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Destroying our values will not make America safe or great

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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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/07/2017 - 11:25 am.

    Thank you for this eloquent statement. We must all be as vigilant as we can, and as active as we can in movements to protest any further Trumpian attempts at incursions against our basic
    American vaues.

    The Trump administration–and the apparent spinelessness of the Republican Congress–will be providing test after test of our Constitutional framework: will the courts and the Congress be able to prevent harm to the country when this autocratic president unilaterally decrees something terrible?

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/07/2017 - 11:26 am.

    Well said

    …and I have no foreign service experience, and haven’t been out of the country since the mid-1950s. I would add to Mr. Virden’s list of things that we need to keep in mind is that commerce (i.e., $$), along with ideas and information, can now be shared virtually instantaneously around the world. People and companies that find the nativism of the Trump administration abhorrent can easily take their business, and the jobs that their business supports, elsewhere, and that applies to virtually every multinational corporation we currently think of as “ours” or “American.”

    Though it was done for tax-avoidance (i.e., greedy) reasons rather than ideological ones, I’ll simply point to Medtronic as an example of how a home-town business can abandon the home town without a qualm if its leadership decides the environment elsewhere is friendlier or more conducive to the corporate bottom line. Medronic abandoned ship—despite plenty of profit—because shareholders and the corporate board wanted even more profit, and the lower-tax environment of Ireland offered a way to do that. Our two U.S. Senators worked hard to repeal a medical device tax, thereby boosting the Medtronic bottom line, but it was deemed too little, too late, and Medtronic set up shop in Ireland anyway, though keeping many of the jobs here—for the time being.

    “America First,” even if it involves taxing imports (a policy proposal that will not sit well with many an American company that does business internationally, including local powerhouse Target), won’t automatically bring back “good-paying” jobs or any recognizable national prosperity. It’s a reflection of fear on the one hand, and a certain loathing of foreign interests and products on the other, combined in a single, all-purpose bit of prejudice from which most of us will not benefit at all.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/07/2017 - 08:44 pm.

    Maybe

    Just a few teeny slices of money used to re-build other nations (say a $1 billion or so) might be re-directed to some of our own poor, uneducated, or otherwise disadvantaged citizens. Even helping just a few hundred thousand Americans might be a tiny step in the right direction.

  4. Submitted by Leilani Maeva on 02/07/2017 - 10:10 pm.

    “Admired for valuesA narrow,

    “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.”

    Great article, but I have to strongly disagree with this one. Think about the history of our nation for a minute, only in the last few years have rights for homosexuals been granted for marriage and to create a family unit in a legal manner. Civil rights and equality were only granted to black people after immense movements from hate groups and people like the KKK and there is clearly still a lot of racism that carries on to this very day. We were not a nation to be looked up to, and even now we are invading countries giving them “freedom” because they don’t want to accept US dollars. How many drones have bombed innocent people in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan since the Middle East was destabilized? No, people do not look up to the US anymore. In fact, after visiting the Middle East, and several Islamic and European countries, a very large majority of people view the US as a war mongering nation that’s hell bent on control and power, with a large population of media controlled citizens who believe the propaganda.

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