The Influence of COVID-19 on the Future of US Politics at Home and Abroad
From the very beginning of the pandemic, Joe Biden and the Democrats focused their campaign on the coronavirus and their politics on the science of the pandemic, calling for people to wear masks and to isolate.
On the other hand, the Republicans, and especially President Trump have minimized the dangers of the coronavirus during the electoral campaign, blaming the Chinese instead for the virus. Similar to 2016, the virus was used to raise awareness about America’s “enemy”. This time, it was not a matter of building a wall, but the theme of putting America first against a foreign enemy (leading to a weaker American economy) remained the same.
The differing rhetorics of the two parties were reflected in the election period through mail-in ballots. Democrats voted massively using mail-in ballots to respect social distancing, whereas, on November 3rd, most Republicans went to vote in-person. This was evidence of different perspectives on the danger of coronavirus by the two Americas. The early proclaimed victory of Donald Trump further increased tensions in the country.
At this stage, it is interesting to consider what the US and the world can expect from the Biden administration whose political campaign was based on empathy and science amidst the ongoing global pandemic.
Biden’s Politics at Home and Obamacare
Trump’s legacy leaves behind an America divided by race and ethnicity, education, religion, national origin, and even class. Joe Biden has promised the country “a time to heal” and a restoration of moral authority to the Presidency after four years under President Donald Trump.
At home, Biden has already made public a plan to fight COVID that puts the health and safety of the American people first. The President-elect has already assembled an advisory team of 13 experts to create a plan to bring the pandemic under control and hence launch a response to the pandemic as soon as Biden takes office.
The Biden administration would centralize federal efforts for a more efficient answer to the pandemic. The Defense Production Act can be mobilized to provide an aggressive way to create a national strategy for helping people avoid getting COVID and caring for people who have it, among other initiatives, through boosting PPE output. As well, the creation of a new Public Health Jobs Corps would enlist 100,000 people to assist with the testing and contact tracing, as he laid out his vision for safely reopening the economy.
However, large swaths of Americans remain suspicious that the threat of the virus is overestimated and are likely to resist a new Democratic president’s more aggressive public health measures. The Trump era leaves behind powerful lobbying groups that are likely to trump any new public health systems. Obamacare weakened under the Trump administration and is once more put in front of the Supreme Court, making it slightly more likely to be abolished, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The consequences of abolishing Obamacare would be considerable, as it covers 21 million people.
The leverage that Joe Biden will have to pass new health initiatives will partly depend on whether he will gain the majority of the Senate in January, as two seats remain to be determined.
Biden’s Politics Abroad – Counter Trump’s Isolationism
Biden has stated his will to renew relations with allies. The future President has already assured allies that the US would join once more the Paris accord and the World Health Organization.
A few months ago, President Trump formally moved to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he accused the organization of being under China’s control. The US is the global health agency’s largest single contributor, providing more than $400m (£324m; €360m) in 2019, around 15% of its total budget. Biden has promised to rejoin the WHO once he is president, and therefore restore “US leadership” among allies and partners.
Overall, diplomatic relations with allies suffered under the Trump administration as Trump praised autocrats and insulted allies. The traditional US presence in Europe and its leadership was much weaker under the Trump administration. Trump and its advisors were seen as dismissive of the idea of the EU itself. The Biden administration appears to bring back the traditional balance in transatlantic relations where the EU is once more taken seriously, along with other major Western European powers such as France and Germany. The transition might encounter several barriers, as both regions have gone through protectionist policies and regimes and Europe has taken steps to distance itself from the US.
In addition, Trump’s “America First” strategy has alienated traditional allies and increased tensions with China, Iran, North Korea, Russia. The US has shown a trend of going back to its isolationist roots.
However, the country remains a leader of innovation and leadership in the current race to the Coronavirus vaccine. As of now, President Trump insists on vaccinating America first. However, he has agreed, along with all other G20 members, to mobilize resources and ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine to every country. It is an opportunity to be seized in order to improve relations and trust with the African continent and add to the United States’ soft power, therefore remaining a global and politicized issue.
COVID-19’s Role in the Future of American Politics
Biden’s policies are likely to remain focused on the pandemic as he fights to re-establish the United States as a rational leader of the world, taking part in the solution of COVID both at home and abroad.
However, challenges remain for the Biden administration, and we should remain aware of how the cultural crisis that divides the country develops, as well as the economic crisis that the country faces. Abroad, there are additional challenges, such as America’s declining reputation over the past year among several key allies and partners.