/ 5 November 2020

A Biden win isn’t necessarily a win for the rest of us

Joe Biden Holds Drive In Campaign Event In Iowa
Cardboard cutout: Whatever his limitations, Joe Biden is preferable as a leader to his rival. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

As we write this, it still isn’t clear who will win the United States election. A Donald Trump win would be catastrophic. His erasing of rights in his own country will drive further civil strife and mean more black people are shot dead for the crime of existing in public. It will mean more pollution. More instability. More excuses for other violent rules. More destruction of the rights of women and anyone who isn’t a white, right-of-centre man. Where the work of four years could still be overturned, eight years will entrench systemic violence.

Joe Biden will likely win. This isn’t, on the face of it, much of a win for the rest of us. Like the president he served under, Biden will continue allowing US weapons to kill people while preaching American exceptionalism. 

The American Empire is the reality that we live under today. 

Of the two options, Biden is the slightly-more-survivable one. If the current trends in the vote count continue, we will have four years of a Democratic president, working with a Republican senate and watched over by a conservative court. 

This will subtly change all manner of things.

Trump does not, publicly, believe in the reality of climate change. With corporate lobbyists driving his political agenda, he has stripped some 100 environment laws in the US. On Wednesday the US formally left the Paris climate agreement.  

The world’s other major polluters have stepped up, with most saying they will reduce carbon emissions to net zero by the middle of this century. This is too slow. It does, however, give markets a signal so investments flow into low-carbon technology. 

Just look at what’s happening in the electric vehicle market to see what that means. 

In the middle of a difficult day on Wednesday, Biden tweeted that “in exactly 77 days, the Biden administration will rejoin [the climate agreement]”. That is a crucial step in climate diplomacy. The more countries that take climate change seriously, the more countries will do. It also rips the shelter away from rogue leaders, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.  

With the US the world’s second-largest climate polluter, Biden has promised a $2-trillion plan to build a more resilient, sustainable economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. China has committed to 2060. 

That goal, like many others, will depend on how the Republican Party in the senate, under Mitch McConnell, works with the administration. McConnell destroyed many of Barack Obama’s climate ambitions.  

This could signal an end to the overt “America first” policies of Trump. In 2018, the US threatened that it would cut funding to countries that did not vote with it in recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. South Africa was one of the countries in the United Nations that did not vote with America. 

Trump then attacked the World Health Organisation, his military allies in Nato, the UN and virtually any other organisation that holds up the current world order. Questioning that order is important, given that it reinforces the power of certain groups. Trump tried to destroy that order, creating holes that were plugged with other authoritarian leaders. 

Biden will likely move fast to put his country at the spiritual heart of these organisations again. 

For Africa, while Trump went as far as talking about “shithole” countries, a Biden presidency will mean little. The inward move by the US has coincided with the growing strength of increasingly authoritarian China. Biden has said he will be “tough on China” and that indicates an administration that will focus on big power contests, rather than issues on continents where leaders don’t have nuclear weapons.

With Trump’s total disregard for Africa and women, his seeming loss will be a win for many who identify with the two groups. For instance, in January 2017, Trump reintroduced the Mexico City policy, known as the global gag rule. The policy allows the US government to withdraw its funding from organisations in other countries if they perform or advocate for abortions, regardless of whether US funding is used for this or not. This means that organisations are not allowed to help or advocate for women to have abortions. 

This has a direct and dire effect in African countries where sexual reproductive health rights in public health systems are not the top priority. Even in the United States, the issue of abortion is divisive and Trump has since 2016 been on the campaign to rebuild the supreme court, which has animated anti-abortion campaigners who believe women’s bodies must be policed.

The impact on funding is widely felt and a change in administration will change the strings that come with that funding. 

For workers, Biden vowed he would be “the strongest labour president” unions have ever seen. And organised labour is seemingly hopeful that a victory for the otherwise centrist leader will revive America’s trade union movement. This is a country, though, that talks about worker rights without realising those rights. And that sets a tone for global capital, where American countries export their values and ways of treating workers. 

Biden has also committed to raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2026. The higher the United States sets the standards, the harder it is for multinational corporations to do worse in other jurisdictions. 

A Biden administration would, at the very least, embolden America’s left — which holds a much stronger position in the democratic infrastructure than it has in many years. This could have a direct impact on future labour policies. That strengthens the position of the left globally, while the opposite is also true for a Trump win. 

All this means that, on balance, a Biden win brings with it a better future for the rest of the world. But Trump took five million more votes than he did in 2016. He has also pushed the Republican Party so far to the right that it now has QAnon conspiracy theorists in its senatorial ranks. 

Much like there was an overwhelming euphoria that gripped many Zimbabweans when they finally said asante sana to Robert Mugabe, Trump’s removal won’t change the colour of America’s fabric too drastically. White supremacy is the pattern. However after the racist, dominionist, anti-intellectualism presidency that the world has had to endure for four years, it’s a welcome change.