Harris’ historic victory received well-deserved attention. Yet, it bears repeating: 12 years after electing the first black president, Americans chose the first woman, the first black American, and the first Asian American to serve as vice president.
Harris’s presence in the White House will be vital for substantive reasons: his expertise, including his experience as a prosecutor, his career in the Senate and his role on the Senate Intelligence Committee, will help the new administration to govern. much better than the previous one. His presence will also be vital as a representation, renewing the promise of our diverse society to Americans of all genders and backgrounds, after the years of misogyny and xenophobia manifested at the top of the current administration.
But the implications of Harris’ election don’t stop at the water’s edge – or, at least, they shouldn’t stop. The Biden administration can benefit by giving Harris a leading role in restoring US leadership overseas. In a time of global instability and renewed competition among the great powers, this task appears to be just as critical as any other Harris could undertake.
Harris’ rise is an extraordinary milestone. Despite their domestic challenges and growing competition from China and other countries, the United States remains the world’s leading power. The US vice-presidency, although significantly less important than the presidency itself, retains enormous visibility in international politics. The election of the first woman of color as vice president shows how much Biden and the American electorate appreciate the diversity of the country, sending a powerful signal to the world.
Indeed, the power of the Vice President-elect to shape America’s global position stems from the importance the United States has long placed on its self-image as a land of opportunity and a moral actor on the stage. global.
The United States is often very far from this self-image. The legacy of systemic racism in our society remains heavy. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border, and many other such actions have existed alongside the country’s much more admirable openness. immigrants and refugees.
This is also the case in the foreign policy of the United States. The United States frequently pampers, or at least tolerates, autocrats and human rights abusers when they are deemed strategically useful, even as they lead efforts to promote democracy and rights elsewhere. Countries from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to Nigeria have enjoyed warm relations with the United States because of economic and security interests, despite often horrific records on democracy and human rights. man.
Harris’s arrival at the White House, like Barack Obama’s 12 years ago, will not magically perfect our union or his actions in the world. It will, however, restore some credibility when the new administration pushes countries towards representative democracy or opposes abuses by their citizens.
Her previously expressed views and the fact that she, as a woman of color, will hold the post point to an opportunity: the new administration, with Harris in a leading role, can lead a foreign policy that prioritizes the American openness and human rights. This provides a framework for addressing a number of foreign policy challenges, such as resisting China’s repression of ethnic Uyghurs and repression in Hong Kong; leverage US aid to push for democratic reform in Egypt; restore American leadership in alliances and multilateral institutions; and reset policies on immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Biden could, for example, make Harris a primary voice on international issues related to his personal and political experience, such as the workings of the U.S. intelligence community, immigration policy, and the promotion of rights and freedoms to the United States. foreign. Additionally, Harris, as the only directly elected figure in the administration besides the president-elect, can competently represent the United States on matters that do not require Biden’s urgent personal attention. These could include maintaining alliances outside of presidential summits, as well as dealing with thorny but relatively small conflicts.
More generally, Harris’ election will help the United States in a new chapter in the global ideological competition, as it arises between democratic Washington and authoritarian Beijing. An America whose diversity is visible at the highest level, whose commitment to a more perfect union has been renewed if it is still not respected, whose openness to the best and the brightest from all walks of life is extends once again to the White House, this America is more confident and attractive than any authoritarian competitor.
Harris’s swearing-in on January 20 will be a watershed, perhaps unprecedented among the world’s major democracies, one that will strengthen America’s credibility and moral authority around the world. The more Harris takes on an international role, the more the administration and the country will benefit.