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United States Politics

Can Joe Biden save the American Dream?

Joe Biden has been elected the next president of the United States. Will he be able to revive the American Dream?

Finally. We have made it through an election cycle that had essentially started four years ago, and an election “day” that went on for four days. Major news networks have finally projected the Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden has been elected the forty-sixth president of the United States. For now, the excitement of Democrats and liberals across the country and around the world seems unstoppable.

But, let us face the truth: Joe Biden is an almost seventy-eight-year-old, white, centrist man. Progressives would likely never have supported him, was not Donald Trump the only real alternative. We can barely expect him to be the transformational force America might need him to be. Can President-elect Biden reunite the vastly divided country anyway? Can he actually take America back to its old glory and its long-forgotten reputation as a well-respected nation and beacon of freedom and democracy in the world?

Reuniting America

First and foremost, Joe Biden will have one central task in his presidency: clean up the chaos and division that Donald Trump has created. In a way, it is good that America is divided – because Trump has no respect for the truth, for science, for facts. And his supporters have believed him. Naturally. Because he is the President of the United States, after all, the most powerful person in the world. And FOX News mostly agrees with him, the most-viewed cable news network in the United States. So, who can blame his supporters for believing Trump’s messages? The point is, however, the rest of the American people value verifiable facts over the president’s word. And they could not leave these lies and their implications unopposed. They cannot let misogyny happen, or racism, violence, the unjustified discrediting of the free press – the list goes on and on. The division of the American people was an inevitable side effect of opposing all these things. And that is why the division is good, in a certain way.

However, Joe Biden’s top priority as president has to be to reunite the American people. And that does not mean making the whole nation agree on his policies. That is not going to happen, and it should never happen in a democracy, either. What it means is, Joe Biden must lead the United States in a way that people can agree on. He must recreate a political atmosphere that makes all Americans agree on the importance of basic values like decency and honesty. Joe Biden has promised throughout his campaign and in his very first address after the polls had closed, that he will be a president for all Americans. Not only for those who voted for him. If he manages to achieve that, America might be back on track to a civilized, issue-related election in four years and beyond.

Keeping up with the world

America is still very well off, economically. You might object that is a vast understatement, considering the U.S. economy is by far the largest economy by nominal GDP. But much of the wealth is concentrated in very few people. I am sure you have heard about this before but it is important: the fifty richest Americans are worth as much as the poorest half of the U.S. population, as Bloomberg Wealth found – ironically the news outlet of that rich guy that launched a huge (and hugely unsuccessful) presidential campaign out of his own pocket, just for the heck of it.

But this vastly disproportionate income distribution alone is not even the problem and the reason why many Americans suffer so much. See, the Gini coefficient that is used to measure income inequality is actually similar in the U.S. and other highly developed countries like the United Kingdom, according to the OECD. Here are two examples of the critical differences: 1) the U.K. has the National Health Service, its highly esteemed universal healthcare system, and 2) there are tuition caps and financial support systems in place for undergraduate programs to limit student debt.

Turns out, people need medical treatment once in a while, and people need to have access to educational institutions to advance in their lives. Conservatives in the United States have successfully established the myth that these kinds of programs are elements of socialism, which is, of course, pure evil. But the reality looks much different for lower-income Americans who are in a position where they need to gain higher education to move forward in their careers, or for those who simply need to seek medical treatment. Imagine you are being diagnosed with cancer, or you are being hit by a car – and you do not have access to medical treatment simply because you cannot afford it. It might come down to the question: do I prefer to die or to live in considerable debt for the rest of my life?

The American Dream

You are probably thinking: “why are you telling me all this? Can he restore the American Dream or what?” I know you have probably heard about all this before but I am trying to build a case here. So please, bear with me.

To answer the question of whether Joe Biden will be able to restore the American Dream or at least lay the foundation for it, we will need to take a step back and ask: What is the American Dream, anyway? The writer James Truslow Adams defined it as follows:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

James Truslow Adams in “The Epic of America” (1933)

It means: it does not matter who you are or where you come from. As long as you work hard for it, you can succeed.

For European emigrants in the nineteenth century, that meant the freedom to pursue their dreams in the new world, the Land of the Free. In the twentieth century, it primarily meant treating everybody the same, creating equal opportunities, and constitute civil rights. With the advancing industrialization, it meant being able to make a decent living and to have a good, honest, maybe almost carefree life.

But things have changed. Neither of these interpretations of the American Dream still works nowadays. I do not want to jinx anything but I doubt that Joe Biden can create some sort of a modern time Gold Rush.

Creating a new American Dream

As you can see, the American Dream has changed. Times have changed. You cannot go to the United States and experience instant success or instant wealth, typically. Although these things sound desirable, nobody expects instant success or wealth anymore. Neither in America nor anyplace else.

But as there was not this one interpretation of the American Dream, there is also an opportunity to enable a new interpretation. It must be based on the five American ideals: democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, equality. There is a lot of work ahead of the United States to truly reach these ideals as they are seen nowadays. That’s beyond all question.

However, Joe Biden stands for these values. Not because he proposes anything that would radically boost them. But simply because he opposes Donald Trump who has famously worked against ideals like democracy and equality. That reputation could give Joe Biden the momentum he needs to re-establish and redefine the American Dream. Or at least take a step into the right direction.

As described earlier, there is a crazy amount of wealth in the United States. This is what needs to happen: Joe Biden needs to make sure the American people feel prosperous again, and not just a few of them.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” This means something different nowadays. It might sound contradictory at first, but to allow people to prosper if they work hard for it, you must make sure to tax the wealthiest. Enabling people to prosper must be seen as a public interest. And that is why tax dollars need to be spent to enable everyone to go to college and to see a doctor without worrying about piling up debts.

It is this easy: America has never stopped to be the Land of Opportunity, for people who can afford to take a chance. If people have their basic needs met, they can dream again. And that is exactly what Joe Biden and future presidents and governments should aim for. A new American Dream.

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