For the Post-Trump Period, the World’s Clamor

As Joe Biden unveils his Cabinet picks, a good part of the world is imploring him to get back to a certain normality.

The clamor is loud. It comes from just about everywhere and only doubles in intensity as the American presidential transition turns out to be just as haphazard as Donald Trump’s four years of presidency, tweets and rounds of golf. The end to this long and arduous digression? This clamor, which the pandemic has made even more acute, is that of a planet begging for a return to normal, for an end to the circus, or at least for the U.S. to rediscover a semblance of legibility.

The clamor comes from loudspeakers around the world with, at their center, Geneva’s international organizations: the World Health Organization and its cousin in charge of commerce, the World Trade Organization, have practically been abandoned by the world’s number one power; the Paris Agreement, from which the American withdrawal coincided with a sort of entry into a coma — with very serious consequences for the planet’s future; and, of course, Iran and that other, trampled-upon treaty (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the nuclear program, signed in 2015), whose broken promises have helped lead to the reigniting of a dangerous fuse in the region and to making all stability in the Middle East an illusion.

Alliances ruined, autocrats large and small pepped up, national egos everywhere exacerbated: International relations look today like a landscape after battle. Even the United States’ most resolute adversaries, such as Russia, implicitly admit that they will not miss the blond-haired president — that goes to show just how much a minimal amount of clarity and predictability is always welcome, even in so far as one’s enemies are concerned.

This call for a reassuring power is, of course, made louder by the fabulous success of Barack Obama’s memoirs. Beyond its own merits, the reflective discourse of Trump’s predecessor is seen as a light in the fog, as a reminder that grotesque and cynical power, though it has become pervasive, is not necessarily inevitable.

The Cabinet that Joe Biden has just unveiled does not, of course, fail to recall those times not so long ago but which seemed to have passed. People who at first glance appear competent, diverse and experienced, and whose proposed positions seem to fit their career path. But the risk is clear: As Trump is certainly not done trying to make his successor’s path difficult, and as Democrats will not necessarily have a congressional majority, a new “Obama cabinet” will not be enough to bring about change, especially not without the talents and rhetorical force of Obama himself.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. And, whether we like it or not, the Obama years, along with many other factors, certainly provoked Trump’s eruption. At present, Biden’s priority should be to avoid becoming another transition. He must avoid becoming a simple digression himself.

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