The Hill Biden Has To Climb

And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow, we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one…
– Excerpt from The Hill We Climb
by Amanda Gorman

Gorman, female Black poet and activist, 22, read her passionate and disturbing poem, first penned on January 6, and then in a flash of sudden energy after the Capitol Hill occupation by Right-wing Trump supporters, at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. She follows Elizabeth Alexander and Maya Angelou, who recited at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Amanda has painted a kaleidoscopic rainbow in response to the collective trauma of a polarised and divided nation. One American media organisation, sensing the emotional mood, has observed that Biden need not be flamboyant at all, or choose to be in the headlines for all the ‘wrong’ reasons like Donald Trump, but he should just do his work with a quiet, stoic and steadfast resilience, even if he is branded ‘boring’. And that is what the new president seems to be doing.

In one of his first speeches to his White House team, he categorically said: “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you, I will fire you on the spot… On the spot. No ifs or buts. Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”

He has been frank and honest. To his political aides he confessed that “I’m going to make mistakes. When I make them, I’ll acknowledge them and I’ll tell you and I’ll need your help to help me correct them…We’re not going to walk away, we’re going to take responsibility.”

So, what has been missing in a big way in the last four years was quickly rectified by some far-reaching decisions by the new President soon after he took office. These orders will have an eventful and long-term national and global impact in a world which is still struggling to cope with the pessimistic consequences of the pandemic.

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Among other important decisions, Biden overturned several retrograde and sectarian orders by Trump like withdrawal from the WHO and the ban on citizens of certain Muslim countries from entering American soil. He brought back expert virologist Anthony Fauci, who defied Trump’s juvenile denial of the deadly virus and was side-lined. Besides, his multi-cultural cabinet is full of various colours, creeds, and inherited histories from across the pluralist spectrum of America, with representation of secular and liberal experts, including talented women professionals.

Some from Indian origin have been taken in his team in key positions. Interestingly, two individuals in the Biden campaign, with alleged overseas RSS links, have not been accommodated. It should be noted that several eminent American citizens had petitioned Biden to be careful of individuals aligned with the BJP-RSS and their overseas allies in the US, who had followed the unprecedented call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Howdy Modi rally in Houston in July 2020, with Trump as the chief guest: Abki baar Trump sarkar.

Witness certain path-breaking executive orders passed by Biden soon after he assumed office:

*Ties with WHO reinstated. A delegation led by Fauci will attend the 148th session of the WHO Executive Board to be held soon.

*Social distancing and compulsory mask for all in federal buildings and territory. A ‘100 Days Masking’ campaign to propagate masks across America. Indeed, Trump and his top aides and followers refused to wear masks.

*Trump tried to block the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, under which immigrants brought to the US as children are protected. Biden passed an order to “preserve and fortify” DACA.

*The notorious wall along the Mexican border has been scrapped.

*The ‘Muslim ban’ has been revoked. Trump stopped citizens of certain Muslim and African countries from flying into America.

*The Trump administration’s move to prevent the census from counting undocumented immigrants has been revoked. Harsh immigration enforcement policies have been stopped.

*America has decided to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change within 30 days.

Among other significant decisions, the controversial $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline project, which was opposed by indigenous communities and environmentalists, and was backed by Trump, has been cancelled. This has yet again triggered the protracted struggle in Dakota by indigenous communities of Standing Rock and Native Americans which peaked in 2016. They want the pipeline to be scrapped because it will destroy their homeland ecology.

Biden has asked the government to reinterpret the country’s Civil Rights Act so as to stop discrimination based on gender, colour, sex, religion and ethnicity. Trump administration’s 1776 Commission report, which aimed to promote ‘patriotic education’ in schools has been overruled. Historians had dubbed it as partisan political propaganda.

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Vermont Senator and socialist Bernie Sanders, with a huge following among the millennials, has been made the head of the Senate Budget Committee. Sanders has been campaigning for radical health reforms to help ordinary citizens and low-income groups, students’ loan waiver, big financial Covid relief for millions who have been rendered jobless, hungry, or, are facing acute economic crisis, among other radical reforms. He has been backed by young and progressive democrats like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others.

The Vermont senator told the CNN that the Democrat-controlled federal government cannot wait “months and months” to pacify hardline Republicans who favour austerity measures. If Republicans refuse to back Biden’s $1.9 trillion opening relief proposal, Sanders has asserted that he is ready to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a coronavirus aid package and legislation.

In terms of foreign policy there are unconfirmed reports that the arms deals with Saudi Arabia might be frozen. This has been welcomed by some Democrats in the light of the abysmal humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He will surely rethink the Iran sanctions, which Obama overruled, and Trump brought back. While Jerusalem might stay as the new Israeli capital, the peace process might be restarted. On China, there will certainly be more strategic dialogue, and less rhetoric and posturing.

Meanwhile, Biden has also reversed another retrograde ban by Trump — transgender Americans can now join the military. The order said that all “qualified Americans can serve their country in uniform”.

Besides, as what is seen as a direct fall-out of the new freedom in the air, striking workers in Bronx, New York, captured national attention and got solid support from local communities. Around 1,400 members of the Teamsters Local 202 union walked off their jobs on January 17, demanding a $1 raise. They said that they were in the font-lines against all odds in difficult circumstances to feed New Yorkers during the pandemic, with the Hunts Point Market supplying about 60 per cent of the local supplies. After a one-week strike, they got the hike, and more.

Hence, truly, Amanda’s poem of infinite hope might not be only pure passion. In New York in this cold, it might be just one dollar or a bit more for the working classes, but her inspired poem is literally translating on the streets of America.

Kamala Harris Signifies Vibrancy Of US Polity

Being elected the first woman vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris signals the coming of age of the country that her parents migrated to six decades back. For, the USA, in its 230 years history as a democracy, has never elected a woman to the two top constitutional posts. To contrast this, one would have to trot out a very long list of women leaders who have adorned top offices across the world.

Born of a mother from India and a father from Jamaica, Harris is the first woman, first Indian American, first woman born of a Black father, first South Asian American and the first Asian ever elected as vice-president.

Come January, she will be sworn in in the second-most important post in the world’s most powerful nation. Otherwise, people with Indian roots have been presidents and prime ministers in a dozen countries across the world, from New Zealand and Singapore to the Caribbean, to Ireland and Portugal. Their number is growing.

Carrying forward the democratic tradition back in India or what they may have heard from their seniors, many have been elected to city mayors, lawmakers and ministers. Look at the US’ “Samosa Caucus.” Look at the two Indians holding key posts in Britain or four of them in Canada. These numbers, too, are bound to grow. A head count of the elected leaders conducted some years ago touched 45.

Indian diaspora are growing. The Obama administration had sent out six Indian Americans as envoys. Look at the diplomatic staff in foreign missions, not just of the Commonwealth countries and not just New Delhi.

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Arguably though, this does excite Indians. They are learning, hopefully and gradually, that the loyalties of these persons lie, as they should, with the countries they, or their ancestors, adopted as home. No two things about it. If Niki Haley representing the Trump administration did convey some sour things to the people in the Government of India, Harris, or even President Biden, one whose forefathers married an Indian girl, will certainly do that. This is how it will be, and should be.

The Indian American community was electrified by Harris’ selection. Deeper study of the election results would be needed to know how many of those supporting the Republican Party switched sides. “Harris has mobilised Indian Americans, especially Democrats,” said a survey report by Carnegie. “Harris’ vice-presidential candidacy has galvanised a large section of the Indian American community to turn out to vote. But clearly, her candidacy galvanised the Democratic campaign and presumably helped in stemming any switch by pro-Democrat voters to Republican under the influence of the support Trump had received from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Kamala Harris nurtured the Indian ethos that typically speaks of the family. She spoke of mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who came to the United States from Chennai and was a breast cancer researcher, frequently while campaigning. “How I wish she were here tonight but I know she’s looking down on me from above,” she said at the Democratic Party convention while accepting her nomination.

“I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman—all of five feet tall—who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California… On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now speaking these words: I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America,” Harris said.

Her pride for her mother, of her preferences for things Indian, not necessarily projected for the election, have been talked and written about in a big way, at times more than Biden who was a known person having been the vice president under Barack Obama.

Kamala had accepted Biden’s announcement of her selection with a shout-out to her Chithis (Tamil for a mother’s elder sister) connected with several constituencies at the same time: African Americans, Asian Americans, South Asian Americans and, of course, the 4.5 million Indian Americans, 1.9 million of them eligible to vote.

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Once her name was announced, lampooning bean. Her name was deliberately misspelt and mis-pronounced as a tactic usually employed to make Americans of different ethnicities feel unwelcome.

Trump soon realised that he was up against a tough woman who was at once articulate and popular. He had welcomed her as a “fine choice” as Biden’s running mate, but began to target her right away, calling her “nasty” and a “monster”.

One can look ahead, now that it is done and dusted. The redeeming feature, in a manner of speaking, is that Kamala Harris, age 56, is being billed as a potential President four years hence. This is mainly because of the advancing age of the winner, Joe Biden, who is not expected to seek re-election, but also because she has a proven record. Through her long career and through the rough and tumble of the election campaign, she was perceived as a woman of substance.

By comparison, her predecessors – women who contested for the vice president’s post but did not make it – had less to show. Sarah Louise Palin was Governor of Alaska in 2006, a post she quit in 2009 to contest as the running mate of Republican Senator John McCain. Before her was the first woman candidate for the vice president’s post who did not make it, Geraldine Farraro in 1984.

Kamala stood out for an added reason: the success of a vibrant America, despite warts and all. She displayed her multiple roots from a family that arrived in the US and grew by dint of hard work. Essentially a nation of immigrants, the US has in the recent years witnessed resentment against those coming from outside, something that Trump selectively but vociferously encouraged to consolidate his White American base.

Significantly, Kamala had herself sought to contest as the president and had been openly critical of Biden. The latter still thought her worthy of being the running mate and Kamala accepted as yet another point of distinction. Again, this shows the vibrancy of the American polity and its institutions.

Kamala Harris began as public attorney and was California’s Attorney General. As the vice president, she can still be expected to continue her career as champion of public causes.

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