BIDEN AGENDA WILL DEPEND ON WHO CONTROLS SENATE
In the aftermath of the presidential election, the US has been portrayed as “one country and two nations” by Richard Haass (Project Syndicate November 6). Haass is President of the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the bi-monthly Foreign Affairs, a prestigious international political magazine read by congressional officials, lawmakers, researchers, and political and security specialists. The syndicate piece follows his column in the magazine’s September/October issue—Present at the Disruption: How Trump Unmade US Foreign Policy.
In these columns, Haass relentlessly expressed strong antipathy towards Trump and his policies. I must say his description of America as a “one-country, two nations” is ingenious and emblematic of the current state of affairs. But America isn’t just split in two; it is torn helplessly asunder.
With vote counting in all the states having been completed by November 13, Biden has been declared a provisional winner, having garnered 306 electoral votes against Trump’s 232. Biden’s win is still “provisional” as of this writing (November 17) in that Trump is continuing his legal fight in an attempt to overturn the election results.
As Trump’s challenge continues, the focus has shifted to which party will win the two remaining Senate seats. The Republicans have already secured 50 seats out of a total of 100. If they take just one of the two remaining seats in run-off elections in Georgia slated for January 5, they will take control of the Senate. Trump’s Republican Party might then well be called a real winner in this election despite losing the White House—having managed to get a majority in the Senate despite the widespread predictions of a landslide victory across the board for the Democrats. Trump must be properly recognized for his varied achievements, possibly including a GOP Senate.
The issue for the United States is that Trump garnered more than 71 million popular votes. Although this was some 5 million less than Biden, Trump contributed to a significant expansion of his party’s power base, attracting more African-Americans (from 8% to 12%) and more Hispanic-Americans (28% to 32%) than 2016. Despite this year’s setback due to the pandemic, the US economy grew dramatically under Trump, and the unemployment rate has now been reduced to 6.9%, half of what it was last spring. The robust economy undoubtedly explains the reason for the support Trump got from African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in the face of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 240,000 lives.
Biden Has Extreme Socialists to Deal With
Appointing three conservatives as Supreme Court judges will surely go down in history as Trump’s most notable achievement. Few people in Japan, including myself, take much interest in who are appointed as US Supreme Court judges. But even in America, where the principle of law prevails, a judge’s values play a crucial part in his or her judgments. For this reason, every nomination brings a very hard fight between the two parties over the values of the nominee.
During his four years at the White House, Trump appointed three conservative judges—Neil Gorsuch (February 2017), Bret Kavanaugh (July 2018), and Amy Coney Barrett (September 2020)—shifting to 6-3 the balance of judges in favor of the conservatives in the Supreme Court. Because these judges are expected to serve for life, American social norms likely will be marked by conservative values at least for the coming few decades. Making use of this system, conservative forces in America may be able to set social values for generations to come—possibly for hundreds of years. Trump’s Republican Party has fared much better than expected on the strength of these Trump appointments. This point must not be understated in anticipating future trends of the American people.
Meanwhile, having raised repeated objections to China’s one-party dictatorship is by far the most notable contribution Trump has made to the international community. His achievements have been immeasurable, including having resolutely stood in the way of the Chinese Communist Party as it goes all out to establish a new world order based on Chinese values, hungrily expanding its spheres of influence propelled by its growing national power.
Come January 20, Biden’s Democratic administration will set about revising the values that Trump has established. But the question will be how much power Biden will actually have to effect change. The first hurdle will be the outcome of the Senate run-off elections to which I earlier referred. Should the Republicans assume a Senate majority, Biden will be forced to compromise greatly on such matters as the makeup of the national budget and appointment of administration officials, making it impossible to meet the demands from the leftists within his party.
Interestingly, the influential Wall Street Journal in its November 9 edition called a GOP Senate “a blessing for Biden (because) he needs someone to blame when he inevitably fails to deliver what his party’s leftists want.”
As we know, the Democrat race for the presidential nomination was a tough fight up to the end between Biden and Bernie Sanders. Although Sanders likes to call himself a democratic socialist, he is in fact a more extreme socialist. Professor Yoichi Shimada of Fukui Prefectural University depicts in great detail Sanders’ life in his new book entitled The World Will Crush China in Three Years (Business-sha Publishing Co., Tokyo; September 2020). Shimada, a respected international affairs specialist, serves as a senior researcher at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed think tank that I head in Tokyo.
According to Shimada, Sanders regards the Democratic Party as too far to the right to warrant his registering himself as a full-fledged member. Sanders is an environmentalist and an anti-carbon proponent through and through, committed to transforming America’s energy system away from fossil fuels by enacting climate-neutral energy policies. He strongly advocates a complete switch to renewable energy centered on solar and wind power.
Stringently Opposed to Deployment of US Forces
As regards foreign and security policies, Sanders is an out-and-out non-interventionist who Shimada believes will oppose the deployment of US forces to help Japan defend the Senkaku Islands against China, although Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty commits the US to the islands’ defense. (The Senkakus belong to Okinawa Prefecture.) This is a serious matter for Japan. Sanders also asserts that the US forces should not protect the oil transportation sea lane stretching from the Middle East—a measure that would seriously affect Japan, which depends on the region for roughly 90% of the oil it consumes annually.
In addition to these strict environmental, non-military, non-interventionist policies, Sanders supported raising the minimum wage to US$15 during his campaign, winning the enthusiastic support of young voters. In the end, persuaded that his socialist policies would not ultimately win enough support from voters across the nation, Sanders agreed to quit the race to back Biden. That is why Biden cannot readily ignore the policies proposed by the leftwing camp in his party led by Sanders.
Meanwhile, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is viewed as the most left-leaning of the 100 US senators. Although a full picture of her foreign and security policies is yet to be disclosed, she is on record as saying the US “should cooperate with China on issues like climate change.” While it is unquestionably important to get China involved in a multilateral effort to combat the world’s deteriorating environment, Harris should have at least born in mind that Japan, America’s Pacific ally, is the regional leader in environmental issues in Asia. I would assume it is a natural reaction for Japanese, including myself, to link her remarks to the unhappy memories of a pro-Beijing Obama administration that frequently jumped over Japan’s head in leaning heavily toward China.
Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor 2013-2017, may be appointed to a senior post in Biden’s administration. Sympathetic to China and willing to accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms, Rice advocates a path to peaceful coexistence with Kim Jong-un’s communist regime.
As vice president under Obama, Biden tried hard to avert military action overseas far more keenly than Obama himself. A primary case in point was the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin in 2011. Fearing political repercussions in case of a failure, Biden opposed the operation to the end. Shimada quotes Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary for the Obama administration, as describing Biden as “a sincere person” in Memoir of a Secretary at War (Vintage; 2015) while asserting that he has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
America will doubtless continue to undergo change and China is watching vigilantly for a chance to prey on it. Only Japan itself—no other country—can protect Japan’s air, land, sea, and people. Bearing this firmly in mind, we Japanese must take all possible national security measures. That is the only way to secure our survival.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 927 in the November 26, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)