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Transition troubles

President-elect Joe Biden stands with his nominees for his national security team at his transition headquarters, in Wilmington on November 24, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

After weeks of ferment in post-election politics, the U.S. appears to be limping towards a denouement that, at last, allows Democratic President-elect Joe Biden to assume administrative transition responsibilities and also announce his plans for populating his Cabinet with a series of high-profile appointments. While the 80 million Americans who voted for Mr. Biden will heave a collective sigh of relief at the break in the logjam, the weeks ahead are still fraught with potential potholes and speed breakers that could hobble the entry and early performance of the new government from January 2021.

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Potholes and speed breakers

First, outgoing President Donald Trump has given hardly any indication that he accepts the fact that he is, indeed, outgoing, emboldened, no doubt, by the fact that he garnered nearly 10 million votes more than his tally in the 2016 election. Numerous lawsuits from the Trump team have challenged the veracity of the vote-tallying process, primarily an attack on mail-in voting adopted on a massive scale for the 2020 election owing to the pandemic. Although most of these have been knocked down in the courts, Mr. Trump has vowed to fight on and has continued to hit out on Twitter at what he calls the election “hoax.”

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Second, the Biden transition team is yet to discover the full extent of institutional resistance to change from the Trump paradigm to the post-Obama liberal ethos for governance, whatever that will look like. Consider the case of the General Services Administration, a federal agency whose sign off is required recognising the winner of the presidential election. Its chief, Emily Murphy, prevaricated for a time that some considered longer than necessary before issuing an “ascertainment” recognising the “apparent successful candidate” in the election. How many federal government officials who support Mr. Trump, perhaps even his conspiracy theories about Democrats stealing the 2020 election, will make their reluctance to cooperate with the Biden team known in the days ahead? How much will that dent the incoming administration’s ambitions for its first 100 days?

Third, Mr. Biden needs to tread that thin line between returning the U.S. to its pre-eminent position as a leading global power, whose influence in domestic and world politics is driven by a liberal, inclusive ethos, and being a leader who does not repudiate the Trump paradigm and its focus on putting ‘America First’ entirely. Too many U.S. middle class and working-class voters have spoken eloquently over the past two elections on this subject to ignore. Too many of them have expressed dissatisfaction with the classic progressive paradigm of the Obama years to return to business as usual.

Bridging the chasm

It is this critical question surrounding the quality and tenor of governance under the Biden White House that will make or break the future of the American Dream. The key to the mammoth task of building a nuanced agenda that bridges the chasm between the two Americas that exists presently is the choice of leaders that Mr. Biden picks to serve in his Cabinet. Thus far the names announced include Antony Blinken, senior foreign policy specialist known to Mr. Biden for around 20 years, as prospective for Secretary of State; attorney Alejandro Mayorkas for Homeland Security chief; senior diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.S. Ambassador to the UN; Obama-era White House official Jake Sullivan for National Security Adviser; Avril Haines, former Deputy Director of the CIA, for Director of National Intelligence; former Secretary of State John Kerry for Special Envoy on Climate Change; and possibly — but not announced yet — Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defence.

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Given that this selection for the Biden Cabinet appears, prima facie, to be drawn from channels within the Democratic Party firmament and Washington nexus, it is vital that Mr. Biden strives even harder to break with past policies to build an America that speaks to the 73 million citizens who voted for his opponent.

narayan@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 12:56:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/transition-troubles/article33178925.ece

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