“Joe Biden will be focused on protecting the American middle classes”

Joe Biden, December 17, in Wilmington (Delaware), United States.

One month before the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States, back to a country that is changing fundamentally and finding consensus on social, climate and technology, beyond the deep divisions that cross it.

  • Trump, the election and its denial

Laurence Nardon: For more than four years, many Americans have been in a state of bewilderment over this president who is a genius in communication. During all these years, everything revolved around him. Since November 3, we see that it starts to crack. It is not yet complete. Many elected Republicans continue to encourage the president in his denial of his defeat.

Thierry Philippon: The first positive point is obviously that we are rid of Trump. The second is the very high turnout, including among Trump voters. It is always better for people to vote to express their anger, rather than to keep it to themselves. Nationally, there was clearly a decision to get rid of Trump, but not to hand over the keys to Democrats. In a number of states, voters voted for Biden for the presidency and, at the same time, for a Republican senator. People remain fundamentally centrist on a lot of things.

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For Republicans, this is a major political failure. The outgoing president got fired. But it has clearly paved the way for a form of populism that resonates with the population. All of the right-wing Republican candidates say their optimal strategy is to win over Trump’s voters at least with a view to a Republican primary. This means that we will continue to hear the nefarious Trumpist messages, as a number of people will position themselves in the perspective of the Republican primary of 2024.

Pascal Lamy: Trump is a very specific version of populism. Americans have built their political system to limit power. The software of the American Constitution is very liberal within the meaning of the XVIIIe century, anti-royalty: anything but a king. Trump is the Hollywood version of this system.

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He arouses, in part of the American population, emotions that make you feel with him. People say to themselves: “This guy, he doesn’t look at us like those Democrats who keep teaching us lessons on what to do, what not to do, on what is right or wrong. This guy, he’s with us, he’s like us. I’m not sure we’re going to find another Trump, just as we probably wouldn’t have found another Mussolini or another Hitler, which are all the same the historical references that we think of. You just have to re-read what people thought of Mussolini or Hitler in their early days.

  • The future of the Republican Party

LN: There are currents in the Republican Party. The moderate current is absolutely inaudible today, because it has been completely vaporized by Trump for five years, but it could rise from the ashes. He represents the white middle classes with little or no education, which is often called in American sociology “the working class”. She was very seduced by Trump in 2016, because, for decades, she felt betrayed by Democrats who were only interested in ethnic minorities, even poorer than her, and the educated elites. coasts of the country.

This working class also felt betrayed by the mainstream Republican Party. When she saw Donald Trump arrive in 2016, who served him both a right-wing populist discourse (flattering his identity anxieties in the face of immigration, which resumed in the 1960s in the United States) and a populist discourse of left flattering their economic anxieties (let’s close the country to free trade, bring the factories back to the Great Lakes States…). The question today is which party will be able to attract this working class to the polls. Once elected, Trump did not serve his interests, but those of the wealthy and corporations with tax cuts. He betrayed this electorate.

  • The three subjects that are consensus in America

Renaud Lassus : There are, in American society, areas of convergence that we do not know enough about in Europe. The first concerns the social. On the minimum wage, the cost of education, the level of retirement pensions, maternity leave… Americans agree on both camps. The second is the climate. In the depths of the country, there is now a consensus on the need to deal with global warming and, in general, to take nature into account. You have a massive, bipartisan vote, which was carried out a few months ago to restore financial resources to the great American natural parks. Finally, there is a bipartisan consensus on the desire to regulate the digital giants.

L. N .: We see, in the economic policy that Biden will launch, that it will not be a third term for Obama. In particular, on international trade issues, it is out of the question in the United States to return to unbridled free trade like the one we experienced from the 1980s until Obama. There is the will to supervise, mainly to protect the American middle classes. We will see what this gives, and if the interests of the major donors prevail over the interests of the working class.

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P. L .: The United States is a plutocracy. The people who sit in Congress, in the Senate, are all men and women who have $ 1 million in their bank account, because otherwise there is no point in getting into politics. On the environment, there is indeed a conservationist tradition that will reappear in the form of the defense of biodiversity and the fight against climate change. But, at the same time, the coal, oil and shale gas lobbies are extremely well represented in Washington. I am not sure that what Renaud Lassus says about convergences in the population translates in the short term, because there are blockages and representation biases. I saw it when I was European Commissioner for Trade and when I was Director General of the WTO. This is all happening in Congress. If the lobby is well organized, it is not the president who decides.

  • The economic record of the Trump years

TP: I am very negative. He put in place the tax program that the American Conservatives have been pushing for a long time. They cut taxes massively, in a very unequal way, in the hope of restarting investment. It increased a little bit, but it was purely a Keynesian stimulus. There was more demand and more jobs, but a year later there was nothing left. The investment rate of American companies has not increased at all. The money has been wasted. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the US state’s deficit was already abysmal.

On the other hand, it is true that stimulating while the economy was slowly approaching full employment had the effect of increasing the wages of the lower classes. Instead of stopping its expansionist policy at the threshold of 5% unemployment, it continued the policy of low interest rates and stimulus. When you get to 4% unemployment, people who were out of the job market come back, and companies find it difficult to recruit. They are then forced to increase wages. Over the past two years, we have seen an increase in wages at the bottom of the ladder. This is a good thing. But, again, this has absolutely nothing to do with the tax cuts for the richest, which do not seem to me a good remedy for the United States today. It is purely a demand effect.

  • The end of a liberal cycle

RL: We may have come to the end of a historical and intellectual cycle in the United States, which we in Europe call “Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution”. One cannot understand the situation in the United States today – for example, reluctance to regulate money in politics, to control arms, to poor social and environmental protection – without understanding that these ideas libertarians have dominated political thought on both camps. That is to say that the individual prevails over society, competition over cooperation and that regulation is evil.

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There was no determinism that the Reagan revolution won so widely and so deeply in the country. There was an intellectual maturation in the 1960s, then there were crises: Vietnam, the great oil shock of 1973, etc.
Today we can see the negative effects: division, inequalities, short-termism, the impossibility of dealing with subjects of common interest, such as the climate.

Won’t the United States fall into something completely different, a new intellectual and conceptual movement? It’s entirely possible. We Europeans need to ask the question of these profound changes in the United States – which generally occur once or twice a century – in order to know how to reconnect a conversation on the democratic question with the United States which, at in my opinion, move much more deeply than what we often see in Europe.

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