The adult in the room | Pakistan Today

The adult in the room

  • Americans face a stark choice this time

Americans will have the privilege on Tuesday of choosing whether they want to retain their current President, Republican Donald Trump, for a further four years, or of voting in Democrat Joe Biden. It is being billed as a fight for the USA’s soul, but it is surprising the similarities between the two men, and thus how far the great diversity that is the USA finds itself in for leadership from the same kind of  person as has predominated in US history.

Neither is much of a departure from the stereotype that has prevailed in US history, to the extent that any departure from it has been noted: the WASP, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And one might add Male. Trump does not depart from the stereotype at all, while Biden only does to the extent that he is not a Protestant, but a Roman Catholic. However, a candidate’s Catholicism, once a big deal, is no longer one. Vice-President Mike Pence is one, and has not been a handicap. From the US perspective, Biden is about as WASP as they come. He does not come across as gross as Trump does, but he is painted with the same brushes.

The choice before the USA is not between a shining knight and a black-dyed villain. It is between two white Anglo-Saxon male septuagenarians, both guilty of misogynistic behaviour, both racist, both corrupt. The only difference is that Trump is tawdry, and while Biden is not stylish (too old for that), he shows restraint.

Sexual harassment was something Trump was accused of as a candidate back in 2016, and his Presidency could have been very messy, but there was no scandal there. However, Joe Biden has had abuse rumours swirl around him, both when he previously ran for President, and when he was a vice-presidential candidate. He has not engaged in the sort of bad behavior, or loose talk, that Trump has been accused of, but he comes across as a kind of sexual predator too. The defence offered for him also seems to concede that he was guilty: that such behavior was acceptable, even expected in the era when Biden was growing up (he will become President at 78 if he wins, being older than Trump, who is 74 already, and will become the USA’s oldest President by the time his second term ends). This, and the rumours about previous holders of the office, indicates that there is a culture of infidelity in the US political elite. As that culture permeates US society as a whole, it seems that to be out of it is exceptional rather than usual.

What seems to have changed is that it is being brought out into the open by the #MeToo movement, the trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the suicide after arrest of former mutual-fund manager Jeffrey Epstein. Bide has apparently tried to make amends by naming a woman as his vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris.

Being black, she also covered another base for him, that of the black vote. Biden had been Vice-president for eight years to the country’s first black President, but still needed to consolidate the black vote, which had been made more aware by the Black Lives Matter movement which swept the USA after being sparked by the killing of George Floyd by policemen who had taken him into custody. Biden, A Democrat, was in the right party, as blacks had voted overwhelmingly Democrat, but had worked with Ku Klux Klan supporters while a Senator, over legislation. Again, that is being ascribed to the era he was in; the Democratic Party he joined included segregationists from the South.

Trump has got a very bad record on race. He chose a debate with Biden to tell the white supremacist group the Bad Boys to ‘stand down and stand ready.’ This is being taken to mean that Trump is not only unwilling to leave the Presidency if he loses, but also that he looks to white supremacists to help him remain in office. This indicates that he wishes to go beyond the rules, and in words of Lenin, does not intend to rely on ‘formal majorities’.

On the other hand, there has been no hint that Biden might not accept an unfavourable result. The attempted overthrow of the Governor of Michigan recently, showed the role white supremacist groups are expected to play. The USA faces a stark contrast with Biden representing the Enlightenment ideals that called the USA into being. The Constitution represented those ideals, which borrowed from English political development and thought, and which went on to inspire the making of the French Republic.

To break the ideal requires that something be done. Can Trump claim to have solved the race problem? He seems a representative of those who want a reversion, almost as if a black President was too much to tolerate. That might be the reason why the Republicans nominated someone who had never run for office before. Can Trump claim to have fought off China? It seems the covid-19 pandemic has put China ahead, and Trump in his second term, or Biden throughout his presidency, will have to fight these two issues. It should not be ignored that Trump’s antipathy to China has an obvious racial element. White Russia is apparently acceptable.

Biden will not be soft on China, not if Kamala Harris has anything to do with it. China becoming a world power is bad enough, but for it to replace the USA, just at the time that India garnered its support, is an exquisite agony, which can only be balanced by India itself becoming a world power. That is something Pakistan dreads, even more than the present dilemma it faces, whose henchman it will be, the USA’s or China’s, in the coming standoff. Pakistan has traditionally backed Republicans, though this time it is a Hobson’s choice: the Republican President has formed a personal relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while the Democratic vice-presidential nominee is the daughter of an Indian (her Jamaican father allows her to claim she is a black) and the grand-daughter of a diplomat who was influential in her childhood.

One of the things Trump showed during his Presidency was his penchant for corruption, in the sense that he was willing to interfere in criminal cases on behalf of those he considered friends. It seems that Biden’s son Hunter misused his father’s office during his Vice-Presidency, getting money from both China and Ukraine. Some of that money has gone to Biden himself, it seems. While he may not be guilty of corruption, it is a safe bet that this issue will be raised during a Biden Presidency. Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his income tax returns, and what has been revealed about them, show that he is not entirely aboveboard in his business operations.

The choice before the USA is not between a shining knight and a black-dyed villain. It is between two white Anglo-Saxon male septuagenarians, both guilty of misogynistic behaviour, both racist, both corrupt. The only difference is that Trump is tawdry, and while Biden is not stylish (too old for that), he shows restraint.

Trump reflects something. The Republican Party reflects that part of the US electorate that is not just nostalgic about a time when the USA was the Leader of the Free World, but everyone knew his place. And white males were on top. The Democrats reflect the part that holds to the Enlightenment ideals of the Republic’s founding.

For the second time, Biden has to play the role of the ‘adult in the room.’ When Obama became the first black President and Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State, Biden was given responsibility for foreign affairs. Clearly, he was the establishment’s safety valve. This time around, Trump is not under the control of that establishment. That will be restored by Biden’s winning.