By Jonas Balkus
The days that have followed Joe Biden’s inauguration have seen a considerable shift in the tone of American governance. A record breaking flurry of executive orders, an ambitious stimulus bill and a marked shift in foreign policy have all indicated that this administration will be very different from its predecessor. So let’s have a look at these early actions of Joe Biden, and see what they can tell us to expect for the next four years.
This administration will be very different from its predecessor
In foreign policy, Biden has attempted to repair the USA’s position as an international leader. He scrambled to repair relations with NATO allies by returning to agreements that were abandoned under Trump’s isolationist administration. Trump’s cuts to aid are expected to be reversed, along with a review of USA Middle East policy. Relations with Russia have cooled; in a phone call with Putin this week, Biden condemned the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and warned against Russian aggression in Ukraine. New START, a nuclear disarmament deal, was also renewed.
All this appears to be a return to Obama-era policies, but there are key differences. Firstly, it is unlikely that the USA’s tough stance on China will be changing; international opinion of China has decreased dramatically over the past few years due to aggression and human rights abuses in Xinjiang, something Biden has personally condemned.
However, Biden has stressed a multilateral approach to countering China, emphasising his commitment to the restoration of the USA as an international leader. This is another sharp contrast to Trump, whose unilateral trade wars with China were indicative of his isolationist approach.
All this appears to be a return to Obama-era policies
Biden’s foreign policy looks set to be tougher on authoritarians than Trump was. But just how tough will these stances be? Biden, after all, was Obama’s Vice President, who was criticised for his failures to check Russia and Assad. Biden has also said he favours ‘competition’ over ‘confrontation’ with China, and looks set to be more diplomatic with Iran than Trump. Just how Biden will act when push comes to shove remains to be seen. But, one thing is for certain: the USA will be back in full force on the international stage.
On the domestic front, Biden is focused on addressing the new issues of the age: coronavirus, climate and tech corporations. The former two are set to be addressed by extensive plans: a $1.9 trillion relief package for coronavirus, and a climate plan dubbed the most ambitious of any American President. Rumours are circulating that the latter will be under more scrutiny as Biden appoints an antitrust ‘czar’ (official) with a particular focus on regulating big tech companies (in the past, Biden has even mentioned breaking up their monopolies). This, along with new cybersecurity laws, will be a clear a crackdown on fake news and foreign influence on elections.
Biden seems eager to hold together his voting coalition. His climate policy is far-reaching, but stops short of the ‘Green New Deal’ endorsed by the Democrat left-wing. He has taken steps in the direction of wide criminal justice reform, but stopped short of ‘defunding the police’. He wants to expand Obamacare to allow 97% of Americans the option to be covered by it, but has stopped short of Universal Healthcare. After all, with a 50-50 Senate, he can only be as radical as his most conservative Democrat Senators.
This could also be part of his attempts to prevent further polarisation and foster bipartisanship, early signs of which have been seen in negotiations over the coronavirus relief package. Currently, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of congressional Republicans in the form of a staunchly pro-Trump grassroots threatening primary challenges to whoever breaks from the Trump line. As someone who advocated unity and healing in his inaugural address, and has a long history of reaching across the aisle, it will be Biden’s duty and, most likely, aim to repair relations between the two polarised parties, if possible.
The first days of the Biden administration seem to have shown a commitment to a more centrist, less divisive form of politics
This will have to involve staying a centrist course and not being dragged too far left by his party’s divisive hardliners, so Republicans can once again fear Democrat opponents more than Republican challengers in congressional races. Whether this will continue remains to be seen; however, the first days of the Biden administration seem to have shown a commitment to a more centrist, less divisive form of politics, and a rebuilding of the USA’s global reputation. Let’s hope, for the chance of a return to some sort of normality in the USA, that this continues.
Image by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons