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Opinion

Biden must vanquish Trumpism to uphold the international order

Weight of the world rests on the new president's shoulders

| China
U.S. President Joe Biden receives a presidential escort to the White House on Jan. 20: what Biden does at home is important for the rest of the world too.   © Reuters

Professor Huang Jing is dean at the Institute of International and Regional Studies, Beijing Language and Culture University.

The inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021, will be well remembered by history.

The unprecedented imagery of the ceremony itself -- with everyone wearing a mask, looking over the tightly guarded emptiness of Washington -- signals the unmistakably perilous situation the Biden administration is facing.

At home, in addition to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. economy is in a slump, and, most dangerously, the country is deeply divided not just by what Americans want, but essentially by the question of who believe themselves to be. Abroad, the reputation of U.S. democracy, as well as U.S. leadership, have ebbed during the Trump presidency.

President Biden sees the problem. His inaugural speech was centered entirely on "unity" of the nation, for only in unity can Americans overcome these formidable challenges. In order to reunite the United States, "healing" will be Biden's topmost policy priority.

The Biden administration must find a way to combat the coronavirus pandemic -- by exerting effective control on the spread of the virus as soon as possible. Biden must alleviate the economic toll of the pandemic, not just by helping to reverse continuing job losses, but by preventing the trillions of dollars worth of quantitative easing during the pandemic from causing yet another financial tsunami. Most importantly, he must heal a deeply divided nation. That means making the utmost effort to reconcile the divisions roiling both society and politics.

But what Biden does at home is important for the rest of the world too, because all domestic issues in the United States are global. This is not only because the U.S. is so deeply connected with the world in all aspects of life, but, more importantly, U.S. primacy and leadership are the indispensable foundations of the international order established by the U.S. and its allies after the end of World War II.

Indeed, it was the reckless unilateralism of the Trump presidency that positioned the U.S. against the rest of the world, including its own allies. Hence the damage to Americanism. That is why it was truly inspiring to see President Biden declare to the world that the U.S. "will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again," so as to "lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example."

This means that the Biden Administration will return to multilateralism in order to reengage the world with the commitment and responsibility that are required for the U.S. to be able to lead "by the power of our example."

But this is exactly where Biden's dilemma lies. For conservative Trump supporters, a multilateral approach when it comes to global affairs would not only compromise U.S. interests, but place an unbearable burden on America.

This side of politics does not see any necessity for the U.S. to be committed to -- and hence be responsible for -- international peace and stability. Instead, they want to take full advantage of U.S. might to "make America great again." If this has to be done through the invocation of a supreme leader, and at the expense of others, then so be it.

Thus, while Biden will make the maximum effort to heal the nation, and unite the divided country he now leads, his anti-Trumpism and globalist approach when it comes to foreign affairs will surely infuriate Trump's supporters all over again, provoking them to rise up against his leadership.

Supporters of Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol on Jan. 6: Biden's globalist approach will provoke Trump's supporters to rise up.   © Reuters

Essentially, it was the inability of the U.S. establishment -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- to reconcile that enabled Trump to prevail in playing the game of the politics of division at home, behaving like a tyrant in international politics. All this came to a horrible climax on Jan. 6 when supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol, with the whole world watching.

Indeed, the four-year Trump presidency, especially the post-election saga conducted by Trump refusing to concede the result, has revealed some innate flaws of the U.S. democratic apparatus. Now it is up to the Biden administration and the Democrats to strive to eliminate these "bugs" in the system. Otherwise, the healing of a deeply divided nation cannot hope to be successful.

Biden and his team have only four years to fix the problem. In practice, however, they have a much narrower time window. The first real test will come as early as the 2022 midterm elections. Should the Democrats under his leadership fail to retain control of Congress, Biden will face an uphill battle to win reelection in 2024. After all, the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 will not go quietly.

But failure is not an option for Biden, for the U.S., and indeed for the entire world as well. Because any form of restoration of Trumpism would bring back a unilateral and reckless hegemony that could bring down the entire international order. The prospect of the world's powerful nation heading toward self-destruction would throw the world into disastrous chaos.

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