Today, America is more polarised, more divided, and more anxious than at any other point this side of the Cold War’s end.
When the President is inaugurated on January 20th, he will inherit a nation wrecked by a public health and economic crisis, and also one that could quickly become ungovernable absent a concerted effort to restore and repair America’s many divisions.
For four years, the US President has played on partisan divides. Even on issues like investment in infrastructure that dangled like low hanging fruit ripe for a bipartisan consensus, Donald Trump made no real effort to build bridges. Instead, the President stoked division.
The pandemic worsened inequalities. African-Americans have suffered the health and economic effects of the pandemic at rates far worse than White Americans. Blue collar workers have suffered high levels of unemployment and often cannot work from home.
Women have shouldered a greater childcare burden. Young Americans have been healthier than older Americans, but suffered far worse the economic and educational impacts of the pandemic. As the elections conclude in America, the future remains uncertain.
For democracy to work, the loser must accept the results of the election and allow for a peaceful transition of power. Many onlookers have feared that a close or slow result at the polls would lead President Trump to contest the result.
But a victory for Mr Biden would also yield considerable challenges. Mr Trump’s base has remained steady at around 40 per cent of the population.
Their passion for the President is heartfelt and many of their concerns are real. Income and wealth inequality have continued to grow and absent a clear plan, the future is not bright for low skill workers in America.
In the face of these grave divisions and inequalities, leadership is more important than ever before. And there are very clear signs that leadership and united action are indeed possible.
By any measure, the move to grant nearly $4 trillion worth of economic benefits in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks was an extraordinary bipartisan achievement that demonstrated the power of the US government to preserve unity and social safety for the American people at a time of great crisis.
But today many Americans are once again living on the brink and many of these benefits have come to an end.
Desperately needed economic support has been stymied by partisanship that has resurfaced with a vengeance and is preventing Congress from agreeing an additional package of fiscal stimulus.
Material reforms alone will not be sufficient for restoring unity to America’s shining democracy.
Words matter and the President will need to choose his words, and also his team, very carefully to inspire and unite rather than to divide.
The next President will have the extraordinary task of building bridges across the United States. Physical infrastructure is desperately needed in America, but the only bridges that can really save the nation are those between America’s divided communities.
Dr Leslie Vinjamuri is the Director of the US and Americas programme at Chatham House
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