Horsing around and exhortations: World to Biden’s America

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 28, 2021

In the blissfully quiet first week of Joe Biden’s presidency, there’s been a lot of horsing around as well as more serious exhortations from around the world about the United States.

Mostly it’s about the challenges faced by the country. Donald Trump isn’t always mentioned by name but he hangs – like a pall – over some aspects of how the world views the US in 2021.

Consider European Council president Charles Michel’s recent comment about the European bloc’s relationship with America:

What is certain is that the last few years have damaged the relationship with the US…Unfortunately, it is no joke, the previous president spoke more with North Korea than with the Europeans.

And this more serious musing from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: The EU-US relationship “will no longer be the same as before, because…perhaps indirectly linked to Trump, the EU has gained self-confidence, the EU has grown, the EU came out of its naïveté. The Europe that is there now is not the same as it was four years ago.”

There is black humour too about the fragile and polarised position that Mr Trump whipped up in the United States. The day Mr Biden was inaugurated, for instance, with 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington, D.C. and roadblocks all across the downtown area, an Iraqi Twitter user gestured to security blocks in Baghdad and said he felt as if he were in Washington.

But perhaps the most interesting development of all is the advice on offer to America. Citizens of countries rich and poor, politically chaotic or stable, have been coming up with ideas for American renewal. For instance, Patrick Gathara, a commentator based in Nairobi, Kenya, wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times (paywall) with suggestions for an African lesson in reform for post-Trump America.

He acknowledged that comparing the US to Kenya may seem a stretch: “One is a superpower and an established democracy; the other, an equatorial republic in a supposedly coup-riddled continent”.

But there was good reason, he said, to persist with the comparison. “How often Americans have taken to questioning their own republic’s solidity,” he asked. And he quoted Mr Biden’s words from Inauguration Day: “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile”. That, said Mr Gathara, is “true of all countries, everywhere”.

He went on to specify fundamental reforms, Kenya-style. In fact, he said America would benefit from “the same sort of self-examination that Kenya and much of Africa have attempted over the decades”.

And he finished by admonishing the US to be humble, to stop thinking, as many Americans seem to be doing, that Mr Trump’s presidency was an aberration rather than “the predictable consequence of systemic dysfunction”.