Continuing to carry the reputation of being the largest circulating international news magazine even in these times of declining sales for numerous printed news outlets, TIME in its recent edition named the United States’ President-elect Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris as the “persons” of the year. Biden, 78, might be seen smiling big for the camera but he and his team cannot miss the message that Harris, 56, shared space with her boss. Neither any royal indifference nor wanton arrogance will aid the new president to steer the so-far No. 1 superpower - economically and politically - on a course strewn with the most serious threat to its global position that is widely expected to offload the incumbent from the high pedestal at least a rung well within this decade. To millions of Americans, their travails that marked the Trumpian times might begin to subside, with Biden being administered the oath of the powerful office on Wednesday, even if under the federal emergency declaration for Washington DC, approved by outgoing President Donald Trump. Harris is, traditionally, given a role that does not outshine her boss. Her role is basically that of a spare tyre for a VVIP car - to be rolled out for use under highly unusual circumstances, such as, if and when a president suffers grave physical incapacitation or the high job falls vacant.
Formidable turf American president’s power and pomp of office is undoubtedly formidable but the onerous task of leaving a legacy to be admired and inspiring remains something every presiding deity at the White House aspires but only a few achieve. Of note is that 47 per cent of Trump’s 74 million voters believe the poll was tainted. Biden is viewed as fragile in age in contrast to the first woman VP - and of African-American heritage. But hopes for a visibly big role will be nothing more than bubbles. “Biden-Harris team” is a coinage Biden is likely to cold-shoulder. As vice presidents in the 1940s and after, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford carry the tales of how they were tossed onto the seats of presidency when their presidential predecessors fell to health strokes, assassin’s bullets or an unprecedented political scandal. Harris can nurse big, boundless hopes of the political course as long as they are not publicly expressed. To be seen as trying to share/steal the president’s power and privileges would adversely affect the Biden legacy. The Biden team might like to present the president to the public and the world at large that their 78-year old boss is hale and hearty with a mission to skipper the most powerful country for the next four years at challenging times. Millions of Trump supporters question the sanctity and integrity of the November elections. The social media jokes over America’s faster pace in choosing presidents in other countries than its own is a telling commentary on the existing state of political divide. As late as mid-December, 230 of Republican House members and Senators elected to remain silent commenting on whether Biden had won the election; only 29 said they “believed” Biden won. At a time when his inauguration became the fourth time for a presidential debut not to be attended by the immediate predecessor, Biden wants to be seen as an activist president - tough, experienced and not reluctant to strike when the iron is getting hot - an image he pursues to demonstrate that age does not slow him down. To his advantage, he does not necessarily have to calculate the chances of securing a second term in 2024. Nor does he need to look like a lame duck executive head of state whiling away the aura and hallow associated with the high office before age and second term prospects dim four years hence. He already gets to be the oldest first term president sworn into office. Will the wall along the US-Mexico stand, grow and expand? More than 450 miles of the controversial wall is already raised. Biden had pledged to bring it down and remove the concrete divide with the neighbouring country whose loss of Texas has an unflattering record on the conscience of many Americans. What piqued Trump about Mexico the most was the volume and flow of Mexican migrants across the long and unattended border, capped by corrupt officials on both sides of the divide.
Inerasable past The past complements and haunts American presidents. China waited for a week to congratulate Biden. Beijing gives its own message: it is not like treating or bullying small and weak nations. Years ago, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden announced his dream for 2020: “The two closest neighbour in the world will be India and the United States.” When the Narendra Modi government in India scrapped Kashmir’s special status in 2019, he called for New Delhi to “take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir... preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the Internet weaken democracy.” On her part, Harris issued a statement on human rights abuse in the disputed territory: “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.” Global Times, China’s top-notch news media outlet, complains of the West’s politicisation of ethnic issue. It rues: “China and India are treated differently not because India is a democratic country under the Western concept, nor is it because of the deep-rooted ideological prejudice of Westerners toward China. The West applies double standards on China because the US cannot accept the fact that China is rising.” Meanwhile, Biden’s possible India links generate genealogical frenzy to amusing height in India. Exhibiting pride at Kamala Harris’s ancestry, various sections in India are busy discussing local roots for Biden. A plaque at a church in Chennai commemorating Christopher Biden, a ship captain born in 1789, has attracted huge interests. In disgust, The Statesman news daily remarked: “It matters not a whit to the mostly mindless and always breathless media which is happy to run allegedly human-interest stories in a loop featuring hordes of fourth cousins, the neighbours whose grandparents went to school with the granduncle of the appropriated ‘Indian’ or a gaggle of old teachers of the person of interest’s aunt by marriage.” On Harris having an Indian parent, The Statesman newspaper slammed: “The eulogisation of Harris is, of course, only the latest example of Indians making consummate asses of themselves when they seek to showcase a rather pathetic, context-free ‘connect’ to second-generation and in some cases even third-generation high-achieving citizens of foreign countries on the flimsy basis of phenotype.” This author’s comment? For the time being, wait and watch.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)