BIDEN NEEDS TO UNITE THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA

The United States of America, the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, seems to be coming apart at the seams. The unbelievable chaos that preceded the run-up to the Presidential election—in fact from much earlier than that—saw its culmination in the siege of the US Congress last week by a mob of Donald Trump supporters. If they were trying to help the beleaguered US President by their action, the opposite happened and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump is now a pariah, a persona non grata, threatened of being impeached and hounded out of social media platforms. The President, who lived by his megaphone tweets and became synonymous with un-statesmanlike behaviour, is now perhaps the most silent, and silenced, man in the US. But then Donald Trump, impeached or not, will be gone inside 10 days, and it is Joe Biden who will inherit a deeply “Divided States of America”. The President-elect will require all the sagacity at his command to even try to bridge this divide. And there is no denying the division. Lest we forget, over 74 million (47%) people voted for Trump, compared to Biden’s 81 million (51%). That’s nearly neck and neck, signifying the country is split right down the middle, which is not unusual in democracies, but in this case, the divide has deepened because of allegations, unproven, of voting fraud. To further his own cause, Trump allowed the claim of fraud to gain currency. The majority of voters who voted for Trump would not have condoned the siege of the Capitol, but there is no denying that many of them are unhappy over the unwillingness to probe, or even discuss, the claims of voting “anomalies”. The fringe elements used this as an excuse to stage the siege last week. Ironically, thus they also ensured that all questions about voting anomalies that were supposed to be discussed by the US Congress on that fateful Wednesday, got scuppered for good.

The issue is much bigger than an “opportunist” Trump and his loyal band of followers spreading mayhem. It’s about the duty that democracies have to ensure that voters do not feel disenfranchised. Indians, who take great pride in the way elections are conducted in this country, were appalled to see how chaotic the US electoral process could be, leaving much room for doubts and questions. In spite of being the most powerful democracy in the world, the US has a moth-eaten electoral system, which needs a complete overhaul. In this it can learn a lesson, or two, from the way Indians have tried to make their electoral process fool-proof, so that questions of anomalies do not arise.

As for President-elect Joe Biden, it is because he understands that he is the President of all Americans and not just who voted for him, that in spite of coming down heavily on the incumbent President and the “insurrectionists”, he has not said anything about impeaching Trump. Scare-mongering about Trump is reaching a crescendo in the US, with much of it fuelled by personal hatred and disgust for an unconventional and a bit-too-colourful man. Joe Biden is steering clear of the witch-hunt, which shows that he understands that US cannot afford to descend into “civil war”. This is a contrast from someone like Hillary Clinton, who once had described people who supported Trump as a “basket of deplorables”, thus aggravating the divide.

For healing to start, Biden first needs to rein in the extreme left fringe of the Democratic party, which is threatening to become mainstream. Many members of this fringe are egging on Big Tech—not that they needed much egging—not only to remove all traces of Trump from cyberspace, but also to go after platforms and voices that are seen to be “pro right”. This has resulted in the social media platform Parler, which was allegedly used by the right-wing to incite the riots, to be purged from the Internet, and that too without any investigation into Parler’s role, if at all, in the siege. In reality, the Parler situation seems to be a case of Big Tech killing competition. Add to that a liberal dose of leftist ideology, and we have a different kind of Chinese virus—authoritarianism, which demands censorship and subservience—wreaking havoc in cyberspace. Since when did Big Tech become judge, jury and executioner? Who gave social media platforms the job to decide what their users need to read or view? This is tyranny of the unelected. In fact, this should serve as a cautionary tale for India, for the potential of Big Tech to meddle in our political process—one of the reasons why we need to have homegrown search engines and social media platforms.

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