Faced with a divided nation, a pandemic raging out of control, a battered economy and a country whose global standing has been on the wane for years, the best Biden may be able to do is ensure stability in the new era.
- Faced with a divided nation, a pandemic raging out of control, a battered economy and a country whose global standing has been on the wane for years, the best Biden may be able to do is ensure stability in the new era
Looking back at the four years of the Trump administration, one might wonder why a man who made an average of 20 false and misleading claims a day and eventually incited a mob to
storm the Capitol could have been elected as president of the most powerful country on Earth. Why was he supported by 74 million American voters in November’s presidential election?
Two years ago, I argued that the greatest challenge we face in the 21st century is not China’s rise, but America’s decline. China’s rise so far has been peaceful, but can the United States’ decline be equally peaceful?
If the Pentagon’s unabated military interventions after the Cold War have reduced the US’ national strength – a point few seem to disagree with now – they also show that the US’ decline, however gradual, is far from stable.
Then US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer declared that January 6, 2021, could be added “to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy”. It is more than that. The siege of the Capitol shows that when a democracy is in decline, it may become vitriolic and violent.
The bad news is Trumpism will not easily go away. Impeachment, without putting Trump on trial, does not prohibit him from running for president again in 2024. As the headline of an article in Time warned in November, “Even if Biden won, he would govern in Trump’s America”.
With the second-highest number of votes in US history going to Trump, the US seems bitterly and almost evenly split down the middle.
“History never repeats itself, but it rhymes,” as Mark Twain is often reputed to have said. Biden might now find himself in a situation echoing that faced by Abraham Lincoln, American’s 16th president, after the civil war when the nation awaited healing.
But while Lincoln’s America needed nothing more than national reconciliation, which the US today needs too, Biden has to fight domestic enemies as well as take on challenges ranging from curbing the spread of the pandemic and saving the battered economy to restoring racial justice and faith in institutions all at once.
How long will that take? And how much can this 78-year-old “good man”, as former US president George W. Bush called him, accomplish? Even if he has a mission, as he should have, he can hardly be Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt.
He is more likely be the man who will lead Americans as they descend, however unwillingly, from the “city upon a hill”.
This is what he probably instinctively sensed when he said, “American history isn’t a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending. But we have the power to write the future we want for this nation.”
Overseas, his job seems easier, in part because the American people are weary of the
endless wars their soldiers have been fighting and their duty as the world’s policeman
in faraway places. The pandemic, coupled with the violence triggered by George Floyd’s death and the riot at the Capitol, will increase Americans’ worries about the future.
According to a national survey conducted by the Upshot and Siena College last year, Americans aren’t so much fretting about themselves as they are anxious about the country. A retreat to isolationism looks inevitable.
The more blood is spilled in America itself, the less America will spill the blood of other countries.