President-elect Joe Biden has to focus on making America structurally sound again. Photo: AFP / Roberto Schmidt

When US President-elect Joe Biden assumes office on January 20, he faces a long list of urgent domestic and foreign-policy challenges. 

His election win has been greeted with relief around the world by people who desire a return to some resemblance of normalcy after the turbulent Trump era.

On the campaign trail, Biden promised a return to the traditional US foreign policy of supporting the rules-based multilateralism system that it built in the aftermath of World War II.

He also promised to provide US leadership on critical international issues such as climate change by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on Day 1 of his presidency.

However, even as the new administration gets down to work restoring America’s battered global reputation, Biden should reconsider his pledge to hold a summit on democracy.

While the planned summit is a bid to show the world that the United States is once again committed to protecting and advancing democracy, Biden should consider whether his summit could backfire.

Besides the logistical nightmare of deciding which countries to invite, the US risks being seen as a hypocrite. After all, it was during the Trump era that weaknesses in the American democratic system were exposed. America’s global democratic credibility has taken a big hit.

Despite the Democratic Party winning control of the House of Representatives in 2018, President Donald Trump has been able to get away with his violations of the constitution and gross abuses of power. The president was impeached by the House in December 2019 but was later acquitted by the Senate, controlled by his party. 

Donald Trump has damaged US credibility with his attacks on the constitution. Photo: AFP

During his time in office, Trump has also been accused of violating the emoluments clause of the constitution by accepting foreign money.

Lawsuits filed against the president by a group of businesses, the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia remain pending before the US Supreme Court and the clock ticks toward mootness of these cases as Biden prepares to be sworn in.

It is highly unlikely that the judges will issue a verdict on these cases that will all but ensure that the outgoing president faces no legal repercussions for his actions. The checks and balances in the American system are not working the way they are supposed to. 

It also doesn’t help that the incumbent president has refused to concede the election despite the formal affirmation of the Electoral College.

This has provided plenty of fodder for foreign adversaries to attack the sanctity and reputation of America’s election system.

Hence the real threat to America is internal and not external.

To restore America’s credibility and reputation, the new administration should not be distracted unnecessarily by diverting its attention to the organization of a summit on democracy.

The administration should focus on things that matter by devoting its energies to defeating Covid-19 and reviving the American economy.

The Biden administration will have its work cut out getting Congress to pass legislative reforms to repair the decayed democratic institutions, curb the power of the executive branch, tackle racial injustice, mend social inequality and restore the middle class.

In other words, the Biden administration has to focus on making America structurally sound again to ensure it has the strength to tackle international challenges in the future.

Maa Zhi Hong

Maa Zhi Hong is a political analyst in Singapore who has written for Today, Asia Times, the South China Morning Post and Nikkei Asian Review. His official Instagram account is @maazhihongofficial.

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