A Return To Normalcy On The World Stage

[ Posted Tuesday, June 15th, 2021 – 15:43 UTC ]

Joe Biden has returned America's foreign policy (or at least the face of it to the rest of the world) back to normalcy. The president of the United States is once again treated respectfully by foreign leaders, mostly because he understands that allies are indispensible in the modern world -- and he knows the difference between allies and dictatorships (no matter how much dictators might try to flatter him and build up his ego). Our allies have welcomed our return to sanity and comity, and Biden's outreach is already bearing fruit on his first trip abroad. The trip's biggest test will come when he meets with Russia's Vladimir Putin, but he will do so knowing that Europe is largely backing the United States. That is all a drastic and relieving change from the past four years, when Donald Trump could barely stand to be in a room with Europe's leaders, would casually and viciously denigrate NATO and other bedrock alliances, and then throw his arms open wide for the likes of Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un. Or, to put it more succinctly, we are experiencing a return to normalcy.

Joe Biden didn't actually use the political slogan "a return to normalcy" during his campaign, but it certainly was a theme whether the actual words appeared on anyone's lawn sign or not. The term originated exactly 100 years earlier, in Warren Harding's successful 1920 presidential campaign. Back then, the problems were threefold. America had been coping with: World War I, a global pandemic (the Spanish Flu), and a Red Scare (mostly in reaction to the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union). The end of the previous decade was anything but normal, and the public was exhausted. So in 1920, "a return to normalcy" sounded pretty good to a lot of people. Here's an erudite quote from Harding:

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

A century later, in 2020, America was in the grips of another global pandemic (COVID-19). There was no world war -- you can say a lot of things about Donald Trump, but he did manage to avoid starting World War III, even I will admit. But the nation is also threatened from within by extreme right-wing domestic terrorism, aided and abetted by one of our major political parties. No one could call the past two years "normal," in other words. Biden's calm demeanor and adult attitudes were a welcome change indeed, and many people voted for him solely because they wanted a little more normalcy in government.

Which they are now getting. Joe Biden respectfully treats all the other foreign leaders with diplomacy and politeness, instead of shoving them out of the way to get the best spot in a photo. Biden doesn't have to have someone explain to him why Europe is important for America's national security. Biden has been heavily involved in foreign policy for years, and he actually sits and reads important briefing books instead of demanding a one-page summary with lots of cool graphics and photos. Biden is not going to greet Vladimir Putin with open arms, and he will not be swayed in the slightest by any attempted flattery. Which is all refreshingly normal, of course.

A lot of the respect Biden is getting is just because he is not Donald Trump. Any sane adult American president would likely get some degree of the same, in other words, but the fact that Biden immediately followed Trump makes the difference more stark and immediate, which has led to genuine and obvious relief on the foreign leaders' faces. Maybe they'll decide to give him the Nobel Peace Prize, just for "not being Trump"... after all, Biden's old boss Barack Obama got his for a similar reason -- "not being George W. Bush."

Awards aside, though, Biden is returning America to its greatness in the world, by entering into international agreements to solve worldwide problems rather than breaking such agreements without regard to the consequences. Biden is looking to solve problems, not create more of them. He hasn't completely settled on any one thing you could call a "Biden Doctrine," but then again he's only been in office less than half a year. The accomplishments of his first foreign trip are impressive enough, even without a political label being attached to them. Biden knows if we're going to tackle problematic regimes like Russia, North Korea, and China (just to name three), having lots of allies with very close ties means tackling the problem together, instead of trying to go it alone. And that is probably the most normal thing of all, in foreign policy. So it is a welcome change indeed.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “A Return To Normalcy On The World Stage”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, when it comes to US foreign policy, Biden has forgotten more than all of us here and most of everyone else will ever know in all of our lifetimes. Not a joke!

    Indeed, it was my interest in US foreign policy - sparked by my first deep dive into US politics during the 1987 Iran/Contra hearings - that resulted in what would be the beginning of a 30+ year run of following all things Biden.

    Biden is arguably the best qualified and most well-equipped US president in a very, very, very long time, if not ever!

  2. [2] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Maybe they'll decide to give him the Nobel Peace Prize, just for "not being Trump"... after all, Biden's old boss Barack Obama got his for a similar reason -- "not being George W. Bush."

    Been hanging out in FoxNews’ comments’ section lately, CW? And to be clear, I am not suggesting what you said is racist in any way. Instead, I am saying that your comment attempts to make it sound like race had nothing to do with Obama receiving the Nobel. It’s crazy that both right wingers and left wingers want to deny race played the biggest role in Obama’s Nobel Prize: the left believing it some how cheapens the prize if race is a factor in receiving it and the right wanting to deny that racism is such a huge part of our country’s existence that our simply having a Black man on the presidential ballot brought HOPE to the world that maybe America meant it when we stated that “All men are created equal.”

    If anything, Obama’s Nobel Prize has made it clear that the HOPE that our country was moving past racism, that was generated by the possibility of an Obama presidency, had been premature. The idea of a Black man as President brought out prejudices that the GOP base had long kept buried, it turned out. Thanks to rightwing media, they were reminded everyday how much the Black President hated them and this country and that he was destroying everything good while Obama was in office. Today, Conservatives still swear that Obama actively sought to damage race relations in this country during his presidency. Trump used that racism-based hatred to gain the GOP nomination and eventually the presidency (with some foreign help thrown in during the election).

    So, I do not know if Biden will or will not win the Nobel for not being Trump; but either way, it would be totally unrelated to why Obama won the Prize. Bush might have been a terrible President, but he wasn’t gonna be President anymore. Bush played no role in Obama’s nomination.

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    I remember reading, more than once in the past half year, that Biden can only do so much. And if I got it correctly, he was apparently buttonholed about a half dozen times during the G-7 meeting with, essentially, "Sure, you're intelligent, and reliable, and represent a thoughtful and dedicated American foreign policy. How do we know you're not just the entr'act [this is the G-7, after all - JM-Ct] between Trump I and Trump II, or his quasi-fascist isolationist clone?"

    And Biden has no good answer. It's going to take a heck of a lot more than just one smart and savvy president to recover America's right to natural leadership of the developed world. Trump's election and presidency was not a crippling blow but a septic gut wound to America's status abroad.

    Normalcy is not enough. It's way too soon to breathe easy, as tempting as it may be.

  4. [4] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Trump was a world-class asshole and irredeemably stupid, but he did NOT start any wars!! "Not being Trump" would be as dumb a reason/justification for the peace prize as was Obama's reason.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    you're right, i think what it will really take to rehabilitate our image is a republican president who is not an idiot. not holding my breath on that one.


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think a second Biden term will go a long way toward America reasserting its global leadership role not least of all because it will reflect well on the American people.

  7. [7] 
    Alin wrote:

    [4] CRS. Agreed

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Return to normalcy. Funny how history repeats itself.

    Biden has been heavily involved in foreign policy for years...

    Decades, actually ... since 1973. Well before I started following him, even. Heh.

    He hasn't completely settled on any one thing you could call a "Biden Doctrine," but then again he's only been in office less than half a year.

    While it is true that a Biden Doctrine hasn't had a lot of time to be fleshed out yet, I thought it was interesting when he said, during the roll out of his national security team, that his approach to foreign policy would be predicated on what is in the best interests of the American people in a wise melding of foreign and domestic policy.

    And, when there is finally some meat put on the bones of a Biden Doctrine, it will be centered around the fact that he is all about constructive engagement. Key to Biden's thinking is the idea that foreign policy is fundamentally about personal relationship building but on an international scale, whether with friends and allies or with competitors and enemies. In this respect, among many others, Biden is way ahead of the game!

  9. [9] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    "Not being Trump" would be as dumb a reason/justification for the peace prize as was Obama's reason.

    I agree that giving it to Biden simply for “not being Trump” would be just as dumb as giving it to Obama for “not being Bush”. My point is that Obama did not receive the Nobel Prize for that reason. Obama won the prize because of what he had com to represent to world — HOPE. That fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for his support of Civil Rights that a Black man could be elected the President of the United States of America was something that brought hope to millions around the world that maybe we were putting our racist ways behind us…. That we truly were a country where “all men are created equal.” For the hope that his campaign brought to so many that aren’t as politically jaded as Americans tend to be, Obama received the Nobel Prize.

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