One of the first things President-presumptive Joe Biden says he wants to do is to get the US back into the Paris climate agreement. Coincidentally, the US’s withdrawal from it became formal on the day after the election.
It shows you how important US elections are to the world. John Kennedy narrowly won over Richard Nixon. Would Nixon have dealt with the Cuban missile crisis as adroitly, or would he have hit the nuclear button?
Would Al Gore have invaded Iraq guaranteeing decades of war and violence and increased, not decreased, terrorism? Extremely unlikely.
And now, it is likely that the US will rejoin world efforts to try to prevent climate breakdown and untold human and economic damage. That is if it is not already too late.
President Trump set the US withdrawal in motion on 1 June 2017. It took so long to be finalised because of a combination of UN and US arrangements designed to make it difficult to withdraw. But Trump did it anyway – impetuous and unilateral as usual.
And they are attributes of Trump’s presidency that will become important for Biden. So much of the Trump mischief was done by Trump acting alone that it can equally be undone by a President also acting on his own. And to that extent, the Democrats’ probable lack of a majority in the Senate will not matter on some issues.
A vast number of single-handed administrative decisions, especially on the environment; appointing cronies and unqualified fools to important positions; and imposing trade restrictions can be single-handedly overturned by Biden.
Other Trump characteristics that will help a Biden presidency are tribalism and vindictiveness. Together they were used by Trump to get his will. For four years sensible Republicans have been too scared to oppose Trump in even the smallest of things. They feared a vindictive reprisal. It kept them in the tribe with a mentality of “if you are not with us you are against us”.
Getting the US back into international co-operation on climate is the most important outcome of this election. It might also help put an end to the slide towards authoritarianism in so many countries.
Of course, the few remaining moderate Republican senators will still fear reprisal from the far-right of their party in the form of being challenged for their nominations and so will be less likely to co-operate in many of the things that Biden is proposing.
And yes, four years of incessant lying and irrationality is bound to have an effect, but maybe it will not be such a permanent stain if it is seen that he has not got away with it, however small the margin.
Aside from the end of the illogical ravings from the White House on Twitter, something else will go – Trump’s sense of aggrievement and entitlement. Did anyone every see him smile, let alone laugh, during his presidency? There was never any joy in the man.
So, what of the next 75 days until inauguration? Incitement to violence on the streets? Multiple legal challenges to the election? Refusal to leave the White House?
They are nowhere near as likely as many would have you believe.
Biden has a substantial margin in the popular vote and at the time of writing looked like having a margin of between two and more than 40 in the Electoral College. That changes a lot.
There is far more risk now for Republicans or people in business to publicly support Trump in whatever irrational thing he says or does. It is in the nature of politics for politicians to look to the next election and how any statement or action now would affect their chances of re-election.
It is one thing to be a spineless supplicant to a President in office and with a chance of re-election; quite another to remain on board while all the other rats are leaving the sinking ship. Indeed, the rats are desperately swimming around looking for another ship to board. It’s called the mid-terms and 2024.
Besides, even if there is a bit of civil strife in the US during the transition, it is insignificant compared to the damage of another four years of Trump – not just to the US but to the whole world in the form of climate inaction and trade and military friction with China, among other things.
The candidates’ reaction to the election count illustrates the point. The possibility of a Trump loss has been met with threats; absurd legal actions to stop the count; delusions that “his” Supreme Court would decide the election and so on. Meanwhile, Biden, has urged people to wait calmly for the full count and accept the result when it comes, which he promised he would do.
Trump deludes himself if he thinks the Supreme Court will just install him in power. Even the most partisan of the judges will require a legal case – that votes were illegally omitted from the count or were illegally included AND that there were enough votes at stake to make a difference in that state.
Moreover, he would have to succeed in such a difficult case in enough states to make a difference overall. Courts are usually very careful about messing with elections.
Lastly, Trump has a record of ineptitude and incapacity to get anything much done at all. There is no wall. Obamacare has not been repealed and replaced. His capacity to execute a plan to somehow nullify the outcome of this election must be rated very low indeed. That’s not to say he won’t noisily try.
The Trump presidency started with a lie and delusion about the size of his inauguration crowd and continued in the same vein until the final lie and delusion that he won re-election.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 7 November 2020.