By Cameron Spencer |
At just past 4:00pm GMT, networks announced that America had chosen Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be the next President of the United States. Election night stretched from Tuesday to Saturday; the eyes of the world focused on Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and, finally, Biden’s birth state of Pennsylvania. As ballots flooded in from Philadelphia, the writing was on the wall for Donald Trump. While he is yet to concede the election, choosing to file lawsuits, call recounts and spread misinformation on Twitter, Trump will join the small list of presidents who have been defeated in their re-election bids.
Speaking in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Biden emphasised unity above all else. ‘I am a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president’, he said. ‘Let this grim era of demonization in American begin to end here and now’, a not so subtle rebuke of his predecessor and his divisive rhetoric. Biden seemed rejuvenated as he appeared for the first time as the president-elect. After nearly half a century in politics, two failed presidential runs and family tragedies that would have derailed most other political careers, he turned back the years and delivered a forceful and sanguine speech, more reminiscent of his Senate days than the lackluster speeches he has been alleged to deliver during this presidential campaign.
Kamala Harris has become the first woman and second bi-racial person, after Charles Curtis, to win the office of the vice president, a trail-blazing moment for women and black Americans, finally seeing representation one step away from the presidency. Turning 78 this month, Biden will be the oldest president by a considerable margin, leading to many suggesting that he will only serve one term. Harris will undeniably be the front runner to succeed Biden, whether in 2024 or 2028, enshrining her as one of the most important figures in US politics for the next decade. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, will also become the first Second Gentleman and his Jewish faith will mean that they will be the first inter-faith couple in one of the two highest offices in the land. Also speaking in Wilmington, she highlighted the historical significance of her election; ‘while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities’.
What of President Trump? When the networks finally announced the winner, he was on the golf course, taking a break from the reality that his shocking 2016 win would not be repeated. Traditionally, a losing presidential candidate concedes once the result seems to suggest that they will not win the White House. Since the days of George Washington, a cordial, and most importantly peaceful, transition of power had never been in doubt, even in closer and more contentious elections than this. In 2000, Al Gore famously conceded to George W. Bush despite believing he had won the White House weeks ago and the vote count in Florida within 0.007% of victory. Trump has once again broken tradition in refusing to concede to Biden, instead launching a series of lawsuits over his long-running accusations of electoral fraud.
So, after a stress-filled five days, is it over? Not really. The Biden Presidency will be profoundly hamstrung without control of the US Senate, which looks narrowly out of reach, pending two Georgia runoff elections in January. Without control of all three branches of government, Biden will be forced to make concessions on policy. The recent history of the body suggests that Republicans will make the passage of progressive bills very unlikely. Four seats out of one hundred remain unfilled, two, in North Carolina and Alaska, will most likely be won by the Republicans in the next few days, but the eyes of the country will once again be focused on Georgia come January. In Georgia Senate elections, the winner must receive 50% of the vote to triumph. Unfortunately, for incumbent Republican David Purdue, his 49.8% will not be enough, meaning that he and Democrat Jon Ossoff will compete on January 5th to fill the seat. The second seat will be contested by Republican Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock to fill the seat vacated by a retiring Republican. Fresh from winning Georgia at the presidential level, Democrats will be quietly optimistic that they can win these consequential races and create a 50 to 50 tie in the Senate, with Vice President Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.
Biden has already begun to plan his first moves once he is inaugurated as president on January 20th. He has announced the creation of a COVID-19 taskforce of scientists and economists to tackle the pandemic, a situation that is continuing to claim thousands of lives each day. Biden will also sign several executive orders ending the travel ban on majority Muslim countries, one of the most controversial policies of the Trump Presidency, and to rejoin the World Health Organisation and the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, the DACA program will be reinstated, allowing thousands of young people brought illegally to America as children to claim citizenship in the only country they have ever known.
The next few days will be a celebration for a small majority of Americans and a period of grief and reflection for the minority. America remains bitterly divided and it will be the job of President-elect Biden to extinguish the anger and fear that has taken hold across the fifty states. ‘Keep the faith’, said Biden, he will hope that this plea falls on ears that are willing to listen.