By Kumar David –
Lest I be misunderstood let me say that my title attempts to convey that from senior appointments it seems Biden wishes to form a good-governance (yahapalana) liberal not a radical administration. Thankfully, unlike Lanka 2015-2020, he will not be encumbered by an ignorant, self-seeking nutcase like Pissu-Sira. Be that as it may Trump’s conspiracy in collaboration with Republican leaders (Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham and media types Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) to execute a palace coup came undone when Emily Murphy, Chair of the General Services Office authorised transition funds for the President Elect, and Michigan and Pennsylvania certified Biden victories, and when in Georgia Bidden scored a third win in a third count. But Trump is selfish, petulant and a vengeful liar and until his political coffin is sealed and riveted down at noon on 20 January 2021, just about anything is possible.
My theme is Biden’s leadership team, and musings on its prospects drawing on recent experiences in Sri Lanka. Despite the chasm in wealth and historical experience between the countries, don’t dismiss the thought that there are useful parallels. Some common features are that in both, diehard populism with racist overtones are entrenched, and in both countries, there is deep resentment against the well-to-do classes (Washington Swamp, Colombo 7 elite) who have it all while working-people suffer. A third factor is nationalism and xenophobia. A fourth is that in America a loutish president and in our case a suave and avuncular former leader and his near canonised brother, have a grip on the mass mind.
And now a new parallel is the government that Biden is forming and what a yahapalana administration without Pissu-Sira would have been. Biden’s team as announced so far consists of ideological liberals and liberals-in-economic-outlook (the former pledge loyalty to justice, parity before the law, freedom of speech and religion, and oppose race bias, while the latter stand for free-markets and business-friendly policies). Former Fed Chair who defied Trump, Janet Yellen is to be Treasury Secretary (Finance Minister), Antony Blinken (Harvard and Columbia) an Obama era liberal will get State (Foreign Ministry), Cuban-American Alejandro Mayorkas (Loyola and Berkeley) will head Homeland Security and John Kerry, well known as Obama’s Secretary of State is to be climate Tsar with cabinet ranking. Clearly this is a mission to rebuild, at home and abroad, the America that Trump wrecked. The non-Cabinet announcements are also significant; two able women, Avril Hains will be Director of National Intelligence and a black woman Linda Greenfield will be UN Ambassador. Jake Sullivan will be National Security Advisor. I don’t have the space but if you look up the CVs of these people you will see that it is a team with a strong liberal or of liberal-economic bent.
There is a wealth of more liberal talent available to Biden; Susan Rice, Pete Buttigieg, Vivek Murthy, Andrew Yang, Sally Yates and too many to name. On the left we have Bernie Sanders (Labour?) and Elizabeth Warren (anything). They seem a bridge too far to the left for Biden to cross. So, Biden team may be all-liberal without a daub of red or radical. Thereby hangs a tale: Will this team deliver; will it be able to carry through a programme of economic and social restructuring which can keep the Trump base at bay? Markets are cheering the appointment of Ms Yellen instead of Ms Warren; America’s political and military allies heave a sigh of relief that reliable Obama era boy Blinken spells the end of a crank President who put alliances in jeopardy. Greens the world over cheer the return of the US to climate sense. That’s what the liberals can deliver.
But there are issues on which liberalism will fall short; things yahapalana fell short on and the Rajapaksas came storming back. The poorer three quarters have problems yahapalana economics is not designed to address. That’s why a Trump Base came into being and why like the Rajapaksa phenomenon a neo-fascist populist option may storm back in four years. One does applaud the return of decency, diversity and political discipline to the US. One is relieved the institutions of American democracy held up against the most brutal attack they suffered since the Civil War 160 years ago. However, none of that will save America now unless livelihood issues and the social cancer rooted in the country’s soul are taken in hand. I fear that a liberal-democratic Biden Administration which shuts out radicals and eschews a transformative programme will fall short. The failure of numerous yahapalanas stud the contemporary global landscape.