America elects a new president

America elects a new president

 “What a ride! And what a finish,” said The Observer. It’s hard to do justice to “the roller-coaster of emotions” generated by last week’s momentous election in America. For liberals, it has brought a mixture of elation and relief. The Democrats didn’t get the “blue wave” they were hoping for, but they did avoid a repeat of their shock 2016 defeat, which at one point looked all too possible. In the end, Joe Biden attracted more than 76 million votes – a record. Donald Trump received more than 71 million (also a record). In a victory speech on Saturday, four days after the vote, Biden pledged to bring the US together. “Let this grim era of demonisation in America begin to end here and now,” he declared. “Let’s give each other a chance.”

Biden, who turns 78 next week, has a “daunting” task ahead of him, said Ben Riley-Smith in The Daily Telegraph. On his inauguration in January, he’ll inherit a polarised country reeling from a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic – more than 100,000 new cases a day are being recorded – and an economy recovering from its “biggest unemployment jump since the 1930s”. To add to the challenge, Biden will probably also have “to prepare for office sight unseen”, said Edward Luce in the FT. It’s unlikely that Trump, who is still making wild allegations of electoral fraud and refusing to formally concede (see page 4), will offer the traditional hand of cooperation during the transition period. Within Biden’s own party, meanwhile, progressive and centrist factions are already squabbling over the best way forward. “Biden’s presidency risks being caught between two irreconcilable forces – a stubbornly entrenched Trumpian Right and an embittered Democratic Left.”

If anyone can find a way through these constraints, it’s Biden, said The Independent. His decades in the Senate have given him unrivalled experience in how to shepherd policies through Congress. “We have seen what happens when an outsider occupies the White House. Now we have an insider.” Biden might be the right man for the moment, agreed Peter Spiegel in the FT. While he may be lacking on the charisma and oratory fronts, he excels at the “backslapping and horse-trading” that oils the wheels on Capitol Hill. Sometimes it’s “the quiet, institutional presidents” – think of Lyndon B. Johnson or Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge – who get the most done. Although leaders should be judged on what they actually achieve, said Serina Sandhu in the I newspaper, let’s also acknowledge the symbolic significance of his running mate Kamala Harris. As America’s first female, or black, vice-president, her success sets an inspiring precedent.

After the traumas of the Trump era, the idea of anyone else occupying the White House is a “psychological balm”, said David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine. But we can expect little concrete progress from Biden’s presidency. If Republican leaders didn’t cooperate on anything back when he was Barack Obama’s vice-president and America was “less intensely polarised than it is today”, it’s hard to see why they’ll start now. Especially since – barring a surprise double win by the Democrats in run-off elections for two seats in Georgia in January – the Republicans will retain control of the Senate. Biden’s plans for criminal justice and healthcare reform are going nowhere, and he can forget his hopes of investing $2trn in green energy. While he may raise America’s standing in the world by adopting a more multilateral approach to diplomacy, Biden is not going to be in a position to solve big problems back at home, agreed John Prideaux in The Times. Progress on the domestic front will depend on the efforts of individual states.

I’m more optimistic about the chances of political cooperation in Washington, said William A. Galston in The Wall Street Journal. For one thing, US voters are not as neatly divided on issues as some think. In California last week, for instance, twothirds of voters chose Biden, yet the electorate also rejected a string of ballot initiatives pushed by progressives on issues such as tax increases and workers’ rights. Mississippi’s conservative voters, meanwhile, supported the legalisation of marijuana for medical use. There are also grounds to believe that Americans are “weary of non-stop partisan conflict and would welcome a period of productive governance”. The US has for too long treated the office of president as a “cult of personality”, said John F. Harris on Politico. If the modest Biden, who “naturally defaults to ‘we’ rather than ‘me’”, can restore a sense of collective responsibility in Washington, that “would indeed be a formula for a great presidency”.