Democrat Joe Biden has a chance to build a more progressive government than Barack Obama, for whom he served as vice president from 2009 to 2017, even though Biden’s policies lean more conservative than Obama’s did. Biden’s inauguration is good news for Brazil, where a system of political, economic, and social savagery is taking place.
Biden’s presidency strengthens political conditions for the demise of Jair Bolsonaro either through impeachment (the least likely result), or through an electoral defeat in 2022, a scenario that seems more realistic in light of the failure by our institutions to investigate the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president of the Republic.
In the United States, the political radicalization of the white and religious flank of the right will be an obstacle for Biden. Undeniably, there are marked divisions in society and within the political parties, especially the Republican Party, but Biden’s conciliatory approach and decades of experience in Congress make him the right person in the right place at the right time.
Obama took office in 2009 with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Biden also begins with majority support in both houses of Congress. In addition, the president-elect is facing more favorable political conditions than his predecessor did, and knows his way around the cobblestone paths of Washington politics.
Obama struggled when he lost his Democratic majority in Congress. Donald Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton signaled a backlash by American voters against their first Black president. Obama ended his administration with the sense he could have gone further. With Biden, the story could be different; the moderate president has a good chance of going beyond what the progressive Obama was able to accomplish.
The 1st Order of Business Is To Repair the Damage Caused by Trump
The COVID-19 pandemic, which critically weakened Trump’s political standing and helped Biden get elected, exposed the flaws of an increasingly unequal economy in the land of opportunity and freedom. Expensive and elitist, the American health care system is a joke. With a diverse Cabinet that honors commitments to conservatives, moderates and progressives from the Democratic Party, Biden will have the political space to attempt a government program comparable to that of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II, according to the American press.
There is another challenge, which deep down, presents an opportunity. Biden is inheriting a country devastated by Trump. The division of American society has reached the point of exhaustion, which underscores the sincerity of the new president’s speech about unity. People desire normalcy in the exercise of power.
At the outset, Biden is expected to sign a set of executive orders, similar in function to Brazil’s provisional measures, to undo a series of regressive public policies from Trump’s four years in office. Biden intends to fulfill commitments to segments of the electorate that were fundamental to his victory (women, Black voters, and young people) and to establish a national minimum wage of $15 per hour. He is committed to an agenda that transitions to a more sustainable economy. He will adopt a more sophisticated strategy in relation to China, one with less conflict and more diplomacy, which should have positive effects for global trade and, consequently, for Brazil.
The Capitol Insurrection Ends Up Exemplifying a Toxic Right Wing
Even the attempted coup by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, including the invasion of the Capitol, should help Biden. Trump made a grave mistake; he had no objective plan to win. The banana republic insurrection terrorized people, cost five lives, and exposed the fragility of a bicentennial democracy, but it was short-lived and served as a warning to conservative sectors against extreme right-wing authoritarianism. In the medium and long term, the invasion of the buildings that house the American legislature will be a reminder of the abyss into which the country almost fell.
Today, Washington is a city under siege. This image has immense symbolism around the world, but there the American military has sent a clear message that they will not interfere in domestic politics, a big difference in relation to what we see in Brazil.
Trump vehemently advanced the lie of a fraudulent election. Even conservatives who bought into this discourse believe it went too far. Political support fell for the president, who fled the scene. Facebook and Twitter, which were silent about letting the Republican president lie for so long, lost patience. The suspension of Trump’s social network accounts came late, but it’s a wise move. Hate speech and fake news are not free speech.
The backfire from the insurrection at the Capitol decreases the chance of a successful Trump candidacy in 2024. There is plenty of evidence for the Senate to convict Trump in this second impeachment case and keep the Republican out of the presidential race forever.
The Biden Administration Should Not Turn a Blind Eye to Bolsonarist Nonsense
Will Trumpism survive as a political force? Yes, but less powerfully in the wake of Jan.6. The limits of American democracy were tested by domestic terrorism, but it survived neofascism. What happened in the U.S. is a lesson for Brazil, whose democracy and institutions are more fragile.
Once the United States returns to taking action that will stabilize the geopolitical scene, such as rejoining the Paris climate agreement, this will immediately lead to greater pressure from the international community against the environmental devastation underway in Brazil. It will be more difficult for Bolsonaro to institutionalize his militia by changing the law governing the military police. This campaign of social savagery will face even greater global disapproval.
As someone who understands foreign policy, Biden knows that Bolsonaro’s continued tenure is not in Washington’s best interest. From a geopolitical perspective, Brazil is important for the institutional stability of Latin America. As Obama did, Biden will ease the tense relationship with Cuba and Venezuela, an effort that will require a Brazil without Bolsonaro.
If the country that entered the global stage under the administration of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva irked the United States, the Bolsonarist banana republic is a risk to Washington’s interests in the region. Biden understands the magnitude of the predicament.
Trump Goes Out the Back Door, Makes Bolsonaro Look Bad
In the past few days, we have seen Venezuela donate oxygen to COVID-19 patients in Manaus. Brazil depends on China for the development of CoronaVac, the only vaccine truly viable in the country at the moment. Bolsonaro, his sons and Ernesto Araujo using second-rate diplomacy childishly attacked Venezuela and China.
Countries don’t have personal relationships; national interests are what matter. In the coming months, we will see the U.S. take a series of actions to restrict Bolsonaro’s power. These actions serve the national interests of the U.S., which coincide with those of Brazil at the moment. It is an exercise in civility to get Bolsonaro out of the Planalto Palace.
If Trump had been reelected, Bolsonaro would have gained political momentum, but the result of the American election has left Bolsonaro more isolated internationally. This has domestic consequences, and voters who supported Bolsonaro in 2018 will come to regret their decision.
Pandemic Democrats: A Brazilian Story
In 2020, “pandemic democrats” emerged in Brazil. Being against Bolsonaro today is like being in favor of tap water.
By 2018, he already represented everything that is dreadful about the presidency of the Republic, but the endorsement of Sergio Moro and the “Car Wash” anti-corruption probe soothed everyone’s conscience. The false equivalence between the workers’ party ideology (on the left) and Bolsonarism (on the right), that is being made even today, has contributed to this tragedy. It took a pandemic for these people to “discover” who the mass murderer is, the only politician on the planet who suffered a defeat with the start of COVID-19 vaccination.
Brazil must remember what happened last summer so it does not become another tale of the vicar who exchanges six of one for half a dozen of another.
There are many similarities in the political processes that resulted in Trump and Bolsonaro, but there are two horrible differences: the U.S. elite like their country, and with the exception of Fox News, the American media never normalized Trump.
Biden’s help in increasing Brazil’s chance of removing the worst president in its history will be welcome, but society must do its part this time.