Generation change in politics: will Biden build a “bridge to the future”?


Andrey Shitov US President Joe Biden, who will mark the first anniversary of his presidency on January 20, said during the election campaign that he sees in his rule only a bridge to a new generation of American leaders. Such humility is understandable, if only due to the age of the politician, who turned 79 in November 2021, but it does not mean at all that he lacks the most daring presidential ambitions. Rather, on the contrary: he cannot but understand that he must hurry up if he wants to take a worthy place in American and world history.

It always seemed to me that, owing to his professional experience, he would look for opportunities for this primarily in the field of foreign policy and international security. And now the upcoming negotiations between the United States and NATO with Russia on security guarantees give him a real chance to become one of the main architects of the new world order in which future generations will live.

Perhaps this is partly why he seized on the very idea of ​​such negotiations, especially since he has nothing to boast of today in terms of forming a political legacy in domestic domestic affairs. And his vice-president Kamala Harris, whose nomination was at first perceived by many across the ocean as a “bridge to the future” for Biden himself, has not, on the whole, justified the hopes placed on her.

A bright start or a decent finish?

Of course, the change of generations, including in politics, is a natural and continuous process. But in a world that, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the classic Cold War between East and West, found itself at a crossroads and since then continues to seek “bridges” to a prosperous, fair and safe future for all, this process attracts special attention everywhere. It is no coincidence that, for example, the December victory of 35-year-old Gabriel Borich in the presidential elections in Chile aroused general interest. They continue to write about the former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who at the same age recently announced the forced end of a bright political career. The latter case, of course, makes one think about the comparative merits of youth and experience and what is more important – a quick start or a decent finish.

By the way, Angela Merkel can serve as an example – after several decades in power, no one dares to utter a bad word in her back. And after she left the post of German Chancellor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, as his press secretary Dmitry Peskov reminded more than once, among other things, remains “the only active witness to the Minsk agreements” on the settlement of the armed conflict in Donbass in the “Normandy format.” Of course, this gives our leader special rights to uphold both the letter and the spirit of these agreements.

By the way, Putin himself is also regularly asked about plans for 2024 and beyond. While he does not give an unambiguous answer, the question remains open. It is clear that his choice will have colossal precedent significance, and not only for Russia itself, but at least for the entire post-Soviet space. We talked about this recently with former adviser to President George W. Bush Jr. Tom Graham, who stressed that the “leadership problem” is “a common problem in the West,” but not only there, but “in other places, including, I think in Russia. “

What is leadership?

True, this raises the question of what constitutes true leadership. Graham is saddened that Biden in household chores does not live up to the expectations of those who saw in him only the embodiment of “moderation and accuracy.” But in foreign policy, his bold steps are still leading in the right direction. One of the very first was the immediate extension of the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms (START-3) without additional conditions. This was followed by the end of the war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of American troops from there, no matter how clumsy and even shameful this operation may look from the outside. Now there is an agreement to new negotiations on strategic stability and security with Russia, as well as a confirmation, together with other members of the UN Security Council, of the inadmissibility of a nuclear war.

In my opinion, one should only be glad that Biden’s personal reputation and experience allow him to take such steps. Let me remind you that the current owner of the White House entered American big politics back in 1972 as a Democratic senator from his native state of Delaware (and at the time of his election, he had not yet reached the age of 30 required by the US Constitution). In the upper house of Congress, from the very beginning, he was closely involved in international relations and arms control, for several years he headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and later was the country’s vice-president under Barack Obama.

Therefore, it is much more difficult for today’s political opponents and ill-wishers to accuse him of incompetence or naivety towards Russia than, say, his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who was a neophyte in politics. And members of the same party and even more so relate to their leader with much greater confidence. Recently, the Democrats in the US Senate, having changed their previous position, refused to support the new republican bill on sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, so as not to interfere with the president from building a dialogue with Moscow.

Of course, this testifies, first of all, to the tough discipline in the American party of power, which was noticeably lame among the Republicans under Trump. But at the same time, it is also a tribute to the veteran leader, who, by virtue of his experience, should be almost better than anyone else in the current Washington establishment to understand the limits of what is possible and permissible in the mentioned dialogue.

Without a doubt, Biden also understands the warnings of the Russian side that it no longer intends to take anyone’s word for it overseas, but will seek legally binding treaty security guarantees. In my opinion, in the current situation, all this favorably distinguishes him not only from 75-year-old Trump, but also from today’s young generation of American politicians who are used to believing that their country is knee-deep in world affairs.

True, they may object to me that in the current conditions, on the contrary, a fresh look and approach is needed – open-ended and non-standard thinking of the type that Americans call thinking outside the box. But, firstly, Moscow considers our European security initiatives to be innovative anyway. And secondly, let the young people try to offer something that is not just fascinating, but also practically useful, applicable to the world in a transitional era. In the meantime, both the domestic and the English-speaking blogospheres are full of mainly abstract political science “reasoning”, as I call them, although in fairness it must be admitted that some of them come across very curious and original.

Who’s new?

In America, with its short electoral cycles, it has long been assumed that the next election race starts immediately after the end of the previous one. And in the current conditions, when Biden was initially considered by many to be a “president of one term,” and even more so, there is no shortage of people willing to try to replace him in the White House. Moreover, his “second number” and formally “legitimate heiress” Harris, as already mentioned, does not yet shine with special political successes.

So at the start of the upcoming presidential marathon ahead of the 2024 elections, a rather dense crowd is already gathering, and a bipartisan one. Politico magazine, which recently asked “which of the 2024 contenders won in 2021?”

True, these lists are headed by two almost the same age as gerontocrats. “Based on early polls, we are heading towards a replay of the Trump-Biden match,” Politico writes. One way or another, in the opinion of the publication, “the presidential campaign of 2024, no doubt, has already begun: Donald Trump is making plans, the rest of the Republicans are forming networks of interaction, and many Democrats are panicking.” 

Colorful character

The backbone of both lists is made up of people aged “over 50” or even “over 60”, which, incidentally, is natural when it comes to politics at the presidential level. The same Harris, for example, is 57 years old. But there are also really young people on the lists who, without any discounts, can be attributed to the next generation of potential US leaders.

For me, this is primarily Pete Buttigidge, about whom Biden himself said that he reminds him of his untimely deceased eldest son. The mayor of a small provincial town, who fought on equal terms with the heavyweights of American politics in the qualifying stage of the last presidential race and was awarded the post of secretary of transport in the current administration. Married, gay and Christian believer who attended Harvard and Oxford and fought in Afghanistan. The bearer of the unusual surname, which in English is spelled Buttigieg, and pronounced, as specifically explained to supporters in 2020, Boot-Edge-Edge, with an emphasis on the first syllable.

In general, an extremely colorful character, even in the current extremely tolerant times in the United States, to whom many predict a great future. Politico placed him in third place among Democrats on its list, right after Biden and Harris. According to the magazine, Buttigijj as a whole made good use of the past year, but “he never figured out how to solve his biggest political problem” – an almost complete lack of support from African Americans. This is a serious barrier: the socially conservative black population for the most part is one of the main electoral strongholds of the US Democratic Party.

Buttijij has an anniversary on January 19 – he turns 40. Interestingly, however, he is not the youngest on the Politico list. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latin American from New York, whose star has rapidly risen in the political horizon of the United States before the last elections, can even be called young – she is now only 32 years old. She does not hide her social democratic convictions, she is considered the face and leader of the left wing of the Democratic Party, although over the past year, according to Politico, her influence has diminished. By the way, the young progressives, whom she heads, openly dislike Buttigijge – apparently, as “too moderate.” This confirms that age is not the main criterion for political self-identification.

From Millennials to Buzzers

Nevertheless, since I started to write about generations, I will clarify that the youngest, partially adult age cohort is now considered to be “generation Z”, born in 1997 and the next 15 years. The “buzzers”, as they are sometimes called, have been replaced by the “alpha generation” since the early 2010s. These are all children of the “millennium generation”, and their predecessors, the millenials, are now from about 26 to 41 years old.

These same “millennials”, together with the previous “generation X” (born from about 1963 to 1980), apparently, should replace the current generation of leaders overseas in the foreseeable future. Politico lists five Democrats and 11 Republicans in this age group. The favorites of the ruling party have already been mentioned, and the 43-year-old Governor of Florida, Ron Desantis, is considered the most promising in the opposition.

Although people who have worked at the national level are older: former US Vice President Michael Pence is 62 years old, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is 58. Nikki Haley, who was the Governor of South Carolina and then the US Permanent Representative to the UN (overseas, this is a cabinet level), January 20 should mark the 50th anniversary. So far, all of them are acting with a big eye on Trump.

A generation of the ungrateful?

How one generation of Americans differs from another is a separate immense topic. In the most general terms, I would note, first of all, the gradual fading of faith in the “American Dream.” It is no coincidence that Trump, who spoke openly about this, wanted to “make America great again,” and Biden promises to “rebuild everything even better.”

Polls show that young people tend to be the most pessimistic. And research on dreams seems to be dwindling: in the covid years, something is not visible either from Gallup or from Pew Research. Although you can do without them: just look at the results of classic polls about the direction of movement of the country. I just checked the summary charts on the political science portal Real Clear Politics: since 2009, they are unconditionally dominated by an alarming red color, reflecting negative reviews.

But there is also a counter tendency: Americans stubbornly refuse to consider their country equal among equals, cling to its “exclusivity.” Yes, among the population of the country as a whole, especially the young, the confidence that the United States is an example for the whole world is also declining, but still it is still quite strong. And for the politicians we talked about, the image of America as a “shining city on a hill” is still an indestructible symbol of faith. Perhaps with the exception of Ocasio-Cortez, who, in the fight against Trump, went so far as to claim that he personified “fascism in the United States.”

In response, it is true, the conservatives offered and offer her, and at the same time her peers and like-minded people, to look back at themselves. Victor Hanson, a historian from the Hoover Institution in California, recently published an essay on “ignoramuses and their demonization of the past,” ending with the words: “Never before in [US] history has such a mediocre but arrogant and ignorant generation been so indebted to their departed ancestors, but did not show them so little gratitude. “

” Refrigerator vs. TV “

By the way, this reminded me of a recent interview with Ukrainian lawyer Andriy Bogdan, a former close associate and now an implacable opponent of President Volodymyr Zelensky. This is also an example of a new generation of people entering politics, and, in my opinion, an example for Russia is much closer, interesting and instructive than the same Kurz or Borich.

Bogdan was not only horrified at the depth of Zelensky’s “moral downfall”, who is trying to intimidate his political opponents, but also reminded that voters are much more important what they have in their refrigerators than on televisions. And in this regard, his former friend, who continues to “play the role” of the president of the country, “to replace the essence with a TV picture,” does not and cannot offer his people anything.

By the way, I confess that I was bitter to hear such comments about the legally elected leader of a neighboring country, on whom great hopes were initially pinned. But I can’t vouch for the Americans: I think that for them the same Chile is more likely not only geographically closer and more understandable, but also more important and interesting than Ukraine.

Be that as it may, Bogdan further touched upon the generational theme. In his opinion, young people are people who do not yet “put anything in the refrigerator”, but only get “mother’s borscht” out of it. “For them to become some kind of conscientious citizens, they need to get this experience, live their lives,” he said. “Fill the refrigerator, dress the children, go to school, to work. Fight.

In my opinion, this is consonant with what Hanson argued about, denying people who live off the labor of previous generations the right to a moral judgment over their predecessors. Although at the household level it is the Americans, as far as I can judge, on the whole they are less inclined to show dependency and rely on other people’s help, including from their parents.

I will add that Bogdan himself is 45 years old, and he is also asked about presidential ambitions. He does not directly deny them, and the interview, sensational in its frankness, launched on the Internet on the eve of the New Year holidays, looks from his side as a thoughtful political technological move.

Well, since we are talking about our neighbors, in the end, one cannot but say at least a couple of words on the hottest topic of recent days – about the turbulent events in Kazakhstan. What happened there, we still need to really find out, understand and think over. But, in my opinion, some of the above is easily projected onto this country.

Courtesy: (TASS)