Does Biden’s victory really present a chance for democratic renewal?

November 18, 2020

The Sars-CoV-2 pandemic that devastated the world in 2020 has changed the structures of various societies. One of them was the secular US party conventions. The Democratic Party, in August, made official the candidacy of Joe Biden, former Senator and Vice President of Barack Obama, for the presidency and as Vice President Kamala Harris, former California prosecutor and senator. However, unlike meetings with thousands of people, this time it was done virtually with the smallest number of people and in the shortest time.

Since then, the fierce dispute over who would get to the White House began, which was divided between Biden and the current president, who was seeking re-election by the Republican Party, Donald Trump. After many accusations from both sides, the former vice-president got the delegates from most of the famous “pendulum states” – like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – which are unpredictable about which party he will support in each election.

Moreover, this year was considered a record-breaking election. Since voting is not mandatory in the United States, the highest turnout in history was achieved, even in the midst of a pandemic. And, as early voting is possible, the elections had the highest number of votes in this modality – with 101 million votes by mail.

In his speeches, Biden said it was necessary to unite the country to overcome the current economic and health crisis, as well as other common problems such as the health system, racism, and foreign relations after the rise of the extreme right to which Trump contributed. With this, will Joe Biden, at the age of 78, a wealthy white family and longtime politician, be the president of the American democratic renewal?

“You know who I am, you know who he is. You know his character, you know my character”.

Joseph Robinette Biden was born on November 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a Catholic family and during his childhood discovered that he was a stutterer, something he treated for many years. Biden began studying at Delaware University and then went to law school at Syracuse University, where he met his first wife, Neila. After graduating, he enters the Democratic Party and quickly becomes the second youngest person to enter the U.S. Senate at the age of 29.

At the beginning of his career as a senator, Biden has his first big loss: in a car accident, no matter how much his two children survived, his wife and daughter can’t resist. Thus, in speeches he affirms several times how such event marked him and defined his performance in front of the public power. In time he got married again, had six consecutive terms as senator and ran for president a few times, until in 2008 he became Vice President Barack Obama for two terms.

During the 2020 election race, rival Donald Trump often claimed that Joe Biden was considered a left-wing radical who would bring socialism to America. Yet in his more than 30 years of political life, Biden is a long way from that Republican reverie. The Democratic candidate is considered, like his vice-president, a moderate, often a centrist in front of his Party colleagues. Such representation can be seen in his decisions as senator and vice president, positions that need a lot of political articulation.

In order to run for president, he has already taken controversial steps. In G.W.’s government Bush’s administration, he supported the Iraq War and in 1994 proposed a bill that increases minimum sentences, a strong driver of the prison population. He was also accused of plagiarizing speeches, for which he apologized, and of sexual harassment, which he denies. These were the fuse to unite with Kamala Harris, because in addition to neutralizing the accusations of harassment, for being black and the daughter of immigrants, represents the demographic change that the U.S. is experiencing – decisive to win in Nevada and intensify the campaign in Texas.

Foreign Policy: The Challenge

The importance of this election and its polarization went beyond the dispute between right and left or conservative and progressive. There is a problem of global political location, and this is clearer now in this pandemic. The growth of China’s influence, especially through the New Silk Road, which has expanded its strength in political relations around the world, has shaken American hegemony.

Donald Trump’s proposal during his four years in office can be summarized in his slogan “America First”. It was based on trying to resume industrial development and job creation in the country, combined with new trade agreements that would give priority to national production, and end what he called “endless wars,” like the wars in the Middle East.

This point is perhaps the main difference between Democrats and Republicans in this election. In comparison to the Obama administration, Donald Trump was a less warmongering president, even not getting involved in any warlike conflict and also promising the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. In contrast, during the Obama administrations there were at least 26,000 bombings in 7 countries.

Another important issue in the foreign policy relationship is the change in “tone”. Biden must get closer to the countries of Western Europe, rebuild its old alliances and strengthen multilateralism. Institutions such as the UN, WHO, NATO, must once again be protagonists in this period and mediators of possible conflicts that may exist between Washington and Beijing.

And the challenge will be great. This Sunday (11/15) the largest block of trade cooperation in the world was created, the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP). It will be formed by fifteen countries from Asia/Pacific, being China, Japan, South Korea, member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and also Australia and New Zealand. The absence of the USA in this peaceful trade relationship further strengthens China as the main political leadership of this bloc.

“Build Back Better”

Donald Trump’s government has formulated a democratic crisis never before seen on the US political scene. As a result, the election of the Democratic candidate has become an appeal for all those who go against the setbacks brought by the Republican candidate. Moreover, when added to the crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2008 crisis, it becomes possible to observe that U.S. politics fails to intervene and guarantee socioeconomic rights aimed at the welfare of all citizens.

The poor performance of the US in the midst of the pandemic has shown that private insurance does not guarantee the right to health for the entire population. Since several patients had no private plan and were afraid of the high debts generated by hospital costs, several cases of Covid-19 were reported with delays, a fact that may have increased the mortality of the disease.

Aiming to ensure an extension of this right, former President Barack Obama formulated, still in 2010, the Obamacare Project, which aims to ensure health insurance to 97% of U.S. citizens. However, President Donald Trump has neglected this project and is trying to include it in the Justice. With this, Joe Biden, aiming to ensure greater access to health, puts in his proposal a greater attention and expansion of this project.

The evolution in welfare measures is not restricted only to the health area. Unlike his predecessor and opponent, Biden proposes an expansion of free education and the end of absurd policies against immigrants. Furthermore, the international community expects the next president to return to the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and which was excluded from the Trump plans.

Thus, it is possible to see that Joseph Biden bases his proposal on greater accessibility to social, economic and cultural rights, which is quite different from the actions of the current government. However, since several election campaigns differ from the practices of governance, it will only be possible to affirm that Biden represents a democratic renewal when his proposals become – or not – real measures.

Biden’s election day: the streets of the United States in celebration. Photo: Gayatri Malhotra

Biden will face a country extremely ideologically divided, in the midst of a health crisis with the highest number of Coronavirus deaths in the world and in economic crisis. Moreover, if he is to spend eight years as president, it will be essential to better deal with internal structural issues, such as the economic crisis in the Rust Belt, and the demographic transition in the Sun Belt, where whites walk to be numerical minorities.

Since Brazilian soil, in addition to internal U.S. issues – the debates in search of improvements in the social welfare of the U.S. population, reduction of economic inequalities and the fight against racism, for example – there is also concern with foreign policy. As mentioned, we face great turns in global power axes, with the strengthening of China. In addition, with the Trump government, the reference to “strong men” government also became prestigious in countries, such as Brazil, most influenced by the US. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether both internally and externally, a democratic renewal can be said to exist, and not a vote for being against Donald Trump alone.

By João Victor dos Reis Leandro [1], Henrique Reis Barbosa de Oliveira [2] and Philippe Silva [3].

For more information: 

[1] Graduating in Law from UFMG. Extensionist of the Center for the Study of Transitional Justice (CJT/UFMG);

[2] Graduating in Law at UFMG. Extensionist of the Center for the Study of Transitional Justice (CJT/UFMG);

[3] Master and Bachelor of Laws from UFMG. Volunteer researcher at the Center for the Study of Transitional Justice (CJT/UFMG).