible that they lean heavily towards Trump, hence the secrecy. That would mean that in spite of all his Islamophobic rhetoric, Trump may have doubled his support among American Muslims. One Trump supporter told me he voted for Trump because Trump did not invade a single Muslim country in four years unlike Biden who supported the invasion of Iraq.  

YearCandidateMuslim Vote
2008Barack Obama88%
2012Barack Obama85%
2016Hillary Clinton74%
2020Joe Biden69%

In Bihar

The recent elections in Bihar has an interesting story to tell. The state is clearly polarizing as most gains have been made by parties on the extremities. Prime minister Modi’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from winning 53 wins in the 2015 elections to winning 74 of the 243 seats in 2020. A significant swing in favor of Hindutva ideology. The Communist Party (CPI-ML) gained 9 seats, it had 3 seats in 2015 to 12 seats in 2020. The communist parties combined had a 400% increase, they went from 4 to 16 seats. The parties in decline are the so-called secular centrist parties. The Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) which is the biggest single party in the state lost five seats (80-75) and the Indian National Congress (INC), the grand old party of India, also lost ground (27-19).

Clearly the secular center is shrinking. The biggest surprise of the elections was the performance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All Indian MajlisIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim party, which in the past five years has gone from 0-5 seats. The Majlis won in predominantly Muslim area of Seemanchal and is being accused by commentators of stealing the secular vote away from secular parties. Some are describing Majlis as BJP’s B-Team.

It is interesting that now in Indian politics, the code for Muslim vote is ‘the secular vote’. Indian Muslims are now the last line of defense for the rather rapidly shriveling secular space. The criticism of Owaisi and the Majlis for denting the prospects of secular parties in Bihar is both misplaced and inaccurate.  The question that is important is not why Owaisi’s Majlis, a party historically based in Hyderabad (South India) is contesting elections so far in the North of India. The key question is why are Muslims in Bihar voting for Majlis? A party that has no record of governance in their region.

In a speech months before the elections, Owaisi predicted a tectonic shift in Seemanchal’s politics and he said that it was coming because of the profound injustices and inequities that plague Muslims of that region. If secular parties that have governed the state for decades had delivered good governance to Muslims, Owaisi would have stayed at home.

Muslim Disillusionment

Muslims are increasingly disillusioned by secular and left politicians. Islamophobia was on the rise even before Trump became President and 37% of American Muslims, pre-covid pandemic, were found hovering near the poverty line. There is much discontent. I think just as 17-25% American Muslims voted for Trump rejecting the centrist politics of Democrats – many Muslims in Bihar too are frustrated by the failure of secular parties to improve their material condition. The region of Bihar where Owaisi’s party won five seats is the poorest and infrastructurally the least developed area of the state. Voting for secular parties for decades did not help them much. They have been voting without hope. They too are tired of the lip service.

Muslims of Bihar are fortunate that they have an alternative in Majlis and they are able to reject both Indian secularists and Hindu nationalists unlike some American Muslims who feel that they are stuck between Republicans who are Islamophobic and Democrats who promise much but deliver little. The minority of Muslims who appear to be voting counter intuitively, seemingly against their own interests, either for Donald Trump in the U.S. or the Majlis in Bihar, are clearly sending a signal to secular politicians – do not take our vote for granted, you need to earn our vote.

The center-left may be a natural ally of Muslims, but if it does not deliver for Muslims, they may lose their vote in ever increasing numbers.

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Which Coronavirus Policies Succeed, And Which Fail: N.Y. Times Analysis Confirms Mine

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According to an analysis by and in the New York Times on November 18th, which is headlined “States That Imposed Few Restrictions Now Have the Worst Outbreaks”, “Coronavirus cases are rising in almost every U.S. state. But the surge is worst now in places where leaders neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the University of Oxford.”

At Strategic Culture, on May 21, I had published my own analysis, which was based upon tracking the data globally and within countries, and within the various states of the United States, which analysis concluded that countries (and states) which apply the least-stringent regulations in order to keep as low as possible the spread of the virus are failing the most to contain or limit that spread. I labelled those the “libertarian” countries, and I noted that what I called the “socialist” countries — the nations which were the most strictly imposing scientifically confirmed regulations in order to keep those numbers down — were having the best success at limiting the spread of this virus. My study was global, and its headline was “Ideology and Coronavirus”. Unlike the Times article, I was forthright about the ideological implications of the coronavirus data — because those implications are vastly important. (The handling of this pandemic is providing reams of data that test the effectiveness of the various locales’ predominant ideology at dealing with a global life-or-death years-long public-health emergency in regions throughout the world. This is like a global laboratory experiment testing the two opposite ideologies: libertarianism, which is against government regulation, versus socialism, which applies government regulation. No government is purely one or the other, but those are the two poles.)

The analysis in the Times article shows a chart, and represents on it almost all of the states, as dots that indicate both the amount of regulation which has been applied, and the lowness of the infection-rate which has resulted; and, at the upper left corner on it, are the two Dakotas, as “Weak recent containment measures and many cases,” while at the bottom rightmost corner is Hawaii as “Strict measures and fewer cases.”

The Times chart is showing, only locally within the United States, during just the past few weeks, what my analyses had shown, regarding not only the international and longer-term data, but also within the United States itself and recently, not only longer-term and internationally. One of my articles, on November 1st and titled “The Highest Covid-Infection-Rate States”, showed the infection-rate for all 50 states, and noted that, “In 2016, the top 17 [the states with the highest rates of this infection in 2020] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump, but from numbers 25 to 45, there was a political mixture. The highest infection-rate state, North Dakota, has a Covid-19 infection-rate that is 14.6 times higher than the lowest Covid-19 infection-rate state, Vermont.” Of course, the Republican Party (Trump’s Party) is the more libertarian Party, and the Democratic Party (Clinton’s Party) is the more socialist (though actually just as totalitarian) of the two Parties. (Both Parties represent only their billionaires, who also own and control the media; and this is the way that America’s aristocracy controls the Government. For example, the very pro-Democratic-Party website PoliticalWire quoted from and linked to the NYT’s article, but always fails to include any of mine, because I am critical against both Parties. Truly independent news-media are almost non-existent in the United States.)

Whereas the Times’s chart of “Avg. new cases per 100,000” failed to include Vermont, Vermont is the state that has, for the longest time, been among the best three on not only cases per million but also deaths per million, from this virus, and substantially better even than Hawaii, and both states are among the two or three that in recent decades have been the strongest for Democratic candidates, and the weakest for Republican candidates. However, Vermont especially is politically independent, and, so, it has a Republican Governor, Phil Scott, whose record on containing this virus has been the best in the nation; and he was just re-elected in a landslide, 69% of the votes (largely because of this terrific record). Right now, however, the number of daily new cases has shot up suddenly about fivefold in just the past week; so, Phil Scott’s record is in jeopardy. If that surge quickly ends, then he could become the strongest Republican to run against Kamala Harris or Joe Biden in 2024. He would not only receive almost all Republican votes (since that’s his Party), but also at least a third of Democratic votes, and almost all independent votes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be the likeliest to win the Republican nomination, because (just as is true about the Democratic Party) that Party’s billionaires will be making that choice. (It was blatantly true also with regard to Biden and Harris.) This epidemic will be a major political challenge both in 2022 and in 2024. Anyone who wants to see Governor Scott’s press conferences regarding this crisis, so as to know precisely what his coronavirus-policies have been, can see them here. His November 20th press conference is here. He and his governing team receive and answer there many intelligent questions, so that the policies which have led to the best results in America are amply explained there.

On November 16th in South Dakota (and then repeated nationally on National Public Radio on November 20th), reporter Seth Tupper headlined “Two States, Different Paths: Vermont Keeps Virus Low While Rivaling SD’s Economy” and provided a thorough report, including graphs of infection-rates over time, comparing two states, South Dakota, which has the nation’s second-highest infection-rate (after only North Dakota’s 9%) of 7.8%, versus Vermont, which has the nation’s lowest infection-rate, of only 0.5% — one-fifteenth as high. Tupper explained the different policies that the Governors of those two states had applied, and how those policies produced vastly different results for the infection-rates and the death-rates in their states’ populations, but only moderately higher increase in unemployment in Vermont than in South Dakota, which at the peak in April had reached 16% unemployment in Vermont, versus only 10% peak in South Dakota; and, by the time of August, both states had nearly identical low unemployment-rates. Whereas the death-rates from the disease soared around a thousand fold, between April and November, in South Dakota, the death-rate remained virtually flat, almost no increase, in Vermont, throughout that entire period. However, both states were now experiencing soaring infection-rates during the current, second, wave of the epidemic.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

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Trump’s Election Shenanigans Pale Before The Threats From Melting Polar Glaciers

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Despite Joe Biden exceeding the magic number of 270 that guarantees a majority in the electoral college, President Donald Trump has not conceded.  Does he have a plan to overturn the wishes of the electorate? 

According to Trump he did not lose, he was cheated out of a legitimate win by voter fraud and ballot stuffing.  Accordingly, he has filed lawsuits in those critical states with narrow margins of victory for Biden — so far without tangible success — to block certification of the vote and persuade Republican legislatures to overturn the state vote as fraudulent and award the electoral votes to him. 

Trump’s window of action is narrowing.  A major target state was Michigan with 20 electoral votes.  However, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has now certified Biden’s victory meaning he should get its electoral votes. 

While Trump’s shenanigans continue, the world faces a real danger of melting ice sheets and glaciers.  A long term denier of global warming, Mr. Trump now accepts it but believes the earth will right itself without any effort by humans. 

Scientists meanwhile are particularly concerned with the Florida-sized Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic.  Its collapse they fear could destabilize surrounding glaciers eventually causing catastrophic global sea level rises measured not in inches but feet. 

The glacier rises 60 to 75 feet above water across its 75 mile face.  Remembering that 90 percent of it is under gives some notion of the quantity of ice.  The Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel is conducting a survey this winter for the first time as part of a five-year international research program to learn just how fast the glacier is melting and how much it might be adding to rising seas. 

The problem is the shape of the glacier under the water and the warming waters eating away that core while the ice on top gets thicker and thicker as the glacier retreats inland.  At some point the glacier is likely to collapse of its own weight into the ocean.  Scientists who have modeled the scenario fear the process is unstoppable once it starts.  Worse it puts much of the West Antarctic ice sheet at risk of following it into the sea.  Any wonder then that Thwaites is also known as the Doomsday glacier. 

At the other pole the Greenland ice sheet had a record-breaking 2019, shedding the most ice since 1948 — an estimated 532 billion tons.  It of course increases coastal flooding along the eastern seaboard particularly the Carolinas and Florida.  Fortunately for the residents, the 2020 melt from Greenland, while well above the 1981 to 2010 average, was lower than recent years particularly 2019.

Donald Trump does not believe he lost the election and he does not believe in global warming.  Christmas is just around the corner and it’s reassuring to know he believes in Santa Claus . . . and the tooth fairy.

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