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.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

GZERO World Clips
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal