America votes: what a Biden victory means

Middle ground: Biden hopes to win over moderate Republicans who are disgusted by Trump.

Will Joe Biden make the world a better place? Supporters hope that if he wins, he will restore US global leadership, but others fear he has no plans to solve the world’s most pressing issues.

Core values: Biden has presented himself as a unifier, capable of bringing the country together after the divisions of the Trump era. To those who are repulsed by Trump’s vulgarity, he promises the return of decency and civility to American politics.

Climate change: Biden argues that the environment and the economy are inextricably linked. He wants to use decarbonisation to create new jobs and expand the US economy. He has pledged to set the US on the path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, invest in infrastructure to mitigate the damage of climate change and to work with the rest of the world to secure agreements on lowering emissions. However, he has come under fire for refusing to ban fracking.

Covid crisis: the Democratic hopeful has made much of his promise to “listen to the science” on Covid-19. He plans to fix the USA’s test-and-trace system, increase production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and provide emergency resources for small businesses to ensure that they can keep customers safe. He also wants to invest $25bn in the creation and distribution of a vaccine.

War and peace: the Democratic Party has generally become more hostile towards Russia since 2016, when it blamed Russian interference for Trump’s victory in that year’s election. Biden is no exception: he has called Russia “the biggest threat to America”. He also intends to maintain diplomatic pressure on China. Biden has criticised Trump’s “love affair with autocrats”; however, he has himself praised US-aligned dictators like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Race and policing: in the 1970s, he opposed busing, a measure to diversify school populations by bringing black children into majority-white schools. In 1994, Biden co-wrote the controversial crime bill, which expanded the prison population and disproportionately affected African Americans. More recently, he has apologised for this history with the black community, but he still refuses to endorse an ambitious police reform programme.

Poverty and inequality: unwilling to alienate moderate Republicans with big tax and spending hikes, Biden has instead proposed a more cautious tax rise on incomes over $400,000. He has floated the idea of appointing hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs to his cabinet, suggesting that he does not intend to take on big business. His running mate, Kamala Harris, hopes to introduce new tax credits for poorer families, plans that analysts have suggested could lift 20 million people out of poverty.

Brexit Britain: Biden is proud of his Irish Catholic roots, and he has sworn not to make a trade deal with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement is threatened. Britain was once an important US ally, but in the last ten years successive US presidents have looked to Germany and France instead, and many US politicians think that Brexit has reduced British global influence. It is unlikely that a President Biden would prioritise a trade deal for the UK.

Will Joe Biden make the world a better place?

Biden his time

Yes, say some. There is a significant chance that the Democrats will win the Senate as well as the White House in the coming election, which would allow Biden to carry out his domestic agenda unimpeded. If his poverty plan comes to fruition, 20 million people will be better off. Additionally, his climate plan would be the most ambitious that any president has ever adopted.

No, say others. Biden may wish to seem like a unifier, but the US was just as divided when he was vice-president under Barack Obama as it has been under Trump. He has no answer to the pressing question of police brutality. His climate plan is less ambitious than it needs to be and a tough line on China would prevent meaningful environmental negotiations with the world’s biggest polluter.

You Decide

  1. In the USA, the voting age is 18. Should it be lower – or higher?
  2. Joe Biden’s political career stretches back almost 50 years. Is it right that he should be held accountable for the things he said and did in the past? Or should we only pay attention to his ideas now?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you have just been elected president. What do you do in your first hundred days in office? List five things, and then explain how you will achieve them.
  2. Write a letter to your local newspaper explaining why you are voting for or against Joe Biden.

Some People Say...

“The one thing I want my kids to remember about me is that I was an athlete. The hell with the rest of this stuff.”

Joe Biden, US presidential candidate

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that Biden is unfortunately prone to gaffes. Just two months before the 2008 election, in which he was running to be vice-president, he said that Hillary Clinton would have been a better candidate than him. On the campaign trail, he told a wheelchair-bound Missouri politician to “stand up”. Perhaps most embarrassingly, in 1987 he was discovered to have plagiarised almost an entire speech from Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over how long a Biden presidency would last. If he wins the election he will become president at age 78, which will make him the oldest incoming president in US history. His first term would end when he was 82. Some think that he might resign before then, in which case Kamala Harris, his vice-presidential pick, would become the first female president. Whether or not Biden steps down early, Harris will be the favourite to succeed him in the next set of Democratic primaries.

Word Watch

Decarbonisation
Removing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the output of the economy.
Net-zero carbon emissions
A situation in which the same amount of carbon dioxide is absorbed as is released. Many countries, including the UK, have set this as their target for 2050, though some environmentalists want them to go further and achieve it by 2030.
Fracking
Short for “hydraulic fracturing”, a process in which fluids are pumped into the ground at high pressures to break the rock and release natural gas. It has been linked with earthquakes and the contamination of water supplies.
Test-and-trace system
Seen by many as the key to controlling an epidemic, a test-and-trace system tests people for a disease and then traces their contacts to warn them that they might have been infected.
Autocrats
A leader who is not bound by constitutional norms or checked by other sources of political authority, like a parliament or the judicial system.
Hosni Mubarak
The President of Egypt between 1981 and 2011. He was accused of torturing his opponents and trampling on Egyptians’ human rights.
Busing
After desegregation in the 1960s, many US schools were still effectively segregated because they served predominantly white neighbourhoods. Busing was a scheme to integrate these schools by bringing in children from black neighbourhoods on designated buses. Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris was a beneficiary of this scheme.
Crime bill
Officially known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, this law made 60 crimes punishable by the death penalty, and abolished education provisions for prison inmates.
Tax credits
A kind of tax cut designed to reduce the tax burden on poorer people.
Good Friday Agreement
The treaty that ended the Troubles, a decades-long conflict between Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, which also saw fighting between the British government and Irish republicans. One of its central tenets is an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an arrangement that Brexit threatens.

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