Will Joe Biden be able to pick up the pieces and get the US economy back on track? Photo: AFP

The final results of the US election are still unknown, but when the dust settles, they are likely to confirm that the country has freed itself from the burden of the impulsive, absurd, and inept President Donald Trump.

However, the Republican Party’s maintaining its grip on the Senate is almost inevitable. It has also gained seats in the House of Representatives. So US politics is likely to be pushed into more uncertainty and policy paralysis over the next four years.

If Joe Biden takes over the White House, it will not be easy for him to fulfill the pledges he made during the election campaign. 

His efforts to reform domestic policy are unlikely to be legislated successfully. Because of Biden’s likely failure to get the Senate’s approval for most of his domestic policies, he will probably be a lame duck on this front.

But more important, Biden will face even more challenges on the foreign-policy front.

Irreparable damage

Trump’s ouster from the White House and Biden’s entry alone cannot maintain US supremacy and exceptionalism in the world. In just four years in office, Trump has done much damage to the prominence the US had sustained for seven decades.

While it is true that American supremacy and exceptionalism would have come to an end eventually, Trump has greatly accelerated that process. Biden may be able to slow this decline by reversing some of Trump’s decisions, but it is almost certain that he will not be able to restore America’s dominance fully.

Thus Biden’s foreign-policy priority will be focused on repairing some of the damage. He sent a Twitter message to that effect after taking the lead in the Michigan and Wisconsin vote counts. He tweeted, “Today, the Trump administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden administration will rejoin it.”

In another gesture toward restoring America’s global leadership, on August 11, he promised to make the US economy carbon-neutral by 2050, a decade earlier than China, whose President Xi Jinping in September announced a plan to transform the Chinese economy to carbon-neutral by 2060 or earlier.

Trump has left no stone unturned in dooming Pax Americana over the past four years, causing irreparable damage. The Pax Americana egg cannot be unscrambled now. It is no longer possible for the US to return to the pre-Trump era. The best Biden can do now is try to prevent further damage.

International disorder

In these four years of his administration, Trump has been determined to discredit international organizations created under America’s own leadership over the last 70 years.

His administration announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly called the Iran deal, the Global Compact for Migration and the Open Skies arms-control treaty with Russia.

Second, Trump has refused to abide by many of the accords made under US leadership to regulate global governance.

For example, he threatened to ban the International Criminal Court. Similarly, the US quit the United Nations Human Rights Council and UNESCO. It stopped funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Trump also weakened the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and crippled the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Trump has detached the US from the concept of rule-based international order and a rule-based trading system.

The US decision to impose a 25% tariff on steel imported from its Canadian and European allies contradicts a rule-based trading system. Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric that importing children’s toys made in China posed a severe national-security threat appeared absurd and illogical. Such actions made the American leadership a laughing stock in the world.

Credibility destroyed

The first and second points made above lead to the third. This is the question of America’s credibility in the world. The United States’ image in the international community now is that of an undependable country. From its powerful allies to economically poor and militarily weak countries, many no longer believe they can rely on the US.

Fourth, the United States’ unilateral decisions not to adhere to international law have created conditions under which many other countries also feel free to disobey these rules when they find them unfavorable. 

The next most significant decline of America’s reputation is in its commitment to democracy and human rights. This decline was exposed by the US response to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Similarly, Trump’s friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who abuses power against his own citizens, is seriously questionable.

More important, Trump withdrew the US membership in the World Health Organization at the crucial time of need for leadership in the global war on Covid-19. The US stopped fulfilling its financial obligation to the WHO amid the pandemic.

In the pre-Trump era, much of the world accepted American domination not because of the size of its economy or its powerful military. It was because the US had been underwriting the global public good. 

But for the last four years, the US has been setting one wrong precedent after another to undermine its own credibility in the eyes of its allies and trade partners worldwide.

A highlight of America’s decline is its failing tech and trade war against China. But the most significant loss for the US is its lost credibility and sullied reputation in the world.

The challenge for Biden, if he takes the White House as expected, is to restore the Pax Americana and regain global trust. Time will tell how much he can heal the wounds Trump has inflicted on his own country.

Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel teaches Development Economics and Global Political Economy in the Master's program at Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at bhim.bhurtel@gmail.com.