The US election was a referendum on conflicting ideologies, not a clash of personalities. The winner Joe Biden is tired, old, and uninspiring. But I have seen, in India and other nations, how power rejuvenates. Joe Biden jogged to the podium in Delaware on 7 November for his acceptance speech.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, a thinker named Chanakya had wisely said that there can be no friendship without self-interest.
India wanted American investment and cutting edge defence and civil technology and to wean Washington away from Pakistan. The United States sought to build India as a counterbalance to China while looking at India’s burgeoning market, middle class and defence capability.
The horde of over 100,000 that greeted Donald Trump in Ahmedabad in February 2020, had no idea about his personality or quirks.
Psychologists will tell you that he loved the huge crowd turnouts in India because Donald Trump suffers from malignant narcissism, a supersized ego, an unending need for adulation, supreme megalomania, and total intolerance of dissent.
They only knew that he came from the richest and most powerful country in the world where thousands of Patels had made their fortunes.
They knew that he was a buddy of another outstanding son of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and had joined a welcome party for Modi in America in 2019
That was enough.
His policies did not matter if he was a friend of India.
And when China got its nose smashed in Ladakh, America stood by its friend. India fell in love with the acerbic, brash, and offensive Donald Trump all over again.
As the two countries downgraded their relations with China, and Donald Trump got tougher and tougher on China, his stock in India rose. He could have contested an election in India and won.
Trump imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese products and closed America’s door to several Chinese companies that were creeping in. Having decided that China was to be punished, even more so after the virus ravaged America, Donald Trump looked at his map to see which Asian countries shared his anger.
And he found a tailor-made security partnership in the Quadrilateral Security Arrangement or Quad to challenge China’s impetuous arrogance and brazen display of military and financial muscle.
During the campaign in the US, the President and his family made a special effort to reach out to the Indian community of over four million, the wealthiest and most highly educated of all expatriate groups in the US. Targeted advertisements highlighted the bonhomie on display in Houston and Ahmedabad between the two leaders.
So, when Donald Trump lost by a narrow margin, Indians wondered what had happened to Manerica (as my granddaughter calls it).
Of course, they were equally delighted that an Indian-African woman, with her roots in Tamil Nadu, had become the most powerful woman in the world. This equality of opportunity is what America is all about.
I wonder when a Tibetan or a Uyghur will lead China.
What indeed happened in November 2020?
And what happens now? What is next for America and the world?
In his address to “my fellow Americans”, Biden promised to be the President of all Americans, not a Democratic or Republican President.
He has talked of healing and compassion, and of opponents not enemies.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To Americans, the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (say “Taj Mahal” and people will respond “India”, so it is with Ms Liberty) are their national credo. And Indians agree.
From the sixties, millions of Indians from a poor country came to the richest in search of the Golden Door. They found it. And how!
AMERICA IS EXCEPTIONAL, HAVE NO DOUBT
Donald Trump and his challenger both focused on restoring America’s pride and glory as the great hope for humanity. Their methods are different. Trump wants to make America First by keeping out everybody else. The challenger seeks a more open and welcoming America.
We will be the beacon of the world, Biden promised: “America never gives up, never gives in.”
When the major networks called the election for Biden/Harris, most of America exploded in a cacophony of horns, music, yelling and cheering as CNN announced that Biden had won. A CNN anchor cried.
I went out for a walk in the evening of 7 November. It was a wild new year celebration.
In Brooklyn, people chanted: “Donald Trump, we the people say you are fired.”
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” sang the multitudes, the 1969 chartbuster attributed to a then-fictitious band called Steam.
America voted with its heart and absorbed the result with its mind.
There were thousands of flag-waving people on the streets. Pavement restaurants were crammed. A tiny liquor store on Broadway had a line snaking for several hundred yards.
As they popped champagne bottles, people hugged each other and cried. These were tears of joy, not of fear. At times, the elation tended to be surreal. America had begun the process of healing itself.
I feel like Moses just led me out of Egypt, one super senior citizen was quoted as saying.
Europe heaved a collective and audible sigh of relief as the man who rudely shook Europeans out of their 70-year-old post Second World War complacency that America would always have their back, lost his job.
“Welcome back America” Paris’s mayor tweeted. He spoke for the rest of the world.
“So, which is the Banana Republic”, gloated a Colombian newspaper as the confusion about the US Presidential election continued through the morning of Saturday 7 November.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry had commented on Twitter that the tight race was a sign of weakness in the US electoral system.
China’s state-controlled “free” media first laughed at President Donald Trump after he claimed he had won the US election, but then hoped that Joseph Biden’s victory would stabilize their fast-deteriorating bilateral relationship.
Iran saw Donald Trump’s defeat as retribution for the assassination of one of its favourite sons, General Qasem Soleimani, obliterated by America in January last.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, his “heartiest congratulations” on Twitter.
“Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans”, “chitti” being a Tamil word for the younger sisters of a person’s mother.
In the ultimate analysis, the US election was a referendum on conflicting ideologies, not a clash of personalities. The winner Joe Biden is tired, old, and uninspiring.
But I have seen, in India and other nations, how power rejuvenates. Joe Biden jogged to the podium in Delaware on 7 November for his acceptance speech.
Mr Biden’s triumph concluded an extraordinary election that was expected to set modern records for turnout, despite being held amid a pandemic that has upended life across the United States, even though it was not the landslide that many Democrats, analysts, and pollsters had expected.
A lesser mortal might be overwhelmed by the staggering challenges facing him. The larger the to-do list, the more urgent it is to prioritize the plan of action based on opportunity, urgency, and reality.
DESTROYING THE VIRUS
Our broken world, ravaged by the Chinese virus, needs to be repaired by killing the virus.
In Hebrew, tikkun olam means world repair by behaving and acting constructively and beneficially to improve the state of the world and help others.
Joe Biden promised to expand the government’s role in guiding the country through the surging Chinese pandemic.
By the time Joe Biden assumes charge, some 300,000 Americans might have died of the virus and over 10 million infected, as every day brings 100,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths.
Despite Pfizer’s electrifying announcement of a 90% effective anti-virus vaccine, the miracle is still several months away.
No one in his right mind would trust a Chinese vaccine. It would probably be poison with Chinese characteristics.
RESTORING THE ECONOMY
The fantasy of the George Bush and Barack Obama years that change could be induced in China’s behaviour through engagement and trade deals is deader than the dodo.
The Chinese-origin virus has thrown millions of Americans and others out of work, creating unemployment figures not seen since the Great depression 90 years ago.
Although the employment figures are beginning to look healthy again, to help Americans devastated by the virus, the Internal Revenue Service in mid-2020 made payments worth $265bn as part of the overall US$ 2 trillion stimulus package.
A second series of stimulus cheques is due soon.
9/11 irretrievably damaged Islam in American eyes. It will never recover.
I would not be exaggerating if I say that, given half a chance, half of the world’s 7.8 bn people (including most Muslims) would emigrate to the United States.
The vast multitudes moving to the US-Mexico border in search of their future speaks for itself.
Last year a Chinese woman pleaded guilty in the US to federal charges of running a “birth tourism” scheme for Chinese nationals who paid so their children would be born American citizens.
As part of her plea deal with federal authorities, she gave up assets including cash of $850,000, her house worth more than $500,000 and several Mercedes Benz cars.
Agencies in China say that more than 50,000 Chinese nationals deliver babies in the United States every year.
A birth tourism agency in Shanghai is called Meijiabei, or Good American Baby.
Mr Trump’s core constituency, old, churchgoing and stolid middle America, remains intact. These are the people who do not want any more “goddamn Muslims and immigrants”.
Joe Biden would need to walk the tightrope between letting in needed immigrants and keeping the terrorists and freeloaders out, to keep America safe and well.
China is public enemy number One in America, along with Islamic terrorism.
The perception is confirmed by the devastating virus that has changed the world for ever. When the enormity of the virus was first realised, east Asians, including police officers, were heckled, and even assaulted in the streets of America.
Trump did brilliantly in calling out China for its trade practices and virus, in agreeing a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, in brokering normalisation between Israel and several Arab states.
With China, President Biden would address everything from trade deceptions to technology thefts to strategic concerns related to the South China Sea, Taiwan, based on China’s self-destructive belligerence.
America is angry that China tries to market itself to the rest of the world as a viable self-styled superpower alternative for global leadership.
By making it clear that it will bring its allies on board to strengthen emerging partnerships such as the Quad against China’s stupid adventurism, America can demonstrate the power of its example.
But Trump dissed international agreements and institutions without putting anything better in their place.
However, not all of Trump’s actions were initiated by him.
Many were boiling long before Trump and will persist long after he exits the Oval Office: an abusive, delusional and aggressive China, a Russia willing to use military force and cyber-capabilities to advance its goals, a North Korea with growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, an Iran committed to carrying out an imperial strategy in a turbulent Middle East, visible climate change, weak and ineffective governments in much of the developing world, a double-dealing Pakistan assisting a resurgent Taliban, an ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.
President Joe Biden will need to restore the United States’ reputation for competence, by stabilising the patient in the ICU—America itself.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
Biden will rejoin the World Health Organization, seriously damaged by its present owner—China. America must use its massive power of leadership to ensure that during future outbreaks no country can stifle investigations or pressure the WHO to alter its recommendations, as China did.
The world wants to fix its hesitation with American leadership. Biden can do this by intensifying engagement with the decrepit UN system, not by shunning it.
That delusional thug and pretender to global control who plots and plans from Beijing, who cheats and lies and deceives, has no credibility despite his fantasy of being a superpower.
Anti-Covid vaccines developed in the United States should be shared as far as possible with others, to restore US standing in the world, as well as accelerating the economic and physical recovery of others—which would restore global stability. Doing this would literally help to fix the world.
Biden should let America’s friends know that there is a new and very different sheriff in town, one willing to work with allies on the full range of international issues through consultation and cooperation.
After the pitiable WHO, coming back to the Paris climate accord would be a powerful symbolic statement, even though the voluntary commitments under Paris would not come close to addressing the climate challenge.
The United States and the world are badly damaged by China’s virus.
Joe Biden has his task cut out. He must repair before he builds anything new.
Deepak Vohra is former Indian Ambassador to Armenia, Georgia, Sudan, South Sudan, Poland and Lithuania.