There is a lot of talk about the death of the American Dream. I have done my share of it. So it hit me with surprise, as I watched Joe Biden give his nomination speech, that as long as the possibility of redemption exists, so does the American Dream.
A dream is an intangible. Something we reach for, but never quite grasp. But as long as we keep reaching for it, it exists as a north star, a compass, an aspiration. An ideal.
There are many interpretations of the American Dream. But in my view, it can be reduced to the idea that our nation may stumble and fall, but we will rise again to become a better version of ourselves. That our children, if they work hard and are decent people, will live in an honorable country doing better than those before them.
The American Dream is one of redemption. And redemption is as old a concept as humanity. It is common to us all – we may err and sin, but we can yet be saved.
Joe Biden’s life, like our country’s, is an embodiment of the idea of redemption. Promise, tragedy, failure, triumph, repeated over and over until it wears away our fragile mortal coil. The hope is that eventually, with perseverance and grace, a man, or a nation, may yet meet the moment.
Lincoln reminded us in a time of national tragedy and re-building that ours is a nation conceived in liberty and resting on the idea that we are all equal. But, ours is also a nation wrested by force from our land’s original inhabitant and built first through slavery and imperialism. And yet, it has also been a true force of good in rising to defeat fascism, re-building huge swaths of the world, and for centuries helping others to whom no debt was owed. A bender of the arc of moral justice in the right direction, even as we still fall short of the ideal, over and over again. Paradoxical, and yet not.
Last night there were no special effects, no crowds clapping, no band, no balloons in red, white and blue. But, none of this was needed. As Joe Biden looked at a blank camera in a quiet room, speaking through a lined face worn down by almost eight decades of triumph and tragedy, I saw a man speaking to a country that could now know it was understood.
Yes, he is old to be President. He has half a century of political baggage. And he may not be as dynamic as he once was. But in his very human form, Joe Biden is exactly the man our nation needs at this moment.