Analysis & Opinions - CNN

The world has more riding on Joe Biden than any US president in decades

| Jan. 19, 2021

On Wednesday, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the President of a nation at a pivotal moment, and the world will be watching because all democracies are in this moment together

The view from Biden's podium at the United States Capitol, looking down over Washington DC's National Mall, will not be pretty.

Instead of people standing shoulder to shoulder sharing in democracy's highest ritual -- the peaceful passing of power from one leader to the next -- there will be an abundance of armed troops, higher than normal fences, and mostly empty fields.

    It is ironic that these hallowed acres, now unreachable by the masses, were the birthplace of President Donald Trump's first big on-the-job lie, when he falsely boasted four years ago that his inauguration crowd was bigger than the one that turned up for his predecessor.

    After that, the blizzard of lies came so thick and fast that it was difficult to unpick and fully challenge each falsehood, much less see the extent of the cumulative damage done by them.

    Four years later, it is now clear that Trump's relentless distractions shrouded an unpleasant truth -- that the United States is at a turning point and so too is the democratic future of many of its allies.

    World leaders were quick to denounce him the day after the insurrection on Capitol Hill. "I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way that they did in the Capitol," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Trump ally.

    Johnson, who has a reputation for tardiness, was quick to put Trump down, because like many of America's allies, the Capitol siege was the moment their own nations risked damage by association.

    Hollywood's idea of the end of an epic battle often depicts drifting gun smoke, toppled cannons, churned sods, busted picket fences, bloodied and broken men, and generally a victor -- in this case Joe Biden, heading ruefully and more wisely off towards happier days.

    But the attempted coup on January 6 was no movie, and this inauguration is no happy ending.

    The troops and fences surrounding the Mall are not the problem, they are a symptom of it, painfully visible now thousands of miles away in the capitals of allies from Europe to Asia.

    Trump's most fervent political allies -- like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Congressman Jim Jordan and others -- have made clear they'll continue his fiction of a stolen election and in so doing not only risk America's democracy but her allies too.

    At a yet-to-be scheduled global summit for democracies, Biden will soon be calling on allies to trust him and hold on to their faith in America. It is a very big ask for a very big need -- containing China, America's biggest overseas threat.

    Concern was already being felt in Europe before Cruz and the others joined Trump's election lie. America's friends saw Trump's turnout as an indication that his style of deceit-driven politics is not dead.

    A Pew Research Center survey conducted in Germany, France and the UK before the January 6 insurrection revealed that 73% of Germans, 64% of French and 62% of British people said they were concerned about US democracy.

    Many Europeans believe Trump's presidency has managed to not only damage democracy in the United States but unleash a trickledown effect in Europe, enabling populists like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

    Separately to Trump the UK experienced its own unsettling strains on democracy when Johnson challenged centuries of British democracy in 2019, when his suspension or proroguing of Parliament was ruled unlawful by England's Supreme Court.

    Writing in the New York Times, Timothy Snyder, the author and professor of law at Yale University, presciently explained why Trump's big election lie is so dangerous.

    "Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term 'fake news' echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse ('lying press'); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as 'enemies of the people,'" Snyder writes.

    Snyder's warning that "America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power" will be heard and understood outside the US too.

    Fascism's legacy is still an ugly scar on the European continent and cannot easily be ignored, meaning any sustained hint that that is where the US is headed could weaken transatlantic support.

    Johnson himself has been pilloried for being Trump-lite, populist and nationalist in leaning, but if he or many of his peers were perceived as condoning fascism in a US leader it could be political death sentence.

    Trump's impact on the politics of Europe over the past four years is already a chilly warning of the insidious effect of undemocratic tendencies in the White House.

    So while Biden tries to build back trust and confidence of America's allies, they will be watching American politics more intently than before.

    Biden's newly announced executive orders, including rolling back Trump's "Muslim ban" and reversing his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, will help restore some of America's legitimacy, but the moves won't mask the incoming President's international pressures for long.

    He needs help de-escalating tensions with President Xi Jinping and has said he'll do this by working with allies. But time is not on his side, and some of the global dynamics have changed; Europe, for one, has just signed a new investment agreement with China.

      Japan and South Korea's diplomatic, intelligence and military support are also vital to Biden. Both nations were hurt by Trump's demands they pay more to have US troops based on their land, even though it is in America's national security interests to have them there.

      Biden's experience and hitherto truth-telling style will be welcomed by allies, but as long as he is fighting off Trump's lies -- still pedaled by leading Republicans -- America's standing in the world will be shakier, and democracy the world over in danger.


      For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
      For Academic Citation:The world has more riding on Joe Biden than any US president in decades.” CNN, January 19, 2021.