Andersen: A test study in American values
The world is looking at America like never before, cautiously monitoring the tweet-by-tweet demagoguery of Donald Trump.
What will he attack today? Iran? Nordstrom? Andorra? The Girl Scouts? The universal question is whether America can retain its traditional democratic principles under the reign of a rampaging ogre.
“We are grateful to this gentleman who has come!” said Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech last week. “The things we have been saying over the past 30-some years — political, economic, moral and social corruption in the American administration — this man came and exposed them during his election campaign and afterwards.”
Trump twittered his reply: “Iran is playing with fire — they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”
The Economist reported recently that the U.S. Constitution is at risk given “the sorry state of America’s system of checks and balances, a web of mutually compromising powers woven, in fear of tyrants, around the presidency, Congress and judiciary.”
The greatest concern is Trump’s so-called “travel ban,” a xenophobic executive order that the Economist labels as “illegal,” and on which the appeals court so far agrees.
The Economist quotes Bruce Ackerman, a legal scholar and author of “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic,” who predicted in 2010 that the president would be changed “from an 18th-century notable to a 19th-century party magnate to a 20th-century tribune to a 21st-century demagogue.”
“The current situation may be worse than he envisaged,” the Economist states, “due to the eagerness of the Republican-controlled Congress to pander to Mr. Trump, weakening the main check on the presidency. Partisanship does not simply imply deadlock of the kind that bedeviled Mr. Obama. It is steadily eroding the norms that enshrine the cautiously collaborative spirit of the American system, in which much of its defense against authoritarianism resides.”
Students of history recognize a turning point. America’s moment has come in which the nation must defend the nation’s higher values against Trump’s unfettered assertions for power.
My son, Tait, is observing this global drama from graduate school in Norway, where he recently joined a protest at the Norwegian parliament. He wrote about it in an essay for a nationwide college competition.
“Together we said NO! to racism, and bonded over our mutual respect for our fellow humans. We stood in solidarity with Americans protesting in cities across the U.S.A. We stood in solidarity with people of every country who are protesting, and we stood in support of those who are suffering the effects of Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order.
“Standing there, under the street lights of Oslo, feeling the collective energy of a diverse group of united people, hearing the collective answer to each call from the speaker, watching our collective breath rise above us, I was filled with the relief that comes from knowing that justice is supported. My faith that people are inherently good was again solidified.”
After this reaffirmation, Tait checked the White House website.
“To my utter dismay I see that it has been scrubbed of anything relating to climate change, racial justice, and the LGBTQ community. In its place are manifestos promising ‘America first!’”
Perspective is all-important, and Tait is looking at America from a progressive Scandinavian nation. His youth provides a clear moral stance and an uncompromised voice.
“Although it feels like the world is poised to fall back into the past,” Tait wrote, “each of us has the ability to shape our own attitudes and those of the people around us. If we create positivity and openness, if we spread justice and equality, we can provide a foothold for humanity on the brink of whatever potential disasters loom ahead.”
What looms ahead is not America’s issue alone, but rather a matter of global inclusion. Uncharted events will test the moral fiber of every American citizen, asking each of us to redefine our individual values. Only then can we act against the threatened erosion of cultural ideals that generations of Americans have fought and died for.
The resilience of American democracy is being tested, and all the world is watching.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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