Opinion: Can America finally heal?

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Ibn Rasheed

“This is not over”, say President Trump and his supporters. 

“Time to heal”, says president-elect Joe Biden in his victory speech. 

The difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their suitability for office isn’t just their temperaments, their style of politics or rhetoric. It’s their sense of duty and responsibility. For the former, the presidential office is the height of worldly glory, with the eyes of the world media upon you day in and day out, like a perpetual reality TV show. For Mr Biden, who has a long record of public service as an experienced politician, the presidency is a chance to serve the nation at the highest level. 

So it does seem that normal service has been resumed but let’s not count our chickens. Things don’t change overnight and the malaise that seeps through American society and institutions runs so deep – pushed even deeper in the last four years – that it’s a naivety to believe things will suddenly recover and Biden is the saviour. 

The president is one man, behind whom is a party, both of which – Republican and Democrat – have consistently been involved in foreign wars in the last few decades, destabilising every country it fought, resulting in countless civilian deaths. The Iraq war (which Biden facilitated) cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and paved the way for the death cult, Daesh. It’s like a horror film, not a reality TV show.

US foreign policy is now hostile to Iran, having sanctioned it for no apparent reason other than a vague unverified claim of it funding terrorism. Will Biden resist the forces within the United States governmental authorities to go after Iran? That remains to be seen. But his willingness to potentially re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, along with a pledge to immediately rejoin the WHO and Paris Climate Agreement are very promising signs. He will undoubtedly overturn Trump’s destructive policies and also repeal the travel bans on Muslim countries. 

Americans have every right then to be jubilant, to celebrate and to be hopeful, but the system and ideology that created a Trump presidency and made such an anomaly president has not disappeared. It was created in the backdrop of Barack Obama’s helm in the White House, where Joe Biden was his right-hand man as vice president.

It can, however, be argued that Trump’s rise to power (and fall) was more because of events greater than Obama, Trump or any US government. The Middle East has long been spiraling out of control; coronavirus is something which has taken everyone by surprise and the economy (which in this election was the biggest issue people voted on) has long been skewed in favour of the rich and wealthy.

Obama, despite his efforts, could only mitigate the effects of the 2008 global recession. And reversing decades of interventionist US foreign policy was just not going to happen. Trump spoke out against the US interventions and promised to take the country out of them. He pledged to rebuild the economy and make other nations pay their “fair amount” and fix the “immigration problem”. Some he did, some he didn’t, but with the world economy in freefall amidst a pandemic, he lacked the political acumen to do anything worthwhile.

Biden promises to create a Covid taskforce, listen to the country’s leading experts like Dr Fauci and take a more responsible approach to Covid-19 – he and his supporters already wear masks and social distance! But as with most countries, Biden is going to have to make a choice between public health and public wealth. There is no easy solution here.  

When he said it was time for the US to unify, reconcile and rebuild, he forgot to tell everyone that when a person is dying from a thousand cuts, healing is never easy. America is dying from a thousand cuts right now and turning the tide is going to take a lot of work, even if the captain has changed.  

Trump and his supporters are not backing down, there are murmurings of discontent and civil war. Doubts are being sown about the integrity of the election and there is resistance to accepting defeat. Shops and windows were boarded up across the country in the lead up to the election. The “Stop the Steal” movement is spreading fast online and protestors with rifles patrol the streets. Until the election process is formally complete in January, it will be a rocky few months in the US. 

“If he thinks he’s going down, he’s going to try to take the rest of us down with him”, said Mary Trump, the president’s niece, about her uncle. Well now he knows he’s going down and judging from the bizarre tweets he has been posting in complete denial of it, we can have a lot to fear from the “world’s most powerful man”, who still has a good two months to wreak havoc on his way out. 70 million people voted for him, in the biggest election turnout for a century. That’s 70 million who still agree with his views, attitudes and policies and hang on his every word. There is no knowing what he could do in the meantime. 

History Professor, Tim Snyder has raised the possibility that Trump is a flight risk, being hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and facing multiple investigations, of which he was immune to, being an incumbent president. No longer! The CEO of Global Zero, a movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, highlighted the fact that “the man currently melting down at the White House has absolute authority to order a nuclear strike at any time, for any reason, and no one can stop him.” The only way to stop such an order would be to refuse to obey the president on grounds that such a strike would be illegal or without cause.

If that wasn’t enough, the issues of racism are deeply embedded in American society. Black people may be free, but the prejudices underlying slavery still persist. Biden may be able to do something to remedy that, but to change an entire nation’s thinking amidst a global pandemic, a freefall economy, a divided country and an angry defiant opposition, will not be easy.

Despite everything, Biden represents and brings the kind of politics we are used to seeing: calm, principled, diplomatic. He brings back a statesman-like approach to his office and uses unifying rhetoric. As one CNN commentator noted, “actions speak louder than words, but when you’re the president, words speak louder than actions” because your every word is put into action by millions across the nation. 

If Biden now steps up to the Quranic advice of showing “absolute justice” – in all matters – then a bright future of healing can take place in America and beyond. If vested interests are overlooked and the interest of peace and justice prevails, we can be hopeful of a better future in America.

Joe Biden is certainly a ray of hope and may well create a better United States, but I fear the force of world events greater than he or the nation of America will soon catch up.

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