What a Biden Presidency Means
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This OZY Special Dispatch explores tumultuous transitions and the key people and groups impacted by the incoming Joe Biden administration.
By OZY Editors
The next 10 weeks could be rocky … even rockier than the rest of 2020. President Donald Trump has yet to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden, and the transition to the 46th U.S. presidency will be anything but smooth. Biden sold himself as a calming force, but he too will bring rapid change across the board, as the country lurches away from the Trump years. But fear not: Plenty of nations have survived these kinds of democratic potholes in the past. This OZY Special Dispatch takes you through modern history’s most tumultuous global political transitions and explores what the Biden presidency means for everyone from leading liberal AOC to Fox News to Silicon Valley.
on the left
Black Women. The most loyal constituency in the Democratic Party, Black women have now moved from being behind-the-scenes leaders — such as campaign strategists Minyon Moore and Donna Brazile, recent guests on The Carlos Watson Show — to stepping into the spotlight with Kamala Harris as the vice president-elect. As she celebrated in the streets of Washington, D.C., Alicia Lawson, a 29-year-old teacher, marveled at how her home state of Georgia was primed to go blue and, like many, heaped praise on the organizing work of Stacey Abrams. “I’m hopeful that it will continue to be a space where Black people recognize that we have power and our votes matter,” Lawson said. “And even though the Democratic Party is where we always were, they’ve got to earn us too. They’ve got to show us that they mean to keep us around.” Read OZY’s 2016 profile of Abrams.
Black Lives Matter. This year’s racial justice protesters forced an awkward dance by Biden, who never embraced the notion of “defund the police.” So what can these activists expect now? First, a president who actively seeks to reduce racial tensions. “This is a big deal, for us to get some peace and have a reset,” a tearful Van Jones said on CNN on Saturday, echoing OZY’s mission to Reset America. And further criminal justice reform is one of the few things that can actually get done with a Republican Senate. Watch for Harris, a former prosecutor, to take the lead on a new bill to reform sentencing laws and reduce racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The brightest star on the Democrats’ left flank was late to the Biden train, having backed Bernie Sanders in the primary, and she could emerge as a primary challenger to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in 2022. She will have more sway over President-elect Biden than she ever did over Trump — and her command of social media makes her vital to helping Biden hold the grassroots together. But the left could wind up sidelined: Sniping at congressional liberals is rising after House Democratic losses, her Green New Deal is off the table, and the prospect of a Republican Senate means Biden will need to cut deals rather than tack left. Read OZY’s 2018 profile of AOC.
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on the right
Mitch McConnell. Democrats were deflated this week when, despite early expectations, it became clear that they were unlikely to win the Senate, unless they prevail in two runoffs in Georgia in January. But could this actually benefit Biden? Being forced to deal with McConnell, the Senate majority leader, will tamp down expectations from the left and enable Biden to govern from the center — as he tries to live up to his pledge to mend the wounds of the Trump years, writes Republican strategist Susan Del Percio. Read more on OZY.
NeverTrump Republicans. While Republican support for Trump was well north of 90 percent in polls, a vocal coalition of “NeverTrumpers” kept up the drumbeat against the president over the past four years — and openly campaigned for Biden’s win. The Lincoln Project, a collection of GOP strategists, funded buzzy ads that ticked off Trump and tried to knock Republican “Trump enablers” from key seats. Their tactics raised accusations that the initiative was just a money grab for consultants, but the group is already looking to defeat Republicans in the Georgia runoffs. Wary Democrats, meanwhile, appear unlikely to welcome them too far into the fold — though Biden is weighing adding a Republican to his cabinet in a consensus pick.
Fox News. This contentious election may have caused a permanent rupture between Fox News and Trump’s base. The president is furious at the network for calling Arizona in Biden’s favor on election night, and the network’s news side journalists have tamped down his concerns about voter fraud even as opinion hosts like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson agitate. Many conservatives are vowing to switch to Newsmax TV or One America News Network. And for years there’s been talk of Trump forming his own TV network once he leaves office. But Fox News was the most-watched network on TV this summer, and a Democratic administration could actually be helpful: Fox soared as a home for the opposition during the Obama years.
Latino Trump Supporters. The Democrats have long known that Latino voters are not a monolithic bloc. Trump nabbed nearly half of the Latino vote in Florida, compared to 35 percent four years ago, and while Biden had more of their support in Texas, it was marginal. While many factors played into the results, poor outreach from the left and the GOP casting Dems as socialists played a strong role in the Latino vote outcome. In Arizona, one Hispanic organizer said Democrats spent “a billion dollars … talking to white persuadable voters and less than $24 million talking to Latinos.” Future campaigns can’t just fill the coffers of D.C. ad buyers, but should also work to build coalitions. With Trump potentially having won a quarter of non-white voters, it’s time Biden and the Democrats directly address the issues of scarcity and strife in their communities … or risk losing them for good. Read more on OZY.
Stock Market. Many have watched gleefully as their 401(k)s and retirement savings soared owing to market confidence in recent years. So will President Biden have the same effect? While Trump predicted a market crash with a Biden win because of his planned tax hikes and the stock market historically has reacted well to presidential reelections, the turbulent nature of the Trump White House and the surging pandemic could mean investors feel safer with Biden. The real answer is probably a mixed picture, depending on Biden’s policy approaches with COVID-19, taxation, the national debt, stimulus and climate change. At least at first blush, markets are excited at the prospect of gridlock, with Biden and a Republican Senate.
Silicon Valley. Both parties have become more skeptical of Big Tech in recent years, as massive companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Apple have come to dominate American life. Biden would probably not be as aggressive on antitrust measures as Trump, but he has indicated he wants to review social media companies’ Section 230 protections, which allow them to avoid liability for content appearing on their sites. One area where Biden would be good for Silicon Valley: immigration policy, as the president-elect is likely to loosen restrictions on hiring skilled foreign workers, who form the lifeblood of top tech firms.
Run Until You Win
Joe Biden lost his two previous presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008 before triumphing this year. But he’s not alone — others before him have had similarly challenging paths to power that have been decades in the making.
Mexican Maverick. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared victory on the night of the presidential election before the results rolled in. Then, after he narrowly lost the vote, he told millions of supporters he had been defrauded, led giant protests through the capital, demanded a recount and — in front of his followers — declared himself the country’s “legitimate president.” Sound familiar? In fact, you could think of Obrador as Trump in reverse. AMLO, as he is widely known, was the opposition leader, not the incumbent, in 2006 when he challenged his narrow loss on the streets of Mexico City for a period of months. Then in 2012, he again came in second in the presidential race and alleged that the winner, President Enrique Peña Nieto, had bought votes. In 2018, AMLO would no longer need to level such charges; he won without dispute. The moral of the story? Don’t count Trump out in 2024.
Brazil’s Poster Boy. The markets were terrified when former trade unionist Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva won the Brazilian presidency on his fourth attempt in 2002, afrer losing in 1989, 1994 and 1998. Brazil was in the middle of a debt crisis and the leftist leader had dithered on committing to a resolution. But Lula moderated his position, while also ushering in some of history’s biggest social welfare programs, such as the Bolsa Família cash transfers for 50 million low-income Brazilians, spawning copycat initiatives in multiple nations. By 2009, Lula had an unlikely fan: U.S. President Barack Obama. America’s 44th commander in chief described Lula as the “most popular leader on earth.”
Indian Ocean First. Perseverance pays. No one knows that better than Wavel Ramkalawan — and the small nation of Seychelles. The popular Indian Ocean island country was long a democracy in name only. A military coup in 1977, a year after the country gained independence, led to one-party rule under the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front. Even after other parties were allowed to contest in the 1990s, the SPPF repeatedly won presidential elections. Ramkalawan, a priest and the nation’s principal opposition leader, fought and lost the presidential vote five times — in 1998, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 — before finally winning this year in what was the nation’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power.
By Hook or By Crook
Those addicted to power often don’t give up easily.
Greece, 1967. Progressive former Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou was widely expected to return to power in national elections that year. The country’s military — a key power behind the scenes in Greek politics at the time — didn’t like him, and decided to preempt the popular vote. A team of colonels grabbed power. The country’s King Constantine II swore in the military junta that would eventually rule until 1974. It’s a stain the now 80-year-old king — who later claimed he had no choice — has struggled to erase, even though the monarchy itself ended in 1973.
India, 1975. The Indian National Congress, the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru that led India’s freedom struggle, had been the country’s only political formation in power for three decades since independence. But by 1975, Nehru’s daughter and then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was facing growing street protests. Then came the biggest blow she would face in her political career: A court ruled her election illegal on charges that she had misused government machinery for her campaign. That meant she would have to resign as prime minister. Instead, she imposed a state of national emergency, suspending civil liberties, arresting opposition leaders and curbing press freedoms. But two years later, she partly repaired her reputation, lifting the emergency and allowing fresh elections in which a united opposition trounced her.
Yet when the future of their country is at stake, some statesmen have chosen to turn their political enemies into their closest aides for national unity.
South Africa, 1994. In the country’s first free and fair elections, where voters of all races were allowed to participate, Nelson Mandela was elected president, hammering the final nail in the coffin of apartheid. Days later, Mandela would build on his vision for a “rainbow nation” — picking his closest electoral rival, former Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk, as one of his deputy presidents, and another political opponent, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as his minister of home affairs. Afghanistan, 2014. The war-torn country was headed for a crisis akin to what Mexico faced in 2006 with AMLO’s protests. Ashraf Ghani won a tight presidential race against Abdullah Abdullah by a narrow margin, prompting the latter to form his own parallel government. The state was set for a deepening of ethnic tensions — Ghani is a Pashtun leader while Abdullah has the support of northern communities including the Tajiks. That would have been an ideal situation for the Taliban to spread further mayhem in Afghanistan. Instead, in a remarkable show of leadership, Ghani and Abdullah came together in a power-sharing arrangement, with Ghani as president and Abdullah as the government’s chief executive. After a similarly contested vote in 2020, they’ve again come together to share power.
Dictators to Democrats
It’s hard to believe, but some authoritarian leaders have turned to democracy — and quietly ceded power.
Joachim Chissano. A revered freedom fighter who helped defeat Portuguese colonialists, Chissano became the socialist president of Mozambique — then a single-party state — in 1986. But as a civil war raged, he negotiated a peace deal with rebels in 1992 and agreed to democratic elections. He won those in 1994 and 1999 before stepping away, respecting the two-term limit.
Mathieu Kérékou. The Berlin Wall had just fallen in 1989 when the army major turned socialist leader of the small West African nation of Benin decided to transition the country to a multiparty democracy. In the 1991 elections held after nationwide consultations, Kérékou contested, lost and calmly gave up power. The first democratic transfer of power in postcolonial West Africa set an example that the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Togo, Burundi, Rwanda and Niger would all follow in the 1990s. And unlike many such tectonic shifts that have been stained by civil wars, Benin’s transition was totally peaceful. Read more on OZY.
Mikhail Gorbachev. For some socialists, it was the end of a dream. For others, it was the demise of what started out as a revolutionary ideal but became a monster resembling the imperialist powers it had promised to counter. And for still others, it was the culmination of decades-long efforts to bring down what President Ronald Reagan called an “evil empire.” Whatever your view, there has been no political transition in the past century more significant than the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It’s easy to think of that moment as inevitable, but the country’s then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev could have easily continued like his predecessors, using the ruthless military and intelligence infrastructure at his disposal. Instead, he allowed Ukraine, Belarus and others to gain independence from the USSR and paved the way for its dissolution, after surviving a coup attempt.
Kings Who Showed the Way
Not all monarchs have waited until public pressure — or the threat of a revolution — forced them to embrace democracy.
Juan Carlos I. He was widely expected to continue Francisco Franco’s authoritarian rule after the Spanish dictator’s death in 1975. Carlos was king of Spain, and had worked closely with Franco. But instead, he reinstituted democracy. And that’s not all. In 1981, military leaders led by Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero plotted and executed an audacious attempt at a coup, entering Parliament with 200 soldiers and holding legislators hostage for 18 hours. But unlike Constantine II of Greece, Spain’s king didn’t compromise with democracy. He ordered the army to take on Tejero and his men, who eventually surrendered.
Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The monarchy commands absolute respect and adulation in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, its position unchallenged. Yet in 2008, the king announced that Bhutan would transition to a parliamentary democracy. In three national elections since then, Bhutan has each time voted for a new government, demonstrating a hunger for change its own people hadn’t recognized with the first murmurings of democracy.
- OZY Editors, OZY AuthorContact OZY Editors