Prof Jason A. Edwards
Professor and Chairperson of Communication. Studies at Bridgewater State University.
Section 1: Policy and political context
- The far-too-normal election
- One pandemic, two Americas and a week-long election day
- Political emotion and the global pandemic: factors at odds with a Trump presidency
- The pandemic did not produce the predominant headwinds that changed the course of the country
- Confessions of a vampire
- COVID-19 and the 2020 election
- President Trump promised a COVID vaccine by Election Day: that politicized vaccination intentions
- The enduring impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the 2020 elections
- Where do we go from here? The 2020 U.S. presidential election, immigration, and crisis
- A nation divided on abortion?
- Ending the policy of erasure: transgender issues in 2020
- U.S. presidential politics and planetary crisis in 2020
- President Biden’s foreign policy: engagement, multilateralism, and cautious globalization
- Presidential primary outcomes as evidence of levels of party unity
- A movable force: the armed forces voting bloc
- Guns and the 2020 elections
- Can Biden’s win stop the decline of the West and restore the role of the United States in the world?
Although it did not get a lot of attention in the 2020 presidential campaign, the future role America will take in the world is a question of fundamental importance for its U.S. global leadership. We already have an idea of how President Trump articulates the U.S. role abroad through his “America First” agenda. What might we expect from a Joe Biden administration? How has he talked about what America’s role in the world should be, and what might we expect from a Biden administration concerning this issue in word and deed?
Vice President Biden’s campaign rhetoric suggests he would revitalize America’s commitments abroad and return to a leadership role maintained by Republicans and Democrats in the post-World War II era. I have long argued that American exceptionalism underwrites the discourse and debates concerning America’s role in the world. All presidents and presidential candidates espouse the language of American exceptionalism. Where they have differed is how the enact that discourse. In American history that enactment comes through in two different narratives: the exemplar narrative and the intervention narrative. The exemplar narrative was fundamental to U.S. foreign policy rhetoric in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Exemplarists maintain America best demonstrates it leadership through the power of its example. America models institutions, behaviors, and practices domestically to influence the affairs of the world. However, exemplarists warn about intervening in the affairs of the world, particularly in Europe. If the U.S. involves itself in the affairs of other nation-states the problems of those countries could come home and harm U.S. politics. Therefore, it is best to stay out of global affairs unless it is our direct interest to do so. Interventionists assert the U.S. just cannot rely on its example to influence the affairs of the world. The U.S. must demonstrate its leadership through increasing free trade, involvement in international organizations, and actively promote its ideals and values abroad. Since the end of the World War II, Republicans and Democratic presidents have fused the exemplar and interventionist narratives together to make their case the U.S. must maintain and extend its leadership role. According to these presidents, engagement and intervention abroad protects us at home, which allows the power of America’s example to flourish. At the same time, economic prosperity and improving domestic institutions gives American presidents credibility to promote similar values abroad.
Donald Trump’s presidency marks a break from that fusion rhetoric. Trump’s “America First” rhetoric privileges the exemplar narrative and emphasizes non-interventionism in today’s global environment. A Joe Biden presidency, in my estimation, will reverse this trend and return to rhetorically fusing the exemplar and intervention narratives to justify global leadership abroad. There are a couple of places one can find this in Biden’s campaign discourse concerning America’s role in the world. First, Biden has consistently maintained that U.S. global leadership begins with our domestic example. However, the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policy have increased racial tensions, exacerbated wealth inequality, failed to control the COVID-19 pandemic has gravely harmed the power of America’s example. To restore American leadership abroad, Biden argues—consistent with his post-World War II Democratic predecessors—the United States must re-engage at home, rebuild its domestic institutions, reduce racial tension and wealth inequality, and get control the pandemic. Improving that example, striving for a “more perfect union” at home, Biden asserts gives America more power to lead the world in fighting global problems.
A second prime example can be found in how the Biden campaign talks about relationships with other nations and international organizations. For example, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris asserted in the vice-presidential debate that foreign policy is built upon relationships. For U.S. leadership to continue, Harris argued, the U.S. must maintain and keep its word to its friends, while keeping America’s adversaries in check. Harris accused the Trump administration of betraying its friends and embracing adversaries. Biden has gone further by speaking about how he would restore friendly relations with NATO allies, rejoin the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Iran nuclear deal, stop the trade war with China, and confront America’s adversaries in Russia and North Korea. Biden’s discourse suggests he would restore America’s leadership by maintaining and extending the post-World War II liberal international order that Republican and Democratic presidents rhetorically supported for 75 years.
Ultimately, if Joe Biden becomes president, America’s role in the world will be fundamentally altered. Donald Trump’s America First exemplarist rhetoric will be replaced by a foreign policy rhetoric that focuses on improving the power of America’s example as a means to assert its leadership abroad, while at the same time re-engaging, restoring, and resetting its relationships with nation-states and international organizations across the world.