Opinion

Democracy in the sun. Symbols and symptoms of Biden's "new frontier"

BIDEN PRESIDENTE DE EEUU

There was no fear in Washington. The Capitol was brighter than ever on special occasions, with the January sun, no news of snow, and no news of the greatest enemy of the peaceful transition of power: the outgoing president who escaped through the back door of the White House, and whom no one missed. A bright day, as a harbinger, symbol and symptom of the "new frontier" that Biden is ready to launch as the cornerstone of a program that looks at Roosevelt's recipes for overcoming World War II. There have already been more deaths in the United States caused by covid19 than there were victims in the last Great War. The comparison is not odious, but rather relevant. A programme of economic, social and political reconstruction in the face of the attack on democracy by the outgoing president, the putschist Trump.

The United States was preparing - amidst the usual fanfare, music made in the USA and even poems more revealing than the betas of the past - to write a new page after the tragedy experienced on the same stage two weeks earlier. A new language, illustrated by the sincere poem by young Amanda Gorman written on the very night of the infamy, as opposed to the incendiary verbiage that Trump prolonged until the final farewell at Andrews Air Force Base. He made a final ode to his narcissism, to his achievements and not to those of the American nation. A denier of democracy whose mark left on the steps of the Capitol will haunt him for the rest of his life. His absence was rather a gift for the peace of mind that the future demands. Amanda's poem transformed the long night of fear of assault into a dream of hope.

There was no fear on the scheduled date of January 20. Though with barriers and every precaution, Biden's swearing-in and inauguration ceremony took place on the same steps soiled by the crowd inflamed by a president who trampled on election results, the constitution and democracy. No one hid, contrary to what the rarefied atmosphere charged with threats might have advised. The triumph of the wounded democracy shone in the face of a bright winter sun that appeared - like an omen - for the occasion when cold, clouds and even January snow usually reign.  All that was missing was to run away.

Although the key to the moment was in the speech that marked the roadmap to the new presidency, a character stole the spotlight from President Biden, who partially eclipsed the first woman - also the first woman of Asian descent and also the first woman of colour to reach the vice-presidency - a man who was more astonished by her presence than by the performances of Lady Gaga and Jay Lo. The man of the moment, who would have been a mere acolyte in the inaugural democratic rite every four years, was named Mike Pence, and his grey hair shone majestically in the sun.   

Described as a great religious ultra-conservative, current Vice President Pence gave a political lesson of stature at a critical moment for American constitutional democracy, exactly what the incumbent president, who is remembered in history as a kind of usurper of power in a hitherto democratic regime, could not offer. Always threatening, he proclaims in his farewells: "I will come back, one way or another". The Senate and the courts will no doubt continue his actions, like those of a thief on the run, unable to accept defeat and to cope with the transfer of power. The destruction caused to American life and even to international relations will be judged by the immediate action of the new government and by history. The political judgment of his attack on democracy will be most interesting for an America that has seen how the president, "who did not organise a war outside the house", has instead brought it back inside, with a deep division that his successor will have to face, and also the party he led, which is now beginning to turn its back on him.

The danger will be the continued polarisation of the country. This is why a large part of Biden's much-anticipated presidential oratory was devoted to unity. But he did not spare himself from denouncing by name the greatest of evils: white supremacy, selfish lies, racism... Biden was clear and strong.

The inaugural speech was a hymn to the unity the country needs after the greatest partisan and anti-democratic rift in its two hundred year history. "Democracy is fragile, but it has prevailed". In the political arena, the first thing to do will be to heal the wounds. Republican leaders are also working on this and on how to block Trump and his possible creation of an unbalanced third party. Unity is the magic word. But Biden also reiterated: "honour and truth".

But the priority task is to stop the virus, to rebuild the economy which, despite Trump's triumphant ramblings, is once again pushing unemployment to alarming levels.

Beyond the very serious breach in the middle of the country, Biden also wants unity with his allies. To repair the alliances broken or broken by his predecessor's policy of intimidation and isolationism. To collaborate with NATO, with his European and Asian allies. It will return to multilateralism, to the defence of the environment and to the World Health Organisation. There are many wounds to be healed. And above all the taboo subjects of China and Iran. New solutions, old recipes? Trade and foreign policy are so closely linked that Mr. Biden's team must deploy all its cards to find solutions to these conflicts, which are far from home but have immediate repercussions on the internal life of the country.

By the time Biden finally entered the Oval Office, the decorators had changed the portraits and sculptures that adorn the room of the first U.S. president. New busts of Martin Luther King and Hispanic trade unionist Cesar Chavez adorned the side tables. And among the renovated works of art is the large painting that the president will see every day when he sits at his desk, and which will be the one that will nourish his vision of work: a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Every morning, when he looks up, he will see the protagonist of the Great Depression and the New Deal. A "new frontier" that the president knows America and the world need as a prescription. In his inaugural address, Mr. Biden outlined the roadmap for his presidency, highlighting half a dozen priority issues that will mark the work of the next four years. These include the virus, climate change, growing inequality, racism, America's position in the world, and the assault on truth and democracy.  Backed by an unprecedented vice-president - a woman with international roots and skin colour - Biden went to work, signing clear orders from the very first minute. There is no doubt that there is no time to lose in the face of the democratic fortress ruined by a former president who is as arrogant as he is undemocratic.