Skip to main content

Biden and Harris pledged to end era of ‘demonisation’: Will change take place?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*

The change takes place: on Monday, December 14, the Electoral College of the United States formally and officially declared Joe Biden as the next President of the United States with Kamala Harris as the Vice-President! Earlier, on Friday 11 December the US Supreme Court even refused to consider two Republican challenges to the elections.
It was perhaps the ultimate humiliation for an outgoing President and his party to digest such a verdict from a Court with mainly conservative judges! But in spite of all this, they are still unrelenting! A sad commentary indeed on the world’s oldest democracy! Biden will finally be sworn in as the US President on January 20, 2021 after the US Congress goes through the formality of counting the Electoral College votes on 6 January.
On December 14, Biden however, was gracious in victory; in a speech accepting the verdict of the Electoral College he said, “In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed. We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so, now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.”
The change takes place: it was on November 7 when the outcome of the elections was first a ‘fait accompli’! CNN host and political commentator Anthony Kapel "Van" Jones was asked a direct question about what he felt about the election results; Van Jones was caught on camera, weeping live on air and watched perhaps by millions all over and in a voice, cracking said:
“It's easier to be a parent this morning, it's easier to be a dad, it's easier to tell your kids character matters. This is vindication for a lot of people who really have suffered. 'I can't breathe.' That was not just George Floyd. There were a lot of people who felt like they couldn't breathe.
This is a big deal for us to be able to get some peace, and have a chance for a reset. I want my sons to look at this. It's easy to do it the cheat way and get away with stuff, but it comes back around. This is a good day for this country. I am sorry for the people who lost, for them, it's not a good day, but for most, this is a good day."

Moving words flowing directly and spontaneously from his heart. He could not have captured the mood and enthusiasm of the nation on the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, in a more poignant and emotional manner. It was indeed a breath of fresh air!
The change takes place: on all counts it was a historic election which was held on 3 November (postal ballots were sent in earlier). Joe Biden was pitched against the incumbent President Donald Trump who was seeking a second term. All were sure that it would be a close race; independent media and top political analysts were not willing to make any hazardous guesses. In the end it went down to the wire.
After four days of anxious wait the US (and the world) finally had a result on November 7. Joe Biden had won the key battleground state of Pennsylvania in a close finish and was declared the president-elect. A few hours later in a televised speech which was watched the world over, Biden said:
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify. Who doesn't see red states and blue states, only sees the United States. And work with all my heart with the confidence of the whole people, to win the confidence of all of you. And for that is what America I believe is about. It's about people. And that's what our administration will be all about”.
Both Biden and Harris have pledged to end an era of ‘demonisation’. After four turbulent years of polarisation, divisiveness and hate, their positive forward-looking words are those of hope.
The change takes place: Biden's running mate and now Vice President-elect California Senator Kamala Harris, has many ‘firsts’ to her credit; she is now the first woman, the first Black woman and the first American woman of Indian origin; the first daughter of immigrants (her father was from Jamaica and mother from Chennai) who will serve as vice president.
Kamala had close ties with her grandfather PV Gopalan, who was a Secretary of the Government of India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In her acceptance speech, embracing the diversity which is America, Harris in her opening words said:
“Congressman John Lewis before his passing wrote: ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act.’ And what he meant was that America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it, and there is progress. Because we the people have the power to build a better future.”
And in doing so she redefined the spirit of democracy- the ability to fight, to struggle, to progress and to change. 
The change takes place: both Biden and Harris are people of faith. Biden is known as a devout Catholic, who often prays the Rosary. An interview of him in 2015 with Jesuit Matt Malone the editor of the ‘America’ is going viral. In it Biden calls his faith a “gift,” saying his parents inculcated in him Catholic values. In that interview he says: “Jesus Christ is the human embodiment of what God wanted us to do. Everything Jesus did was sort of consistent with what generically we were supposed to do: treat people with dignity.”
Biden also speaks about his meeting with Pope Francis in 2013: “He’s the embodiment of Catholic social doctrine that I was raised with. The idea that everyone’s entitled to dignity, that the poor should be given special preference, that you have an obligation to reach out and be inclusive.” When the days dragged on for the final results, he constantly told his supporters “to keep the faith”.
In his winning speech for good measure he said, “The Bible tells us, ‘to everything there is a season: a time to build, a time to reap, and a time to sow and a time to heal’ This is the time to heal in America. Now this campaign is over, what is the will of the people? What is our mandate?”
Harris, on the other hand, is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Christian father; now married to a Jewish man. In a way, she has been schooled in some of the world’s major religions. Today she regards herself as a Black Baptist. During the campaign she often referred to the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ which she says helped shape her thoughts and actions on who one’s neighbour is.
Last year at a meeting, she said, “Neighbour is not about having the same ZIP code. What we learn about in that parable is that neighbour is someone you are walking by on the street. … Neighbour is about understanding and living in service of others -- that we are all each other’s brothers and sisters.”
Words similar to Pope Francis’ latest Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’. In other speeches, Harris has invoked liberation theology, the strain of Christian thought that emphasizes social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples. Transformative thoughts for meaningful action!
The change takes place: Joe and Kamala are both steeped in family and the values that embody a family. They have consistently referred to their families throughout the campaign and particularly on election night, when Biden said:
“Folks, in the last days of the campaign, I began thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and my family, particularly my deceased son Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America. And I hope, and I hope it can provide some comfort and solace to the 230 million -- thousand Americans who have lost a loved one through this terrible virus this year.
“My heart goes out to each and every one of you. Hopefully this hymn gives you solace as well. It goes like this. ‘And he will raise you up on eagles' wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, and make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand.’ And now together on eagles' wings, we embark on the work that God and history have called us to do with full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with love of country, a thirst for justice”

Kamala remembered her own mother:
“My mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts. When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible. And so, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black women, Asian, White, Latina, Native American women who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty and justice for all, including the Black women, who are often, too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”
For many the phrase ‘abki baar, Trump sarkar’, by a foreign head of state still rankles something which protocol-wise is non-acceptable
The change takes place: The Joe Biden administration will be committed to the environment and to address climate change. He has promised to re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of his office. He was there in Paris on 12 December 2015 when President Obama signed the historic agreement on behalf of the United States; the US recently withdrew from that agreement. The manifesto on his website for the campaign included the following points:
  • to ensure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050'
  • to build a stronger, more resilient nation 
  • to rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change 
  • to stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of colour and low-income communities 
  • to fulfil our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth' 
Biden says his policies would protect workers affected by the transition to cleaner energy sources, such as coal miners and power plant workers, as well as invest in their communities. On the night of his election, he emphatically reiterated his pledge on “the battle to save our planet by getting climate under control”. 
The change takes place: Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have ‘justice’ and ‘human rights’ in their DNA. Given her track record Harris is very forthright on justice issues. A year ago, in Iowa she said:
“I have spent my career as a prosecutor. I’ve only had one client in my entire life, and that has been the people. Unlike other people, unlike others, I have never represented a corporation. I have never represented a special interest. I started my career fighting for the people. In fact, the first time I walked into a courtroom, I spoke five words. ‘Kamala Harris, For the People. ‘And those words, ‘For the People,’ capture our system of justice. 
"Because there are two points when we say for the people. One, in our system of justice, we have rightly said that a harm against anyone is a harm against everyone — that no one should ever be made to fight alone. And for the people, when I stood there, and when I stand here today, also means all the people.
"Regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of the party with which they are registered to vote, regardless of the language your grandmother speaks. It means all the people. And it was for the people that a large part of my early career was about fighting against those who molested children and raped women — because it was about saying that those survivors deserved justice and a voice that gave them safety without judgment. For the People”. 
Biden resonates in a similar way; for both of them justice was on the ballot- a determined way to ensure change!
The change takes place: The Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration will great for the people of India but perhaps not for the ruling regime! Both of them love India – have close connections and know exactly what is happening in the country. In a recent policy paper, among other things, Biden plans to increase the number of high-skilled visas, including the H-1B, and eliminate the limit on employment-based visas by country, both of which are expected to benefit tens of thousands of Indian professionals impacted by some immigration policies of the outgoing Trump administration.
Both have expressed concern on the human rights situation in India- particularly on freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion. Both leaders have on record, taken positions that make it clear they back a liberal India, and care about it. One can be sure that Biden-Harris will not give this regime the free pass that Trump did.
Biden has expressed disapproval of the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and Harris’ words on the abrogation of Article 370 should alarm New Delhi, “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”
Currently there is wide concern all over the US on the farmer’s protest in India. So, there is bound to be a paradigm shift in the US-India relations: deeper on one level and challenging on the other. No one can now dare say that there is ‘interference’ by the US in India’s internal affairs; after all, there is the recent precedence of the ‘Howdy Modi’ bash in Texas and the ‘Namaste Trump’ tamasha in Ahmedabad, to go by! For many the phrase ‘abki baar, Trump sarkar’, by a foreign head of State still rankles something which protocol-wise is non-acceptable!
The change takes place: on November 7 night, speaking to millions all over the world, President-elect Joe Biden also said:
“I sought this office to restore the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation, the middle class, and to make America respected around the world again. And to unite us here at home. It's the honor of my lifetime that so many millions of Americans have voted for that vision. And now, the work of making that vision is real, it's a task -- the task of our time”.
Yes, America and the whole world certainly needs the restoration of her soul: a ‘climate’ for change based on unity, hope, faith, compassion, justice, family values, a healthier environment; but above all, as Van Jones puts it so succinctly “to tell your kids character matters”, that one can now breathe more easily. 
As the world rejoiced in the midst of a serious pandemic, after a very long time, one had to thank God on what is taking place, to pray and act that the vision becomes a reality; that pledges are turned into action; that swords are turned into ploughshares- and for all to graciously say, “Finally, the change”!
---
*Human rights and peace activist-writer

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".