In the 2020 presidential election, democracy won over demagoguery, competence and experience won over fantasy, and decency won over hatred and divisiveness.
President-elect Joe Biden did not achieve the sweeping victory over Donald Trump that many of us hoped. Biden also does not, at this point, have the votes in the Senate to ensure passage of his health care and other domestic initiatives. But with Biden, the levers of American presidential power for the next four years will be in the hands of an experienced, capable and responsible leader in the White House.
An outraged President Donald Trump reacted to his defeat as predicted – unproven conspiracy allegations, statements undermining the validity of a national election, shallow lawsuits and threats. Trump’s response to his defeat was that of a loser – without grace or dignity.
By contrast, in victory, Biden was presidential, respectful of the U.S. election process and unifying in his message to the nation.
As president, Trump persisted in undermining the elements of democracy at almost every level. In his heart, Trump seemed to covet the powers of an autocrat as he cultivated close relationships with Vladimir Putin and others.
Trump constantly smeared the press that challenged him as he pursued policies to politicize and dominate the government at all levels. He discredited experts and professionals in government who are sworn to uphold the law as the “deep state” and demanded absolute loyalty to him throughout government.
Trump’s most alarming threat to democracy was his attack on the rule of law. He was determined to make Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department and the FBI his personal lawyer and private police force. Through his actions in office, Barr seemed more than comfortable with absolute presidential power.
Trump could not politicize the military due to long-standing prohibitions about involvement in politics. Whether these limits would hold up through a second Trump term as president is questionable.
After reality settles in and Trump is removed from the White House, the hard right will continue to label Biden a “socialist” under the control of the extreme elements of the left in an attempt to weaken Biden’s presidency.
Labeling Biden as a “socialist” who is hell-bent on turning the U.S. into Venezuela will not stick. Biden has been a political moderate as vice president and in Congress for decades. He knows how government works and the nature and limits of presidential power. His policies on health care, education, tax policy and global warming will not make Republicans happy, but they are well within the norms of political issues facing the United States today.
Biden is a leader who has demonstrated a commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the norms of government in a functional American republic.
Biden will staff the top levels of the government, not with unqualified loyalists and sycophants, but with experienced, qualified and capable people. He will fill positions at the top of government with professionals because he knows from experience in the White House that a full and objective debate within the government is the path to effective policy.
The president-elect also understands the value and limits of an objective American intelligence system that reports the truth as they see it to the government without fear of retaliation. He certainly will not take the word of Putin over the judgment of the U.S. intelligence system.
Although Biden will struggle to implement a wide-ranging domestic agenda, as president, he will not be so restricted on foreign and national security policy.
Trump’s America-first policy and contempt for traditional democratic allies in Europe and Asia did enormous damage to U.S. influence abroad, and therefore to American national security. One of Biden’s first jobs will be to restore cooperative relationships with these critical allies. He also will likely commit to international institutions like NATO and the United Nations – institutions created by the U.S. to support American national security interests.
The foreign-policy challenges facing the next president are huge. Biden also will have to deal with Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions, aggressive Chinese and Russian policies, instability in the Middle East, as well as leadership on climate change. And then, there are the unforeseen international events that may occur.
Given the threats, Biden’s foreign-policy experience in the Senate and the White House make him far more capable of dealing with these issues than Trump.
Biden won the presidential election by, at this writing, more than 4 million votes, and will win the electoral college by a significant margin. The election did not give him the broad mandate to implement his range of domestic policy goals easily.
But overall, American voters selected democracy, competence and decency over the much darker and destructive future for the country.