Sunday March 07, 2021

Exits Trump, enters Biden

Published : 22 Jan 2021, 17:10

  By Professor Abdul Mannan

DF File Photo.

When the clock was near to striking noon in Washington DC on Wednesday, 20th January America’s 46th President Joe Biden and his Vice-president Kamala Harris finished taking their oath of office in a brief ceremony. Usually the oath is administered around noon but this time it was arranged under a different circumstances. The ceremony was kept brief due to Covid-19 pandemic and security concerns. Never in the 244 years’ of US democracy did any President take oath of office in such an extraordinary circumstances. Three former US presidents were present as part of the tradition while the departing president Donald Trump left the White House for his retreat at Florida at about 8:20 a.m., on the inauguration day with his wife Melania without conceding a defeat in the election held last November. As a part of the ritual the outgoing president is seen off by the Vice President and the Secretary of State along with other senior officials but this was not the case while Trump left DC. Before boarding the helicopter that would take him to Florida Trump made a brief speech full of rancour, never mentioned the name of his successor or wished him luck. American democracy never stooped so low. However Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice President decided to stay on and attend the inauguration ceremony.

America had great presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and F D Roosevelt. But it also had Presidents like Harry Truman who destroyed Japan as the Second World War was coming to an end by the dropping two nuclear bombs on civilian installations killing at least two hundred and twenty thousand innocent people. Radiation related problems still exists in these two cities. President John F Kennedy in the guise of helping the defeated colonial power France got involved in the Vietnam War and America was disgraced by a defeat by the North Vietnam’s regular forces and the guerrillas. President Nixon got involved in the Watergate scandal, was impeached and had to leave White House disgracefully. He also supported Pakistan during our War of Liberation. President Bill Clinton bombed Libya and killed family members of the country’s President Muammar Gaddafi, including his six year old daughter. Both Senior Bush and Junior Bush began to systematically destroy and dismantle the Middle Eastern oil rich countries in the name of exporting democracy. Barack Obama the first US Black president who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize few weeks after taking oath of office on the hope that he will work for peace killed many in the Middle East through target killing using drones. During this time Joe Biden was his Vice President and Biden never approved Obama’s such actions. But in US system Presidential decisions always prevails even if it goes against all legal or civil norms. Donald Trump just the day before he left office, using his presidential discretion pardoned 143 convicted persons, including some of is close aides. However for one thing Trump must be given his due share of credit. He did not start any new war in any other country or tried to destabilize any foreign government. Unlike many of his predecessors Donald Trump was not a politician and never pretended to be one. Before he ran for presidency he never held any public office. The former first lady Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State under Barack Obama was his contender from the Democratic Party in 2016. But America was still not ready to have a lady President. In the just concluded inauguration the main focus of attention seemed to be Vice President Kamala Harris; not only she is the first women to hold the office but also she is Black and also has a South Asian origin. Her mother is from India.

To many Americans the four year rule of Donald Trump seemed like a nightmare. He is accused of putting his self-interest over national security and divided US right in the middle with his slogan ‘America First’ from day one. America is known to be a multicultural and a diverse nation, a land of immigrants. Trump made all the non- whites virtually second class citizens during his four year tenure. Though Trump and his entire family are immigrants he made immigration to US virtually impossible through executive orders, restricted entry into US from seven Muslim countries. Thousands of visitors to US had their visas revoked and many had to return home from the US airports on flimsy grounds. Trump ordered to segregate children of illegal entrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries into US from their parents and put them into isolation, an inhuman act by any standard. Fuelled by the support of Trump for the white supremacists spread racial hatred against anyone who is a non-white. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is an outcome of this racial hatred against the Blacks. His foreign policy was virtually counterproductive which managed to create an estranged relationship with the EU and many Asian countries including China. His trade war with China just contributed towards demolishing US economy, unemployment rose to all time high and the manufacturing sector was short of breath towards the end of his presidency mainly because of his inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the November election Trump believed that he will be re-elected for a second term and during his election campaign most of his speeches were full of lies and deceit and often lacked minimum standard of decency. He was the most ignorant president America ever had who had no idea about his country’s Constitution. According to fact checkers used by mainstream media Trump told 21 lies daily that ranged from economy to his foreign policy. In the course of run up to the election he virtually alienated the US and international media from himself unable to realize that in a democratic system media can play important role during election time. Trump was suffering from extreme xenophobia and amnesia and declared to the disbelief even to the people of his own party, the Republicans, that he will only accept the election results if he wins!

The worst moment in US history came on 6th. January when House Representatives were busy formally announcing the results of the election of each State while Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence presided over the session being held at the Capitol Building (US parliament building), known to many as citadel of American democracy. As Joe Biden’s victory was already known this was just a formality. Nearby in the White House’s adjacent park Trump was speaking to thousands of his supporters, most bearing or carrying white supremacist symbols and firearms Trump declared that in the nearby Capitol Building his victory was being robbed and they should march towards the Capitol Building and do whatever necessary to stop the counting. It was virtually an open call for a coup d’état, unprecedented in US history. Trump even promised he will be with them. As directed by Trump his supporters turned into a mob and soon stormed the Capitol Building, some carrying a noose to hang Mike Pence. The world watched as the horror unfolded and it seemed that for a while US is turning itself into some kind of banana republic and Donald Trump a Tin-pot dictator. The Capitol Building security was completely overpowered. The House members soon ran for cover, some locked themselves up in the washroom for hours. On that fateful day the world could have witnessed a massacre inside the Capitol Building. Trump watched with rest of the world the mayhem being enacted at the behest of his order but did nothing to stop.

Trump has been impeached by the House for the incitement on 6th January and incidentally this is his second impeachment, the first one being in 2019. In 230 years’ history of the House of Representatives Trump becomes the first US president to be impeached twice and incidentally ten Republicans also voted in favour of his impeachment. This proves that Trump has not only divided his country in the middle but also his own party. Now remains his conviction which is within the jurisdiction of the Senate and incidentally both the Congress and Senate are controlled now by the Democrats. However in the impeachment trial, where the Chief Justice of the US presides the constitution requires a two third vote of the Senate to convict and once convicted Trump will not be able to contest for any public office in future besides losing many facilities enjoyed by a former president. The trial proceeding may begin in early February. Trump has already announced that he shall return and if necessary form his own party. Trump received the support of 74 million voters highest ever by a losing candidate. Most of his supporters still believe in Trump’s conspiracy theory that the victory was stolen from him.

Because of the unprecedented mob rule witnessed on 6th January in the Capitol Building the security measures installed before the inauguration in and around Washington DC and the Capitol Building were unprecedented. Besides the usual police security twenty-five thousand National Guards were posted which is more than the US troops posted in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The entire city was put under virtual curfew and only those selected to attend the inaugural were allowed to move inside the city. Washington DC overnight appeared like a besieged city.

Biden’s inaugural address confirmed that in-between Trump and Biden who should have been the President. In his speech Biden without naming his predecessor reminded the audience and the rest of the world how in last four years America was divided. The speech was full of realism, humility, hope and a promise to unite US at the earliest. Even on that day people held their breath till Biden was sworn in as Trump was still the President. He could have resorted to any mischief from ordering an attack in another country or declaring a Martial Law. Only when Biden finished taking his oath by saying ‘so help me God’ did people expressed their sigh of relief.

Martin Kettle writing for the Guardian of London on 20th January commented ‘America, its institutions and values have survived civil war before, as well as assassination. American will probably survive the horrors of Trump’s corrupt tenure, which Biden called “the uncivil war”. But survival may no longer be enough in an America that has been too close to the brink of a deeper conflict by a wanton leader, abetted by a weak-willed party, an elite of morally supine tech companies.’ Biden’s task to reclaim the lost America during the last four year tenure of Trump will be uphill. He is now 78, the oldest person to become president in US history overshadowing Ronald Regan (69). He will need patience, farsightedness and must prove that he is the President of all Americans as he promised during his inaugural address. Martin Kettle also wrote ‘two things that need to be remembered in the light of the Biden inauguration. The first is that the battle to extend and bolster democratic values needs to be as sleepless as the tradition of those who oppose them.

Biden’s words, that “that disagreement must not lead to disunion”, indicated the scale of what is stake. Disunion can wreck a nation." As the world’s largest economy as of now rest of the world wants to see US a strong country. On day one Biden signed more than a dozen executive orders, some of which were reverse decisions made by his predecessor. He has ordered anyone and everyone entering or working in a Federal Building or installations must wear a mask which Trump forbid. Because of Trumps amateurish handling of Covid-19 pandemic so far four hundred thousand people lost their lives. One hundred thousand may soon be added. Biden announced that in his first hundred days in office he will arrange to vaccinate one humdred million Americans. But Biden soon found that there aren’t enough stock to do that. Trump never bothered to arrange for an adequate supply. Vaccines cannot be produced overnight. Biden also signed orders increasing support for the underserved communities and re-joining the Paris climate accord. Biden also halted the Trump decision to depart from the WHO. Donald Trump’s ‘Bull in a China shop policy’ throughout his presidency will keep Biden busy for at least next one year. ‘So help him God.’

Notes: The writer is the Chairman of University Grants Commission of Bangladesh and a former Vice-Chancellor, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.