Biden faces challenges dealing with schism in American society – opinion

The sweeping use of the term “fake news” that includes every piece of critical or displeasing news, even if perfectly true, must stop.

US PRESIDENT-ELECT Joe Biden celebrates in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, with his wife, Jill, his son Hunter Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (photo credit: JIM BOURG / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT-ELECT Joe Biden celebrates in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, with his wife, Jill, his son Hunter Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
(photo credit: JIM BOURG / REUTERS)
Unless the unexpected happens, and President Donald Trump gets the courts to overturn the election results, former vice president Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States. In the eyes of all who believe that Trump poses a real threat to the American democratic system, who accuse him of having caused immeasurable damage to American society and the status of the US abroad through his irresponsible and chaotic conduct, Biden’s victory is viewed as a God-sent miracle. However, one cannot ignore the fact that he did not gain a landslide victory. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, which was expected to grow, has actually shrunk, and Republicans will apparently maintain their majority in the Senate. Moreover, though in the popular vote Biden gained an unprecedented majority of well over four million voters, the United States is split down the middle, just as it was in the 2016 elections.
This reality will remain after Biden enters the White House on January 20, 2021. The United States will still be split down the middle, and the issues will still remain the same. Many of them are highly contentious, such as climate change vs denial of climate change; free trade and globalization vs a protective trade policy and an inclination to isolationism; a system of universal health insurance vs laissez-faire health services with minimal state intervention; taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and taking the necessary precautionary measures against it side by side with promoting a vaccine, and viewing it as a Chinese plot that will go away just as suddenly as it came while poo-pooing all precautionary measures, to mention but a few.
In order to stop the schism from turning into a complete divide, with the danger of ongoing civil strife and violence, a deliberate healing process involving reconciliation must begin with a change in the basic style and content of the rhetoric that was introduced by President Donald Trump when he started running for President over four years ago.
The belligerent, licentious rhetoric that does not distinguish between the truth and falsehood, badmouths critics, mocks the disabled and imperfect, must be replaced by a calmer, more restrained and civilized style of rhetoric that tries to build bridges and create alliances, and accepts the legitimacy and rights of “the other,” with very few exceptions defined by the law.
The sweeping use of the term “fake news” that includes every piece of critical or displeasing news, even if perfectly true and accompanied by verified facts, and extreme derogatory descriptions of rivals and critics must stop.
Joe Biden’s main virtues in the current situation are that he knows a thing or two about healing and compromise, while civilized, even if at times uninspiring rhetoric is part of who he is. His presence does not raise tempests, but rather has a calming effect. That is what the United States urgently needs at the moment. Present-day Israel, which is also split down the middle, and also suffers from overly aggressive public rhetoric in which truth is not paramount, could also benefit from a leader with such qualities.
ONCE BIDEN enters office, besides a change of style and tone, one should not expect any immediate miracle cures for the inner schisms of the US from him. And a divided Congress (if indeed the Republicans will continue to control the Senate) will not make life easy for him, necessitating a good deal of patient negotiations with the Republican Senate majority to get anything done. It is said that Biden has had a long history of successful negotiations with Republican senators on various issues, both as a senator and as vice president during Obama’s presidency – something that could serve him well as president.
Many commentators have advised that Biden should show greater sensitivity and consideration than did some recent Democratic presidents for the concerns of the more conservative, more religious, frequently less educated sections of the American society, who form a large part of Trump’s hard-core supporters. They have been alienated from liberal America as a result of the rapid adoption of far-reaching liberal ideals that do not always tally with their own basic social norms. They feel left behind economically by globalization, and measures adopted to try to contend with climate change, in which they do not necessarily believe.
This does not mean dropping liberal programs, giving up globalization or deferring measures to slow down global warming, as Trump has tried to do, but simply to listen to these people, take note of their distress and concerns, and try to help them contend with changing circumstances.
Incidentally, it is not at all clear whether Trump actually did more than Obama in taking account of the needs of the affected regions. While carefully listening to several of Trump’s pre-election speeches, I noticed one of his repeated claims was that during his presidency many new oil refineries had been built in the United States, suggesting a reversal of a previous policy of cutbacks in the oil industry and in the use of fossil fuels.
Checking the figures published by the US Energy Information Administration, I discovered that during Trump’s presidency, two refineries were built in Texas, with the total capacity of 77,500 barrels per calendar day (b/cd), while in the last two years of the Obama administration, four refineries had been built (three in Texas and one in North Dakota), with a total capacity of 132,250 b/cd. So apparently, what matters is less what one actually does than the public relations that accompanies it.
Naturally, in Israel we are especially concerned with the future policy of the new administration toward Israel and the Middle East, after four years of being pampered by a president who was exceptionally friendly toward us. However, I believe we should wish President-Elect Biden much success in his expected efforts to contend with the social schism in the United States, a problem we are all too familiar with here in Israel, and must sooner or later also start to address.