Biden victory: gamut of emotions, expectations among Americans in Vietnam

By Viet Anh   November 8, 2020 | 12:25 am PT
From elation to depression and high hopes to cynicism, Americans in Vietnam had variegated responses to the U.S. presidential election's results.

"I have to admit I’m relieved. I didn’t vote for Joe Biden but ultimately I’m happy because Trump is leaving," Hannah Smith, a teacher living in Hanoi, told VnExpress International.

Democrat Joe Biden, 77, defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the U.S on Saturday. Biden crossed the winning threshold of 270 Electoral College votes with a win in Pennsylvania. His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed processing.

In his first statement as president-elect, Biden vowed to "be a president for all Americans, whether you voted for me or not."

President-elect Joe Biden smiles during a drive-in campaign rally at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 2, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

President-elect Joe Biden smiles during a drive-in campaign rally at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 2, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

Ethan Blonder, another American teacher, was also "relieved about the result." Biden wasn't his preferred candidate in the Democratic Party primaries, but "he's a decent man who isn't actively seeking to divide the country, which is a great start," Blonder said.

Tui Munday, a businesswoman and Biden supporter, said she was very happy and surprised with his victory in Georgia, because the state normally votes the Republican.

Frederick Abel was overwhelmed. The words rushed out in a torrent as the doctor, a long-term Vietnam resident, expressed his joy. He felt "elated excited thankful joyous" and wished he was in the U.S. to dance in the streets and shout with everyone.

"Now comes a chance for a healing of the rifts, a building of consensus and a construction of society that starts with respect for each and every kind of person," Abel said.

"And I feel the results are real," he added after calming down a bit and referring to skepticism about the results’ credibility. Votes have been mailed in for nearly 150 years in the U.S. (since the Civil War). The ballot counting process is very open and transparent with observers from all parties in the room, he explained.

But Abel also said the long wait for the election results was a tense experience. He said he was prepared for a sense of depression if his candidate loses. He also felt that amid so many global crises, the national leadership crisis may continue for another four years.

On November 3, Abel joined his children, all living in the U.S. and in different political camps, in a video chat group and kept in touch by texting each other.

Following the news online via the New York Times and CNN, Abel said the primary issue in the country was the fractured nature of society and the instability and tension he and all Americans, whether pro Trump or pro Biden, were experiencing.

Demographic studies have showcased essential polarities -- rural: urban; evangelical: secular; elite educated : public educated -- so Trump and Biden are just proxies for the deeper divisions in the U.S. as the society transitions, especially from white/male/patriarchal power bases, he said.

"The U.S. is fascinating now – such a big bright canvas of social change, painted in front of all the eyes in the world."

Wait, it’s not over

While some Trump's supporters declined to talk, Brian Kaspiev, a student finishing his degree by taking online classes from Ho Chi Minh City, recalled 2000.

At that time, Kaspiev said, Al Gore was declared president for 37 days before the Supreme Court overturned it and Bush Jr. ended up winning the election.

"The media have declared Biden the president before they even finished counting the votes. The media don't certify the presidency, the courts do," he said.

Kaspiev found the long wait unnecessary and highly suspicious. In any other election, people would have known the president on Election Day. However, it took five days this time. He watched the election at home. It was "funny watching it alone" because not many people around him cared about the election like he did. He kept messaging friends back in the U.S. who are on the same side.

He said he has been avoiding political conversations with friends supporting Biden until after the next president is elected. They are filled with so much hate against Trump that "it’s no use talking about politics with them... the conversations tend to lead into arguments."

Kaspiev, raised a democrat in New York, used to dislike Trump, but changed his mind after doing his own research, he said, adding that he has many friends from New York who’ve done likewise and voted for Trump.

"So I mainly talk with those friends who went through the same experience I did," Kaspiev said. He traveled to Vietnam for a vacation two years ago and loved the country so much he decided to extend his stay.

Clique watching

Hannah Smith also stayed away from watching election news in public spaces because she did not want to talk to other Americans about the event.

Sometimes it can lead to disagreements so it’s easier to watch with "people you know." So Smith watched TV with her boyfriend at her house. She was also unhappy with the time taken to count the votes, saying the reasons were political and such tampering in the voting process should not happen.

"Waiting this long for results is just a showcase of the failure of American democracy," she said.

However, Blonder said he didn't mind the long wait because a lot of election analysts had made it very clear up front that this count would take longer than usual. Forewarned, he found the wait a "pretty painless" experience, though he had many people asking "why it's taking so long".

Munday, a businesswoman preparing to open a construction materials company in Hanoi for export, also didn't feel any pressure or anxiety. Her sisters and other relatives in the U.S. in California, Pennsylvania and Miami, were undergoing a lot of tension as people boarded up malls, fearful of riots and other forms of violence.

She was not tensed up because "she is living in Vietnam, where not everybody talks about the election," Munday said. She went to watch the news at two places. The atmosphere at a watch party hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) was quite quiet at lunch time. She was somewhat surprised by a more crowded event at a restaurant nearby, where people even yelled at the screen from time to time.

Later, Munday, a retired senior planner from Miami, just checked the news from time to time. On Facebook and Instagram, her friends kept sending messages saying "Oh, Biden has won." People kept predicting or saying that was happening, but Munday waited till November 7 for news agencies to confirm a conclusion.

According to the Associated Press, Trump has refused to concede, threatening further legal action on ballot counting. A record 103 million voted early this year, opting to avoid waiting in long lines at polling locations during a pandemic.

With counting continuing in some states, Biden had already received more than 74 million votes, more than any presidential candidate before him. Trump is the first incumbent president to lose reelection since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Great and not-so-great expectations

Mark Ashwill, an American international educator who has lived in Vietnam since 2005, said the election of Biden and Kamala Harris represents the victory of the America that is generous and humane, self-critical, sensible, and inquiring.

"The general benefit to Vietnam and other countries is that they will be able to work with U.S. leaders who are articulate, knowledgeable, experienced, caring, and who recognize domestic and international norms," Ashwill said.

"In this sense, the U.S. will be a much more reliable and predictable partner than under the Trump administration."

Munday said the most important thing Biden should do is to re-sign the Paris Climate accord that Trump withdrew from in 2019. She said the agreement, reached in 2015, not only affects the environment, it also affects the economy and global migration. She said climate change was a reason provinces in central Vietnam were seriously damaged by storms in October and tens of thousands people had to be evacuated. The evacuation could potentially spread the novel coronavirus further, she said.

"I'm sure that Biden and Harris believe in science. So they are going to agree again to the Paris accord, because that's the most important thing for the planet," Munday said.

On the bilateral side, she expects Biden to reach more agreements with Vietnam to foster free trade in the coming years.

Benjamin Shears, who has lived in Vietnam for four years, also thinks trade between the U.S. and many other countries will now be able to resume in a more fair and balanced way.

"Although Trump has been good for the U.S. economy, his policies have been alienating. I think the results are the effect of years of poor management," he said.

Blonder said he did not think Biden would have a huge impact in terms of policy, but was hopeful that he can make the country at least a bit less divided. "Right now it feels kind of hopeless, but it's kind of amazing how fast politics can change, too," he said.

Smith was not highly enthused about the new president.

She said Biden hasn’t stated a lot of concrete policy goals for his administration, and she believed his presidency will not have a lot of victories in congress. She also felt that Biden was too moderate for the current crises at hand, like Covid-19, climate change, education and healthcare.

But, she added: "I hope I’m wrong and he helps a lot of people."

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