As the world shivers over President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election, President-elect Joe Biden faces a daunting 2021 year.
The Biden administration will inherit a public health crisis and an economic crisis.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, the United States is on track to record its worst month of the pandemic in November.
Despite Trump’s repeated lies during the election campaign that the virus was “going away,” the country surpassed 12 million cases on Saturday after recording more than one million new cases over a seven-day period.
Hospitalizations have reached record levels nationwide and reported COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 255,400, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As the public health crisis deepens, the number of Americans who first file for unemployment insurance is still extremely high – more than 700,000 per week.
And about 12 million workers are expected to lose their unemployment benefits on Dec. 26, when their emergency stimulus payments are expected to end, unless Congress extends them.
“Simply put, the Biden administration is facing a struggling economy unlike any seen in US history,” writes R. Andrew Butters, assistant professor of business economics at the ‘Indiana University, in an article for The Conversation published last week.
There is also the deep problem of social cohesion.
According to the Ipsos research house, the pandemic saw many societies become more “cohesive” at the start of the year as citizens gathered to fight the then unknown virus.
But social cohesion has frayed as the pandemic has evolved.
In a survey of more than 20,000 people in 27 countries, conducted between September 25 and October 9, Ipsos found that only six countries were now positive in terms of social cohesion:
- China: +65 percent
- Saudi Arabia: + 37%
- Australia: + 12%
- India: + 11%
- Malaysia: + 4%
- Sweden: + 3%
All other countries were net negative, the worst including:
- Japan: -52 percent
- South Korea: -52 percent
- Poland: -51 percent
- France: -49 percent
- Belgium: -46 percent
- Russia: -43 percent
- Brazil: -42%
The United States’ negative score of -26 percent puts them in the middle of the pack.
“It is interesting that although much attention has been paid to social resentment currently in the United States, it ranks in the middle of countries when it comes to social cohesion, although it is also decidedly negative,” he said. declared the report.
Specifically, the Social Cohesion Index in the United States has been dragged down by the feelings of its citizens regarding identity, fairness, and trust in the system.
How will Biden overcome these challenges?
As it stands, he faces a possibly divided Congress, which will make it difficult for him to pursue his legislative agenda.
Depending on the outcome of the two Senate polls in Georgia – which won’t be settled until January – he could face a Republican Senate and a Democratic House of Representatives.
If that happens, he will be the first elected president since 1988 to take office with a divided Congress.
He will have to negotiate with a “Trumpist” Republican Party.
Biden said he would prioritize the public health crisis and wanted to pursue stimulus spending much more.
He also said he would be more supportive of statewide closures to deal with the coronavirus than Trump.
But Congress controls tax and spending decisions, and it will only be able to accept or veto the laws they pass, so its stimulus plans could be blocked.
“Divided Congress (as is likely) suggests less, rather than more, budget support,” Kim Mundy, senior economist and currency strategist at the Commonwealth Bank, wrote to clients this month.
“While history serves as a guide for the future, Republicans are less supportive of fiscal stimulus when they are in opposition.
“[But] the longer the US economy takes to recover, the more the economic damage is likely to become permanent.
“This is why delays in providing budget support can be costly.”
Climate change is a high priority, Chinese policy is unlikely to change
On climate change, Biden said he would join the Paris Agreement on his first day in the White House.
He pledged to invest 1.7 trillion US dollars ($ 2.32 trillion) over a decade as part of a “clean energy revolution”, and claims that US energy will be 100% clean by 2035.
He also wants to tax carbon-intensive products from countries that do not meet their climate obligations.
But his progress on climate change could also be limited by a divided Congress, so he may have to rely on executive orders.
“During his presidency, President Trump overturned more than 70 environmental regulations,” Mundy said.
“Biden is likely to reinstate many vehicle emissions standards and limits on methane production for oil and gas operations. “
On foreign policy, Biden says he wants to reestablish relations with traditional U.S. allies, and analysts expect his administration to be more predictable and prioritize multilateralism over unilateralism.
But he’s less likely to change US policy toward China.
“Less uncertainty will benefit trading nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada,” Mundy noted.
Heal the division while healing the health system
In this era of mass protest, Biden will face a deeply divided America.
In March, the Center for Strategic & International Studies in the United States released a disturbing report detailing how the number of uprisings around the world had increased by an average of 11.5% per year between 2009 and 2019.
“The scale and frequency of recent protests eclipses historical examples from eras of mass protest, such as the late 1960s, late 1980s and early 1990s,” the report says.
“Analysis of the root causes of these global protests suggests that they will continue and may increase in 2020 and beyond.
“Factors that could increase the rate of protest include slowing global economic growth, worsening effects of climate change, and foreign interference in domestic policy through disinformation and other tactics.”
A few months after the publication of this report, the Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the United States and spread around the world.
And even as the 2020 annus horribilis draws to a close and Trump lost the election by a decisive margin of over 6 million votes, his supporters say “Trumpism” is here to stay.
Until recently, the Australian government liked to say – wrongly – that budget surpluses were essential to a strong economy.
But as we head into 2021, the surplus that matters is our health surplus.
Thanks in large part to the sacrifices of the Victorians, the Australian economy has a much better chance of withstanding negative shocks next year as our public health situation is under control.
In a recent phone call with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Biden said he wanted to learn from us.