Joseph R. Biden is the 46th President of the United States. His inauguration marks the end of one of the most tumultuous ends to a presidency. Biden is succeeding Donald Trump, but more importantly, he’s taking the reins of a country that has grown more fractured over the past four years, and one that had become the source of anxiety and ridicule globally. But, to some, Biden’s inauguration is a moment of calm in the comfort of a global crisis.
“The inauguration represents relief and hope for the future,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat to the United States.
Robertson, who has worked in the U.S. for years as a diplomat, and met Biden on a handful of occasions, thinks the country is getting a leader that not only knows what he’s doing, but will be a comforting hand during a time of crisis.
“He is somebody with a tremendous amount of experience and empathy, which America needs right now,” said Robertson.
Biden’s empathy was on display on Tuesday, as he and Vice President Kamala Harris held a moment of silence and honoured the more than 400,000 Americans that have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought that was quite moving. I thought that was quite sensible and it’s a good sign for things to come,” he said.
The pandemic isn’t the only thing that the incoming Biden administration will have to stickhandle, as they face a worsening economic crisis caused by the pandemic, a social justice movement that is calling for systemic change, and the looming doom of climate change.
“It's an awful lot to throw at any administration. This is extraordinary and will be a real challenge and test of his political will,” said Robertson.
What we can expect in the Canada-U.S. relationship
“We can develop a better relationship, one that will serve Canada extremely well. Whether it’s the COVID-19 recovery and how we manage this, reopening the border, creating vaccines, there will be a lot of discussion between the two countries,” said Robertson.
When assessing how a Biden presidency will impact Canada, Robertson noted the Trump presidency was rife with protectionist ideals, desire to not be globalists and refusal to work with allied countries. However, he thinks all that changes with Biden.
“For Canada, this offers an opportunity for reset, and I think we should see that. And instead of getting bogged down and by the irritants and protectionism of America, we’re going to get back to working together,” he said.
For a relationship that has seemed testy for the past four years, as Trudeau and Trump have traded some barbs through the media, Robertson thinks there will be a closer relationship with the two heads of state state-of-heads going forward, especially on issues surrounding the pandemic.
“Americans always appreciate the intelligence we bring to the table, especially if it's something that they haven't heard before. The Americans are always receptive,” he said.
Rebuilding America’s global image
For years now, world leaders have made America the butt of the joke, respect and admiration has dwindled for the U.S. But, Robertson thinks Biden, who he calls a “real statesmen” will have an opportunity to rebuild the American image.
“It's a return to an American president who wants to lead, who will represent the best of America, and someone who is a multilateralist and internationalist,” he said.
In the past four years, the U.S. has left a series of global agreements: most recently they departed the WHO, have talked about leaving NATO, negotiated NAFTA, exited the Paris Climate Accord, left the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council and tore up the Iran deal. In Robertson’s eyes, Trump’s willingness to exit global partnerships has affected the U.S. relationship with a lot of countries, and that is part of what makes Biden so appealing.
“International institutions that were set up will benefit from the new American leadership, they will come in with less of a protectionist attitude and American can work its way to being a world leader again,” said Roberston.
Trump and the Republican Party
As for the outgoing president and from his involvement in the insurrection to his desire not to attend the inauguration, Robertson thinks Trump is far from leaving the public spotlight.
“I think Trump will continue to be a pain and he will continue to do what he does best, promote Donald Trump.”
On Tuesday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell skewered and assigned blame for the Capitol Hill riots on Trump, insisting he was part of a group that had urged them to incite violence. The rebuke of Trump was the first of what could be many, as McConnell along with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Mike Pence all skipped out on the President’s departure.
“I'm hoping the Republican Party will move away from him, but I don't think it'll happen quickly because he’s got a lot of sway in the party...I hope that the Republican Party returns to what it was before Donald Trump,” said Robertson.