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Current Assessment of the US election (updated)

Prof. Kai Oppermann is an expert for international politics at Chemnitz University of Technology, Chelsea Burris is a student and an American - In the interview they discuss the current events after Joe Biden's election victory

Prof. Dr. Kai Oppermann, holder of the Chair of International  Relations at Chemnitz University of Technology, and Chelsea Burris, student at Chemnitz University of Technology, American, and Democrat, talked about the situation in the USA in the science podcast TUCscicast. What do they think about the situation now that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden has been declared the winner? In this interview, Prof. Dr. Kai Oppermann provides a scientific classification of current developments and gives a first outlook on  Biden's possible foreign policy priorities. Chelsea Burris reports from her personal perspective and gives an insight from the perspective of an American.

Professor Oppermann, since last Saturday it has been clear that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden has won the 2020 US election. What does Biden's victory mean for you personally?

Above all, I am relieved that, by and large, the violent clashes that many had feared in the event of Trump's relatively narrow election defeat have so far not occurred. Otherwise I try to leave my personal political opinion out of the evaluation of the election.

Donald Trump refuses to recognize Biden's election. The Süddeutsche Zeitung suspected that there might be a strategy behind it to prevent the meeting of electors and thus force an election decision in the House of Representatives or finally before the Supreme Court. How realistic do you consider this scenario to be?

I am not in a position to judge whether such a strategy exists. If so, I don't think it can be successful. The pressure on Donald Trump, even from within his own ranks, to comply with the election results is increasing steadily. The ranks of his loyal supporters are thinning. 

The normative power of the factual is becoming ever stronger. Trump probably wants to present himself to his supporters for the last time as an upright fighter against the establishment and continue painting the public image he wants to present of himself. If all legal measures have been exhausted and have been unsuccessful - and this can be assumed - Trump will leave office on January 20, 2021.

At this point in time and based on the communication of the President and his team so far, it can be assumed that Trump will not ensure an orderly transfer of power. How should the international community deal with this situation?

The possibilities for external influence are limited. Nevertheless, now that the votes have been counted, it is important that as many governments as possible publicly congratulate Joe Biden on his election victory. The German federal government has already done this, as have numerous other governments. In doing so, the international community is showing that the election was legitimate and decisive for them. This further increases the pressure on Donald Trump to acknowledge the inevitable as well.

When Joe Biden takes office on January 20, 2021, what will his international priorities be?

We know that Joe Biden has a different view on international politics than Donald Trump. While Trump pursued a unilateral "America First" 

policy, Biden stands for multilateralism and the liberal world order. 

Since the American president also has more leeway in foreign policy than in domestic policy, President Biden can thus be expected to change the direction of American foreign policy. This is expressed, for example, in the fact that Biden will join the Paris Climate Agreement and reverse the American withdrawal from the World Health Organization. In other areas, however, continuity is more likely to be expected. Although Biden has a fundamentally more positive attitude to free world trade than Trump, he too complains, for example, about unfair trade practices by China and is critical of new free trade agreements. With a view to NATO, Biden will also demand higher defense spending from European partners and above all from Germany - just as Obama did before Trump.

How do you think he views Europe and Germany in terms of foreign policy?

In contrast to Trump, Biden does not see Europe as a rival first, but as a diplomatic and security policy partner. Unlike Trump, Biden has a positive attitude to European integration and is skeptical about British withdrawal from the EU. In doing so, he joins the basic foreign policy consensus shared by Republican and Democratic U.S. 

presidents before Trump. The USA will thus once again become a predictable partner for Germany. This does not mean, however, that there will be no more conflicts in transatlantic relations. In NATO, for example, Biden will expect nothing less from Germany than Trump. 

In the future, however, differences of opinion will again be able to be discussed more quietly and productively.

One last question: The past four years under Donald Trump have shown the need for a more independent foreign and security policy with regard to the EU. How will the EU develop in these areas under President Biden?

To be honest: I have little hope for significant progress here. After Brexit, the EU's security policy potential has further diminished. Germany is still skeptical of a leading role in this field. In the EU-27 there are very different views of Europe's international role. In the 1970s, then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger complained that Europe does not speak with one voice in foreign and security policy. This is unlikely to change fundamentally during Joe Biden's term of office.

Ms. Burris, you are a student here in Chemnitz, an American, and a Democrat - how did you experience the last days of the US elections?

The last days of the US election were very exciting and stressful. It was already clear on Thursday that Biden was going to win, but we had a long wait until the media called the race. I belong to Democrats Abroad Saxony, and our WhatsApp group has been lighting up lately. I haven't been sleeping much at all and I haven't been able to focus on my other commitments as well. I was just refreshing the news.

How did you experience the news when the victory of Democratic candidate Joe Biden was announced?

I was already on the phone with my sister when it happened. My uncle sent a message to the family chat and my sister and I hung up immediately from our conversation to start a new one with our parents via FaceTime and celebrate together.

What does Biden's victory mean for you personally

I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I feel like the last four years have been a nightmare and now the USA has finally woken up again. As a woman, Harris' victory is almost more important to me than Biden's victory. I am so happy to finally see a woman in the second highest office in the country.

There are still political tensions in the USA. Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge the outcome and an orderly transfer of power does not seem very realistic at the moment. What do you notice about the mood in the country?

The Republicans that I know personally have become very quiet at the moment. The vast majority of my acquaintances are Democrats and among them the mood is great. Even those who think Biden is too conservative are ready to celebrate his defeat.

In his first speech after the announcement of his election victory, Joe Biden stressed that he wanted to unite the country and overcome the division. How realistic do you see his chances of bringing the country back together more?

I don't think it is very realistic, but I also think he has better chances than most politicians. From my point of view there is unfortunately too much "fake news." Many people are so influenced by it and don't want to give Biden a real chance. Overcoming the split is also extremely difficult because of the two-party system.

In your opinion, what would have to happen so that there is less tension in society?

Hopefully it will get better over time because the people who are  afraid of Biden's presidency right now will see that they are not  adversely affected by the Biden administration. Outside of the  presidency, companies like Facebook and Twitter need to be better  regulated to fight "fake news." Finally, people like me who have Republican relatives need to talk to their families and friends. Biden cannot do this alone.

What do you hope to see from Biden's presidency?

I hope that he will also be a president for progressive Democrats. Of course, I want to see the end of the Corona crisis, but I also want to see further concrete steps taken to protect and expand the rights of Black and brown Americans. Another priority must be the fight against  the climate crisis.

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Previous article from 5 november 2020

At the moment the race for the presidential election in the USA is still in full swing, with a tendency for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Prof. Dr. Kai Oppermann, Professorship International Relations at Chemnitz University of Technology, has already given an assessment of the current situation in the USA in the science podcast "TUCscicast" (German).

In this interview he analyzes the current developments.

Professor Oppermann, how did you spend the last two election nights?

I slept the first night and just set my alarm a little earlier. I had trusted the polls and expected a comparatively clear election victory for Joe Biden. The second night I sat in front of the computer for a long time.

According to current information, the Democratic candidate Joe Biden is on the verge of winning the race. But for a while it didn't look like that at all. How did this comeback come about?

It has to do with the postal votes. These were already cast before election day, but are only counted after the votes that were cast in-person at the polling station. In some states, this count was only allowed to start on election day. In view of the record numbers of postal voters, the counting is still ongoing. Since we know that Democratic voters voted by postal vote far more often than Republican voters, Joe Biden is catching up, the more that these votes are counted. Everyone had expected this "blue shift" - which is why the Trump camp has been trying for a long time to sow doubt about the fairness of the postal vote. However, there are no indications of manipulation or considerable irregularities.

The team around Donald Trump has already announced legal measures against the count. How likely is it that this will happen?

It is certain that Donald Trump will take legal measures. He has already begun doing so in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, for example, where he is checking the legality of various aspects of the count. However, it is generally considered unlikely that he will succeed with the lawsuits, not least because courts have already rejected objections to the postal vote in the run-up to the election. At the moment, the counting is continuing in any case and we are learning the facts.

Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the democratic process. Is it usual to criticize the counting of votes in the ongoing proceedings or even to want to stop or contest it legally?

Although there have been legal disputes about the election results in the past, for example in the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, the way Trump, as the incumbent president, claims manipulation and illegitimacy without any recognizable evidence and thus attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election process is without precedent in my memory. In doing so, he is damaging American democracy and contributing significantly to the currently volatile mood in the US.

A similar situation occurred in 2000 when Al Gore and George W. Bush competed against each other. At that time Gore had more votes in absolute terms, but Bush was awarded the victory. Are the situations really comparable?

No. At that time, the question was whether a recount requested by Al Gore was admissible, which was rejected by the Supreme Court at the time. Today the president is trying to prevent the counting of votes that have not yet been counted. And not just in one state, but in several. Therefore, the situations are not comparable.

On the German side, there is little political communication about this at the moment. Slovenia, for example, has already congratulated Trump. How should the EU, and, above all, German politics, act in this situation?

It is advisable for German politics and the EU to wait until an election winner is officially declared. Until then one should hold back with any statements. Under no circumstances should one congratulate any candidate on his victory early on. In the end, Germany and the EU will have to work with the president who takes over the office on 20 January. Interfering in the domestic affairs of the United States does not go down well.

In the event of a legal dispute over the results, what would be the impact of a standstill on current political cooperation?

I do not believe that this will have any direct significant impact on political cooperation. At the working level, this cooperation continues, but otherwise one waits in any case until the new administration, whether Republican or Democratic, takes office. It is to be hoped that the disputes in the United States will be peaceful, democratic, and based on the rule of law.

(Author: Matthias Fejes / Translation: Chelsea Burris)

Matthias Fejes
09.11.2020

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