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U.S. Election 2020 - Views From Abroad

eyes on the U.S.

The Months That Will Turn Joe Into President Biden

For all his experience in government, Biden is entering unfamiliar territory. Trump, barking at the president-elect's heels and challenging his legitimacy, will try to make the transition harder still.

Joe Biden won the election, but whether he wins the transition is another question. The peaceful transfer of power always tests an incoming president, but this time promises to be particularly perilous.

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, taking lives and jobs as it spreads. The incumbent, President Donald Trump, has only reluctantly agreed to the transition and knows how to dominate the national conversation. He seems determined to deny his successor's legitimacy and appears to be planning a 2024 campaign rally on Inauguration Day.

In the transition time remaining, I believe Biden needs to establish two kinds of legitimacy. He should show the nation that he possesses the competence to plan an administration, in order to create substantive legitimacy. And he should perform important ceremonial rituals, in order to establish symbolic legitimacy.

As a scholar of the presidency, I've written about John Kennedy's transition, which culminated in his superb inaugural address. Biden seems unlikely to match that rhetorical achievement, but he is off to a solid start.

President Donald Trump speaks behind a podium.

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally to support Republican Senate candidates in Valdosta, Ga. on Dec. 5, 2020. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

This one's different

The president-elect has sought to craft his substantive legitimacy through comparison and contrast. One of these presidents, Biden suggests, is not like the other.

This is not an unusual strategy. Democratic political consultant David Axelrod long ago coined the opposites theory of presidential elections, noting, "Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have." President-elect Biden appears to assume that he won at least in part because voters rejected Donald Trump, and so he has reinforced the difference between the two during the early transition.

When the election hung in the balance, the former vice president waited for the results with the rest of us. Unlike Trump, Biden refused to declare victory, noting only that "We feel good about where we are." His humility contrasted to Trump's behavior throughout his term.

When the result became clear, Biden not only promoted national unity in his Nov. 7 speech, he also shared the stage with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. That was a perk denied Biden on election night in 2008 and an indication that he planned to govern not as a rogue individual but as part of a team.

His first staff and cabinet choices have reinforced the teamwork theme. "Competence is making a comeback," the Associated Press declared in its analysis of Biden's national security selections. The president-elect quietly made his decisions, with no public auditions or press leaks. He introduced them as a team in a sober setting. Each gave remarks emphasizing their commitments to morality and honesty.

For example, his nominee for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, movingly told the Holocaust survival story of his stepfather, announcing a moral mission for the United States in the world. Avril Haines, nominated for Director of National Intelligence, said she would speak truth to power, "knowing that you would never want me to do otherwise and that you value the perspective of the intelligence community, and that you will do so even when what I have to say may be inconvenient or difficult."

Joe Biden is clearly determined to dissociate his administration from the previous one, which was characterized by neither moral commitment nor faith in truth. He is crafting his substantive legitimacy by demonstrating his belief in teamwork, morality, competence and experience. His administration, he claims with these choices, is ready to lead.

Biden and Harris appearing at an announcement event

Biden, left, and Harris, right, appear jointly at many events. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Symbolic legitimacy

Biden is among the most experienced candidates elected to the presidency. Yet assuming the office will be difficult, even for him. He has been a senator and vice president, but he has not been in charge.

To become the president requires ritual.

A president is both the legislative leader and the head of state, the equivalent of a British prime minister and the queen in one. The trappings of the office make the office. Americans need to see Biden invested with the presidency, much as a Prince of Wales becomes the king by assuming the robes and powers of his office in a ceremony.

The inaugural ceremony on Jan. 20 is a ritual of transition that transforms "Joe" into a head of state, into Mr. President. The inaugural address gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his presidential capacity, to unite partisans as one people, and display himself as their leader.

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The Founders understood the human need for political ceremony at times of transition. George Washington learned of his first election to the presidency on April 14, 1789 and soon left his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia for the then-capital of New York City.

Washington's journey turned into a grand celebration of the new nation. In Trenton, New Jersey, for example, 13 young women, dressed in white, walked before him, strewing flowers from baskets as he rode underneath a magnificent floral arch. Washington was no longer a gentleman farmer nor even a general. He was about to become the president and these sorts of rituals marked the way.

Biden is unlikely to undertake such a journey from Wilmington to Washington, although Axios has reported that Biden could ditch the recent inaugural tradition, "the typical flourish of arriving in Washington on an Air Force plane, pulling in instead on the same Amtrak train he rode to and from Delaware for 30 years as a senator."

A lithograph showing George Washington being greeted by

A lithograph of Washington's reception by ladies, on passing the bridge at Trenton, N.J., April 1789, on his way to New York to be inaugurated first president of the United States. Nathaniel Currier/Smithsonian American Art Museum

If Biden is to establish his symbolic legitimacy as a rightful president of the United States, he will need a ceremony displaying that legitimacy, one that looks and sounds like those of his predecessors. This will be hard in a pandemic, as the campaign showed. He was unable to campaign as a candidate normally would or give his election night speech in front of a roaring crowd, as, for example, Barack Obama did in Chicago's Grant Park in 2008.

Now, it seems unlikely that he will be able to take the oath in a large ceremony or enjoy many of the traditional trappings of a presidential inauguration. Biden has said his inauguration could "resemble the Democratic National Convention."

Although the 2020 convention was successful, it didn't look like the traditional inaugural ceremonies. As a model, it would deprive the nation of many of its comforting rituals. It would substitute a small, televised ceremony at the Capitol and virtual activities from around the nation.

The president-elect and his advisers will have to find ways to make these new traditions authorize his presidency as well as the old ones. I do not envy them this task.The Conversation

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With Trump Gone, China Will Lose An Enemy — But A Useful Enemy

China may be relieved to see their bitter adversary withdraw from power. But President Donald Trump was also Exhibit A for the Chinese regime to show the Western democratic system on the verge of collapse.

PARIS — "China is relieved, but it still has concerns in the short term and is under no illusion for the medium or long term." In just these few words, my contact, an astute Chinese-American analyst of China based in the United States, has managed to sum up China's reaction to the US presidential election.

The country's leaders are genuinely relieved by Joe Biden's victory. It wasn't President Donald Trump's policies that worried them as much as his personality. Like the financial markets, the Chinese don't like uncertainty. Trump's unpredictability was particularly disturbing for them. And the Beijing rulers, "Leninist Mandarins," were never able to get used to the style of the 45th president of the United States. Such incessant familiarity, vulgarity and vague relation with the truth for the leader of what is still today the world's leading power, and the country that China is trying by all means to catch up with, and then to surpass in the next 15 to 20 years.

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Trump Lost, But 'Our America' is Gone — A View From Abroad

Reflections on an election from far away, but still so close.

NEW DELHI — Many of us non-Americans have long drunk the blue kool-aid of the red white and blue. Despite its shortcomings, we've grown up thinking that, at its heart, America lives up to its ideals of freedom and justice: where a free press, equal rights, and equal access to opportunity can be fully realized. We look to this singular nation where immigrants are welcomed, where the world's leading educational institutions prosper, and where progressive social thinking, scientific advancements, and a fair justice system are open to all. The home of Batman, Spiderman, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the tumultuous past four years, no doubt gave us pause. So it was only natural that we would follow this month's election with both trepidation and hope. For days, we sat in front of our TV and computer screens, watching so closely that many of us now know not only the swing states, but the swing counties, from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, to Maricopa, Arizona. That Trump ultimately lost, however, can't erase the fact that he received 73 million votes (compared to Joe Biden's 78 million) — and should make us finally question what has been our naïve, simplistic, one-sided perspective of America.

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How Biden Could Help Solve The Venezuela Conundrum

Unlike his populist predecessor, the U.S. president-elect has an opportunity to engage with the leftist forces within Latin America that can then bring pressure to bear on the Maduro regime.


BUENOS AIRES — The Venezuelan crisis will be U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's big Latin American challenge. The next four years are more than enough time to push Venezuela toward democratic normalization by involving political actors with whom the regime of President Nicolás Maduro is prepared to talk.

With Donald Trump at the helm, the United States had considerably less credibility in its bid to find a democratic solution for Venezuela. Working against that effort was Trump's particular brand of populism, as well as his alliances with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who openly admires his country's last military dictatorship, and Iván Duque of Colombia, where dozens of rights activists have been murdered just this year.

The Organization of American States (OAS) is another of the actors the Maduro regime won't heed, especially under its present secretary-general, Luis Almagro.

Biden will, however, benefit from the contribution and credibility of former Chilean leader Michelle Bachelet, who has since become the UN's human rights chief. His administration can also work with the European Union, prominent rights organizations, and influential South American political groups such as Brazil's Workers Party (PT), the socialists of Chile, and Uruguay's Broad Front (Frente amplio) — all of them on the left — so that they will intercede and help ease the impasse in Venezuela.

Free elections have become impossible in Venezuela as results cannot be verified.

At the same time, there's one thing to always keep in mind when talking to the Maduro regime: Since 2015, when the Bolivarian movement, founded by the late Hugo Chávez, suffered its first electoral defeat and lost control of parliament, free elections have become impossible in Venezuela as results cannot be verified.

The opposition, as a result, refuses to take part in elections devoid of transparency, which only serve to legitimize a dictatorship. Effectively, free elections, which even the socialist governments of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico and Argentina's Alberto Fernández seem to back, would very likely have one loser, the Bolivarians clinging to power without democratic legitimacy.

Biden and Maduro in 2015 — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

Those who are upset with international pressures on the Venezuelan regime must know they are accomplices to the country's human tragedy. And they are not just the leftist regimes of Cuba, Nicaragua, or Ecuador and Bolivia, under past presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales respectively.

Under Chávez and Maduro, democratic institutions and the rule of law were gradually undermined as Venezuela mutated into a military-backed dictatorship. In the meantime, Latin America mostly looked the other way, which makes many of the region's democratic rulers partly responsible for this tragedy. That is especially the case of the PT in Brazil, the two Kirchner presidents and their backers in Argentina, and the Broad Front in Uruguay.

The last report by the UN Human Rights Office in September 2020, headed by Bachelet, is unequivocal. It repeats the charges made in 2011 when the UN Human Rights Council made its first Universal Periodic Review (EPR) for Venezuela. In that year, drawing on information provided by UN agencies, the EPR found a range of abusive practices including illegal detentions, extra-judicial killings and excessive and indiscriminate use of force by police, a partial judiciary or restrictions on the freedom of speech and political and electoral rights.

Those who are upset with international pressures on the Venezuelan regime must know they are accomplices to the country's human tragedy.

Chávez was president in 2011, when Dilma Rousseff was president of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner led Argentina, and José Mújica was president of Uruguay with Luis Almagro as his foreign minister. Chile's Bachelet had recently completed her first term in office. The CELAC regional organization was also formed at this time with the approval of regional states, and used to embolden Venezuelan socialism, which had already been firmly denounced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

By including these progressive forces, which the Maduro regime is prepared to hear, the Biden administration could, with the EU, open the door to democratization in Venezuela and help end its humanitarian tragedy. In doing so, his administration could also boost the regional left's commitment to democracy.

This commitment is overdue. The left is indebted for its historical support for authoritarian outfits in Cuba and more recently Nicaragua, where the regime of Daniel Ortega is borrowing a page from the worst days of the Southern Cone juntas.

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Carl-Johan Karlsson

Biden Beats Trump: The World And The U.S. Don't Quite Agree

More than ever, last week's U.S. election was a global event. And as the four days of collective vote-counting finally culminated in a win for Joe Biden, the rest of the world seemed to react with a unanimous burst of hope for a clear change of direction.

Yet already in the wee hours of November 4, it was clear that Americans did not agree: There would be no decisive national repudiation of Trump, as hoped for by Democrats and foreign allies, and predicted by the polls.

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eyes on the U.S.

Biden Wins: 46 World Newspaper Front Pages Of Next President

It's Joe! After the world watched for four days as the United States counted its votes, Joe Biden has clinched victory over Donald Trump in one of the most consequential presidential elections in American history. Trump's four tumultuous years in the White House are now bound to end, even if the outgoing president has vowed to contest the result and is sure to make the transition to a new administration anything but smooth.

Still the verdict from the voters has been acknowledged by world leaders, who formally congratulated Biden. Further confirming the reality, newspapers around the world splashed the news across their front pages. Here's a sampling of 46 newspapers for the incoming 46th president, from India and Italy to Austria and Argentina, as well as Biden's native city of Scranton and home state of Delaware :


The Washington Post

The New York Times

Kansas City Star

New York Post

Delaware News Journal

The Sunday Times (Scranton, PA)

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Le Monde

After Beating Trump, Biden Will Then Have To Beat Trumpism

Trump's legacy will be profound: his impact as an unconventional politician, the way he turned the Republican Party upside down, the extreme polarization it’s brought to American society. Biden's hardest work is ahead


PARIS — When all the votes are counted, Joe Biden may be president, but Donald Trump will not exactly be defeated. The incumbent has managed to mobilize at least 68 million U.S. voters, five million more than his 2016 victory. This is a fact: far from being an electoral accident or an interlude in the White House, Trumpism, for the new occupant of the Oval Office in January, will have left a lasting mark on American politics.

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Rozena Crossman

American Tragedy, Trump Is Taking Democracy Down With Him

PARIS — Watching the non-stop coverage of the U.S. election, a line from Shakespeare kept flicking at my mind. It's a grim image from that tragic tale of love, hate and disinformation, Romeo and Juliet: "A plague o" both your houses! They have made worms' meat of me." Now, the graphic allegory was unfolding on my computer screen in real time: No matter which candidate wins — and with plagues of our own spreading all around — we risk making worms' meat of democracy.

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eyes on the U.S.
Dominique Moisi

Trump And The Totalitarian Temptation

By prematurely declaring victory, while the counting of votes is still ongoing, Donald Trump is taking a leaf out of an autocrat’s playbook.


PARIS — The Permanent Coup. This was the title of a controversial 1964 essay by François Mitterrand in which he denounced then President Charles de Gaulle's exercise of power in France. What words would Mitterrand choose today to describe Donald Trump"s anti-democratic practices?

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Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

U.S. Election: It Was Supposed To Be A COVID Referendum

Pollsters told us that Donald Trump would pay a heavy price for his mismanagement of the pandemic. What will happen with other world leaders?

November 3 was not only the culmination of an unprecedented presidential campaign, but the day also set a record for the second highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States. The day after, yesterday, the U.S. topped 100,000 cases for the first time. Indeed, many pundits and pollsters were convinced that President Donald Trump's failure in managing the global pandemic would be decisive with voters, particularly in crucial older demographics. So why didn't we see the scenario of a coronavirus-fueled Joe Biden landslide?

Bad numbers: The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world and the highest number of recorded deaths, at more than 234,000. In a national opinion poll from early October, 57% of respondents disapproved of the president's response to coronavirus.

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Alessio Perrone

Foreign Eye On The Descent Of American Democracy, 2008 To 2020

In the midst of America’s election limbo, our Milan-based writer looks back on the first U.S. campaign he followed — from up close — and wonders what comes next.

On Sept. 15, 2008, a teenaged version of me with shaggy hair, cheap Wayfarer sunglasses and a The Clash t-shirt, stood in a packed crowd under the dry sun of Pueblo, Colorado, waiting for the candidate to arrive.

I was a month into spending my junior year of high school with a host family who lived just outside Pueblo, where locals prided themselves on hailing from Colorado's ninth biggest city. The year 2008 was also when the financial crash was tumbling global economies, and had already sent much of my host family's savings up in smoke. As for the U.S. presidential campaign in full throttle, I didn't know much, but someone had explained to me that Colorado was a swing state, which had brought both candidates to Pueblo.

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