Six Months of Presidential Etiquette in the Oval Office, and the Return of Multilateralism

Six Months of Presidential Etiquette in the Oval Office, and the Return of Multilateralism

It’s been six months since Joe Biden became the president of the United States, ushering in politeness that has erased the abusive words, name calling and unpresidential utterances that characterized day-to-day activities of Trump’s four years as president.

‘Pocohantas,’ ‘sleepy Joe,’ ‘crazy Bernie,’ ‘crooked Hilary,’ ‘wild Bill,’ ‘mini Mike,’ ‘Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’ etc. were the sort of names echoing through the Oval Window as they were puffed out by Trump.

A lot has changed since January, as the etiquette befitting the presidency returns to Washington following the swearing in of Biden. In the first G7 meeting since Trump left office, leaders of the group didn’t hide their excitement seeing Biden representing the political ideals that America is known of, which Trump, by his uncouth utterances and actions, had misrepresented in the past four years.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Biden as “breathe of fresh air,” echoing the sentiment of world leaders who watched helplessly as Trump trampled on the fundamentals of multilateralism they had worked so hard to build.

“The president and the prime minister set out a global vision in a new Atlantic Charter to deepen cooperation in democracy and human rights, defense and security, science and innovation, and economic prosperity, with renewed joint efforts to tackle the challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging health threats,” a joint statement by Biden and Johnson said after the G7 meeting, marking the restoration of multilateralism.

Trump’s impoliteness, which went beyond calling his political opponents and whoever disagrees with him names, to maligning other countries, thrived under his “America first” mantra. A nationalistic idea that was backed by millions of Americans at the cost of multilateralism.

The United States leads the world on many fronts including combating climate change and emerging health threats. The defining moments of its leadership came following the outbreak of COVID-19, a pandemic of Chinese origin, which has claimed nearly four million lives globally, including over 602,000 Americans. But Trump was the president, and as he had done in other multilateral issues, he took to blame, name calling and making excuses, failing to uphold the leadership legacy the US has set in times of global crisis.

It is “China virus” it is China’s fault,” Trump had said. He had alleged that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab, pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to preach along. The UN’s health arm didn’t push the unsubstantiated claim, and it became another victim of Trump’s nationalism.

In his four years as president, Trump pulled the US from many multilateral organizations. The WHO, which he severed ties with at the peak of the global health crisis was considered the most arbitrary among them. Trump’s decision meant the WHO would no longer receive yearly $400 – $500 million from the US government to carry out its operations, and that also means that low income countries, some of which he had described as s**hole countries, would be denied medical aids when it is most needed. But to Trump, the WHO was just another name to be delisted for the “America first” movement.

By his third year in office, Trump had pulled or threatened to pull the US out of most of the multilateral organizations. Below are some of them.

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership
    NAFTA
    Group of Seven (G7)
    UN Human Rights Council
    UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
    Iran nuclear deal
    World Trade Organization (WTO)
    World Health Organization (WHO)
    Paris Climate Accord

With the US leadership missing in these organizations, its allies were left reeling on the hope of a US president they can reckon with. The hope came true on January 20, when Biden became the 46th president of the United States, and its allies didn’t hide their joy.

“Once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House,” European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told lawmakers then at the EU Parliament in Brussels. “This new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been waiting for so long. Europe is ready for a new start with our oldest and most trusted partner.”

“From climate change to health, from digitalization to democracy, these are global challenges that need renewed and global cooperation, and the European Union and the United States must lead from the front and bring an alliance of like-minded powers with us,” von der Leyen said.

Biden’s first line of action was geared toward restoring the tradition of American leadership and reversing to great extent, the chaotic and saucy leadership introduced by Trump. In his first week in the Oval Office, there was a colossal reversal of Trump’s arbitrary executive orders, including those on WHO and climate change.

“There is simply far more scope for political agreement with President Biden. That is clear just looking at the executive orders he signed yesterday (Jan 21.). We will once again work together in the WHO, on the Paris climate accord. And on issues of migration, we will likely have a more similar view,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.

While there is still a huge task to undo all the chaos orchestrated and spurred by Trump’s style of leadership, sighs of relief are echoing, not just in the United States, but also around the world, for the “breath of fresh air.” For the United States, it is the return of presidential etiquette among other things; for the rest of the world, it is the return of multilateralism spearheaded by American leadership.

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