What If Biden Wins?

Conflict with a Democratic administration in the U.S. would increase Brazil’s isolation.

At the beginning of the year, Joe Biden’s chances of winning seemed remote. Today, it seems plausible, especially as a result of Donald Trump’s continuous setbacks in managing the coronavirus crisis, the deteriorating economy and the mobilization of society against racism.

Not that a Trump victory is all that far off. Unemployment might improve or a vaccine against the coronavirus might begin to be distributed. But the fact remains, Biden’s improvement in the polls is consistent. The polls give the Democratic candidate a lead of around 10 points in the national average and an advantage of 279 electoral votes versus 188 for Trump. Biden’s personality – conciliatory, moderate, prone to coming together and searching for unity instead of division – has proven to be appropriate for presiding over profound transformations in society.

What would a Democratic administration be like? Domestically two things stand out: the challenge of reviving the economy, and accommodating the expectations of two factions that are important for a victory in the election: aggressive Bernie Sanders supporters and the Black community.

Sanders’ platform has two main issues: the extension of the Affordable Care Act to all, that is, to the 30 million Americans that do not have health care; and the so-called Green New Deal, which is associated with a commitment to the environment and would bring about greater state participation in inducing growth and social inclusion.

The Black community, energized by around 2,000 protests in the United States alone, asserts that it is time to adopt structural policies to tackle systemic racism.

Internationally, despite polarization on the world scene, Biden’s challenges are manageable. His diplomatic policy must express the values and principles enshrined in his election campaign, such as the environment, the defense of human rights and a reformed multilateral system, hallmarks of Barack Obama’s administration.

The conflict with Beijing will hardly be overcome in the short term. The decision to contain China resulted from a bipartisan agreement that was supported by around 70% of voters. Additionally, the bilateral dispute has a strategic and, to some extent, antagonistic component: China seeks recognition of its emergence as one of the two superpowers of the 21st century. Trump has opted to contain this emergence. Instead of escalating sanctions, Biden will likely seek a “modus vivendi” that separates areas of strategic competition from areas of cooperation.

With Europe, there will continue to be objective difficulties aggravated by Trump’s threats to such matters as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Germany, taxation of tech giants with France and the differences regarding reform of NATO and the World Trade Organization. But there is nothing that cannot be negotiated as part of a common plan to rebuild an alliance that need not have been threatened.

With respect to countries that may pose a threat to the security of the United States, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea, a Democratic administration will rely on unilateral sanctions imposed by Trump as well as its own strengths in negotiating on behalf of its interests from a position of force.

The November election must not just be an ordinary choice of leaders or parties. On the contrary, the U.S. has a complex agenda that could shape a new social contract and an international adjustment to the new realities of a multipolar power play. The new president will need to have strong political support in addition to a sense of moderation and balance. In this regard, winning the Senate could be significant.

There will be significant implications for Brazil if Biden is elected which could occur, above all, as a result of the mistake of putting power Trump’s hands, and because of his policies. The election of a Democrat could lead to disagreement on issues such as multilateralism, the environment and the Green New Deal, which is still unclear but has support from Biden and Europe.

The consequences of this disharmony would increase Brazil’s isolation, which is already occurring within our own region, in our historical ties with Europe, and even in our relations with China, an important economic power. Unfortunately, Brazil seems to have opted to antagonize or distance itself from those who most buy from us or invest in our country.

Deforestation rates in the Amazon would be a permanent source of friction with an administration like Biden’s, supported by vocal environmental advocates, both in society and the media, as well as in Congress. In this sense, the creation of the Amazon Council is a step in the right direction. But it is worth bearing in mind the warning from the German ambassador just before leaving the country: the measures to combat deforestation need to be drastic, fast and continuous.

Sergio Amaral served as Brazilian ambassador to the United States.

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