Decency has pushed demagogy aside. Votes still need to be counted and legal challenges heard, so reservations apply. But the way out of the elections has shown that Joe Biden is one step ahead. If this were confirmed, the overthrow of Donald Trump would be of great significance. The US would have a president again who values its constitutional laws and freedoms.
It is easy to lock a suspected Biden presidency in qualifications. The polarization of politics has robbed the US of its political center. The nativist isolationism of Mr Trump’s tenure is unlikely to go away given immense economic challenges and deep social and cultural differences. A republican party addicted to populism can stick to the Senate.
Sometimes what matters is what doesn’t happen. A Trump defeat would result in avoiding the rubble as well as the measures Mr Biden promised. A second term for Mr Trump would be a mandate that ratifies the corruption, lies, and bellicose unilateralism of the first – a major blow to the club of liberal democracies known as the West.
Mr. Trump legitimized despots and autocrats. His childlike admiration for the Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted the contempt for a constitutional world order designed by the USA. The precious little of this international architecture would survive another four years of the same.
The circumstances of a victory for Mr Biden would inevitably set the parameters for his presidency. The foreign leaders cheering him on from the rooftops of European law firms – and you could have cut the fear with a knife when it looked like Mr Trump was on the way to victory – can’t expect him to turns back the clock.
The choice for a replacement for the Pax Americana always fell between a Hobbesian who was free for all major power rivalries or a patchwork of alliances and coalitions between democracies that supported an open, liberal system.
America’s friends should be careful about their expectations of a Biden presidency. US voters did not rush to the election, calling on the president to spend more blood and treasure to restore the US to the world’s policemen. Everyone wants to get out of the Middle East.
Charles Kupchan, political scientist and foreign policy advisor to former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, explains the standard position in isolationism, a compelling story of US foreign policy. Throughout the life of the republic, insolvency was more isolated than internationalist. The intensity of the US’s post-war engagement with the world was exceptional.
Mr Biden’s foreign affairs advisors say his plans are to spend perhaps four fifths of his time on domestic affairs. It’s easy to see why. He would inherit an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, rising unemployment, large income inequality, and a budget deficit that pays the cost of Mr Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. The nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of renovation, and the middle class wants a president who keeps his promise to stand up for their economic interests.
Allies shouldn’t complain. Public confidence in the new president’s national agenda would be a prerequisite for renewed engagement overseas. Mr. Biden understands the value of alliances. He has pledged to return the US to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the nuclear deal with Iran.
Nobody should expect a rush to rebuild the old order. What is being promised instead is a return of the US as a selective superpower, as both an organizer and a leader. Restoring confidence in liberal democracy requires a much more visible effort from the other democracies of the world.
In these circumstances, European leaders need to improve their game well beyond paying their own defense. You should be wondering what you can do to help Mr. Biden restore US confidence in internationalism. A trade agreement to abolish tariffs and quotas for manufacturers and to liberalize agricultural trade would be a good start. Another would be a transatlantic cooperation agreement to set global standards for advanced technologies.
A Biden White House is expected to change course in American politics. It would promise a chance to mend the stuff of the West. However, the responsibility for turning opportunities into reality extends well beyond the US coast.
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Video: 2020 US election: Joe Biden urges supporters to keep the faith