How Biden’s election affects the world


The successful holding of the US presidential election on November 3 is a welcome relief to the world.  Several weeks ago, the Covid-19 outbreak and its resulting economic fallout, national protests over racial inequality and a fraudulent poll narrative pushed by incumbent President Trump made everyone worry over the prospect of a chaotic and violent voting.

The American electorate is concerned about whether the country will be in flames over the exercise, and other countries are watching for its spillover effects around the world.

US President Donald Trump vs Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the most closely watched election around the world. COLLAGE BY IDSI

The highest voter turnout in 120 years reflected the Americans’ anxiety over the future of the country and their wish to make their voices heard.  The estimated 160 million votes cast — 67 percent of eligible voters — were 10-percentage points higher than those from the 2016 election.

The world’s attention to the US election was over worries on both the US capacity and
commitment to lead the world. The Covid-19 calamity was the first global crisis in the post-World War 2 era in which the US was not playing the pivotal role in its resolution.

The “America First” rhetoric that saw the country withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised doubts over the US’ commitment to the multilateral world order with America in pivot set-up post-war.  Never in history has a US presidential election been that closely watched around the world.

Worry not about the power vacuum

The latest counting trend favors Biden, and he has probably delivered an acceptance speech by the time this article appears in the paper.  The doomsday scenario that everyone feared had prompted the state and the federal government to put up a more robust election infrastructure; there are minimal reports of hitches and any legal challenge based on technical grounds can quickly be quashed.

The US Supreme Court demonstrated its legal proficiency on matters of national importance in resolving the contentious Al Gore electoral challenge in 2000.  The legal challenges brought by Trump on the ground published in the press are not likely to prosper.  One should note that almost all previous recounts in US electoral history reaffirmed the earlier count, and this year’s institution of more stringent counting procedure makes claims of miscounting unlikely to succeed.  The fact that neither a state nor the federal court has issued an order to stop counting as Trump lawyers wanted showed that Trump’s charges often lacked merit.

Biden’s handling of the post-election counting impasse is of statesman’s quality.  He refrained from claiming early victory to avoid inflaming emotion of the other side.  His continuing emphasis of a president for all, not just red or blue, stood in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of Trump.  These gestures reflected the age-old wisdom of magnanimity in victory and are essential in the post-election reconciliation process.

In a way, this election reflected both the American promise and American peril.

Its behavior showcasing the American trust in peaceful elections to make social change is still mostly intact.  Yet, the results also revealed an electorate divided into all sorts of ways — by region, race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, education level and generation.

An overwhelming majority of African Americans, Latinos and Asians, and a sizable majority of young people and the educated moved by concerns about health and racial inequality voted for the Democratic candidate.  In contrast, sizable majorities of white, evangelical Christian, rural, and non-college-educated voters concerned more with law and order and the economy voted for the Republican candidate.  The 2020 election starkly revealed a divided society in need of significant reform; Republican performed much better than expected, and Biden cannot ignore their voices.

Gains from dealing with Covid-19

The American record on Covid-19 control was the Achilles heel of Trump in the election.

The country has reported more than 10 million infections and is marching toward 250,000 dead. And the record-breaking daily high of more than 130,000 new cases on November 6 (Worldometer) revealed the gravity of the situation.  The country’s economic and social life cannot return to normal without resolving the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden made Covid-19 the central campaign issue, and he is likely to implement more stringent social distancing or even lockdown measures in his control of coronavirus disease 2019.  There is enough evidence around the world that the lockdown has probably been the most effective measure in controlling the pandemic.  Experience in New York highlighted the success of the lockdown and complementary social distancing in April and May.

Early availability of vaccine still calls for reconciling social distancing with probably less stringent lockdown measures for some time to allow the vaccinated population to reach the community herd immunity level estimated at 30-percent vaccinated population upward.

The government can alleviate the adverse impact of lockdowns by providing job and small-business support.  There is broad consensus around the world on such an approach, and the US Congress has bipartisan support for it.

Biden already committed to staying in the WHO and the new pro-vaccine measure will convince many vaccine skeptics around the world to help in the early stopping of the pandemic.  In the short term, there will be a shock to the global economy as lockdowns will be more widespread, but in the medium to long term, Biden’s trust in science will help to block the pandemic from lingering on.

Multilateral approach

Biden has committed to rejoining the Paris accord and is likely to renegotiate the World Trade Organization or WTO mechanism to refocus American energy on resolving the challenging domestic division.  A more multilateral approach to critical global issues will lower international tensions, especially in the face of US-China rivalry in trade and security issues.  The two powers will cooperate in areas of mutual benefit and differ on issues that entail protracted resolution.  The more conciliatory way of conducting global affairs will allow all players more elbow room to adjust.

Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

New Worlds by IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks.

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