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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

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