The defeat of Donald Trump is a time for celebration. His four years in office have blighted the lives of millions of his own people, through policies based on hate and multiple forms of discrimination. He has destabilised global politics, trashed treaties that had made us more secure, and given succour to far-right forces. His cavalier disregard for lives lost to the pandemic, and his anti-science, fake news approach to the massive health emergency have shown his unfitness for any public office or responsibility. His production and deployment of ‘useable’ nuclear weapons and his failure to recognise the climate emergency have brought us closer than ever before to catastrophic existential disaster.
In recent days there has been outrage at Trump’s attempts to claim victory, to stop the counting of votes and to undermine the democratic process. We are in close touch with US peace activists, and as one of our partners in the movement has said: ‘Constitutional democracy and so much more hang in the balance. Every vote must be counted. And committed advocacy and organizing for democracy, peace, justice, and the climate must continue.’
Following our Foreign Secretary’s initial refusal to say Trump was wrong to claim victory in the election, Johnson has now congratulated Biden on his victory. Indeed, congratulations and recognition of Biden’s victory are now standard fare from world leaders, leaving Trump with pretty much no option but to accept the outcome. That doesn’t mean that he will do so easily, or that his armed gangs of supporters won’t wreak havoc in contested areas. We send our best wishes to grass roots groups that are working to defend US democracy. They have fought so hard for this outcome and the diverse communities across the US deserve a peaceful transition to a more united future.
So what difference will the outcome make for us, in terms of peace campaigning? Sometimes people suggest that it doesn’t make any difference who is in the White House. But we do not share this view. Trump and Biden are both committed to US hegemony but there are differences of approach that can make an enormous difference to the future of the planet. The underlying factor is of course the US’s long-term economic decline, simultaneous with the economic rise of China. This is the fundamental issue of our age and the most important priority is to avoid war as this global balance changes. War between nuclear armed states is potentially a nuclear war and this will destroy us all.
Clearly a Biden presidency will continue with the main thrust of US policy, particularly with regard to China – after all, the Pivot to Asia originated as a policy under President Obama’s leadership. But in terms of a range of issues, there will be opportunities to turn away from the most damaging paths chosen by Trump. We expect Biden to go back to the Paris Climate Accords – few things can be more important than seriously addressing the climate emergency. And it’s likely that he will take the US back into the Iran Nuclear Deal – Trump was intensely critical of it as an ‘Obama deal’ but it was, rightly, widely praised. Biden is also likely to extend the New START Treaty and to cut some of the new weapons programmes that Trump initiated. It has also been suggested that he will limit nuclear use to retaliation – something that Trump had explicitly moved away from.
At the beginning of this year, US atomic scientists moved the hands of the infamous Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight – man-made global catastrophe, This is the closest the hands have ever been, even at the height of the cold war. The reason is the increasing likelihood of nuclear war and climate catastrophe. Judging by policies and actions of both presidential candidates, Biden’s victory makes both nuclear war and climate catastrophe less of a certainty.
The work must now step up to ensure that Biden fulfils these policy pledges. Nothing can be left to chance – the stakes are much too high. We will be working with the peace movement – in the US and internationally – to make the progress we need to survive.
But above all, we do not forget that this election has been about the everyday lives of US citizens. So they can defend and extend their rights, live at peace and free from fear, and exercise the opportunity promised by the American tradition, in a diverse and inclusive society. Freedom from the fear of nuclear annihilation is part of that, and we will do our part to help deliver it.