eyes on the U.S.

Joe Biden's Real Challenge: Moving Beyond Anti-Trumpism

President-elect Joe Biden's ample support base is fluid and can melt away, if his administration ignores the social and political grievances that led millions to vote for Donald Trump.

MAGA hat burning In Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14
MAGA hat burning In Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14
Federico Finchelstein

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — U.S. President-Elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will face immense, and in many ways unprecedented challenges, upon taking office on Jan. 20. Future historians will have much to say on how "Trumpism" or radical right-wing views espoused by the outgoing President Donald J. Trump, took populism close to fascism and dictatorship. But history will also record how, after one term, he was rejected on Nov. 3. A record number of Americans — more than 81 million — voted for Biden, united by their opposition to Trump and his ideas.

As the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges said, it wasn't love that brought them together but fears. The question concerning the United States now, and in the future for countries like Brazil and Hungary is: Can you engage in politics merely on the basis of fear of what has already happened?

On the one hand, Biden is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. On the other, he must solve a political crisis, which actually can point to some precedents.

How should he rebuild democracy and generate genuine support among those who voted for him simply for not being Trump? Biden will need to be more than just honest, or not racist or discriminatory. It will not be enough for him to merely avoid scandalizing the public or manipulating and demonizing the media.

Can you engage in politics merely on the basis of fear of what has already happened?

Biden needs to widen democracy, and improve living conditions, healthcare and education in order to represent his voters and avoid the inertia of the past.

In many cases, anti-Trumpism warned of the dictatorial dangers and risk of fascism inherent in the president's style of leadership. But critics often presented an alternative myth: that of historical exceptionality. This was the idea of a normality before Trump that was not in fact entirely "normal." As the case of Marine le Pen"s repeated candidacies in France shows, a "barrier" is not enough to keep long-term votes and support from gathering.

Anti-Trump protester in Atlanta on Dec. 15 — Photo: John Arthur Brown/ZUMA

The pre-Trump period had its share of problems: elitism, technocratic predominance, aggressive police tactics, stock market and banking deregulation, President Barack Obama's inaction — or at times regressive measures — regarding immigrants, lack of gun control legislation, massive incarceration rates for ethnic minorities and restrictions on public education and healthcare that, alongside other issues, distanced many voters from the Democratic Party.

Should it view the Trump presidency as an interlude, the Biden administration will see its large support shrivel — as it will without proper judicial investigations into possible criminal actions by the outgoing president.

Doing nothing is not a viable option.

With foreign policy and U.S. relations with democratic and authoritarian leaders, one can expect a rapprochement with the European Union — but what will happen to Trump's global accomplices? Which policy will it adopt toward the tropical Trump that is Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil? How will it act with the Nicolas Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela or the Saudi kingdom?

Doing nothing is not a viable option, though it is always possible Trump will stick around in politics as a useful reminder to citizens of the failures of his administration. In any case. Trump may allow Biden a few months of complacency and inaction.

That Trump, and to a lesser extent the Republican Party, are currently rejecting the democratic results of an election should be a warning against urgently declaring the last four years an exceptional event in an otherwise healthy democracy. American democracy must be improved and widened in social, economic and political terms.

After the end of the Latin American dictatorships of the Cold War, as happened in Europe with the fall of fascist states in 1945, many eminent intellectuals espoused the same, misplaced optimism. They were naive because authoritarianism and xenophobia persisted on both sides of the Atlantic after those periods.

Considering fascism and authoritarian populism as aberrations rather than expressions of strong, local and global trends, can impede the work of democratic reconstruction needed to uproot them.

There are patterns of continuity in U.S. history, as in any history, and change as well. We must record our histories and both the friends and enemies of democracy, if we want to defend it and improve it for the future.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.


The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.

-------------------------------------------------------------

David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ