American democracy is still tottering. Before the national elections, the Tyrant claimed he could not lose and even publicly called up his brown-shirts (gun-toting private militias like the Proud Boys) to intimidate voters at their polling places. At time of writing, he refuses to accept the will of the people after the elections. He lost the popular vote on November 3rd by roughly 80,000,000 to 72,000,000, but he calls the vote a fraud, has launched two dozen law suits to overturn the election, frustrated the legal transition from going into effect, and now is trying to subvert the Electoral College, which meets on December 14th, by pressuring state governors to appoint electors to favor him over Mr. Biden.
His acts are technically legal but they violate our “norms,” customs of official behavior, mature practices of a well tested democracy. America is becoming like certain Third World countries or large traditionally authoritarian states, where elections are manipulated, presidents refuse to go, power is unaccountable, and the people lose hard won liberties and rights. Past one-term presidents, most recently George H.W. Bush, conceded the election within a few days when the press called the election, before the official count, which can take several weeks as it has this time.
Moreover, the Republican Party refuses to concede the election, and millions of the president’s “base” still think the Democrats stole it. Whether the Tyrant will even attend the formal inauguration on January 20th, graciously handing over power to Mr. Biden and doing his part to reunite the country, is uncertain. He may hold his own ceremony to continue in office at his hotel in downtown Washington. If he does so, he will have to be arrested as in open violation of the constitution and the laws. But who will arrest him ? Presumably federal marshals of the Justice Department. But on January 20th there may be no attorney general if Mr. Biden’s choice has not been confirmed by the Senate. The nation could descend into civil war.
Only a few days ago did a prominent Republican in his administration break with the current president. His attorney general, William Barr, stated officially that the Justice Department had uncovered “no voting fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” The real heroes in this crisis of American democracy are the middle-ranked state officials and lower-ranked election commissioners and poll workers — often Republican — who patiently obeyed the law, did their duty, and insured a fair vote. One of the best was the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensberger, a conservative Republican, who stood up to the president and insisted that Mr. Biden had won fair and square in Georgia. That was especially honorable since Georgia is facing two run-off elections for its two senators on January 5th, which will determine whether the Republicans retain their slight majority in the Senate and thus are again in position to frustrate the whole Biden legislative program.
The winner of one election was President-elect Joseph (“Joe”) Biden Jr., 78, and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, 56. Mr. Biden was an old senator from Delaware until he joined the Obama administration as vice-president. He has long experience in American government and is known for compassion and collaboration across party lines, unlike the Tyrant. Ms. Harris was twice elected attorney general and once senator of California. She is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica. Technically Black (as Americans divide the human race), she is vividly aware of the plight of minorities. She is a tough prosecutor, rather “left,” and is already being mentioned for the presidency in 2024.
Also the whole House of Representatives (435 seats) and one third of the Senate (35 seats) were elected. The Democrats still have a majority in the House, though they lost some seats. In the Senate, Republicans form a majority (50 to 48) unless Georgia elects two Democrats, which will produce a 50–50 tie that the vice-president, who presides over the Senate, will break. There is currently a fierce campaign in Georgia.
So begins the government of the United States for the next four years. Mr. Biden has begun to form his administration, which will not be confirmed by the Senate until January 3, before the Georgia Senate race. Named so far are Antony Blinken, 58, secretary of state, Jake Sullivan, 43, national security advisor, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, 68, UN ambassador. These three are most significant from a foreign policy point of view. Blinken has been deputy secretary and advisor, Sullivan aide to such officials, and Thomas-Greenfield a career diplomat. Other appointees, like Janet Yellen, a Keynesian economist and past chairperson of the Federal Reserve, to Treasury, and John Kerry as “envoy” on climate change, are very suggestive of future policy.
The Biden administration intends to return to American leadership abroad, but friends and allies must bear in mind that America will focus most on domestic policy. The country is deeply divided. The elections were actually very close. Almost half the country refuses to accept that things can go on as usual. Injustices are too deep, going back decades to divisions during the Vietnam War, stagflation, abandonment of the IMF gold standard, Milton Friedman-style liberal economics, reductions of progressive taxation, increasing national debt, and globalization benefiting principally the rich. The outgoing president mobilized a “base” of mostly white workers whose jobs have gone abroad. They have deep grievances against “elites” in Washington who have made the working class pay for financial liberalization. Jobs, unions, homes, family life, religious values — all seem threatened. Workers support the Tyrant because he “hears them” and promises to “drain the swamp.” He will “make America great again,” if that could be done by isolationism and protectionism. Americans want globalization to slow down.
There has not been an increase in real incomes of ordinary Americans since the Carter presidency (1980). The richest 10 percent increased their share of total pretax income from about 33 percent in the late 1970s to 50 percent by 2012. The top one percent alone now capture more than 20 percent of total income, double their share they received before Reagan. Between 2009 and 2012, the top one percent have captured 95 percent of all gains from economic growth (Emanuel Saez). Between 1973 and 2011, productivity increased 80 percent, but median hourly compensation rose only 11 percent (Lawrence Mishel). The average pay for the 25 highest-paid hedge fund managers climbed from $134 million in 2002 to an astonishing $537 million in 2012 (Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh). Meanwhile the highest income tax bracket has fallen from 70 percent in the Nixon period to 35 percent (Reagan) to 23 percent — less than the middle classes (Saez and Zucman). Reenacting a progressive tax code will be the key to justice, including racial justice, in the country.
America must put its domestic house in order. The elections were not a mandate for a Democratic party legislative and executive revolution as in the New Deal of 1933. The fears of the Tyrant’s supporters for the old core of America before globalization will have to be addressed. Progressive change — as in ending the coronavirus pandemic and restoring the economy, enacting a progressive tax code, getting it right this time on racial justice, restraining the police, protecting labor in an age of artificial intelligence, protecting the schools from assault weapons, moderating immigration as befits a nation of immigrants, cooperating with other nations on green energy, and returning to international leadership among allies and adversaries — will have to be moderate. Americans must reunite the sweet land of liberty.
In foreign affairs, President-elect Biden has already announced ambitions to return to the Paris accords on climate change, return if possible to the Iran deal, and negotiate START-4 on nuclear weapons. Whether he can revive the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaties seems impossible. Completing the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), which eight nations, including the U.S., of 44 actual and potential nuclear powers, are preventing from entering into force, looks for the far future. But there is some potential for a return to the Partnership for Peace in NATO in order to reach the Common European Home proposed at the end of the Cold War by Mikhail Gorbachev. Several Italians of the European Federalist Movement have been reviving this idea.
President Emmanuel Macron of France has already exercised leadership in this field. In his address to the French ambassadors at the end of August 2019, he said, “Il nous faut construire une nouvelle architecture de confiance et de sécurité en Europe, parce que le continent européen ne sera jamais stable, ne sere jamais en sécurité, si nous ne pacifions pas et ne clarifions pas nos relations avec Russie.” In his subsequent address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he said, “Nous avons forgé ici a l’echelle d’un continent et malgré tous les vents contraires une architecture commune au nom de la grande fraternité européenne dont Victor Hugo rêvait, avec la volonté de bâtir la maison commune européenne, évoquée par Mikhail Gorbatchev devant cette assemblée en 1989.”