On Jan. 20, 2021, the Biden era has officially begun in the United States. Watching the inauguration ceremony, many Americans and foreigners look forward to the restoration of the America they used to know. That is to say, the America that the Founding Fathers originally dreamed of, the America that led the world as a peacekeeper, and the America that the world looked up to as a land of liberty, equality, and justice.
As President Biden announced, “America is back,” and “Make America Respected Again,” the world heartily welcomes the new US government and is full of expectation for what it promises. Now, people hope that the original American Dream will be possible again in America. In fact, America is great because of the American Dream. What would America be without it? Unfortunately, the Trump administration denounced the American mythos and ethos by cancelling out the American Dream.
Americanist scholars argue that America is not so much a nation as an idea because it is a country built upon the Founding Fathers’ dreams and ideals. Robert Scholes once wrote, “Americans live in a country which was itself a fabulous fiction that grew in the minds of men like Columbus, Hudson, and John Smith before they found it and founded it.” Scholes continued that the Founding Fathers “invented its political and social structures out of their ideals and hopes, and then sought out actors on the stage of history to make a real nation out of their fabulous dreams.” Yet the problem with a dreamland is that it is fragile and thus can easily turn into a nightmare, especially when someone manipulates people’s dreams.
Originally, America is a country founded by immigrants and thus all Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Therefore, it would be absurd if America implemented anti-immigration policies. America also is a country that has played a crucial role as a peacekeeper and peacemaker in the world, following the spirit of John Winthrop who said in 1630, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill -- the eyes of all people are upon us.” Therefore, if America would abandon her role as a “beacon of hope” for the world, it would be like denying her identity and betraying the Founding Fathers’ original idea of America.
Regrettably, the Trump administration did not cherish the Founding Fathers’ dreams and ideas, and made America resemble other nations nurtured on ultra-nationalism and extreme patriotism. It was no wonder that the Trump administration defied globalism and gave up America’s traditional role as world leader and international peacekeeper. As America adopted non-interference and an isolation policy during the Trump era, the once much-admired dreamland inevitably lost its charm and respect in the international community.
To make matters worse, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the outcome of the election and the ensuing violent riot of Trump supporters at the Capitol seriously damaged the reputation of America as a symbol of democracy. It was embarrassing because the shameful incident at the Capitol Hill irretrievably disgraced America in the eyes of the world. Watching the rioters ravage the Capitol, people clicked their tongue and muttered, “Is it really Washington, DC or a Third World capital?” Indeed, for the past four years, America was not the nation we used to know.
In that sense, we should extend our heartfelt congratulations to the launching of the Biden administration. Nevertheless, the voyage of the USS Biden may be perilous due to hidden reefs and obstacles lurking everywhere, blocking its passage. We only hope that the USS Biden can sail skillfully between Scylla and Charybdis and successfully reach its destination.
The compelling, urgent tasks that the Biden administration has to deal with are ubiquitous. Among others, it must deal with the ever-spreading global pandemic that has claimed so many lives and hit the US economy so severely. Moreover, the new government has to heal the psychic wounds that have torn America apart. For that purpose, the Biden administration needs to embrace the Red States, blue-color workers in the Rust Belt and numerous supporters of Trumpism, including those depicted in J. D. Vance’s celebrated memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.”
At the same time, the Biden administration should seriously consider reshoring for the sake of jobless American workers who blame globalism for their predicament. In addition, it also should be cautious about the return of radical movements under the banner of “political correctness” that resonates with the Bolshevik’s slogan during the Russian Revolution. It is undeniable that PC went too extreme in the past and thereby created many political enemies who eventually supported Donald Trump. We also expect the replenishment and renaissance of the humanities during the Biden era. Luckily, we have the First Lady, Jill Biden, who knows the importance of the arts and humanities in this spiritually barren world.
Watching the launch of the Biden administration, we have new hope for America and the world, as well. We sincerely wish the USS Biden bon voyage and Godspeed.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.