From the survey of Pew Research, there is no doubt that the image of the U.S. has been tainted downward since the Obama Administration. The current Biden Administration is well aware of that and efforts are being made to restore the reputation of the U.S. However, this process may take a while or may not even possible as the U.S. puts so much energy in battling with China on the world stage in many domains unnecessarily including climate control, international trade, and economic diplomacy. The Chinese leader Xi Jinping, although painted by the West media as an authoritarian leader by his ability to extend his leadership tenure to a third five year term even possibly for life, has indeed made plenty of recognizable achievements to show to the Chinese people and the world. China was able to lift over 800 million citizens above poverty, to become major trading partners with 134 countries in the world, to produce more middle income population (net more than the entire population of the U.S.) and to accelerate technology advances in space, communication (including 5G), energy and transportation benefitting the rapid growth of China in GPD as well as social wealth - improvements in living conditions. China’s rise in the past half century can not be attributed to pure luck nor “stealing” but to her statesmen leading and motivating the Chinese people to work hard and strive.
The U.S. became a superpower since WW II and more impressively became the beacon of the world from the 50’s to 70’s. However, from the 80’s onward, the leaders of the U.S. were living off the nation's superpower status and seemed to be concerned only with maintaining such a power status rather than truly elevating the welfare of mankind (some may say even the living conditions of American citizens). The Cold War and the division of the world to two camps based on a superficial ideology (the world is changing but we are stubbornly rigid in legacy beliefs) have retarded the potential progress the world can make. Instead the ideological division created many conflicts and wars for power struggle and maintaining superpower status only. Even though the Soviet Union had collapsed in 1990 under this power struggle, the U.S. did not change her course to focus or care for her citizens’ well-being. In the next three decades, we see the rise of China from a poor third level developing country progressing into a modern great nation deliberately avoiding involvement in the power struggle but focusing on improving her citizens’ living conditions. Today, in contrast, America’s glamorous image with first rate modern infrastructure in the 60-70’s and citizens’ wealth (TV, car and house) have become second rate even compared with a Chinese second tier city. Americans are worried but worry does not solve her problems. We need real American statesmen, statesmen who can inspire us to make America strong again by citing 'I've done it' real examples, not slogans, not in terms of military power or financial packaging but in terms of a real competitive productivity.
Where can we find real American statesmen? How can we define them? As a citizen, one can only try to find a statesman among our present political leaders and those presidential candidates aspired to serve as our leaders. Interestingly, there is never a shortage of candidates who want to become our president to lead this country. In both Democrat and Republican parties, we see more than a dozen candidates running for President each time and yet we citizens find it hard to make a selection. Therefore, often two phenomena happen, one, the final winner gets elected by less than half of the votes, and two, the loser refuses to accept defeat and plots a come back immediately. The elected will serve the presidency worried constantly about reelection. The defeated is willing to spend four years to plot a come-back campaign instead of serving the country in a positive way. From a citizen’s point of view, the above politicians are not real American statesmen. A real American statesman should work for the people, do the right thing for the country benefitting the welfare of the citizens. A defeated politician should seek a public servant job demonstrating his or her ability and passion for government service not power. Unfortunately, we rarely find a politician qualifying as a statesman in the above definition.
Searching in the past, the author would like to use John Kerry as an example, perhaps not a perfect example, to make my point above clearer. Kerry (born in 1943) was a Democrat nominee for the 2004 presidential election against the incumbent George W. Bush. Kerry was a critic of Bush Administration’s policy and execution of the Iraq war. He advocated a liberal domestic policy. In the end, he lost in a narrow margin both in electoral vote count and popular votes. Kerry was a Yale graduate (1966) and a decorated Vietnam war veteran (1966-68) but turned to be an anti-war activist. He later pursued a law degree (Juris Doctor Boston College 1976) and served as the assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts (1977-79). In 1982, he was elected as the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and in 1984 elected as a Senator representing Massachusetts serving five consecutive terms (1984-2013). In 2013, he was nominated as the Secretary of State and served for the Obama Administration (2013-2017). This appointment was speculated as a political move among democrat leaders to ask Kerry to yield to Hillary Clinton to run for the Presidency in 2016. Obviously, Kerry had accepted the idea that a woman candidate with Clinton’s stature had a better chance to win. Kerry might have thought serving as the Secretary of State could accomplish something significant.
During Kerry’s tenure of Secretary of State, he initiated the 2013–2014 Israeli–Palestinian peace talks and negotiated agreements restricting the nuclear program of Iran, including the 2013 Joint Plan of Action and the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Most notably, in 2015, Kerry signed the Paris Agreement on climate change on behalf of the U.S. which was unfortunately reneged by the Trump Administration. Kerry appeared to be a statesman not just an ambitious and opportunistic politician. For the 2020 presidential election, the Democrats were united and determined to defeat Donald Trump who had led a somewhat eccentric, obnoxious and undiplomatic Administration on the world stage. There were many Democrat candidates running against Trump's reelection including Joe Biden (Kerry’s superior in the Obama Administration). Kerry’s decision of not becoming a candidate to satisfy his personal ambition rather being supportive to Joe Biden appeared to be a statesman’s decision. He later volunteered to be the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate knowing that it would be a difficult job to succeed lent him a statesman's image. He humbly approached China for seeking climate cooperation and made a significant progress while the U.S.-China relation was falling off a cliff due to a hostile U.S. anti-China policy. Kerry’s deeds and further progress will most likely go down in history as a shining achievement and evidence for statesmanship.
As we look around in the U.S. from election to election, we see more politicians who are more ambitious in winning positions than diligent in serving the public with real deeds. In a word, the political system in the U.S. produces far too many selfish politicians than real statesmen. Politicians start young immersed in the short periodic election processes with little time devoted to real hard work or solid achievements. These politicians cannot become statesmen. Here we take John Kerry as an example, again, he does provide us some food for thoughts. Kerry worked on the Paris Climate Agreement and he understood that climate is a serious global issue affecting all human-kind including Americans. If he could achieve something for the world, it would be more meaningful than becoming a President or Vice President achieving nothing in the end. That is the difference between a statesman and a politician's thinking. The country needs more real Statesmen, not politicians! The voters must raise their expectation on candidates judging on their deeds and motivations, not words or ambitions!,