Opinion: A new dawn for America

Joe Biden’s impending victory in the US presidential election offers hope in a year that has been sorely lacking in it. Richard Dawson looks back on an election night that became an election week and looks forward to what the return of American leadership on the world stage could mean for the UK

The breakneck speed at which American broadcasters deliver the news is truly something to behold.

As I spent the best part of last week glued to PBS, CNN and ABC, I remember thinking, ‘if only John King was counting these postal ballots in Pennsylvania, the result of the US election would already be decided’.

Alas, the world had to wait until Saturday (November 7) to find out who the next occupant of the White House was going to be.

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. probably never thought his day would come, having twice been unsuccessful in running to be the Democratic Party nominee in 1988 and 2008.

But the Senator from Delaware’s promise of a return to common decency after four years of division and chaos was one that cut through with the electorate.

Now at the grand old age of 77, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 21, 2021.

He will be joined by the Senator from California, Kamala Harris, who becomes the first female Vice President and the first African American and Asian American to hold the office.

It’s an outcome which, predictably, hasn’t gone down very well with the incumbent.

President Donald Trump has spent recent days trying to undermine the democratic process, filing lawsuits in key battleground states where he saw his early advantage slip away and taking to Twitter to make a number of unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud.

The social media company has even had to start censoring his tweets in an attempt to stop misinformation spreading on its platform.

In this Orwellian reality Mr Trump has created, on election night (November 3), his supporters were heard chanting “stop the vote” in Michigan, while simultaneously shouting “count that vote” in Arizona.

War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and so on.

This is the big challenge for Joe Biden – he has to restore faith in America’s democratic institutions after a sitting president has thrown them under the bus.

He also has to reach out across the divide and unite a country that is more fractured than at any time since the American Civil War.

This has been at the heart of his message since becoming President-elect. In a victory speech on November 7, Mr Biden promised to end what he described as a “grim era of demonization in America”.

The scale of his ambitions on both domestic and foreign policy amounts to reversing much of the controversial legislation Donald Trump enacted during his four-year term.

This may be difficult on the home front given that it looks like the Democrats are not going to have an outright majority in the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Kamala Harris might prove to be very influential in this regard as she will be able to cast the deciding vote in the Senate in the event of a 50-50 tie.

In fact, it’s expected that the first female Vice President will be given a wide-ranging brief to share the presidential load and ensure that the new administration is able to implement its programme.

Joe Biden will likely come into his own in the field of foreign affairs, where he has promised to fill a vacuum of global leadership that has been ruthlessly exploited by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Biden administration has promised to revitalise international co-operation and strengthen international institutions.

Top of the list will be re-joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to lead an international coronavirus response, strengthening NATO and signing the US back up to the Paris Agreement and a new Iran Nuclear Deal.

An end to “America First” nationalism will be a welcome thing, but where does the UK fit in to all of this?

Well, fears that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not well thought of by Mr Biden appear to have been allayed by the fact that the former was the first European leader to receive a phone call from the President-elect.

The two spoke for around 25 minutes on the phone and discussed working together on shared priorities such as climate change, promoting democracy and rebuilding their economies following the pandemic.

But on the subject of Brexit and a UK/US trade deal, there can be no denying that Boris and Biden remain worlds apart in their approach.

Mr Biden has made public his concerns about the future of the Good Friday Agreement post-Brexit and has made improving US relations with Europe a top priority.

At the same time, Mr Johnson is pursuing a policy of national independence and self-determination, particularly where Europe is concerned.

What the forthcoming Biden presidency reinforces, therefore, is that the UK should be focusing its energies on getting a comprehensive deal with the EU, rather than hoping the so-called special relationship, which may no longer exist in the American psyche, is somehow going to rescue us from our international trade woes.