The news of Joe Biden’s election as the 46th President of the United States of America undoubtedly came as a massive sigh of relief for most communities worldwide. Many cities across the globe became theatres of celebration for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ electoral win, producing comical scenes in the US capital of Washington DC, where hundreds of thousands chanted “Goodbye” in front of the White House.
There is no denying that the end of the Trump era is welcomed by many across the country. The President’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the subject of much criticism, much of which is far from unfounded, considering the curve of infections in the US. News of Biden’s election was widely celebrated by scientists and epidemiologists, many of whom now believe that the US might finally implement a sensible response to this unprecedented health crisis.
US Republicans, on the other hand, were faced with the bitter news of their President losing re-election. While many Republicans expressed concerns over the next 4 years under Biden’s presidency, some Democrats called for uniting, rather than dividing, both parties. This push to reach out to Republicans overlooks the abominable records of the current administration, which directly legitimized hate crimes throughout the Trump presidency, against Asian-Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ+ minorities, amongst others.
These were bolstered by Trump’s use of the racist term “Chinese virus” — more comical was “Kung Flu” — when referring to the COVID-19 virus, or calling his supporters to chant “Send her back” against Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. In a climate of extreme division fostered by conservatives and Republicans themselves, it would seem ironic to call for rapprochement between both parties. Ultimately, US minorities do not owe an openly racist Republican Party anything. Yet this is not the full story. The truth is that a Biden-Harris administration is far from being the progressive ticket one might think it is.
President-elect Joe Biden has been the centre of various controversies throughout his presidential campaign. During a town hall hosted by the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines, Iowa, Biden stated that “‘Poor kids’ are just as bright as ‘white kids’”, thereby drawing a dangerous connection between the lack of economic opportunities for racial minorities in the US and intellect. Although Biden immediately apologized and corrected himself, this problematic slip-up is reflective of broader racist trends in his political career, which include working with segregationist senators back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Additionally, during the final presidential debate held on October 22, 2020, President-elect Biden reaffirmed that he did not oppose fracking, despite proven contamination of groundwater. This raises questions as to what Biden’s stance is on the ongoing environmental crisis, despite his decision to re-enter the Paris Agreement, the environmental framework started in 2015 which the US formally withdrew from under President Trump.
Biden’s running mate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, also has a concerning record regarding race. Harris will become the first woman, African-American, and Indian-American to hold the position of Vice President in the US when she is inaugurated in January 2021. She previously served as the Attorney General for the state of California from 2011 to 2017, and as US Senator from 2017 to 2020. Despite being known as a champion for LGBTQ+ rights, Harris made headlines in 2014 when she denied inmate medical care to a transgender woman who was sent to male rehabilitation centre.
Being a global superpower — albeit an eroding one — US foreign policy is at the heart of much of the current international system. Decisions made in Washington have impacted the lives and futures of millions across the globe, with those in the Middle East at the top of the list. From staged coups aimed at overthrowing local political leaders with diverging political interests to direct military invasion in the name of so-called democracy, the Middle East has felt the weight of the US’ hegemonic power since the end of World War II.
To many Middle Easterners, the Obama administration was synonymous with the multiple airstrikes carried out to defend US interests in Iraq and Libya, or as part of an international coalition in the case of Yemen. The Trump administration followed in Obama’s footsteps, particularly with US involvement in the ever-lasting Syrian civil war — although the conflict’s ‘civil’ aspect has mostly been overshadowed by regional and international dynamics of foreign policy.
Arab states throughout the Middle East have much to fear of US support for Israel, a country which has carried out numerous military operations against its Arab neighbours. Electing Kamala Harris into the White House will do little to alleviate this anxiety. Speaking at the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, then-Senator Harris emphasized US commitment to Israeli military effort, supporting $38 billion dollars in military assistance, and saying that “[the US] must stand with Israel”. While these views were expressed over 3 years ago, it seems unlikely Vice President-elect Harris would back down from supporting Israel and its military in the Middle East.
Ultimately, there is virtually no way to predict what is going to come out of the White House in the next 4 years. As we enter the ten-week presidential transition period, questions still arise as to whether President Trump will even accept the results of this election and facilitate a peaceful transition to the Biden administration. However, in light of Biden and Harris’ respective careers, little hope prevails for significant policy change under the incoming administration.
At a time when the country is deeply divided and calls to defund the police amid the Black Lives Matter protests are more visible than ever, the Biden-Harris presidency will have to come up with strong responses that address these issues while also dealing with the US’ ongoing health and economic crises. What might come as a relief to many Americans, though, is the fact that discussion and accountability will undoubtedly re-enter the White House with this new presidential team.
Edited by Kai Scott.
Robin Vochelet was the Vice-President of Publications of the IDSSA for the 2020-2021 academic year, serving as de facto Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst. He graduated from McGill University with a B.A. First Class Honours in International Development Studies and a minor in Political Science in May 2021, and went on to pursue a Master of International Affairs at the National University of Singapore.