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Trump threatens what made America great

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Our country no longer commands such respect because we have abandoned the very principles that made us so admired.

As a Foreign Service Officer for nearly 40 years, I was proud to represent our great nation abroad. We are a military and economic giant, but we were also widely respected for our commitment to democracy, human rights, fair play, and the values enshrined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Our country no longer commands such respect because we have abandoned the very principles that made us so admired. Instead of acting as responsible members of the global community, we now take an “America First” approach, following a standard that was discredited 75 years ago as untenable as well as unworthy.

After World War II, we helped found the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because we saw that our security could no longer be separated from Europe’s. We also launched the Marshall Plan, a humanitarian initiative to help Europe rebuild. Thanks in part to enlightened American leadership, Europe rose from the ashes of war; the continent is now free, secure, prosperous and a strong global partner.

President Donald Trump has turned his back on the postwar world we helped create. He undermined collective security by suggesting we might not come to an ally’s defense if it didn’t meet military spending goals. Of course, allies should all pay a fair share, as the U.S. has long insisted. But undercutting the credibility of our deterrent because a country’s military budget falls short of an arbitrary target is self-defeating folly; it emboldens our foes and disheartens our friends. We might take note that Europe is undergoing serious financial and social strains from contending with an unprecedented refugee crisis, caused in no small measure by American policy. A great nation does not take a green-eye-shades approach to strategic calculations.

Going it alone on trade

Neither does it follow a go-it-alone path on trade. The Great Depression was caused in part by trade wars resulting from the heavy tariffs we enacted in the Smoot Hawley law of 1930. If we again resort to such stringent trade restrictions, others will do the same, economies will shrink, and millions will suffer. Driving a hard bargain is one thing; insisting on winning every point is another. Others have constituents to satisfy, too.

Beyond these military and economic realities is the realm of values. Our president disdains a free press, even though the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and we have long championed independent media as a pillar of democracy. Dictators around the world have quickly adopted the tactic of labeling as “fake news” any reporting you find inconvenient. Not one of our prouder exports.

Most fundamental of all is the loss of decency and civility in our political debates and national life. Our Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “all men are created equal,” but we don’t seem to really believe it. African-Americans, still dealing with the bitter legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, started the Black Lives Matter movement to make that point.

Muslims, whether citizens – and there are some 3 million of them – or temporary visitors, have good reason to question whether the Constitution’s ban on religious discrimination is still in effect. Even the Gold Star parents of a Muslim-American who died in combat were attacked by the president, who also keeps proposing travel bans that courts find discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Transgender individuals are told by the Justice Department that the equal protection of the law concept does not apply to them. Minorities of all description are targeted by measures clearly devised to try to suppress their votes. Young people who have lived nearly all their lives in this country are threatened with expulsion, not because of anything they did but because their parents brought them here seeking a better life.

President Trump fired the FBI director when he declined to pledge loyalty to him personally instead of to the Constitution, as his oath of office requires. He pardoned a man who was convicted of criminal contempt of court and had not repented. He continues to malign the character of those who disagree with him, whether intelligence professionals, civil servants, political opponents, judges, fellow Republicans, TV broadcasters, veterans, or others on a growing list of enemies.

Disrespect for rule of law and democracy

The pattern in all this is a disrespect for the rule of law and the democracy we developed over two and a half centuries. Candidate Trump said many times that the political system is rigged and that he wanted to “drain the swamp.” He and his advisers have not been clear about what they’d put in its place, though the president’s often-professed admiration for authoritarian rulers like Vladimir Putin may be a clue.

What is happening in America right now is not simply another periodic political cycle, with one party up and another down. This is a fundamental challenge to our identity and integrity. To regain the greatness we once knew, we will need to get back to our core values – and to reject the tactics and policies that dishonor them.

Dick Virden was a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor. He retired in 2004 and lives in Plymouth.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Jerry Lee on 11/18/2017 - 06:37 am.

    America Great?

    I agree that Trump has done more damage to the country’s reputation than I have seen in the 75 years I have been on this earth. I have a hard time expressing my disgust with the man and his “I am great attitude”. I have a real problem with arrogant people or people who believe the rules apply to everyone except them. We need to remove this man from office but at the same time his entire crew must also leave.

    We need to bring back common decency, truthfulness and integrity back to our country and the sooner we do so, the better off we will be. One method is the voting booth and that opportunity is coming in November 2018, let’s exercise our voting rights and make the necessary changes.

  2. Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 11/20/2017 - 10:18 am.

    I’m nodding in agreement…

    But then I think…

    Who do you need to convince? A well-constructed commentary, a fine argument backed by verifiable information and it might not matter. Many of the people who voted for that man in in the White House would have difficulty understanding or believing what you say.

    How do you reach the people who thought this was a good idea in the first place?

    2nd thought. To avoid or reverse this, the grownups in the room need to make damn sure the system works for the majority of Americans, or this will be repeated. I wag my finger particularly at the Democrats, who fell asleep at the switch and lost the narrative, lost the trust of regular working people.

    Further finger-wagging to the “establishment” Republicans who allowed this to happen… Who wooed and welcomed the votes of a certain segment of “The People” thinking they could control their creation. They were wrong.

    Either a third party has to rise from this mess or the existing major parties have some re-thinking and housecleaning to do.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 11/20/2017 - 11:44 am.

    What has happened to make us a lesser

    Country or less safe as Americans? Border crossings are down 67% under Trump, economy is picking up under Trump, ISIS has lost their foothold on a caliphate territory with a simple change in rules of engagement policy, consumer confidence is up, business confidence is up, Dow is up, hopefully business tax will be lowered to 20% to stimulate the economy, Trump got countries in SE Asia to cover more of their military costs, Trump got billions committed to be spent here on same trip. How exactly are we worse off?
    Trump is thin skinned, stammers while speaking, tweets way too much and is a general blow hard but that doesn’t make America less. Obama spoke eloquently while Russia took over the Crimea, Obama sounded very Presidential while claiming ISIS the JV team, Obama looked in the camera and didn’t stutter or stammer while telling us the ACA would save us $2,500 per family, Obama and his administration sounded knowledgeable while claiming 1.5% growth for the economy was the new normal.
    Trump has lowered the bar as far as acting Presidential but Americans are doing better under his policies… That is what matters!!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2017 - 02:03 pm.

      “ISIS has lost their foothold”

      They have just moved it.

      Under the watchful eyes of the US and British militaries, some 250 Daesh fighters and their families were allowed to leave Raqqa unharmed, taking with them some 2500 family members.

      Was the “simple change of engagement policy” just another way of saying “letting them go and saying we beat them?”

      • Submitted by joe smith on 11/20/2017 - 02:45 pm.

        RB, no but good try.

        Raqqa was going to be their capital city of the caliphate. With a simple change of “rules of engagement “ that consisted of not having to be engaged to attack, we ran them out of their “new holy land”. The ISIS fighters left the battle field by the thousands when it became clear they had no answers to an aggressive attacking fighting force and the promise of the “new holy land” was shattered. Those same fighters that the Obama administration said couldn’t be driven from that area was.
        Trying to rewrite what happened doesn’t work!

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2017 - 03:17 pm.

          Sorry, Joe

          Have they agreed to surrender? Because last I looked, Daesh was not just going to go home and mourn the lost cause, waiting to put up statues of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to commemorate their heritage. The people who were “run out” are just moving the battle elsewhere.

          The BBC uncovered a secret deal that let several hundred Daesh fighters and their families escape from Raqqa. The escaping fighters included a number of foreign fighters. Although the evacuees were supposed to take only their personal arms, they actually took all the weapons and ammunition they could carry.

          Before you dismiss it as fake news (or is it too late for that?), you may want to read the story:

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