EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

The last 48 hours in the United States went from feeling like the endless scene from Groundhog Day with Democrats, once again, winning an election to a deadly scene from World War Z with Trump supporters scaling walls and raiding the US Capital building.

While we are still unpacking and understanding the full breadth and ramifications of what just took place, what is certain is that this will heavily impact the US’s state of democracy and sealing President Trump’s dangerous legacy. Leaders from around the world have spoken out to condemn the attack on US’s democracy and Trump’s handling of the situation. Republicans, who were once part of the Trump-camp, are beginning to abandon his side at a record pace. Republican leaders including Vice-President Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are among the latest to voice their concern over Trump’s damaging rhetoric and actions.

Global leaders and not-so-recent supporters of Trump have followed democratic leaders in condemning the recent attack on democracy. Prime Minister Johnson called the scenes in DC “disgraceful” and stating that “the United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.” Turkey, who is led by authoritarian strongman Erdoğan has even expressed concern “over the images of angry Trump supporters trying to thwart the certification of Biden as the new president.”

While the Trump’s support seems to be wanning, many of these leaders have been on the record either in support of Trump’s dangerous claims over the last years and will certainly not be forgotten overnight. The damage towards democracy has been done.

The question will be, how does the United States and those who support democracy move forward? Are we at the precipice for Republicans and populist parties finally taking responsibility for the right-wing ideology and emboldened extremism they have gleefully facilitated yet now try to distance themselves from?

The light at the end of the tunnel is that President-elect Biden and Vice-President elect Harris have secured majority in Senate with the recent wins by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia. On top of that, Congress has just moved to certify Biden’s victory and Trump has pledged an “orderly transition” of power. While this won’t solve the deep fractures occurring in the United State nor will a new administration repair the state of democracy, but it’s a start.

The conclusion of the Senate runoff election in battleground state Georgia, was a clutch moment for Democrats and the Biden administration. Leading up to the runoffs, Republicans had secured 50 Senate seats and Democrats have 48 from the US elections in November which would have led to a further divided Congress with deeper partisan lines in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The implications of this would have had profound effects on how the Biden administration engages on both domestic and various foreign policy issues including economic recovery, climate change and tackling the pandemic. A divided Congress could have led to a gridlock and potentially stall vital policies and legislation moving forward, including time-sensitive measures around COVID recovery, which have already proved to be a divisive issue. However, this win allows Democrats to garner a 50-50 split and take control of the US Senate where Vice-President elect Harris can break ties in the chamber once sworn in on January 20th.

Republicans need to take a stand

The Republican party, while having lost the US presidency and now the Senate majority, will find themselves at both a moment of reflection and reckoning. Do they continue to endorse a Trumpian party which have proved not only to be dangerous but sought to undermine US democracy and rule of law? Or do they take this time to redirect the Republican party back from the brink of the far-right and nationalistic fervor towards its traditional conservative ways?

The main challenges for both the Republican party and incoming Biden administration will be to counter the falsehoods propagated over the last 4 years on a range of issues including but not limited to immigration, climate, economy, health and foreign policy and to re-engage the 70 million voters that did side with the Republican party vs. purely Trump supporters.

Trump has created a following by sticking with policies targeting voters’ expectations – however dangerous and misguided that have been. The “supporters” who attacked the Capital represent the extreme conservatism that the Republican party will need to distance themselves from.

What next?

Biden outlined in his acceptance speech that he pledged to be “a president who seeks not to divide but unify” the nation. A divided, or marginal Congress would have been a physical barrier to many of the policy agenda items the Biden administration had set out to achieve. In the end, repairing and healing a divided America will remain top of their agenda and this will certainly have implications on how Biden will reach across party lines and leverage his position as a moderate to help achieve these.

His policies reflect the eagerness and urgent need to put the US back on track both domestically and internationally especially on global issues such as COVID, economy and climate. However, repairing an inherited crumbling democracy will naturally create challenges and delays to his progressive agenda but having concluded a long fight to both win the Presidential seat and now the Senate, the US will hopefully emerge from these dark times stronger and more resilient.

Danielle Piatkiewicz

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