Nostalgia has always been a driving force in American politics. It remains to be seen whether a return to a more-mundane politics of the past, as attempted by Joe Biden, will be a winning strategy.
It is said that the older we get the more we yearn to return to the memories and neighborhoods of our youth. My university years were spent in the United States. I had the privilege to live there after I won a very generous — for that time — scholarship with a stipend. This was during the Bill Clinton years, before his devastating affair with Monica Lewinsky. You could still feel a strange optimism in the air, a sensation typical for the American public at that time. And my journalism professor was named Jim.
Only “Jim,” he insisted. He was a veteran of the profession, straight as an arrow and honest to a fault. I finished two classes with him, after which I decided that I knew everything. I gave up journalism. I changed majors.
Young people and young countries are alike in this: their arrogance. Today I know that a journalist is as good as their last column. And that I will never stop learning.
But I was talking about Jim. And about the America that he loved. A bastion of transparency, honesty, morals, all with a rapidly-growing economy.
In Jim’s eyes the United States was not just “the land of freedom,” but an immaculately organized state in which comity is widespread, morality is observed, foreign policy had a clear goal and the economy was at the service of the “little guy.”
In other words, “Jim’s America” was identical to the so-called “American dream.” Yet analysts have long proclaimed that this dream is dead. They point out the poverty in Youngstown, Ohio: a town formerly known for its General Motors workforce that is currently falling behind the rest of the U.S. in the pandemic’s economic recovery.
Yet Biden’s persona continues to seem trustworthy, continues to project a sense that everything will be all right.
I believe that Biden’s approach, a bit ceremonial, overtly gentleman-like, bringing back a sense of morality as a national resource, was the reason he was elected. The people of the United States felt nauseous at a showman’s eruptions. They wanted “Jim’s America.”
Currently the president of the United States is in Europe. In the vernacular, Biden is “traveling abroad.” For me, Biden is on tour: a tour during which the American president must find allies for his battle against the Chinese technological dictatorship and allies to support the U.S. as a bulwark for European security. He must demonstrate a clear return to a healthy domestic politics, as well as remind the world of basic democratic principles and position the U.S. as a serious international actor. It is not accidental that this “tour” includes a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
It is yet unknown what Biden will achieve with his visit. But the feelings, and expectations, are clear. Biden is on a mission — to resurrect, internationally, Jim’s America.