[By Dr Parkie Mbozi]
The general elections in the United States of America have produced a new leader, Joe Biden, who trumped one-term president Donald Trump after one of the most tightly contested presidential elections in American history.
To call the Biden-Trump contest tightly contested is an under-statement, especially in terms of what the candidates had to go through before the winner was announced, five days after election day on November 4. The contest was nail-biting, what more to the Trump camp that had to watch their leads in two key states of Georgia and Pennsylvania shrink, disappear then flip in Biden’s favour. Pennsylvania gave Biden the win, way ahead of the final count.
Never mind the narrative of electoral fraud that the Trump campaign is peddling but not proved so far, the results show that the American people have spoken affirmatively. First, Biden garnered the highest popular vote for any presidential candidate in US history, 76+ million, about 4.5 million more than Trump’s. The figure will go up since counting is still ongoing in some states. Second, Biden was declared winner on November 7 with 279 of the electoral college vote, compared to Trump’s 214, yet the counting was on-going and he was comfortably leading in two states of Georgia and Arizona by press time for this article.
So, whereas Team Trump is disputing the results and denying Team Biden a smooth transition, most of America and the world is Ok with the results anyway and ready to move on. The latest Time Magazine features Biden and Veep-elect Kamala Harris holding hands high with a cover title which sums up the mood, “A Time to Heal America.”
Biden has received congratulatory messages from many of the US allies. This includes Israel, where Trump attained the status of a cult hero for reasons I discuss later, albeit only 12 hours later. The United Kingdom, US’s closest ally, was the first, followed by the EU and individual member states. Russia and China are the only two ‘superpower’ nations that have remained mute, ostensibly not sure who is a better ‘devil’ between Trump and Biden.
Biden has also received goodwill messages from senior Republicans, Trump’s own party. Former president George W Bush said, “Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country.” Bush weighed in the electoral dispute, “while President Donald Trump has the right to pursue legal challenges and recounts, the 2020 race was “fundamentally fair” and “its outcome is clear.”
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on Sunday called for the country to “get behind” President-elect Joe Biden and said he has seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud.” Biden also got endorsements from other senior Republicans before the elections.
Biden is not a new face to American and world politics. Apart from being remembered as Barack Obama’s loyal vice-president, Biden has been in politics as senator for close to half a decade. Lest I forget, we thank Biden for giving America and the world Harris who has scored a three-some of firsts: first female US Veep; first female African American Veep; and, first Asian American woman in that position, with the potential to be the first female American President. By the way, we are also reliably informed that Harris spent part of early childhood in our neighborhood of Lusaka, not sure if it was in Madras. So, we are part of her story.
Biden’s election is more than just a mere change of hands of the leadership of the ‘free world’ and a return of the Democrats to the White House. Put simply, Biden is the antithesis of Trump. To many across the world, it is a return of America to normalcy and orderliness – both domestically in the USA and globally. We will see why in a while. More significantly, I argue, it is a lesson for us here in Zambia that with people power, it is possible to return our country to normalcy, from the trajectory of ‘panga’ and ‘pamaka’ politics we have been subjected to since 2011. We can live normally again as we did before; no need to be training bouncers to survive our political landscape or living under hooligan and lumpen capture.
NO doubt Trump has been the most polarising American leader in living memory, both globally and domestically and there are good reasons why the global community watched the 2020 election keenly. As the saying goes, “when America sneezes, the whole world catches the cold.” Being the richest and most powerful country in the world means who they have as their leader affects us all one way or another. In the first place America owns the single most powerful global currency – the dollar. Events in the USA affect that global market and the strength of the dollar, which in turn affects the cost of our imports or value of our exports.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin summed it, “Our world needs American leadership”. The following are key missteps that isolated the US from the world during the Trump Presidency.
Policy towards African states vis racism: On January 11, 2018, during an Oval Office talk with several US senators about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries in a new immigration package, Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He later denied having said this. But we had all heard it anyway. This statement defines Trump’s attitude towards black people and the African continent in general. Is it any wonder that he never prioritised Africa at any time during his four-year tenure? The only high-profile African visit by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Sudan was for the sole purpose of arm-twisting the country to join the list of Arab counties that have established diplomatic ties with Israel, in reward for lifting of US sanctions on it.
Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, wrote in his new book that, “the president was a racist who praised South Africa’s Apartheid regime.” According to the book, Trump said no country run by Black people is any good, and that Nelson Mandela left South Africa a ‘s—hole country’.
Paris Accord: On June 1, 2017, Trump announced that the U S would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The landmark deal aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. It consists of 75 parties (174 states and the European Union), who signed up to the agreement on the first date it was open for signature.
Trump argued that, “The Paris accord will undermine (the U S) economy,” and “puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.” This is despite the impact of climate change being felt across the global in terms of floods, drought, record-breaking heat waves, wildfires, etc, least so in the US itself where recent California fires destroyed over 1,764,234 hectares of forestry and wildlife. Other nations are stepping up targets to reduce emissions.
Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office as President of the United States.
Iran Nuclear Deal: On May 8, 2018, Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the “Iran nuclear deal”. This is another multilateral and landmark agreement signed between Iran and the P5+1 (EU plus Russia) countries in April 2015. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. With pleasing Israel at the back of his mind, Trump took the decision to abandon the deal even as the IAEA has repeatedly confirmed that Iran has complied with the provisions of the Agreement. Biden has vowed to return the US to the agreement soon as he takes over.
Withdraw from Arms Race: In August 2019, Trump’s US formally withdrew from a key nuclear treaty with Russia, raising fears of a new arms race. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was signed by U S president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It banned missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (310-3,400 miles). Russia called the move “a ploy to exit a pact that the US wanted to leave anyway in order to develop new missiles.” This raises the prospect of undeterred arms development and making the world a more dangerous place.
Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: On December 6, 2017, Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in May 2018 the U S became the first country to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was rejected by many world leaders and the UN Security Council. Previous US Presidents, as well as nearly every other country, refrained from opening embassies in Jerusalem, arguing that the city’s final status should first be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Trump gave Israel whatever it bargained for and helped it to win recognition of three Arab states but took away U S funding to the Palestinians.
Withdrawal from WHO: On July 6 Trump formally started withdrawing the U S from the World Health Organisation (WHO), making good on threats to deprive the UN body of its top funding source over what he called its biased response to the coronavirus. The international community voiced outrage at Trump’s decision to leave WHO, which leads the global fight on maladies from polio to measles to mental health, and now COVID-19, at a time when cases were still rising around the world.
Trump’s US also suspended the US$400 million in annual U S contributions to the word body.
Fortunately, the withdrawal of funding from a founding member is effective in one year – July 6, 2021, in this case. During campaigns Biden said that, “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
Travel ban: The travel ban of muslim countries was one of Trump’s first policy steps upon taking office. The countries included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. More than 700 travelers were detained, and up to 60,000 visas were “provisionally revoked”. Biden has promised to lift the ban.
To conclude, Trump was initially well received as a non-conventional politician (challenging the world order), doing things differently, etc but he stretched his luck too far: insulting fellow world leaders, bullying his ways through, etc. He reminds us of one party in some universe which once told an entire ethnic group that they should marry many wives if they wanted to produce a Republican president, only to cry foul when the people they insulted denied them the vote. How egotistic!
Reminds us of Kenneth Kaunda’s famous warning, “Don’t take God’s people for granted.”
The author is a research fellow with the Institute of Economic and Social Research, University of Zambia. He is reachable on firstname.lastname@example.org.