America’s Breath Of Fresh Air And President Joe Biden’s Many Rivers To Cross

By Godknows Igali

The inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America, is perhaps now trite, but news on the afterwards continues to dominate global attention. The 78-year old took his oath of office foreshadowed by rather unnerving national outlook from the uptight events of the preceding days.

Biden became the 8th US President to take office on the customary 20th day of January, since after the Ratification of the 20th Amendment of the country’s Constitution on January 23, 1933. That law specifies that the investiture holds exactly at midday on January 20, after the “lame-duck period” of four months from the Presidential elections, which statutorily holds on 3rd November.

The storied inaugural ceremony of President Biden was worth the celebratory air across the US and the world for many salutary and perhaps symbolic reasons. First, the day called attention to how far the country, rather replete with sensitivities, and entrenched diversities had progressed. Biden became the second person of Roman Catholic faith, after 35th President, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) to mount office in the country’s 245 years history. This in a way, underscores the veiled schism which had and still exists within Christendom especially in America. Catholics are about 21 percent of the US population and could, despite their white-Caucasian heritage, be regarded as cultural minorities in a country dominated by Protestant Christians. Interesting enough, Blacks, (about 13.4 percent) produced the 44th President, Barrack Obama, but Hispanics (18.3 percent), Jews (1.7 percent) and Moslems (1.1 percent) are yet to taste power.

Perhaps a brighter spot which raised ample sanguinity was the inauguration of a woman of color, Kamala Devi Harris as the country’s 49th Vice President. Having often puffed its own buzzer, repeatedly, as the bastion of global liberal charm, it had been a paradox of colossal proportions that women still suffer some levels of exclusion in some areas of the country’s national life. Until now, the nearest effort by a woman to occupy the White House was, Mrs Hillary Clinton, who in 2016 became the candidate of a major political party and actually won the majority of the popular votes. Mrs. Harris’ emergence as Vice President and in that sense, the de facto second most powerful person in the world of 7.8 billion people, is a strident forward march, for women folk worldwide.

While the glitzy optics of the inauguration simmered, Biden’s mind was obviously preoccupied with many many issues.

Chiefest of all, with nearly 110 million people infected globally, the US has become the prime victim of Covid-19 pandemic with about 460,000 deaths. Sadly, in Biden’s first days, news came to light that the virus mutates itself to resist immunological pressures, especially coming in from other jurisdictions as the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa. Indeed, the virus is adapting through a defiant evolution into new strains and variants to surmount scientific pressure to stamp it out through vaccines and remedial therapies.

But Biden seems to have studied history correctly as he remembers that during previous big global pandemics as the Spanish Flu (1918-1920), the victory only came through aggressive pursuit of Research, Development and scientific innovation. In this respect, the swift move towards the production and deployment of vaccines has created great hope. Even before the Johnson and Johnson single dose serum, which boasts of better shelf life and better efficacy in infection prevention and cure, other big US vaccine producers like Pfizer, Madonna, Novovax, have upscaled their roll-out of products. With Biden’s tridency to conscript active troops to join healthcare teams in reaching the population, the ambition of inoculating over 100 million people in the first 100 days in office, appears to be the silver bullet against the ravage of COVID.

On the social side, to make life easier for fellow citizens, a fundamental obligation of responsible governments, he has proposed a robust $1.9 trillion Emergency Relief Bill. The proposed healthcare law is intended to ensure that small businesses stay afloat, schools remain open, students receive more money, working families stay safe and can feed.

On the heels of the conspiratory and aggressive events of January 6, 2021, when the city of Washington and the American Capitol – seat of its legislative branch were invaded by well-planned violence from right wing extremists, Biden assumed office. The belligerents were many, drawn from such nonconformist groups as QANON, Oath Takers, neo-nazists and self-styled “truth movements”. In a rather ludicrous manner, the insurgents consider themselves as “patriots” and “freedom-fighters” bringing up the real under-belly of the deep-seated racial and cultural divide in the country.

Underhanded and devious, the tap-rooted gulf has for the entire history, staved apart urbanism and rural America, elitism and semi-educated folks, conservative and liberal citizens. This also detached between segregationists and unionists, between social values and class and a crescendo of the politics of fear and mutual distrust. Sadly some of these far right persons are once celebrated military veterans, serving security personnel, intellectuals and a coterie of evangelical religious leaders.

How, the roles have switched, between the now perceptibly troublesome Republican supporters and the Democrats. In the 1800s, it was the Democratic Party which dominated the country’s “South”. (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South and North Carolina, etc) that fought against 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, (1808-1865) a Republican over his neo-liberal and humane policies. Added to that, it was the Democratic Party that in the past was behind the segregationist Jim Crow Law and also opaquely linked to the Ku Klux Klan, one of the most xenophobic organizations that humanity ever saw.

Indeed, in the history of the country, the last time internal divisions were so rife was during the American Civil War (1863-16), fought over the moral issue of Slavery. This included the rights of states over federal laws on the issue and on the minutiae factors associated with such means of production. Also the South wanted to expand it’s influence with the odious tradition of Slavery to the newly joined states of the West, a position which the North (New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, North and South Dakota, etc) led by Lincoln opposed sternly.

The main dividing line between the two political parties has become exacerbated in recent years by cable media which followed the fault lines of left and right, red and blue. Whilst popular television channels such as Fox, CBS championed the conservative credo, others like the CNN, MSNBC, fiercely hold on the forte on the liberal end. Sadly, the match of information technology, especially social media, that is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other more cloudy platforms are being prowled upon by political “war-lords” including former Presidents, Senators and Congressmen and women to proselytize, insidiously hate doctrines.

Relatedly, Biden has to exorcise and dehumidify the present-day body politics of the country from the seeming haunting apparition of his immediate predecessor. In a legislature that is sharply divided along partisan lines, Trump still appears to call the shorts amongst members of his Republican Party. Worse still, several influential members of Congress who are openly associated with radical right-wing groups, also continue to affirm, blatantly, their allegiance to him. Even outside Congress, despite his seeming disgraceful exit, that former President maintains overwhelming control of about 75 percent of the party and about 46 percent of the national voting population (75 million); a rather ominous plight for the GOP Party and the country’s political and social ecology. This is like a fish bone stuck in Biden’s throat.

Since after the end of the First World War (1914-1919), the world has come to realize in a more profound manner, the inter-connectivity and inter-dependency among nations. Interesting enough, it was the US that led the global community into this new age of internationalism and multilateral diplomacy. At the height of the Cold War (1947-1991), political rivalry between the Eastern and Western blocs, there was robust level of the United States tour-de-force in sustaining dialogue and forming alliances between nations.

This is plausible as America learnt its lessons that its isolationist policy in the 1930’s worsened the Great Depression (1929-1933) to which it suffered sufficiently. At then, the global economy totally tumbled to a fall in GDP by minus 26 percent. Indeed, its isolationism at the time is also regretted as direct lightening rod for the outbreak of World War Two (1939-1945).

It was therefore inconceivable, that within such a short span in history, the US would adopt a quarantine, secluded and autarky policy under President Trump. This saw America disentangling itself from most multilateral concerts and also bilaterally.

From the start of his Presidency, Trump withdrew from the 195 countries Paris Agreement on Climate Change of April 22, 2016. This was despite scientific knowledge which still makes very clear the reality of Climate Change, the need for urgent mitigation neasures and need for finances to curtail the continued emission of Greenhouse Gases. Paris therefore targeted collaboration of all to keep global average temperature at below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Sadly, Washington denounced the agreement and gave notice on withdrawal by November 4, 2020. Besides the impact on the environment, it was a major blow to the world as the US was expected to also contribute $3 billion dollars to fund mitigation activities especially in developing countries.

Another intriguing policy deceleration was the US stance on Iran. The people of Iran, had always prided their heritage as descendants of a richly liberal and cosmopolitan Persian Civilization of Cyrus the Great. However, since the Iranian Revolution of 1978, the new Islamic Shia sect government adopted a doctinaire stance which in the words of former US President George W. Bush, placed it in the “axis of evil’. The symmetric difference between such radical theocracy and US led ideals of political pluralism was potent. This worsened as upshot of extremist religious ideological expressions were traced to Iran. The country soon found itself at the vortex of series of crises such as Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981), state sponsored terrorism and uncertified development and spread of nuclear weapons. So the global community led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) started a programme to reduce it’s capacity to develop nuclear bombs and reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98%. This deal was negotiated for a period of about 10 years by United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union. The final agreement – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed in Vienna on 14th July 2015. It was therefore incredulous, that the US pulled out of this agreement on May 8th 2018.

Again, the situation between the US and the World Health Organization (WHO), followed ditto. Founded in 1948 with the US playing a robust role, the WHO has remained the bellwether of concerted efforts in tackling some of the greatest health and medical emergencies ever. In the last 70 years therefore, the US has been the backbone of WHO, catering for as much as about 22% of assessed contribution of all other members and is the main donor partner with an additional voluntary contributiond ranging from$107-$402 million dollars annually in programme funding.

The crisis of confidence however ensued with the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, as Trump decided to withdraw American support for WHO. It was accused of being too acquiescent to China, whom Trump charged as being behind the spread of the deadly Corona virus. Trump gave a one-year notice of US intention to withdraw by August 2021.

Similarly, the US took lone-range positions in some other inter-governmental bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). On October 28, 2020, the 159 member body’s highest decision body, the General Council, zeroed in on Former Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as “best poised to attain consensus” to become its seventh Director General. Oddly, the last US administration took a forlorn view by filibustering the global consensus; leaving WTO down for the count.

The bilateral horizon is equally thorny. For example, the question of North Korea where Trump held high profile meetings with the hermitic leader of the country, Kim Jong Un in April and June 2018. These were geared towards normalization of relations which have gone sour since the 1953 Korean War. However, the programme of denuclearization, the raison d’etre of the two summits has not been achieved and North Korea is continuing with its bellicose programme on ICBM and nuclear weapons development.

Next is the China, whose relations with the US have been defined by guarded optimism, reciprocal suspicion and hegemonic rivalry. It was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who 200 years ago called China a sleeping giant. He then predicted and we have come to see most accurately that “let china sleep for when she wakes, she will shape the world”. China has rightly gotten out of slumber, and poised to provide credible competition in every sense. This comes against the backdrop of steady growth averaging 10% in the last 30 years. Even at the height of COVID-19 in 2020, when the entire world posted recession, China’s economy expanded by 2.3%.

With such a superlative economic performance and an aggressive global outreach policy, China was bound to have problems with the United States both at bilateral level in terms of trade wars and struggles over dominance in technology.

Added to this basket, President Biden also inherits edgy relations with such traditional partners of his country as Europe and NATO, Canada and Mexico. With the Arab countries and even Africa’s power house, Nigeria, its restrictive visa and immigration policies have equally left a lot of soured feelings of estrangement. He also has to bother about Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and so on.

Americans jubilated and hived a great sigh of relief. That at last, a humane and dispassionate politician with many years of hands-on experience has come on the saddle. The choreographed fireworks on inauguration day were metaphoric of the convivial mood across the country and indeed the entire world. But even more hopeful is the fact, that on his first day in office, President Biden started the process of dismantling the inherited barriers to domestic and global harmony.

With regards to the myriad of international issues, President Biden has to work more concertedly to re-engage global confidence regarding US predictability. The steps taken to re-enter the Paris Agreement, endorsement of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO top job, reopen talks with Iran and soften ultranationalist immigration policies have already started to become visible signposts of a new activist role by the US in world affairs. His “American is back, Diplomacy is back” speech at the State Department on February 4, 2021 is therefore being given teeth and substance.

His effort to ensure that from 100-150 million Americans get vaccinated against corona in first 100 days is already producing results. The US recorded her first monthly reduction in Corona deaths since the pandemic broke out. But then, the burden is on him to ensure more vaccine equity in terms of distribution around the world as against the present “vaccine nationalism”. Access to vaccines and even the best optimistic projections in terms of concerted efforts seem to be leaving behind the vast majority of humanity in the poorer parts of the world. America may need to combine its medical house-keeping with it’s manifest destiny of leading the world, especially on seeming viral quagmire.

One major area which may be more heady for Biden is bringing back healing to his country. Rather ominous and unyielding, the cross-cultural dissentions, the class and social cleavages continue to fly around the temptestous ship of the country like an albatross. This situation has not been made easier by the hard line positions from Biden’s own Democratic Party, many of whose members insist on taking the political fight to its logical conclusion, rather than seek quick reconciliation. This is climaxed in the ongoing partisan divide in the Congress and the impeachment trial circus of the former President Trump. This, many consider as flogging the proverbial dead horse. Another worry from the other side is the nosedive towards ultra-liberal policies, including overt indulgent policies favouring, homosexuals, transgenders (LGBT); domestically and avowedly worldwide.

But President Biden will need to conceptualize a holistic and demanding programme of deradicalization of the country, on both sides of the aisles, i.e both conservatives and liberals alike. He will also need to work more pointedly, perhaps, than any other of his predecessors had done in the last two centuries to attenuate the internecine suspicions and antimonies between various strands of population.

Be that as it may, the American system, like a phoenix, has developed the resilience and capacity of rebirth from the ashes of what may appear as a precipe. So, through the various journeys of adversity which the country had experienced, it had always bounced back. With Biden who is a grandmaster of the nuances and rough edges of Washington, there is optimism that sooner than later, some form of reconciliation and national rebirth would be worked out and America’s untiring spirit rekindled.

While we must reawaken to the realization that the process of state-building and national development needs be homegrown and indigenous, there is no denying that strategic and constructive engagement with the US could be quite valuable to us in many areas. So, for Nigeria, and Africa in general, rather than adopt a watch and see attitude, a more aggressive approach in engaging Biden and his foreign policy handlers using our best first eleven, is a counsel that would be found most valuable.

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