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Biden’s main asset is that he is not Trump, but it is unrealistic to expect a radical turn in the United States’ current self-absorbed phase.

As traumatized as the world is after four years of Donald Trump and the way his presidency concluded, it is hard not to slip into wishful thinking — or worse, magical thinking — when talking about Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House. The hopes placed on the seasoned politician, proportional to the stagnation left by Trump in his wake, are stellar. Wishful thinking has it that with Biden, the United States will once again sit at the table of multilateralism; that now it will definitely combat the climate emergency because Washington will rejoin the Paris climate accord; that the migration tragedy on the Mexican border will come to an end; that the United States will once again be a reliable partner with which to work in favor of global progress; that Kamala Harris represents the final push for equality between men and women and for the acknowledgement that diversity is one of the great strongholds in this globalized world of the 21st century.

Hopefully. I wish.

Reality — as we should have learned by now when we see the poetry of Barack Obama crashing into Washington’s wall of prose — is much more complex. The best thing that can be said about Biden is that he is not Trump. And that is plenty, given the situation the new president must face: a rampaging pandemic, a severe financial crisis and a deeply divided country to the extent of endangering coexistence, as proven by the assault on the Capitol. These three acute crises justify the fact that the primary focus of this administration will be centered on domestic issues.


The tension between isolationism and internationalism (or interventionism) is inherent to the history of the United States. In many respects, the Trump administration has been disruptive, but in others, it has connected with the nativist and isolationist drive that is ever-present in the complex American personality. Biden — who is above all a man of consensus, of the establishment, who aspires to be the president for all Americans — will try to find a happy medium between those two trends, with an extra dose of “America first” due to the serious domestic situation the country is undergoing on several fronts. It is unrealistic to expect a 180-degree turn from Trump. In the already former president’s management, it was always necessary to differentiate between what he said (tweeted) and what he did, between the sound and fury and his policies, which in many cases were equally toxic.

Formally, Biden returns the United States to a place it should never have left. Policy-wise, especially in foreign policy matters, apart from some very quick, symbolic decisions, we cannot expect any radical turns. Biden is not that kind of politician; he will not launch a tariff war, but China and the U.S. are not going to become best friends tomorrow, either.

Regarding foreign policy, his first task must be regaining the trust of neglected or rebuffed partners who no longer see the U.S. as a reliable ally. Trump proved that agreements signed by Washington can very well be merely empty words, from Paris to the Iran nuclear deal. Once broken, it is very difficult to rebuild trust. An important first step would be to cease being an inspiration to the far right across the world, from Viktor Orban to Jair Bolsonaro. However, Biden will need much more than a formal change to restore the bonds that Trump burned down. First and foremost, he must be truly willing to restore them all.

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