Observations of an expat: High hopes, low expectations

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Trump is gone. He boarded Air Force One on Wednesday and flew off into the Florida sunset.

Biden is now the President of the United States and has called for an end to the “uncivil civil war” of the last four years.

In his departing speech before a diminished crowd, the outgoing president promised (or was it threatened) that he would be back “in some form or another.”

And he probably will. Perhaps not the “The Donald” personally. His legal and financial problems ranging from the impeachment trial, to tax evasion, to fraud, to money laundering, attempted subversion of election results and massive debts could occupy his attention – and the courts – at the expense of any planned political comeback.

But Trumpism will be back. In fact, it is a solid political factor on the American scene. Donald Trump did not create Trumpism. The conditions for his hate-fuelled politics of anger and fear existed before Donald entered the White House. Trump’s trick was to spot the political advantage in this political undercurrent and exploit it.

In his first day in office, President Biden used presidential decree powers to reverse 17 Trumpist policies. He rejoined the World Health Organisation and the Climate Change Accord. “The Dreamers” were given back their path to citizenship and the Muslim travel ban was lifted. The Keystone XL pipeline and a host of other environmentally damaging Trump pronouncements were scrapped.

The 17 reversal decrees were aimed at Biden’s Democratic base. They were certainly not designed to please Trump supporters and so cannot be viewed as a unifying action. The two most prominent unifying actions are likely to be perceived competence in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the issue of the Supreme Court.

400,000-plus Americans are dead from covid-19 at the end of Trump’s term of office. Their headstones are granite testaments to Trump’s incompetence in handling the health crisis. The pandemic was a major factor in Trump’s November defeat.

Biden’s campaign portrayed their man as the one to beat the virus and he has set himself the seemingly impossible target of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.  If he fails, to deliver on this crucial promise, Biden’s credibility will be seriously damaged. His problem is that vaccinations are administered by state rather than federally-controlled workers, and 27 of the 50 states have Republican governors. Many of them, such as Florida’s Rick de Santis, are solid Trumpists who may stop at nothing to undermine a Democrat president.

Donald’s greatest achievement was the appointment of three conservative Supreme Court Justices. This has decidedly shifted to the right the balance of America’s highest court for at least a generation. The move could have a decisive effect on abortion law, healthcare legislation and gun control—all touchstone issues for Trumpists and anyone else of a conservative bent.

The growing left-wing of the Democratic Party wants to rebalance the court’s political complexion by appointing two liberally-minded Justices. This would increase its membership from the traditional nine to 11. The move is perfectly legal, but unconventional. It would please the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s of this world, but it would almost certainly spell the end of any bipartisan support in Congress for other parts of Biden’s legislative agenda.  Backing from Capitol Hill is an essential stepping stone towards support from the wider electorate and Biden’s goal of national unity.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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6 Comments

  • John Marriott 23rd Jan '21 - 9:25am

    As nobody else appears to care what’s happening over the pond (at least by 9.04am when I started writing) I think I’ll make a start.

    First of all it’s nice to have the ‘professionals’ back, complete with masks and to see Dr Fauci with a smile on his face. Contrast that with Trump’s ‘au Renoir’ (unless they can drag 17 Republican across the Senate floor) at Andrews Base – 21 gun salute and no masks in sight from his family, except, I think, one grandchild.

    That flurry of Executive Orders signing augurs well in making a symbolic start to undoing some of Trump’s more crazy moves. Unfortunately that won’t cut much ice with the good ‘ol boys and their gals, who are nit going away in a hurry. 75 million votes are hard to dismiss. In many ways, it’s a good job that the US got Joe Biden and not, for example, Bernie Sanders as its new Commander in Chief. Mind you, had Bernie been the candidate, I doubt whether he would have pulled it off.

    My only hope is that Biden stays mentally and physically healthy enough to stay the course for the next four years at least. As for a possible Democrat successor, don’t get me wrong; but I just wonder whether even a chastened USA is ready for a lady of colour as its Potential Leader. Ms Harris has four years at least hopefully to prove me and the doubters wrong.

    If another Donald Trump runoff the White House is ruled out (there could be a few more court cases in the pipeline), I wonder whether anyone might consider a bet on the possibility of a Kamala versus Ivanka contest in four years time?

  • John Marriott 24th Jan '21 - 9:05am

    Well, still no more responses to Mr Arms’ excellent analysis. He’s obviously wasted on LDV!

    I could add that I wonder whether our US friends will wake up to the fact that, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s remark; “It’s your damned Constitution, stupid”. Yes, it’s written (I wish ours were) and, yes, it can be amended (not sure about ours – people seem to make it up as they go along. However, isn’t it time you did something about the Senate, or the gerrymandering that goes on in your congressional districts, and, why not get rid of the electoral college and decide who your Head of State is by a popular vote?

    Mind you, Biden has enough on his plate for the time being. In any case, he’s only got two years before the electoral round kicks off again and his party has got to defend its majority in both houses of Congress.

  • Well, I’m bothered about what happens in the good ol’ US of A not just for intrinsic US reasons but because of the influence it has on our own politics and culture and the wider world. I’ve grown to like Joe Biden as a decent human being ever since I read his autobiography when I was in Washington in 2008. I hope it’s the of Ace of Hearts and no Trumps.

    John M., as per usual, has said all the rest for me – so thank you Tom Arms and the typing finger will now have a rest.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '21 - 10:17am

    I would say that many in Europe, especially the EU, will end up being disappointed in Joe Biden and that not as much will change as they hope. The Americans have two major problems with the Europeans.

    Firstly they don’t want to pay their way when it comes to defence. They want it on the cheap and highly subsidised by the USA. Secondly they like the idea of low tariffs on their exports to the USA but think it perfectly fair to protect their single market with much higher tariffs coming the other way. Trump was probably the first US president in recent times to raise those objections in way to suggest that he really meant it. However, even he didn’t push as hard as many thought he should have. Joe Biden may not turn out to be quite so accommodating as many might be hoping.

  • Charles Smith 25th Jan '21 - 9:29pm

    U.S. President Joe Biden has directed law enforcement and intelligence officials in his administration to study the threat of domestic violent extremism in the United States, an undertaking being launched weeks after a mob of insurgents loyal to Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.

    The disclosure Friday by White House press secretary Jen Psaki is a stark acknowledgement of the national security threat that officials see as posed by American extremists motivated to violence by radical ideology.
    https://worldabcnews.com/biden-orders-review-of-domestic-terrorism-threat-in-wake-of-u-s-capitol-riot/

  • It’s great that Joe Biden is President BUT 74 million Americans voted for Trump. Think about it. The problem is deeper that cheap shots at Europe.

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