US President Donald Trump’s time in the White House is coming to an end. But, as has become obvious over the past few weeks, he is unlikely to deliver a gracious concession speech.
Instead, the president has spent much of his time since the November 3 election plotting ways to undo what has turned out to be a rather clear victory for President-elect Joe Biden — all credible media outlets have given Biden 306 electoral college votes to the outgoing president’s 232. The successful candidate needs to amass 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency.
Time is simply running out for Trump. By December 8, all states are required to certify their results, with the electors in each state to cast their votes by December 14. The inauguration of the next president takes place on January 20 2021.
None of this should obscure the anti-democratic coup d’état Trump is attempting as he refuses to concede defeat. However, it is unlikely to succeed.
His legal challenges alleging fraud and misconduct are close to running their course. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against his claim that election “observers” were too far away in Philadelphia from workers counting ballots. In Georgia, a hand recount has finished with Biden confirmed the victor. And Michigan lawmakers appear ready to defy the president, who now seems intent on wreaking havoc on the certification process.
Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election are real. His attempt to influence Republican state legislators, in effect to persuade them to replace electors committed to voting for Biden with electors ready to vote for Trump, is profoundly undemocratic. Under a winner-takes-all system, Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes should be going to President-elect Biden, the clear winner of the state by almost three percentage points.
If Trump had succeeded in overturning the results, one could go as far as questioning America’s status as a liberal democracy. Not since Southern secessionists contested the legitimacy of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 has a single actor been so nefarious in their attempts to undermine an incoming president.
Look no further than Trump’s actions on the transition. With over 250,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, and case numbers exploding around the country, one would think an orderly transition in which the incoming president is given access to experts knowledgeable about the country’s readiness for mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine would be an urgent and unquestioned priority.
But not in Trump’s White House. The General Services Administration, run by a political appointee of the president, must certify Biden as the winner before the incoming administration is given access to top public health officials.
Such certification will eventually take place, as the president simply runs out of options. We suspect he will grudgingly acknowledge he will not be president for the next four years, repeating a never-ending series of fabrications about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. His arguments will resonate with his “base” and will have consequences beyond this election cycle.
Analysis by the Pew Research Center finds:
While a 59% majority of all voters say elections in the United States were run and administered well, just 21% of Trump supporters have a positive view of how elections were administered nationally. Among Biden supporters, 94% say the elections were run and administered well.
The magnitude of these differences is stark and suggests Biden will have much work to do in bringing the country together — if indeed that is possible. Biden himself is attempting to restore moral leadership to a country torn apart by pandemic, racial division and illiberal tendencies in the executive branch of government.
Rhetorically, Biden has hit many of the right notes, emphasising themes of unity and national healing. How this will play out in a policy sense will be seen once he takes office.
Of course, Trump will continue to make life difficult for the incoming Biden administration. Some reports suggest he is already considering running for office in 2024.
So, it should not be surprising if the outgoing president leaves a number of surprises for President-elect Biden. Some press reports in the US are stating that on Middle East policy, trade with China, securing oil drilling leases in Alaska, and the Iran nuclear deal — which Biden may wish to rejoin — the Trump team is doing its best to reduce the incoming administration’s policy options.
Political theorist David Runciman argues that in democracies molehills are often made out of mountains. Vote counting, constantly updating vote tallies, failed legal challenges, recounts, the wearing effects of days of politics dominating life, Biden’s non-spectacular calmness, certification and the meeting of the Electoral College will turn this post-election mountain into a molehill as Trump’s attempted coup will eventually fail.
However, Trump has regularly shown us that, in the internet age, mountains can also be made out of molehills. The president’s lies and tweets have turned his presidency into a kind of reality TV show that has in turns transfixed, energised or horrified much of the world. Nevertheless, the show is in its final season and has not been renewed.
We are reminded of an article Rebecca Solnit wrote during the earliest days of the Trump presidency. In it, she presciently captures the predicament in which Trump now finds himself. Although his base and a large number of Republicans still support him, Trump has always surrounded himself with loyal followers reluctant to question their leader’s judgment and authority. This produces a form of isolation that is of Trump’s own making, a consequence of the man’s temperament and unwillingness to tolerate uncomfortable truths.
Reflecting on Trump-like leaders, Solnit explained:
In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.
Of course, sooner or later Trump will realise the presidency must be vacated. He will have to face the one thing in his life he has always tried to avoid: defeat.
With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.
While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.
If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.
Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.
The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.
Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.
Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.
This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.
Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.
Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.
New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.
Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.
After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.
A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.
While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.
In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.
Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.
Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.
In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).
A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.
The world may have expected the chaos and uncertainty of the US presidential election to end when Joe Biden was declared the winner last weekend. But these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a conventional president.
Concessions that used to be a part of the political process have been replaced by baseless allegations of voter fraud and election stealing, loud, all-caps shouting on Twitter and plans for a “Million MAGA March” on Washington.
The courts are the proper venue for candidates to challenge the results of elections. But a legal process requires evidence of illegality — and as of yet, the Trump campaign has produced very little.
So, then, how long can Trump string things out — and, more importantly, what’s the end game?
Lawsuits can be filed for a number of reasons after an election: violations of state law by local election officials, discrimination against voters, political manipulation of the outcome or irregularities in the ballot counting process.
In one case filed in Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to stop the vote count in Philadelphia on the grounds Trump campaign officials were not allowed to be close enough to the ballot-counting process.
Under questioning from the judge, the Trump campaign lawyers were forced to admit a “non-zero number” of Republican observers were present. The judge, clearly exasperated, responded by asking, “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?”
The most interesting – and perhaps most viable – case concerns whether a state court can extend the time limit for mail-in ballots to arrive.
In this case, the Trump campaign challenged a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow mail-in votes received up to three days after election day to be counted.
A group of Republican attorneys-general filed a brief at the US Supreme Court this week urging it to take up the case.
Amy Coney Barrett, the newly appointed Supreme Court justice, did not participate in the earlier decisions, and it remains to be seen if her vote would change the outcome should the case reach the court.
Hoever, this may all be a moot point, as there are likely not enough late-arriving ballots for Trump to make up the sizeable gap to Biden in the state.
Attorney-General William Barr has also inserted the Department of Justice into the post-election drama, authorising investigations by US attorneys into alleged voter fraud across the country. The move outraged the top official in charge of voter fraud investigations, prompting him to resign.
The Department of Justice has historically stayed out of elections, a policy Barr criticised in his memo, saying
such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.
The department’s about-face is important for several reasons. It changes long-standing practice, as Barr himself admits. The general practice, he wrote, had been to counsel that
overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.
Of course, Barr has ingratiated himself with Trump before, most notably in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department expressing concerns over the Mueller investigation.
Many had wondered why Barr had remained unusually quiet for so long on the election. It appears he is back, and willing to support Trump and the Republican cause.
Given Trump and Republicans have very little chance of overturning the result through these tactics, the question remains: what is the goal?
Yes, this all could be explained simply as Trump not liking to lose. But setting such indulgences aside, the reason for this obstruction appears to be two upcoming US Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5.
Under Georgia law, a runoff is required between the two candidates that came out on top if neither wins 50% of the vote in the state election.
The Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48-seat edge in the Senate, meaning control of the chamber now comes down to who wins the two Georgia runoffs.
The positions taken by Republican senators in recent days are telling — they have stood firmly behind Trump’s challenges and gone out of their way not to congratulate Biden on his victory. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota put it bluntly,
We need [Trump’s] voters […] we want him helping in Georgia.
The Senate plays a crucial role for the Biden presidency. If it remains in Republican hands, this could leave Biden with few avenues to implement his favoured policies on the economy, climate change or health care and would deny Democrats the ability to expand the Supreme Court.
Already, it’s clear the focus of the GOP is shifting toward Georgia. The two Republican Senate candidates this week called for the resignation of the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, repeating Trump’s baseless claims over voter fraud in Georgia.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this was done to appease Trump
lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.
The long-term implications are momentous. The US is already bitterly divided, as demonstrated by the large voter turnout on both sides in the election. This division will only deepen the more Trump presses his claims and signals he won’t go away silently.
If half the country buys into his claims of a stolen election, the real danger is the erosion of democracy in the US as we know it.
In his acceptance speech at the weekend, US President-Elect Joe Biden signalled a return to science as a key policy shift for the United States.
“Americans have called on us to […] marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time,” he said, assuring the public the Biden-Harris COVID plan “will be built on the bedrock of science”.
His message, on its surface, is a response to the Trump administration’s disdain for scientific advice, most notably in the COVID response and withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
But Biden’s remarks are deeper and more interesting than a simple spruik for science-led policy.
Is Trump’s administration anti-scientific? Yes and no.
According to a report compiled by the journal Science, the Trump White House has indeed pursued an agenda of suppressing science by slashing funding. But this agenda has been largely unsuccessful.
During Trump’s term, funding for the National Institutes for Health rose by 39% and the budget for the National Science Foundation rose by 17%. This is explained, at least in part, by Congress resisting the White House’s efforts to defund science.
Setting aside direct attacks on funding, the Trump administration has also positioned itself as anti-science in other, more visible ways.
It has a track record of ignoring scientific advice on issues ranging from the deadliness of COVID, to the impact of human activity on the climate, to the bizarre “Sharpiegate” episode in which Trump apparently used a marker pen to alter the forecast track of Hurricane Dorian.
Yet it would be wrong to paint Trump as unequivocally anti-science.
He poured money into quantum computing and artificial intelligence, and invested heavily in space exploration, promising a return to the Moon this decade. And, at the risk of stretching this argument beyond breaking point, he called on civil engineering to deliver his Mexican border wall.
Trump also used science to win an election. Let’s not forget the pivotal role of Cambridge Analytica in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. A mixture of data science and empirical psychology delivered voters to Trump in the millions.
While it is difficult to know exactly what methods Cambridge Analytica used, it is possible that a method known as psychographic targeting was part of their approach. This involves analysing users’ behaviour on social media sites such as Facebook — for example, by tracking the content that individuals “like” — as a basis for delivering targeted advertising that fits a person’s personality.
It is perhaps no accident, then, that quantum computing and artificial intelligence got the thumbs-up. In the world of voter manipulation, it is hard to think of a scientific investment that would yield a better return.
Painting Trump’s administration as entirely anti-intellectual overlooks one of the key factors that delivered him electoral success in the first place. His 2016 victory was in one sense a scientific achievement, delivered by technological algorithms designed to exploit publicly available data with unprecedented effectiveness.
Such a result is absolutely repeatable. As long as methods such as psychographic targeting go unregulated in the political sphere, future candidates could leverage data science in much the way Trump did to win the White House.
Biden’s approach is not just a pivot back to respecting expertise, but also a pledge to embrace science in the public interest. The Biden-Harris COVID plan, for example, will be founded on expert advice but will also, as Biden explained, “be constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern”.
Hopefully this heralds an end to the use of science to achieve narrow and selfish political ends, and a return to the appropriation of science for the common good.
While I applaud the kind of science Biden wants to embrace, I daresay he faces a difficult choice. If he refuses to use science to further any partisan political ends, his party runs the risk of getting rolled in the next election by a demagogue who does not suffer the same burden of decency.
Perhaps he can get ahead of this by asking us all to have a serious conversation, on a global scale, about the use of science in winning elections.
At the very least, we should reject the narrative that the Trump administration repudiates science in its entirety. That only makes it harder to see the danger the improper use of science poses to democracy.
We are, it is often said, living in a post-truth world. The Trump administration’s denial of evidence, and its capacity to lie about everything from coronavirus cures to election results, provide several classic examples. After four years of “alternative facts”, Biden’s vocal support for scientific expertise was a breath of fresh air.
But, perhaps unintentionally, Biden has also revealed a dangerous faultline of democracy. By positioning his administration as one that uses science only for the common good, he is tacitly acknowledging democracy’s vulnerability to science and technology.
Biden’s words remind us that technological advances threaten to propel us into a world where political differences become irreconcilable, and respect for democratic norms is not guaranteed.
Tackling the health, economic and social crises wrought by the coronavirus pandemic is the first order of business for US president-elect Joe Biden and his transition team.
Biden this week announced his bipartisan coronavirus taskforce to begin work immediately and continue after he is sworn in as president in January.
The taskforce inherits a range of challenges. Coronavirus is now rampant in the US, and the Trump administration has run down the public health infrastructure and largely abandoned attempts to control the pandemic, preferring to gamble on the imminent arrival of a vaccine.
The urgency of the problem is highlighted in forecasts released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These predict that in the week ending November 28, there will be 450,000-960,000 new coronavirus cases and 4,600-11,000 deaths from COVID.
Even these stark warnings may be overly optimistic. On November 8, the US was averaging 116,448 new cases a day. So far, more than ten million Americans have been infected, and significant numbers remain disabled with prolonged side-effects. The situation will undoubtedly be much worse by the time Biden is sworn in on January 20.
Biden’s coronavirus taskforce is headed by three physicians: Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general; David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, who is recognised for her work on promoting health and health-care equity for marginalised populations. All are well known in public health, science and political circles.
Biden said in his acceptance speech these leading experts will:
…help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint… That plan will be built on bedrock science… I’ll spare no effort, none, or any commitment, to turn around this pandemic.
The taskforce will build on several months of consultation and work under the auspices of the Biden campaign.
The Biden coronavirus plan, issued during the campaign, is a comprehensive document that recognises the responsibilities of the federal government in ensuring states, counties, local communities, health-care and incarceration facilities, educational systems and individuals have the protections, resources and information needed to address the pandemic. Special focus is placed on tackling the racial and ethnic disparities highlighted by the pandemic.
The taskforce must reach out to the states — both Democrat and Republican — as the Biden plan relies on their cooperation with new federal initiatives. These include possible mask mandates, supply chains for personal protective equipment, testing supplies, therapeutics, vaccines and needed additional health-care services.
The taskforce has already briefed Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. Biden then issued a public statement on November 9, further detailing his plans for tackling the pandemic and rebuilding the economy.
His statement coincided with news from Pfizer about the promising test results for its coronavirus vaccine. Biden’s response was one of cautious optimism, in stark contrast to President Donald Trump, who hyped the stock market implications.
The taskforce’s work is unlikely to step on the toes of the White House coronavirus advisory group, which has largely ceased to function as Trump has lost interest.
The former chief spokesperson for the White House coronavirus advisory group Deborah Birx has issued an urgent memo pleading for “much more aggressive action” to curb the virus.
The Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic in recent months is succinctly summed up by White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows:
“We are not going to control the pandemic.”
This is ironic in light of Meadows’ own infection, joining Trump and many other members of the White House in having contracted the coronavirus.
In 2008, the outgoing Bush administration was willing to take advice and guidance from the Obama transition team on efforts to address the global financial crisis. Most notably, Bush agreed to Obama’s request to ask Congress to release more funds for the economic bailout.
Biden will now push to get the Senate to pass a coronavirus relief bill that is so urgently needed. This would include additional unemployment benefits and funding boosts for treatment, testing and tracing, and for education and health-care systems.
Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have each recently indicated their interest in passing such a measure, but they are at odds on the scope of legislation.
Could Biden’s input help them find common ground, or will partisanship prevail?
The Biden-Harris team will need to work simultaneously on these issues and a raft of others. Biden must, in short order, announce his cabinet and get them working on their agendas; assess which of Trump’s actions need to be undone (including withdrawal from the World Health Organisation and the Paris climate agreement); develop legislation and executive orders if he can’t get the Senate to work cooperatively and pass bills that come forward from the House of Representatives; and have a contingency plan in case the US Supreme Court overturns Obamacare in 2021.
Biden’s transition team features many people who previously worked for the Obama administration. This bodes well for strengthening and rebuilding Obamacare into Bidencare. Ensuring people have affordable access to health care has never been more important.
Biden has also promised to reinstate the national and international public health and first responder systems that Trump dismantled. This includes bringing back the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense and continued support for the work of the World Health Organisation.
None of this will be successful unless, and until, Biden can bring Congress together to act and simultaneously begin healing the divisions in the nation. He must restore trust in government and science, ensure transparency and accountability, and build a common purpose so people will act for the common good. That’s a big ask — but the coronavirus pandemic demands it.
Throughout the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Joe Biden spent significant time reassuring American allies around the world that Trump’s America is not “who we are” and pledging “we’ll be back”.
Now that he’s the president-elect, those who were most worried about another four years of “America First” foreign policy are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.
Much has been written about a Biden presidency being focused on restoration, or as David Graham of The Atlantic put it,
returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.
This idea has revolved around restoring the post-1945 liberal international order – a term subject to a lot of academic contention. The US played a central role in creating and leading the order around key institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the like.
However, there is now no shortage of evidence that many of these institutions have come under extreme strain in recent years and have been unable respond to the challenges of the 21st century geopolitics.
For one, the US no longer wields the relative economic power or influence it had in the middle of last century. There are also increasingly vocal critics in the US — led by Trump — who question America’s foreign commitments.
Moreover, nations themselves are no longer the only important actors in the international system. Terror groups like the Islamic State now have the ability to threaten global security, while corporations like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have such economic power, their combined revenue would qualify them for the G20.
Equally, the so-called liberal international order was built on the idea that a growing number of democracies would be willing to work within institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO and act in ways that would make everyone in the system better off.
Clearly, that has not been the case for the past 15 years as democracies around the world slowly eroded, from European Union states like Hungary and Poland to Brazil to the US.
Trump’s 2016 election seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for the idea of a truly liberal international order with the US as a benevolent leader.
From his first days in office, Trump was on a mission to roll back US commitments to myriad organisations, deals and relationships around the world. Most significantly, this included questioning commitments to its closest allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that had been unwavering for generations.
Biden takes over at a precarious time. The world is more unstable than it has been in decades and the US image has been severely damaged by the actions and rhetoric of his predecessor.
There is no naivety on Biden’s part that he will be able to fix everything that was broken along the way. After all, many of these challenges predated Trump and are merely a reflection of a changing world.
Furthermore, Biden will have many pressing domestic issues that will demand his immediate attention — first and foremost addressing the greatest public health and economic crisis in a century.
We are also likely to see growing pressure for Biden to pursue a more progressive climate policy and a better-managed industrial policy, though he’ll be greatly constrained in what he can do if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate.
All of this will limit both his bandwidth and appetite for an overly ambitious foreign policy agenda.
Given this, Biden’s presidency should be approached with managed expectations. Unlike President Barack Obama, he did not campaign on lofty promises of change. He ran on being the opposite of Trump and, as such, being better able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy.
This will mean a swift return to multilateralism and rejoining the deals and organisations Trump abandoned, from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal to the the World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation.
Given these moves by Trump required no congressional input, Biden will be able to return to Obama-era policies in a relatively straightforward fashion through executive action.
However, this didn’t produce the expected “blue wave” and national repudiation of Trumpism, so it remains to be seen whether friends and foes alike can be convinced the past four years were an aberration. In essence, how good can America’s word be moving forward?
Biden’s campaign put a great emphasis on strengthening America’s existing alliances and forging new ones to maintain what he frequently refers to as “a free world”.
This will involve a substantial change from the way Trump managed US alliances, nurturing relationships with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, for example, and some of the least liberal eastern European states.
This shift will benefit America’s traditional allies in western Europe the most. However, these countries are more determined than ever to stop depending on the whims of the Electoral College to decide their security. Instead, they are strengthening their own defence capabilities.
Lastly, on the greatest geopolitical question of our time, there is no doubt the US will continue its competition with China in the coming years, no matter who is president.
Yet, there are still plenty of questions around how Biden will handle this relationship. His campaign adopted a much more hawkish stance toward China compared to the Obama administration, which reflects a growing bipartisan consensus the US must get tougher with Beijing.
At the same time, there is significant debate about how far his administration should push Beijing on issues ranging from technological competition to human rights, particularly given Biden has said the US needs to find a way to cooperate with China on other pressing issues, such as climate change, global health and arms control.
America might be coming back under Biden, but this is not the same world or the same country it once was. So, while the restoration of the US will be challenging, one thing is certain: “America First” finished second.
In a post-election poll for the University of Melbourne’s US election webinar series we asked the several hundred people in the audience if President Donald Trump’s defeat would mean the death of “Trumpism”. A full 92% said “no”.
Now that Democratic challenger Joe Biden has won the election and will become the next president, the logical question for the Republican Party is: what’s next?
Will Trump — and Trumpism — remain dominant features of American life after the election, and if so, what does this mean for the Republicans?
If you are conservative, there are at least five reasons to feel concerned about Trump’s legacy — and another five to be optimistic about it.
1) Biden has won the presidency with the largest popular vote tally in American history (more than 75 million and counting).
His mandate is considerable for this reason. He now gets to establish the country’s political agenda, both domestically and internationally. Republicans will seek to block him at every turn, but as they have now lost the presidency, they have also lost the initiative.
2) Trump’s enduring popularity (no Republican has ever received more votes in a presidential election) means he will continue to set the agenda and tone of conservative politics for at least the next few years.
This will no doubt upset conservative critics and “Never Trumpers” like David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin, as well as activists at the Lincoln Project, who have articulated a revulsion for Trump since he became a presidential contender.
For them, he represents a brand of populism antithetical to conservative values like the importance of institutions in public life, reverence for good character and the rule of law.
3) Trump’s ability to galvanise grassroots conservatives around the country means polarisation is set to endure.
This will happen at two levels. Polarisation will likely deepen between the two parties, making bipartisan decision-making on COVID-19, China, climate change and the national debt impossible.
And the rift between the two wings of the GOP will likely widen, making a return to civility and compromise more nostalgic than real. The party looks set to be a noisy voice of discordant protest – “This election was stolen!” – rather than a key force of conservative renewal.
There is already evidence of division within the GOP over whether to support Trump’s claims of electoral fraud, with many choosing to remain silent rather than pick a side.
4) Despite being the party that liberated African Americans from slavery after the Civil War, the Republicans remain too white and too rural today.
These twin demographics are in long-term decline, which makes replicating Trump’s electoral success on the national stage a losing game. As long as Trump’s brand of ethnic nationalism and white identity politics endures, Republicans will find it hard to build the governing coalitions necessary for national power.
The GOP needs to appeal more to non-whites in the cities and suburbs. Trumpism complicates that task.
5) If the party can’t reach more diverse voters, this creates a climate where conservatism is increasingly depicted by its opponents as illegitimate and politically incorrect.
Public discourse will mutate further into a shouting match of the extremes. The reasonableness and common sense so crucial to the conservative disposition will struggle to be heard.
1) Significant parts of the political and judicial systems look likely to remain in conservative hands.
With Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment, the Supreme Court also has six conservative-leaning justices (against three liberals).
As a result of all this, conservatism will remain a vital institutional component of American politics.
2) Despite Trump’s loss, there was still a strong Republican vote among those who feel they’ve been ignored or forgotten by the Democratic Party.
The poorest states in the union generally voted GOP, while the richest went Democratic. This trend has been evident for some time, but was affirmed in the election.
And though Biden made some inroads among white voters without college degrees, their support for Trump remained strong. He won six in ten of those voters nationally, according to The Washington Post exit poll.
Expect Republicans to hone their working-class appeal as they build toward taking back the White House (with or without Trump) in 2024.
3) A white demographic decline need not spell disaster for the GOP. Despite his dog-whistle racism, Trump performed better than expected among Black voters. According to The New York Times and Post exit polls, which took into account early voting, nearly one in five Black men voted for Trump.
He also laid to rest the canard that Latino and Asian voters are the exclusive preserve of the Democratic Party. Trump fared better among both demographic groups than expected, particularly among Latino voters in Florida and Texas, where he increased his vote margin from 2016.
Overall, Trump won 26% of the non-white vote, according to the Times and Post exit polls. The trick now is to turn this into a lasting multiracial conservative voting bloc.
4) Albeit crudely, Trump has tapped into a fervour for conservative politics among large sections of the voting public that his predecessors could not and that his successors can draw strength from.
He outperformed the pre-election polls in key battleground states when everything from an economic recession to a global pandemic suggested he would struggle.
Getting past Trump’s long shadow will be a central issue for Republicans – 52% of GOP voters said they cast their ballots in professed loyalty to him.
5) The Biden win obscures how riven progressive politics have become.
Biden was a compromise candidate — the only one acceptable to both the progressive and moderate wings of his party. According to The New York Times exit poll, just 47% of Democrats voted for Biden, mainly because they supported him, while 67% said they were voting against Trump.
Biden will have to learn how to bargain not just with Republicans in Congress, but with his own side. This task would be exhausting for any leader, not least for the oldest man to ever hold the office.
Trump has increased the appeal of American conservatism, even as he has complicated its meaning. Republicans and Democrats must now find a way of appealing to a forgotten American middle class that Trump energised. That could be his most enduring and positive legacy.
That is good for democracy. And if Republicans can make this support routine, it could be good for conservatism and the diversity of ideas on which the American experiment itself depends.
Scott Morrison has lost no time pivoting to the incoming US administration, declaring on Sunday he hopes Joe Biden and his wife Jill will visit Australia for next year’s 70th anniversary of ANZUS.
“This is a profound time, not just for the United States, but for our partnership and the world more broadly,” Morrison told a news conference.
“And I look forward to forging a great partnership in the spirit of the relationships that has always existed between prime ministers of Australia and presidents of the United States.”
Those around Morrison say the government is already familiar with many figures in the Biden firmament, who were players in the Obama years.
Morrison also thanked Donald Trump and his cabinet “with whom we have had a very, very good working relationship over the years of the Trump administration and, of course, that will continue through the transition period.”
Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese retrospectively sought to put a less controversial gloss on his Friday comment, when he said Morrison should contact Trump and convey “Australia’s strong view that democratic processes must be respected”.
On Sunday Albanese said: “What I suggested was that Scott Morrison needed to stand up for democracy. He’s done that in acknowledging the election of President-elect Biden”.
Within Australia political attention is quickly turning to what a Biden administration will mean for the Morrison government’s climate change policies, and how Biden will handle China.
With an activist climate policy a central feature of Biden’s agenda, including a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 (which Australia has refused to embrace), Australia faces an increased risk of becoming isolated internationally on the issue.
That could have trade and investment implications, something of concern to the business community.
Morrison sought to highlight a common Australian-US commitment to technology.
He said he particularly welcomed campaign comments Biden made “when he showed a lot of similarity to Australia’s views on how technology can be used to address the lower emissions challenge.
“We want to see global emissions fall and it’s not enough for us to meet our commitments,” Morrison said.
“We need to have the transformational technologies that are scalable and affordable for the developing world as well, because that is where all the emissions increases are coming from … in the next 20 years,” he said.
“I believe we will have a very positive discussion about partnerships we can have with the United States about furthering those technological developments that will see a lower emissions future for the world but a stronger economy as well where we don’t say goodbye to jobs,” Morrison said.
Labor will use the Biden win as a springboard to ramp up its attack on the government over climate policy, including in parliament this week.
Albanese said Biden would reject “accounting tricks” like the government’s argument to be allowed to use carryover credits to reach emission reduction targets.
Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC the US result gave Morrison the opportunity to pivot on climate policy. Now was the time for him to say, “I don’t have to go on with all of the BS about a gas-led recovery, which is political piffle,” Turnbull said.
Chief of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said the Biden administration would place much more emphasis on climate change and energy policy.
“The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 will encourage other economies to move down this path. We are already seeing significant steps in recent times from other major trading partners such as Japan, South Korea, the UK and the European Union.
“Australia, led by industry and investor action, is already headed this way without making a formal target commitment,” Willox said.
Willox said independent Zali Steggall’s climate change bill – with a pathway to a 2050 target – provided an immediate opportunity to move the debate forward. The bill will be introduced on Monday.
“The Bill is non-partisan. 2050 is many changes of government away, but for some industries it’s just a couple of investment cycles,” Willox said. The Steggall bill is receiving considerable business support.
Willox said the other shift of importance for Australian industry from a Biden administration would be “the opportunity for the US to re-engage with China on trade and broader economic issues.
“Efforts to take the heat out of differences on global trade through a change in tone will be welcomed but there should be no illusion that a Biden administration would seek to markedly soften the US’s stance on key issues,” Willox said.
“The risk for Australia until now has been that we have been caught up as collateral damage in the US-China trade dispute.
“The future risk is that China may seek to substitute Australian exports in key sectors with goods from the US in an effort to reset their economic relationship,” Willox said.
Asked about the prospect of the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Morrison said, “I think it would be very early days to speculate on those matters. I would simply say to the United States, the door has always remained open on the TPP. It is open now. It will be open in the future and you are welcome any time.”
The American public has had its say and for the first time in a generation denied a sitting president a second term.
President Donald Trump’s tenure lasted just four years, but in that time he dragged policy on an array of key issues in a dramatic new direction.
Joe Biden’s victory, confirmed by the Associated Press late morning on Nov. 7, presents an opportunity to reset the White House agenda and put it on a different course.
Three scholars discuss what a Biden presidency may have in store in three key areas: race, the Supreme Court and foreign policy.
Brian Purnell, Bowdoin College
The next four years under a Biden administration will likely see improvements in racial justice. But to many, it will be a low bar to clear: President Donald Trump downplayed racist violence, egged on right-wing extremists and described Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate” during his four-year tenure.
Still, Biden is in some ways an unlikely president to advance a progressive racial agenda. In the 1970s, he opposed busing plans and stymied school desegregation efforts in Delaware, his home state. And in the mid-1990s he championed a federal crime bill that made incarceration rates for Black people worse. He bungled the hearings that brought Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court by allowing Republican senators to dismiss Anita Hill’s damning testimony of Thomas’ sexual harassment and by failing to allow other Black women to testify.
But that was then.
During the 2020 campaign, President-elect Biden consistently spoke about problems stemming from systemic racism. Many voters will be hoping that his actions over the next four years must match his campaign words.
One area that the Biden administration will surely address is policing and racial justice. The Justice Department can bring accountability to police reform by returning to practices the Obama administration put in place to monitor and reform police departments, such as the use of consent degrees. More difficult reforms require redressing how mass incarceration caused widespread voter disenfranchisement in Black American and Latino communities.
“My administration will incentivize states to automatically restore voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences,” Biden told The Washington Post.
The killing of George Floyd earlier this year reinvigorated talk of addressing systemic racial discrimination through fundamental changes in how police departments hold officers accountable for misconduct and excessive force. It is unclear how far President-elect Biden will walk down this road. But evoking the words of the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, he at least suggested at the Democratic National Convention that America was ready to do the hard work of “rooting out systemic racism.”
Biden can help address how Americans think about and deal with unexamined racial biases through reversing the previous administration’s executive order banning anti-racism training and workshops. In so doing, Biden can build on psychological research on bias to make American workplaces, schools and government agencies equitable, just places.
Making progress fighting systemic racism will be a slow, uphill battle. A more immediate benefit to communities of color could come through Biden’s COVID-19 pandemic response – the Trump administration’s failure to stanch the spread of the coronavirus has led to deaths and economic consequences that have disproportionately fallen on racial and ethnic minorities.
On matters of race relations in the U.S., most Americans would agree that the era of Trump saw the picture worsen. The good news for Biden as president is there is nowhere to go but up.
Morgan Marietta, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Despite the fact that American voters have given Democrats control of the presidency, the conservative Supreme Court will continue to rule on the nature and extent of constitutional rights.
These liberties are considered by the court to be “beyond the reach of majorities,” meaning they are intended to be immune from the changing beliefs of the electorate.
However, appointees of Democrats and Republicans tend to have very different views on which rights the Constitution protects and which are left to majority rule.
The dominant judicial philosophy of the conservative majority – originalism – sees rights as powerful but limited. The protection of rights recognized explicitly by the Constitution, such as the freedoms of religion, speech and press and the freedom to bear arms, will likely grow stronger over the next four years. But the protection of expansive rights that the court has found in the phrase “due process of law” in the 14th Amendment, including privacy or reproductive rights, may well contract.
The Biden administration will probably not agree with the court’s future rulings on voting rights, gay rights, religious rights or the rights of noncitizens. Ditto for any rulings on abortion, guns, the death penalty and immigration. But there is little President-elect Biden can do to control the independent judiciary.
Unhappy with what a strong conservative majority on the court may do – including possibly overturning the Affordable Care Act – many Democrats have advocated radical approaches to altering what the court looks like and how it operates, though Biden himself has not stated a clear position.
Suggested options include term limits, adding a retirement age, stripping the jurisdiction of the court for specific federal legislation, or increasing the size of the court. This strategy is known historically as court packing.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposed expanding the court, telling NPR in 2019 that “if anything would make the court look partisan, it would be … one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’”
The Constitution does not establish the number of justices on the court, instead leaving that to Congress. The number has been set at nine since the 1800s, but Congress could pass a law expanding the number of justices to 11 or 13, creating two or four new seats.
However, this requires agreement by both houses of Congress.
The GOP seems likely to maintain a narrow control of the Senate. A 50/50 split is possible, but that won’t be clear until January when Georgia holds two runoff elections. Any of the proposed reforms of the court will be difficult, if not impossible, to pass under a divided Congress.
This leaves the Biden administration hoping for retirements that would gradually shift the ideological balance of the court.
One of the most likely may be Justice Clarence Thomas, who is 72 and the longest-serving member of the current court. Samuel Alito is 70 and Chief Justice John Roberts is 65. In other professions, that may sound like people soon to retire, but at the Supreme Court that is less likely. With the other three conservative justices in their 40s or 50s, the Biden administration may be fully at odds with the court for some time to come.
Neta Crawford, Boston University
President-elect Biden has signaled he will do three things to reset the U.S.‘s foreign policy.
First, Biden will change the tone of U.S. foreign relations. The Democratic Party platform called its section on military foreign policy “renewing American leadership” and emphasized diplomacy as a “tool of first resort.”
Biden seems to sincerely believe in diplomacy and is intent on repairing relations with U.S. allies that have been damaged over the last four years. Conversely, while Trump was, some say, too friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him a “terrific person,” Biden will likely take a harder line with Russia, at least rhetorically.
This change in tone will also likely include rejoining some of the treaties and international agreements that the United States abandoned under the Trump administration. The most important of these include the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. officially withdrew from on Nov. 4, and restoring funding to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
If the U.S. is to extend the New START nuclear weapons treaty, the arms control deal with Russia due to expire in February, the incoming Biden administration would likely have to work with the outgoing administration on an extension. Biden has also signaled a willingness to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal jettisoned by Trump, if and when the Iranians return to the limits on nuclear infrastructure imposed by the agreement.
Second, in contrast to the large increases in military spending under Trump, President-elect Biden may make modest cuts in the U.S. military budget. Although he has said that cuts are not “inevitable” under his presidency, Biden has hinted at a smaller military presence overseas and is likely to change some priorities at the Pentagon by, for instance, emphasizing high-tech weapons. If the Senate – which must ratify any treaties – flips to Democrats’ control, the Biden administration may take more ambitious steps in nuclear arms control by pursuing deeper cuts with Russia and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Third, the Biden administration will likely continue some Bush, Obama and Trump foreign policy priorities. Specifically, while a Biden administration will seek to end the war in Afghanistan, the administration will keep a focus on defeating the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Biden has said that he would reduce the current 5,200 U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 1,500-2,000 troops operating in the region in a counterterrorism role. The Biden administration is likely to continue the massive nuclear weapons modernization and air and naval equipment modernization programs begun under the Obama administration and accelerated and expanded under Trump, if only because they are popular with members of Congress who see the jobs they provide in their states.
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And like the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, the Biden administration will prioritize the economic and military threats it believes are posed by China. But, consistent with its emphasis on diplomacy, the Biden administration will likely also work more to constrain China through diplomatic engagement and by working with U.S. allies in the region.
Brian J Purnell, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History, Bowdoin College; Morgan Marietta, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Neta C. Crawford, Professor of Political Science and Department Chair, Boston University