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America, Heal Thyself

President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the US election has raised hopes that the US is ready to re-engage with the world and the multilateral system. But if the US is to resume its role as the beating heart of the liberal international order, it needs to overcome the domestic divisions that the election confirmed and reinforced.

MADRID – In 1998, then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously defined the United States as “the indispensable nation,” declaring that, “We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.” Two decades later, the US remains the indispensable nation. And yet, rather than seeing into the future, it has lately seemed to have its eyes closed. Does Joe Biden’s victory in this month’s presidential election mean the US is re-opening them?

One thing is apparent: had Donald Trump won a second term, the fate of the US Albright described would have been sealed. The America that has long undergirded the liberal international order – shaped by the universal principles defined in the 1941 Atlantic Charter – would have been destroyed, once and for all.

And yet the impending Biden presidency by no means guarantees a return to the US leadership and vision of the past. Yes, it was a definitive victory. Biden won over 79 million votes, more than any other US president. And he won the same number of Electoral College votes as Trump did in 2016, when Trump claimed to have a “massive landslide victory,” despite his having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.