Yesterday, Joe Biden was sworn into office ending Donald Trump’s tumultuous four years in office. In his time as president, Trump exercised great power and did much to damage the perception of the United States as the leader of the free world.
Trump’s aggression and second-guessing had allies reeling and worried about longstanding alliances and relationships around the world. Trump was at times self-contradictory, pushing for freedom and democracy in Asia but praising Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, being skeptical about the dangers of Covid-19 while blaming China for spreading the virus.
When Donald Trump came into power, one of his first actions was to remove the United States from the Paris Declaration on the Environment. I argued against the move at the time. (Read more here) Little did I know that it would not be my only interaction with the US government in the subsequent years.
At the time, Thailand was under the dictatorship of the Prayut Chan-ocha junta. Trump saw no qualms about dealing with dictators. The president said he knew the leader of Thailand very well and continued to peddle weapons and trade with the country.
At the time I was invited to attend a celebration at the United States Embassy but I rejected the offer citing Trump and his seeming rejection of democracy and human rights. I was never invited back to the embassy.
Around the same time, my work at Chulalongkorn University in calling for democracy and elections gained public notoriety and I was prosecuted for campaigning for freedom. At this time, I was invited by the International Youth Congress to attend a meeting in the United States.
I accepted and applied for a visa with the US Embassy but was told by an insider that it was up to Washington whether they accepted my request to visit. I received a two-week visa a month later, by which time it was too late to attend the conference and I had missed my flight.
Perhaps, looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised at the actions of the Trump government. My story is not unique. There are countless others of activists and people who had looked onto the United States as a beacon of freedom and liberty only to be disappointed or outright rejected by Trump’s America First policy.
But now President Joe Biden is in the White House and the hope is there again that America will stand up for the ideals that once made her grand. The challenge is not just in supporting dissidents and activists like myself who are fighting everyday for liberty but to recognize and oppose dictatorships where they stand.
In our region made grand gestures about confronting China and their growing dictatorial imperialism. Will Joe Biden continue the same path?
It is clear from reading many of my friends comments that Biden represents a reset for relations between the two country not just on a government-to-government level but from an ideological perspective as well. Biden represents the hope of support that the United States could provide, but will it just prove to be an illusion?