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Who lost America?

In the early 1950s, there was a dispute in the United States about “who lost China” to a Communist regime. Almost 70 years later, the question is who lost America? When Governor Winthrop gave his speech to his fellow Puritans on the Mayflower, he said: ”We shall be a city upon a hill.” Early settlers were determined to make their new colony a holy experiment, a utopian society that stood as “a city upon a hill” for the rest of the world to see.

In his farewell address, the great modern Republican hero Ronald Reagan showed us the American pride in the city upon a hill: “…in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.” It is fair to say that at that time America welcomed all-comers of any faith and color, and this is what America stood for to the world.

Fast forward to today. Donald Trump spoke not of Reagan’s America being the “shining city,” but of “American Carnage” in his inaugural address. This wasn’t just a change of mood. For a long time, there has been a pervasive sense that America itself is becoming less powerful given the growing aggressiveness of Russia and the rise of China, and the domestic social and economic issues certainly did not help the underlying insecurity. A fox news poll published in September found that more than half the voters were unhappy with how things are going in the country. Trump’s words likely struck a chord with the angry and scared when he took a nationalist stance to embrace protectionism in every aspect. When Trump had the chance to speak to the world at the United Nations General Assembly, he told dozens of world leaders, but it was mostly for domestic audiences, that “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” This is neither traditional conservatism nor Reaganism. It is straightforward right-wing populism.

What is more alarming about Trump’s rhetoric is that it breaks America into two: the nationalists and the globalists. As Mr. Trump defines it: “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much.” The upcoming midterm elections are really a battle over which side owns the American creed. The ingenious talent of Trump is that he can force the Republicans onto his whooping train of nationalism while driving the Democrats into a globalist corner. For example, any slight attempt from Democrats to join the Republicans to enforce the borders risks being labeled as anti-immigrant. Trump has succeeded in turning American ideals like immigration into a heated partisan topic. Republicans believe jobs are for people from somewhere, while Democrats support the rights for any people from anywhere.

While the two sides are battling about what it is to be American, the world’s dislike of Trump is translating into feelings about the US as a whole. Traditionally, views about the President and the nation as a whole have been far more separate. The lead singer of the Irish rock band U2 Bono said: “America is an idea, but it’s an idea that brings with it some baggage, like power brings responsibility. It’s an idea that brings with it equality, but equality even though it’s the highest calling, is the hardest to reach.” For most of America’s history, the nation has held the moral conscience that reflected the values of the American people. If we take a closer look at the historical process of establishing the international order led by the United States after World War II, we must admit that this period realized the most significant improvement in the living conditions of humanity. We have to acknowledge that the United States has led the creation of an international order based on rights and responsibilities. And the US has advanced this order to promote peace, security, and opportunity. Yet Trump is ceding America’s moral high ground by being soft on authoritarian regimes while exercising unilateral, selfish, and dangerous foreign policies. As a result, the perceptions of America on the world stage are declining precipitously under Trump and jeopardizing the soft power originated from the leadership role the US has taken.

The answer to who lost America has become increasingly apparent: US democracy is losing itself to a different path. President Woodrow Wilson wrote: “America has put itself under bonds to the earth to discover and maintain liberty now among men, and if she cannot see liberty now with the clear, unerring vision she had at the outset, she has lost her title, she has lost every claim to the leadership and respect of the nations of the world.”Now it’s more important than ever to remember the founding fathers’ vision, and rally behind this cause to arrest any further institutional decay of the American ideal – being a city upon a hill.


2 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous November 4, 2018

    But Trump is most American’s choice.

    • Anonymous Anonymous November 7, 2018

      Yet Clinton received more votes nationwide. Should we have her instead? I don’t think so.

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