America’s priorities must change

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

As the turbulent years of the Trump administration fades into history, the world is confronted with the prospect of the Joe Biden Administration – in the midst of a pandemic that is killing Americans at the average rate of 864 persons each day, with a President who refuses to “concede” the election, and a deeply divided country with approximately 35 million of the 70 million people who voted for Trump, believing that the election was a fraud and refuses to accept Biden as President.

Notwithstanding, Biden victory comes from the unusually high participation of 67 per cent of the eligible electorate in the election, where he received more than 80 million votes.  Most important, the changing geography of America’s economy and electorate is upending the political balance in favor of the Democratic party and Biden.

Agriculture and Manufacturing are becoming smaller sources of employment while Information and Services are becoming larger ones.  More significantly, these information and services positions require high levels of education  and cannot be outsourced to machines.  This tectonic shift has concentrated economic power in big cities and among younger, more diverse and better-educated workers. 

Agriculture, because of growing efficiencies, and Manufacturing, because of outsourcing and automation, require fewer workers with less education.  This means that the American dream of upward mobility is more difficult for these workers to achieve.  These trends all favor the Democrats whose base is located in the urban areas of the country that is highly dependent on talented and highly educated workers with an appreciation for diversity that can quickly adapt to changes in the political and economic environment. 

In addition, the United States is going through a demographic transformation, which will further exacerbate the tensions.  The Census Bureau estimates that this year the majority of the country’s 74 million children will not be white, and in the decade of the 2040s, the white population will be under 49 per cent with the other 51 per cent  made up of “minorities.”  Making America “White” again is impossible. So divisions in the society will increase. Biden must therefore  look to polls for guidance on establishing policy that will unite the country. 

Recent polls show that the majority of Americans want their government to cooperate and to move the country forward.  The President and Congress must find common ground to help the nation recover from the pandemic and recession, and put the country on a path for broad future prosperity. Biden should focus on areas where there is broad consensus.  Infrastructure is one of the few areas with broad and bipartisan support.  Democrats and Republicans, national and local Chambers of Commerce, and Labor Unions agree that infrastructure is key to business and job growth.  Implementing a bold infrastructure plan must therefore be top priority.

A recent John Hopkins University survey shows that 60 per cent of Americans want Universal Health Care.  Around 49 percent of the country’s total population, receive employer-sponsored health insurance. There are as many as 25 million Americans who lack insurance and have pre-existing conditions, and all together 50 million people are uninsured.  For many Americans, a trip to the doctor hinges on whether they can afford to go, rather than if it’s a medical necessity.  The Biden administration should focus on delivering Universal Health Care and cease trying to prop up the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

A new Pew Research Center survey reveals that 67 per cent  of Americans want the government to focus on reducing the effects of climate change, developing alternative sources of energy- wind, solar and hydrogen technology over expansion of fossil fuel sources – and protecting air and water quality.  The Biden administration should focus on these areas, but be aware that workers in the affected areas must be treated with respect, and be given opportunities in the evolving economy that would enable them to transition without significant loss of income during the period of the transition.

Candidate Joe Biden promised his major donors and Republican defectors that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration, that the progressive wing would be marginalized and that he didn’t need to reach out to them.  These surveys indicate that he has to fundamental change his policy positions if he wants to build a functioning democracy that works in America’s new multiracial society.  The old normal that caters to the  one per cent or to a homogeneous white, evangelical population is unacceptable.  Americans need Universal Health Care, a Living Wage, and opportunities for Upward Mobility.

At the global level, the recent election of Mauricio Claver Carone as President of The International Development Bank (IDB), might impact on Biden’s approach to the region.  Carone, who advocates an aggressive policy toward Cuba and Venezuela, was nominated by Trump with opposition from some Latin American countries, Canada and the European Union. 

Carone has little banking experience, and his appointment is seen as part of Trump’s effort to put Americans in charge of key international organizations.  Also, Carone’s idea of diplomacy is often to admonish and impose unilateral sanctions.   Since IDB’s inception, a Latin American held the bank’s presidency.  Carone’s presidency can potentially jeopardize future U.S. money for the bank.  The result, Caribbean and Latin American countries could be negatively impacted, since the IDB finances about 12 billion in projects in the region.

The recent assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear scientist, has escalated tensions in the Middle East.  Iran has blamed Israel for the assassination and vowed the country would take revenge for his killing, and insisted his death would have no impact on Iran’s nuclear knowledge.  The assassination comes as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly pressured President-elect Biden not to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The global community must take a stand against Israel, if she is found to be guilty of state-sponsored terrorism, which is a flagrant violation of International Law.

In the area of foreign policy, Mr. Biden should restore the Iran deal, re-enter the Paris Climate Accords, and cease US support for the Saudi war in Yemen.  He needs to reject the notion of the US as the “indispensable nation” that is willing to defend and engage allies and to provide global leadership.  He needs to reject the draconian neoliberal order that restored and increased the power, income and wealth of the upper classes and allowed the domination of labor by capital, resulting in extreme global income inequality.

All empires must face reality.  For America, because of geopolitical and economic events, and the especially the economic rise of China, the US role in international affairs will be less dominant.  On November 15, fifteen countries, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five regional partners, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).  This trade block is now the largest in the world, with 2.2 billion people and 30 per cent of the world’s GDP. 

In 2018, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), representing 495 million people was initiated. Trump withdrew from this agreement.  RCEP and the CPTPP are powerful counterexamples to the global decline in rules-based trade dominated by the US and its Western allies.  When RCEP generates mutually beneficial growth, its members, including China, will gain influence across the world.

Biden must realize that the US cannot continue to spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined and recognize that Americans are not accepting the myth that anybody who works hard will become affluent or rich, and if you do not become rich, it is because you did not try hard enough.  America’s priorities must change. She must recognize that maintaining America’s power at the same level is an illusion, that could destroy her.

 (Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph  who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)