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Ironically, Biden’s the one making America great again

Former President Donald Trump popularized the slogan “Make America Great Again” and the acronym MAGA turned into a winning election campaign slogan in 2016. The slogan became so well-known that populist leaders around the world started to adopt it for their own election campaigns by substituting their nation’s name for America in the MAGA acronym. 

However, there is a question worthwhile asking. Did Trump’s “MAGA” ambitions actually come to fruition during his term?  

Not really. President Trump’s time in office was marred by one controversy after another. And early this month, he was indicted with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.   

Paradoxically, his democratic successor has advanced in making America great again — reviving manufacturing in Middle America; increasing investments in vital infrastructure; improving the environment — without the inflammatory and incendiary language and run-ins with the media.  

Unlike the former president, Biden has avoided media appearances and instead focused on walking the talk. As a matter of fact, Biden’s term in office could go down in history as the one with the least number of presidential press briefings.  

Nevertheless, Biden’s administration’s legacy will also be that it revived the American spirit without splitting the social fabric at the seams. The administration’s “America first” agenda is evident through its legislations such as the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that have allocated funds and offered subsidies to stimulate investments, particularly in the infrastructure and renewable energy sector. Based on Financial Times reports, the policies have already led to over $200 million in investment plans by chip and renewable energy manufacturing companies.     

In the mid-1990s, from critical mineral processing to chip manufacturing, the U.S. was a leader with a significant share of manufacturing. Fast forward to 2023, the U.S. has lost out to China, and even to its East Asian partners such as Taiwan, Korea and Japan in chip manufacturing.   

Through industrial policies, Biden is reviving the economic glory of the 90s by reshoring American manufacturing. Biden’s supply chain review, followed by successive legislative wins, has empowered his administration to execute policies that strengthen America’s manufacturing base.    

Notably, as feared by most economists, this manufacturing renaissance does not pull America back to the 90s with respect to technology, or global engagement. It is not a withdrawal from globalization but a redrawing of the global trade architecture that over the last two decades elevated China to a leadership position in the hierarchical network of global value chains.  

By addressing the policy pitfalls of his predecessors — such as offshoring manufacturing to China and East Asia and failing to address the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure and the environment — while simultaneously laying the pathway for America’s transition to renewable energy, Biden is pulling Middle America and all of America forward. And interestingly, Biden’s manufacturing push has channeled more investments to Republican and swing states than Democratic states.  

While Republican states have historically opposed any radical transformation from conventional energy sources such as oil gas, coal and even liquid natural gas (LNG) to renewable energy such as solar, batteries and wind,  the millions in investments stimulated by legislation such as the IRA and the potential jobs it creates has got the buy-in from otherwise hesitant red-state leaders. Policies addressing climate change, when packaged with the dual objective of reviving manufacturing and reducing overreliance on China, find a wider appeal than the apocalyptic language often used by climate activists such as Greta Thunberg or Al Gore.   

Celebrating Earth Day, Biden signed an order expanding the provisions of his environmental justice plan by putting in place measures to address and prevent disproportionate and adverse pollution and climate change impacts on communities. This builds on his administration’s efforts to protect communities while rapidly advancing in the fourth industrial revolution. A key marker for America’s dwindling infrastructure is the lack of clean and potable water for all communities in America. The Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Action Plan, part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, aims to give all Americans access to safe and clean drinking water.  

It is unfortunate that critics of the administration across the aisle have stooped to the level of personal mockery and juvenile ridicule of Biden’s stuttering, speech slurs and his minor accidents to challenge the administration. While the criticism of style over substance clearly indicates that his challengers have very little to oppose his policies, a large section of civil society getting lost in this charade could fail to realize that Biden’s legacy could be as profound as Roosevelt’s.   

Neoliberal economists and publications that initially unleashed a barrage of criticism toward Biden’s industrial policies have now acknowledged this initial success that has spurred over $200 billion in new investments across America.  

Furthermore, through increased commitment to Ukraine and by rejoining multilateral mechanisms such as the Paris Climate Accords, Biden has brought the U.S. back to the international stage.     

Interestingly, Biden’s strategy has not turned the clock back to the Obama administration but extended tenets of the Trump administration, while not mimicking the approach, making it a Trump lite.  

Unlike his predecessor, Biden has not called for a withdrawal from America’s commitment to global affairs nor has it turned pacifist. As a matter of fact, the U.S.-China competition has moved to a more advanced stage, with no high-level talks in over a year and a half, although Biden and Xi agreed to resume communications during a meeting at November’s G20 summit.  

The balloon incident, the TikTok congressional hearings fiasco and the Taiwan Strait issue have put a damp cloth on any prospects for dialing back relations to the pre-Trump era with the communist nation that is directly or indirectly responsible for the abysmal state of American manufacturing in key sectors. Moreover, with the discovery of secret Chinese police stations in New York and other cities and the DEA squarely assigning blame on China for the fentanyl crisis, the bipartisan consensus on China in Washington just got the stamp of approval from civil society.  

From reviving manufacturing competitiveness to addressing the environment and foreign policy challenges, the Biden administration has brought America back to business — or, to revise Trump’s slogan, has, “made America great again.” 

Akhil Ramesh is a senior fellow with the Pacific Forum. He has worked with governments, risk consulting firms and think tanks in the United States and India. Follow him on Twitter: Akhil_oldsoul.

Tags Barack Obama CHIPS and Science Act Donald Trump Inflation Reduction Act Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Joe Biden Make America Great Again Politics of the United States Supply chain management US-China tensions

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