Joe Biden has won the US Presidential elections. There have been celebrations in the US and in other parts of the world. Donald Trump’s Presidency is widely viewed as a highly disruptive one, making Trump a rather unpopular figure globally. However, in the US, Trump’s popularity doesn’t seem to have declined over the last four years even as he could not muster enough electoral college votes. But as he refuses to concede, words like coup are being bandied about.
It is highly unusual to hear such words in the context of American democracy but the extreme polarisation in the body politic of the US has brought to the fore the infirmities of the US political system at a time when it was least desired.
We were being told that there would be a Democratic wave on November 3. Instead, the performance of the Democrats has been much below par. Not only is the US Senate likely to remain under the Republican control, the Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives as well. Democrats did not pick up a single state legislative chamber, and their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has narrowed, sparking calls for a change in leadership. This success will give Republicans substantial control over congressional redistricting as states redraw electoral maps for congressional and state legislative districts next year, putting Democrats on a weak wicket over the long term.
Even Joe Biden has managed to scrape through to the Presidency by winning with slim margins in the key battleground states. It is this fractured mandate that Trump is seeking to exploit further by throwing in multiple legal challenges in the way of Biden’s assumption of the nation’s Presidency. While the Trump versus Biden saga will continue to attract a lot of attention, what is equally, if not more, interesting is the intra-Democratic Party turmoil that this mandate has begun to produce.
The moderate and centrist Democrats are worried that the so called ‘Progressives’ tried to provide an agenda for the party which is viewed as out of the mainstream. This might make it difficult for the Democrats to win seats in the hinterland. For example, several centrist Democrats have complained about calls by their colleagues on the left of the party to defund the police and law enforcement. As one moderate Democrat, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, said, “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost.” ‘Defund the police’ almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again. We need to get back to basics.”
This has resulted in a strong pushback from the progressives. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, part of a liberal congressional clique known as “the Squad,” targeted the centrist Democrats for blaming the far-left for hurting the party. She, along with other progressives have warned, “If we abandon our core progressive base and agenda, Democrats will not hold onto the House majority in the 2022 midterms and will have no hope of gaining grounds in the Senate.”
As Biden tries to make his way to consolidating his governance agenda, he will find that the challenges within his own party might be far more difficult to tackle than he would have imagined during the campaign.
This group of progressives remain concerned about the prospect of a President Joe Biden engaging with moderate Republicans as he tries to play the role of a unifier. Tlaib has made it clear, “We are not interested in unity that asks people to sacrifice their freedom and their rights any longer.” Senator Bernie Sanders is an important player in this dynamic. Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has been floated by the progressives as a potential candidate for the labor secretary position in the incoming Biden-Harris administration and he has suggested that he would introduce a 100-day agenda of his own.
As Biden tries to make his way to consolidating his governance agenda, he will find that the challenges within his own party might be far more difficult to tackle than he would have imagined during the campaign. “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose,” said Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York. The fault-lines within the US and within the Democratic Party are likely to ensure that governance will continue to be a challenge for Joe Biden. This will be single most important issue facing the Biden administration at a time when the allure of American democracy is already being questioned in parts of the world.