Comment: Huge D-Day for USA

Tomorrow they go to the polls in the US presidential election, although the reality is that millions have cast their votes already.

Foam sculpture depictions of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden
Foam sculpture depictions of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden

And what a choice. For the Democrats, the nominee is former vice-president Joe Biden who, based on the polls, is going to win. But such are the vagaries of the American electoral system that nobody should take that as read, especially after the 2016 result when the pollsters got their fingers burnt. Then there’s the incumbent Republican president, Donald Trump, who has led America on a rollercoaster ride since he took office.

In Britain, everybody has heard of Trump and will have a view about him. For many Britons, and of course Americans too, the prospect of four more years of Trump would bring dismay. Controversial is hardly an adequate word to describe him. He makes a habit of upsetting apple carts and upsetting people. This self-styled outsider at the heart of the American establishment has undoubtedly been one of the most divisive presidents in US history. Many Americans have openly been embarrassed and ashamed of having him as their leader.

He’s been accused of being a racist and a climate change denier, and has been at the helm while over 200,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, which he had once predicted would have been conquered by Easter – last Easter.

As for Biden, it’s probable that until his nomination few ordinary people in this country would have heard of him, and from a British point of view he remains a largely unknown quantity.

Trump has spoken highly of Boris Johnson – he calls him “a terrific guy” – and cherishes his own Scottish heritage. While Barack Obama wanted to put Britain at the back of the queue, Donald Trump says he wants to put Britain at the front of the queue.

A second Trump term would be a case of the devil you know, and in his case a devil who is clearly much more well disposed towards Britain than he is towards the European Union.

Trump has an America First mantra, but despite that there is no more powerful or influential friend you can have than the United States.

While Trump is the continuity candidate for Anglo-American relations, Biden is potentially a game changer.

Already he has put his oar in on the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit which, unlike Trump, he has in no way embraced. Any trade deal between the US and UK, Biden has tweeted, “must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Then there is the much-vaunted special relationship, which is most special when national leaders get on well as, for instance, in the case of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan or, indeed, in the case of Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Biden and Johnson will be starting from scratch. Outside the EU the UK is seeking to forge trade deals around the world, but on the face of it an agreement with the US would be more complicated under a Democrat administration led by Biden. Yet Trump’s term has been so abnormal and unpredictable that having Biden in the White House would also offer the opportunity to make Anglo-American relations more “normal” and founded on longstanding common principles and shared internationalism. This presidential election will shape America’s future – and Britain’s.

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