I was born seventy years ago in 1946. It was the first year of peace since 1938, and it became the start of a post WWII world order that lasted until 1990 when the United States of America became the world’s one great superpower. Now many posit that 2016 will be the beginning of a new world order, somewhat similar to the post WWI order of competing and often hostile powers, with the United States merely a player neither a leader nor a symbol.
In the days of my youth we in America saw our country as the symbol of democracy. We were engaged in a cold war with an evil empire that was godless and was patently totalitarian. As that time period unfolded we saw the expansion of human rights across our nation and the world: civil rights for African-Americans one hundred years after emancipation; women to be treated equally with men fifty years after obtaining the right to vote; and, a growing tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyles to the point that marriage equality and many other equal rights were guaranteed to those in the LGBTQ community.
In the world we saw the end of apartheid in South Africa; the final eradication of fascism in Spain and Portugal; the end of European colonial rule of third world peoples and the restoration of democracy and true nationhood to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Russian dominated states of the USSR.
The galloping pace of technological change has reached levels that were considered science fiction in 1946 and many not even thought of in 1986.
But, in those seventy years something seems to have been lost. I’m not sure how to sum it up but I can describe some of what we’ve lost. As Americans we’ve lost our self-assurance that things were always going to get better. That education would enable one to earn a really good living and provide for a family. That America was a middle class nation with only a few very rich and with a sincere attempt beginning in the 1960's to end poverty. We seem to have forgotten that the World Wars taught us the lesson that all nations must work together to solve the world's problems and that multilateral organizations, e.g. the United Nations, and coalitions, e.g. the Gulf War; and world agreements, e.g. Climate Change, were the preferred norm.
We lost sight of the fact that our nation’s neutrality in religious conflicts was because we promoted toleration of all beliefs something which most profess. Our leaders presented us with great challenges: John F Kennedy admonishing us not to ask what the country can do for us but what we can do for the country; Martin Luther King calling on all of us to judge people by the content of their character not the color of their skin; and, Lyndon B Johnson proclaiming to Congress that “We shall overcome”. These words seem hollow today as we wallow in nostalgia for a time that never was or younger generations react to such sentiments with cynical derision. We respond to slogans like making America Great Again as if it no longer is.
At the close of WWI America rejected the changing world and the mantle of world leadership and “returned to normalcy”. For twelve years the country was run by businessmen, millionaires and their political puppets. It took a great depression to awaken Americans to the need for social programs that would build a middle class that could be strong on its own; and the most horrific War to make us realize that we would only be safe and secure when all people are safe and secure.
2017 will open with the inauguration of a new American President - Donald Trump. Will he be the worst leader this nation has had since Warren Harding? Will Trumpism unleash the forces of intolerance and fascism that we rejected in the 1930's and 1940's? Will we simply replace him in four or eight years with a modified version of this new type of leader? Will we exit from the World and retreat into a fortress American?
I do not know. But I do know that the answers to those questions will not be decided by Trump -- they will be decided by the American people. We can continue the way we are going -- two America’s one happily ruled by a billionaire oligarchy and the other continuing the age old struggle for human dignity for all. We can continue to be a culture that is symbolized by concern for ME and a denial of realities as we build a Wonderland world of myths to replace one based on the reality of truth and facts.
We should return to the basic values upon which our nationhood was built -- values common to all the major religious and philosophical movements of the past two thousand years -- to treat our fellow human beings as we want to be treated with respect and kindness, to tolerate the lifestyles of others, to respect the beliefs of others, and to stand firm against those who would trample over those values and the rights of human beings to live in dignity.
When the Puritans came to settle New England they wanted to plant a City on a Hill - a New Jerusalem. After the Revolution of 1776 and Constitution of 1787 Americans saw themselves as “the last best hope of mankind”. This was not just chauvinistic braggadocio because most to f the world also saw it that way. The revolutions in Latin America and in Europe and later in Africa and Asia would almost always copy the American in their declarations, their constitutions and their symbols. We didn’t always do the right thing at first but when we did the wrong thing we tried to atone for the mistakes. And after wars that were justified we reach out the hand of friendship to former enemies.
I’m proud of my country and I’m proud of the positive aspects of our history these past two hundred and forty years. In 2086 children born this past year will turn seventy. I hope that they will be proud of America’s performance as a nation this twenty-first century. I pray that they will see 2017 as the beginning of the end of Trumpism and its’ recipe of intolerance and hatred fueled by lies and distortions and hiding behind a wall of isolation. If my generation and that of my children reject the ME culture and remember what America accomplished when the operative word was WE then I do not doubt that WE will defeat Trumpism as WE have the other negative ism’s of the twentieth century.
31 December 2016