What Joe Biden presidency must mean for Britain and America – Andrew Vine

LIKE millions of others around the world, I’ll watch the inauguration of Joe Biden as United States President tomorrow with a mixture of hope and trepidation.

Hope, because so much hangs on Mr Biden repairing his country’s tattered international reputation, on everything from Covid-19 to climate change, and reaching out to the world after four years of selfish insularity.

Trepidation, because a day that should offer a new start for the US, its allies and everybody who admires that great country and wishes it well is at risk of being marred by violent protests by supporters of Donald Trump who have been hoodwinked into believing that last year’s election was stolen from them.

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Does it really matter to us here if there is unrest in a country thousands of miles away, with which we will do business whoever occupies the Oval Office?

JJoe Biden's inauguration as President of the United Stakes takes place on Wednesday in Washington.

Well, yes it matters a great deal. It isn’t too fanciful to see the same forces of polarisation, mistrust and bitterness that led to the storming of the US Capitol earlier this month at work in Britain, even though, thank goodness, they have not led to similar scenes.

It remains to be seen if the new president is up to the task of healing the divisions the insurrection exposed – or if the mistrust in the electoral system so relentlessly promoted by Donald Trump hampers his time in power.

For millions of Americans, President Biden will forever be the illegitimate occupant of the office, the man who stole the election from its rightful winner. If so, the world may look on in renewed horror as America is blighted by yet more violence in the four years ahead.

The rabble that stormed the Capitol were whipped into a frenzy by President Trump not just immediately before they stampeded, but over the course of four years by being constantly fed a narrative of being done down by elites, of being cheated out of what was rightfully theirs.

Washington is on lockdown ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

This was populism at its ugliest and most provocative, amplified by the echo-chamber of social media where those of extreme views can always find allies and the conviction that they are right.

We’ve seen that here, too. Its first manifestation was in the bitter debate in the run-up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, when nationalists were happy to embrace sentiments on social media that were very close to hatred of the English.

We saw it again in the campaign over Brexit, both before the vote to leave the EU and in the agonisingly prolonged aftermath, when political debate became coarsened by insults and abuse.

The rifts have not really healed. I know people whose relationships with friends or family were fractured by the arguments, leaving lingering mistrust in their wake.

President Donald Trump leaves a legacy of division.

And a wider atmosphere of mistrust in political leadership is to be seen in the disturbingly high levels of scepticism about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

One poll at the weekend found that only 41 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds said they will definitely have a jab when it is offered. That speaks of a widespread belief in the wilder conspiracy theories about vaccination being some sort of ruse to control the population and a disregard for what the Government and the most eminent scientific voices say about it being the only way out of the pandemic.

Mr Biden’s inauguration puts the need for a new approach to leadership in the spotlight, one in which trust is rebuilt between those in power and the people they govern, and not just in the US.

Our own Prime Minister has often been characterised as a British version of Donald Trump, with a knack for reaching out to voters who felt neglected by the political establishment.

What will Joe Biden's presidency mean for Boris Johnson and Britain?

It was a comparison Boris Johnson did little to argue against, until it became apparent that Mr Trump was the most divisive, and potentially dangerous, figure to head any developed democracy.

His departure, and the swearing in of a new president with a long track record of prizing consensus over confrontation, is an opportunity to reset the tone of political debate across the west. There needs to be less bitterness and furious denunciation of opponents as morally wrong, or worse, malevolent for their views.

Politics needs to rediscover respect for others and civility, instead of shouting the loudest. Hatred is too prevalent. It’s there in an MP shouting “scum” at an opponent in the Commons, and was at the heart of the abhorrent anti-Semitism that was allowed to grow unchecked in the Labour Party on Jeremy Corbyn’s watch.

The furious tone of groups pushing their own extreme agendas on social media can’t be allowed to influence the way countries are governed. We saw in the pictures from Washington where pandering to that leads.

Tomorrow isn’t just a historic day for the US. It’s an opportunity for all of our leaders to reflect on how they conduct themselves.

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