Donald Trump was preoccupied, to an almost comical degree, with the idea that the United States was an international laughingstock for decades, until the Republican arrived in the White House and single-handedly restored the nation's global stature. As regular readers know, he spent much of his term repeating the line constantly.
Indeed, in his strange farewell address, Trump found it necessary, one last time, to boast to Americans, "The world respects us again." In an apparent message for Joe Biden, the outgoing president added, "Please don't lose that respect."
As was too often the case, Trump had reality backwards. There's ample evidence that the Republican did drastic harm to our international reputation, and yet, there he was again this week, once again claiming in a written statement that he's responsible for making the United States "respected again."
It was against this backdrop that his successor spoke with the New York Times' David Brooks -- in what I believe was the Democratic president's first print interview -- and reflected on his efforts to improve the nation's standing.
"We're kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China," Biden said. "The most devastating comment made after I was elected — it wasn't so much about me — but it was by the Irish taoiseach" — prime minister — "saying that 'Well, America can't lead. They can't even get their arms around Covid.'"
It's probably fair to say the president was paraphrasing his counterpart in Dublin. Ireland's Micheal Martin is diplomatic and it seems hard to believe he'd have a conversation with Biden in which he literally said, "America can't lead."
But it's very easy to believe the broader sentiment: the Irish Taoiseach almost certainly conveyed to the president the fact that recent events, including the Trump administration's response to the pandemic, took a dramatic toll on the United States' stature.
It's obvious that Biden is desperate to undo the damage and sees much of his agenda through the lens of global competition and international preeminence.
In Michigan this week, the president spoke at a Ford plant about the future of electric vehicles, and while the Democrat emphasized issues like jobs and the climate crisis, he was especially animated on the race for the future: "Right now, China is leading in this race [to build electric vehicles]. Make no bones about it; it's a fact.... And they think they're going to win. Well, I got news for them: They will not win this race. We can't let them."
After returning to the White House, the president published a tweet with video from his Michigan trip that read, "Get in folks, we’re going to win the competition for the 21st century."
Time will tell whether Congress shares Biden's passion for international leadership, but no one can blame this president for lacking a clear vision.