Donald Trump is right. We have work to do to make America great again. The job, however, is just the opposite of what he seeks. We need to block his radical agenda and return to founding principles, among them the belief that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
President Trump is wrong in thinking we can achieve greatness by following the discredited “America first!” standard. We cannot be safe and prosper all by ourselves, behind our moats. We tried splendid isolation before, in the 1930s, but were drawn into World War II despite our efforts to sit it out.
Going it alone is even more delusionary – and unattainable – in a globalized world in which information is instantaneous, and economies are intricately linked. What happens in China doesn’t stay in China; what happens there and elsewhere around the globe affects people in Fargo, Duluth and Des Moines. There is no going back to a golden age when we could ignore developments in North Korea, or Iran, or Mexico.
Admired for values
A narrow, selfish, definition of self-interest is also unworthy of a country that was exceptional not because of its economic or military might but because of its adherence to values like democracy, the rule of law, and human dignity.
We were long admired for our support of such values as universal, not only for ourselves but for all. The poet John Donne wrote that no man is an island, alone onto himself. A Neither is any modern nation alone onto itself, and a beggar-thy-neighbor policy toward others is not in our national interest.
America used to be widely admired as the last, best hope for mankind, but now much of the world fears what the clearly unfit man-child we elected as our president will do to our citizens and theirs. The political and social system we founded and of which we have been so proud now hangs in the balance. It is no sure thing that we can survive a Trump presidency intact. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, we are engaged in a battle “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
During the Vietnam War, one American officer was quoted as saying we had to destroy a village to save it. President Trump’s “American First” campaign threatens to do the same to our country – with equally disastrous results.
No mandate for extremist policies
As a candidate, Trump demeaned women, Muslims, Hispanics, the media, Republican presidential rivals and many other groups in his quest for the White House. Winning office has not made him less bullying or more respectful of others, of our traditional values, or of the truth. On the contrary, he is emboldened to claim a mandate for extremist policies that the divided election results – Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes even as he won the electoral college — do not justify.
There is no apparent effort to forge a consensus or compromise on the great issues facing the nation. Instead, President Trump acts as if he’s become King, or the boss of a giant business empire, rather the chief executive of a federal republic.
Challenging the role of a free press is not consistent with our Constitution. Neither is disparaging anyone who disagrees with an executive decision, from acclaimed actors to experienced judges. Neither is discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs. And the list goes on.
Nation’s soul is at risk
If we abandon our belief in a free press, the rule of law, freedom of religion and other principles in pursuit of past glory, or security, or simply “greatness,” we will lose our identity and wind up neither safe nor great.
Congressional Republicans realize full well that President Trump, the head of their party as well as our government, is dangerously unfit for office. For our system of checks and balances to work as intended, as a break on despotic power, they will need to show some spine. So far, however, we’ve seen little sign of any profiles in courage. Instead, Republicans seem all too ready to just go along, since President Trump is their ticket to power. This is a Faustian bargain, and Faust, let’s remember, ended up losing his soul. It could happen here, to the Republican Party and to our nation, if we the people don’t hold them to account.
Dick Virden is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer. He lives in Plymouth.
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