US election 2020: the stakes that were for Ireland and the world

US Election 2020

It was only last week when it felt like we were as far away as we could be from the declaration of an exhaustingly unconventional US presidential election. It had been a unique situational amalgam where the edge over the other candidate had been teetering so delicately on a razor-thin edge, that victory felt dangerously palpable to either side, while, at the same time, the pathway to it could not appear lengthier.

Even while several news outlets had started to chart the trajectory of a potential Joe Biden presidency with his surge in Pennsylvania and Georgia as of the morning of 6 November, the situation remained extremely volatile with sobering complications in both the battleground states at the centre of the tectonic political quakes of America.

This election contest had been touted to be “historic” in nature by members of the international press, ever since it began.

The intensity of international frenzy and frenetic obsession with the American domestic electoral process begs a very specific question. What exactly is at stake here? Perhaps more importantly, what does America mean to the rest of us beyond its borders?

It is no secret that the US has a staggering influence on the dynamic among the countries of the world. For decades, it has prided itself in its role as the omnipotent mediator, while reckoning the burdens of the same in strategic missteps like the Vietnam War.

Such international developments throw into lurid detail, the impact of the actions of the key players of international politics. The Covid-19 pandemic, however unsolicited, is one such development.

It can even be termed as the single most disruptive antidote to the strikingly disruptive system of governance Trump has symbolised over the course of the last four years.

Donald Trump’s administration has been infamous for its aversion toward multilateral international policies and treaties. They were deemed by his administration to have a greater propensity for the exploitation of American resources.

Trade Wars with China

There is no doubt there is a general sense of distrust of China among the foreign policy formulators of America’s so-called allies. Its trade practices and intellectual property theft have been dubbed ‘predatory’ by global economies.

However, Trump has pursued a rather aggressive approach to his trade relations with China. He has simultaneously slapped limiting trade sanctions against China while secluding America from its traditional allies. This has led to intemperate trade wars between the two as is reflected by the volatility of stock markets throughout his term.

Economists have pondered over the ironically powder-keg potential of this rather arctic dynamic between the world’s foremost economic forces.

On the one hand, Trump has set to constantly wind up China by exerting unreasonably hostile trade policies and on the other, has refused to cooperate with regional actors in strategic zones. This has led to a dangerous military escalation in the South China Sea, one which has crippled the responses of America’s traditional allies, including Australia.

China is steadily augmenting the range of its influence in neighbouring areas by pursuing expansionist policies in Hong Kong, aiming to replace the US as Thailand’s prime defence partner, to name a few strategies, without intervention from any international peace-keeping organisation.

While the rest of the world is still reeling under the shocks and challenges of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has seemed to regain control of its domestic disorder and panned the focus of its aggression on increasingly imperialistic ventures, elsewhere.

A Biden administration hopes to regulate the extremities of America’s past confrontational interaction with China on trade and urge cooperation among its allies for a better effort of keeping Chinese expansionist aggression in check.

It appears, however, that Biden’s policy in dealing with China may not be welcomed by either party. His remark at the Town Hall Debate — “America first has made America alone” — shows the ‘America first/America alone’ line of thinking has created a public perception that China may be a threat to America’s economic gain and influence.

NATO and the European Union

Trade wars are not something Trump has reserved specifically for China. It is something that could well have been extended to Europe if he were to serve a second term. The Trump administration has stayed clear of multilateral trade treaties and agreements, including withdrawing support from the World Trade Organisation.

This puts Britain in a unique post-Brexit economic situation, in which it needs to find strategic global trade partners beyond the European Union. Therefore, it is important for the UK to have a basic understanding of American support for free trade and an agreement with the UK government from one administration to the next.

The waning significance and the disintegration of NATO under a Trump leadership has exposed the national security of Britain and other European countries like Germany to hostile forces, most notably Russia.

 

Nuclear-rich Foreign Powers

Russia, although deeply troubled with its own share of insurgencies within and beyond its borders, has been building up their military and specialised nuclear arsenal since 2007.

America alienating itself from strategic regional agreements only provided a rather serendipitous setting of international confusion for the more sinister forces to be at work, clandestinely.

Nuclear de-escalation has perhaps been the most contested aspect of Trump’s foreign policy with situations in both Iran and North Korea worsening over the course of his term.

North Korea continues to reinforce its nuclear power and has recently been spotted showing off a nuclear ballistic missile with the potential to fire at US targets.

Although Trump’s aggression toward Iran has been met with support from regional powers, they are apprehensive about the fallout from a potentially incendiary situation involving the two nuclear powers.

This is one of the probable reasons why Israel (which views Iran as a major threat) wanted the US to help broker a hasty truce with the UAE.

The stability of the region hangs over a very sensitive balance after the American assassination of Iran’s powerful military commander Qassim Soleimani and retaliation by Iran on US troops stationed in Iraq.

Iran continues to enrich its Uranium reserves beyond the agreed limits specified by the more hostile sanctions under Trump.

 

The Climate Crisis

Apart from escalating tensions in international politics, a further challenge threatening the stability of the world is its rapidly changing climate.

Disregarding the climate crisis, Trump has gone ahead and withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, dealing with mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. He has instead touted the indispensable role of oil and fossil fuels for a full realisation of the production capacities of American industries. 

The Biden administration has the most proactive stance to date on the issue of climate crisis in American history. Biden announced a  2 trillion USD climate plan in July 2020, that would focus on promoting the use of clean energy in transportation, electricity and building industries, while significantly slashing fossil fuel emissions over the course of four years.

He has also committed to rejoining the Paris climate accord during his presidency.

Irish Interests: Trade and Taxation

For Covid-stricken Ireland, the candidates’ policies on trade and tax would be the most relevant. Hence, this section has been saved for the last.

There is a purported Irish belief that Trump would have planned to shift the offices of several big tech companies in the Republic back to the United States, in an effort to ramp up domestic investment.

Meanwhile, Biden has decided to make it harder for American firms to conceal or shift their profits overseas. He intends to reverse some of the provisions of the corporate tax cuts introduced during Trump’s term while raising taxes for higher earners.

Trump, on the other hand, had promised to preserve the corporate and inheritance tax cuts that were arguably one of the most notable features of his fiscal regime. Dermot O’Leary from the Irish Examiner even calls them “one of his greatest legacies to business over the past four years”.

Implications of a Biden Presidency

However, no matter the short-term economic advantages of Trump’s economic policies, the additional burdens of a pandemic on an already-strained State treasury is going to cost the United States. A Biden administration could only work through the deficits, not make them disappear overnight.

Biden and his vice president Kamala Harris would be marching into the White House on what may prove to be the most progressive presidential ticket in American history. 

Harris has emphatically commended Biden’s courage in choosing a most unconventional second-in-command during a most tempestuous period of divisive partisan vitriol drenching the protest-ridden streets of America.

“And what a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exist in our country and select a woman as his vice president”, Harris exclaimed to a roaring audience in her victory speech.

Indeed this brand of audacity, characteristic of the future administration, contrasts sharply with the one endorsed by the incumbent one.

 

This article is an opinion piece. All opinions expressed are the writer’s alone.

 

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About the author

Yishi Chakrabarty

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