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Biden's baptism of fire
Published in Ahram Online on 26 - 01 - 2021

US President Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th president of the United States was a spectacle that will not be forgotten by the 330 million Americans and the billions of others around the world who witnessed the presidential inauguration.
The event was held amidst an unprecedented ramping up of thousands of US National Guard soldiers to protect it, as well as by the absence of former president Donald Trump, who had announced he would not be attending the inauguration. His vice-president, Mike Pence, did attend it. Trump's refusal to do so was the first instance of its kind for nearly 150 years.
The US capital Washington was locked down on the day of the inauguration for fear of attacks by far-right militias that staunchly believe that the presidential elections in November 2020 were rigged in favour of Biden. There were also fears of attacks by Antifa groups made up of individuals who can best be described as rebels without a cause or hooligans and who do not really need an excuse in order to spread anarchy and mayhem on any given day.
Close to 21,000 National Guard soldiers were deployed in Washington, with 15,000 of them around Capitol Hill where the presidential inauguration was to take place, after the FBI had issued warnings of possible attacks by far-right militias and others furious at the results of the elections. To put these numbers in perspective, they are nearly four times the number of US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
The inauguration ceremony went smoothly despite the very limited public attendance due to the extreme conditions that the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed in the US. Only a select group of politicians and celebrities attended the ceremony, which seemed well-organised considering the circumstances. Most of the speeches stressed the importance of unity and harmony in a divided nation. The irony was that these speeches were delivered by the same politicians who had earlier planted the seeds of such divisions by stereotyping the supporters of former president Trump as “fascists” or “racists” out to destroy the fabric of the American nation.
It was also ironic that the same TV networks, such as CNN and a large number of national TV news networks, that had never hesitated in sending out the message that the nation was doomed if it did not vote Trump out, were now the very same ones calling for unity, harmony and the need to look forward to the future.
It was the same anchors, such as CNN's Jake Tapper, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo, along with talk-show hosts such as Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden, who had projected doom and gloom in the years to come should Trump be allowed a second term in office. They literally dictated to the American public who they should vote for, tossing out all notions of media objectivity or impartiality in a manner unprecedented in the history of US presidential elections.
Why is this history so important now, given that Biden won the elections and Trump lost them? The reason is simple: these propaganda machines have sowed extreme divisions that are now looking almost irreparable in the years ahead. Democratic Party politicians and the Democratic-dominated media in the US have also upped the ante for their candidate to produce a stellar performance while he is in office and show Americans as a whole that he has the magic solutions needed for the myriad crises that have overtaken the nation.
The astronomical numbers of infections with Covid-19 in the US have reached 25.6 million, meaning that 7.6 per cent of the US population has been infected. Biden has said that there is nothing to be done to change the trajectory of the pandemic over the next few months and that the number of deaths may reach some 600,000 people.
This will be the first brush with reality that the new president and his supporters will have to deal with. Similar to what has been happening in almost every country on the planet, the mutations that have been taking place in the virus will be unstoppable in a highly populated country such as the US.
Biden has signed an executive order that stipulates the mandatory wearing of masks in US airports and on certain modes of transportation, including many trains, airplanes, maritime vessels and intercity buses. International travellers must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to travelling to the US. This is one step among several others that may help to curb the number of infections in the US. However, given the current rate of infection, it will not be a magic solution.
Among the 30 executive orders signed by Biden in his first 48 hours in office was one that may stir up a lot of controversy. This was the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline that extends from Alberta in Canada into the US. On completion, the project is expected to tap nearly 168 billion barrels of oil and add over 800,000 barrels a day to US consumption.
Biden's decision to cancel the project was based on studies saying that the pipeline is an environmental hazard because the crude oil it taps is from tar sand. However, as important as that consideration is, banking on only alternative energy at the moment to supply US energy needs may not be exactly prudent given the reality that oil is still the king of energy resources and the United States can never have too much of it based on its huge consumption rates.
This is not counting the thousands of jobs that will be lost with the cancellation of the project. This was a decision that Biden took hastily, not factoring in all its benefits as it was a project that Trump was eager to complete.
Reversing many of Trump's executive orders seems to be Biden's modus operandi and a way of saying that he is serious about making changes. However, this will not necessarily have successful results. One of Trump's executive orders, the ban on certain nationalities from entering the US, colloquially known as the “Muslim ban,” in fact included bans on obtaining visas for citizens of countries including North Korea.
The next few steps that Biden will take in the Middle East, especially on the Iran nuclear deal, will be instrumental in securing the region and the security of the US itself. Welcoming the Iranian regime with open arms given its track record of supporting terrorism and violence in the region just to spite Trump would be a disaster in the making and would resemble former president Barack Obama's signing of the disastrous Iranian nuclear deal that enabled Iran to rapidly regain its economic balance and unleash its aggression across the Middle East.
Biden's baptism by fire as the country's new president may be costly to the United States and the Democratic Party media machine, which has showered the American public with promises that are likely to be beyond his means or capabilities as president. This is all the more the case as in its present situation the United States cannot afford to entertain political decisions that are based on showmanship and partisanship.
The sooner that Biden grasps this, the better for everyone it will be. The task of uniting the United States will likely be more arduous for Biden than for any US president since Abraham Lincoln, given the damage that has been done by politics and the media in the country over the past few years.
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt's Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 January , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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