A Nation Still Divided: Is Biden a Temporary Band-aid?


A N A L Y S I S – U S  P O L I T I C S


Tahia Afra Jannati


Inclusion and representation defined the events of 20 January noon, when Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States and the tumultuous four years of Trump’s presidency finally came to an end. 

Kamala Harris, the first female, African-American and Asian American Vice President, the highest-ranking female elected official in the US history was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court. Amanda Gorman, an African-American and the youngest poet ever to perform at a presidential inauguration, delivered her self-penned poem “The Hill We Climb”, and called for “unity and togetherness“.

The Latin-American Jenifer Lopez performed “This Land is Your Land”, a patriotic song, while Lady Gaga, a long term LGBTQ+ ally, delivered a powerful performance of the national anthem.

The whole ceremony was carefully crafted to showcase the beliefs the Democrats vouch for — but why was all this representation needed?

A nation still divided

For Mr Biden, the real journey had just begun and he was well aware of the challenges he would be facing, as he took charge of a much divided nation.

He saw where the country was headed, and the soul of his speech shed a light on the growing polarisation that was hovering over the country’s politics, due to the toxic divisions, deadly violence, the lies and blame game of the last four years, especially thanks to the events that transpired only recently. While the new president stood on the West Front of the US Capitol in order to deliver his inaugural addresses, he was conscious of the weight of the moment and stayed true to the themes and ideas that defined his bid for the presidency from the very first. 

A tale of first three Wednesdays

A tale of three consecutive Wednesdays, the first three of 2021, accurately expresses the United States’ current reality of polarisation.

6 January, Wednesday, The Insurrection:

The United States faced a national embarrassment when on 6th January, a Wednesday, a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill, protesting and denying the result of Congress’ election. A violent uprising, which is believed to be incited by Trump himself, sheds light on the polarisation of the politics and the nation as a whole.

13 January, Wednesday, The Impeachment:

On 13 January, the second Wednesday, Donald Trump was impeached for the second time. House Democrats and 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump on the sole charge of inciting the insurrection.

20 January, Wednesday, The Inauguration:

20 January, the third Wednesday, and finally the day of Biden’s inauguration, A Democrat president after all the political dramas of four years. During the address when Biden stated, “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” he was majorly reflecting on the ‘insurrection’, the rising of the polarisation.

The US Capitol attack

Although Biden’s win was sealed as a political triumph through the inauguration, it merely solves the problem the United States’ is facing right now. The aberrant transition of power, violent protests across the country supporting Trump’s denial of the election result, the mob attack on the Capitol — all of which can be termed as unprecedented attack on the US’ democracy, are more symptoms of division than outcomes. 

According to a research conducted by the professors of Brown University and Stanford University, it was found that in the US, affective polarisation has increased more dramatically since the late 1970s than in the eight other countries they examined — the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden. They have also pointed out some possible reasons behind this phenomenon, such as racial division, the rise of partisan cable news, and changes in the composition of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The study in fact tells us that the division is deep, and has been growing since the better half of last decade. Time will tell if Mr Biden’s sugarcoated words of unity is the right medicine to cure this division, or if it’s just a temporary band-aid which will get ripped off eventually. However, the violent Trump supporters who seized the Capitol, and the people who supported this uprising might be laying low right now due to the country-wide condemnation of the incident, but they aren’t going anywhere. However desperately the Democrats would like to vouch for inclusion, with their handcrafted inauguration initiatives and Biden’s cabinet selection, the country is still the divided one it was three weeks ago. 

Mr Biden’s challenges do not end at uniting a polarised country. A divided House of Representatives and Senate, where the Democrats are barely holding on to their majority, may halt Biden’s executive decisions. Here Biden’s relationship with the Senate Republican Leader and the Democrats’ nemesis, Mitch McConnell, will be of key importance to make deals and carry on Biden’s executive decisions.

Joe Biden laid out his top policy priorities clearly both during his speech and his first day as president. His signing of 15 executive actions and 2 executive orders on his first day as POTUS can be termed as undoing everything Trump did and taking the country back to when Obama’s administration left the helm of the country.

Will Biden be enough to unify the US?

Besides acting on the Covid pandemic by ordering for a 100-day-Masking-Challenge, he also acted on environmental deals including expressing his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, ended the travel ban from some Muslim-majority countries, and actioned to advance racial equity through federal government. 

However, is reversing a bunch of policies to take the country where it was 4 years ago enough to solve an unprecedented crisis, the roots of which lie deep in various socio-cultural factors of the country?  

The future of Trumpism, and GOP

For the conservative right, Trump is a prophet who acted on indoctrination and counter information which grew among masses throughout the last few decades. Since the last four years, these Trump supporters have been fed lies, and a small minority of far right believes the country needs an uprising with a vast majority still believing Trump’s false accusations of a rigged election. Plenty of lawmakers are ready to carry on Trump’s legacy if he doesn’t go through his pledge to stand as the president again. Republican Senator Ted Cruz is one of the most senior republican politicians who continued to oppose Biden’s certification, even after the Capitol was stormed.

Whether Trumpism will survive or not depends on multiple factors, including what the Republican party does about it. The chaos that unfolded on 6 January was undeniably a disaster for them, and severely damaged the centuries old reputation of the Grand Old Party. 

The top Republican leaders are hopeful about their future and betting everything on the 2022 mid-term election. Mitch McConnell has indirectly indicated that impeaching Trump would help set aside the President’s legacy from the public perception of the Republican Party. The Senate is preparing for an impeachment trial on whether to convict the President for “incitement of insurrection” and potentially disqualify him from holding office in the future.

If Trump is impeached, it will be interesting to see what happens to the far right and their world of alternate facts without a prophet to act on them. Joe Biden is gradually moving on to put an end to the Trump legacy and everything the man represented. As the President takes charge as the highest authority of a dystopia, his battle to restore the soul of America might prove to be a lengthy one. His fellow Americans and the rest of the world will look forward to his attempts to fulfill his rhetoric to “build back better”.

 

References:

  1. 6 Takeaways From President Biden’s Inauguration
  2. Climate change: Biden’s first act sets tone for ambitious approach
  3. Biden lays out COVID-19 strategy on first full day in office
  4. What’s next for the Republican Party?

 

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