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US politics will become more divided under Biden

US President-elect Joe Biden takes part in a health briefing in Wilmington. Reuters

It took a while, but the outcome was called over the weekend: Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States. Biden will flip Trump's electoral college map from four years ago, and get an even bigger share of the popular vote than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

The Senate is expected to stay in Republican hands, pending a special election for two runoff seats in Georgia in early January, and Republicans also narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives by 5. Add to that the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and it's about as divided a US government as could be imagined.

That's the most challenging outcome of all for Biden. If Republicans hold the Senate, his administration won't be able to push through any meaningful political reforms, much less act on issues that many Democrats feel strongly about.


That means no Voter Rights Act, no redo of the Census, obviously no ending the filibuster, no statehood for Washington D.C. or Puerto Rico states, and no packing the Supreme Court. Some appointments may need to be acting posts, while others will go to centrists. Biden's broader social democratic policy agenda — increasing the federal minimum wage, redoing healthcare, or tax increases for the rich – is effectively stillborn.

Most importantly, Biden's ability to pass a $3 trillion stimulus plan for the pandemic has now evaporated. The best he can hope for is a limited stimulus focusing on support for businesses and extended unemployment which faces an uncertain future in the lame-duck session.

Without support in Congress, Biden's domestic agenda will be (again) rule by executive order. Stay tuned for broad regulation on the environment and big business, an opening on immigration, and greater restrictions on fracking and fossil fuels.

What about foreign policy? Here, Biden can make quick decisions that are the international equivalent of executive orders. The US will return to the Paris Climate Accord, remain in the World Health Organization, and join the COVAX facility on vaccine development and distribution, to name a few. Biden probably won't reenter the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, but he will re-engage with Iran on the 2015 nuclear deal (which will prove harder than the incoming administration expects).

Meanwhile, back at home again, political divisions in the US are likely to continue to deepen under the Biden administration. Not because President Biden himself will stoke them, but rather because his honeymoon period will likely be very, very short.

Yes, tens of millions of voters emotionally exhausted by four years of Trump will initially welcome Biden's (deliberately) more boring administration. But things will sour quickly.

Progressive Democrats who turned out in large numbers to support Biden will feel left behind when he steers clear of defunding the police, supporting the Green New Deal, or breaking up Big Tech. That will lead to open warfare between progressives and the centrist party leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The 2022 midterms are going to be a doozy for the Democrats: with a crop of progressive challengers representing a much younger base taking on centrist Democrats.

Republicans too are facing some internal tensions. Trump will remain the dominant force in the party, with his base deeply angry about having the presidency "stolen." This will force moderate Republicans, like Lindsey Graham who won his Senate race handily, to choose between backing the conspiracy theory narrative, or risk losing to a wave of populists who embrace grievance politics. That's becoming an easier decision for many to make — they are falling in line behind Trump, fueling the flames of delegitimization around the election. That's bad for institutions broadly.

On the upside, Biden might get wind in his sails given the economic cycle and near-term successes with coronavirus. With vaccines coming online and the national economy getting back to normal, 2022 could be a good midterm for Democrats.

But if I had to bet, I'd say the US political system is set to become more divided under the Biden administration, not less. That may not the America that millions of people voted for last week, but it's the America they'll get.

On a personal note, I want to say I appreciate how emotionally fraught the last week has been for so many of us. From jubilant to vindictive, from withdrawn to incensed, I've heard the gamut. And I know that right now messages of hope and unity are the last thing many people want to hear. But I think there's a real opportunity to take a little of the heat out of the political debate, to make people feel a little less crazy about politics that have seemed all-encompassing for years now.

At the very least, I feel a personal responsibility to try to be a part of that. Those of you that follow me in various public settings have probably seen some of it. If you feel like reaching out and have any thoughts/suggestions around this, feel free to holler here.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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