America: the ‘Shining City on a Hill’ or the ‘Dark Village in a Valley’?

If one looks very closely, s/he will see the Lady Liberty shedding a tear for all those individuals who arrive on the US’s shores hoping to find a “shining city on a hill”. But to the dismay of those who seek a better life for themselves and their children, all they could find is a ‘dark village in a valley’.

[Michael Curtin]

Since Donald Trump became the president in 2016, the United States has gone from a “shining city on a hill” to a dark village in the valley. I say this with great sadness, because the president has, in a short period of time, done his best to undermine the rule of law and erode the foundation of a free and fair press. In Trump’s mind, a free and fair press is one favorable to him, including most recently calling the media “the enemy of the American people.”

Trump, who does not have a firm grasp of history, should be informed that a free press is enshrined in our Constitution. The fourth estate is a check on the power of government. Perhaps this is the reason why he dislikes it so much.

In the 18 months of the Trump presidency, the bedrock principles – upon which our democracy was founded – have been torn asunder. The dual mantras of “America First” and “Make America Great Again” are simply code names for isolationism. The dismantling of the liberal international order – which has served the US‘s interests quite well for the better part of the past 70 years – is being witnessed in real time. The European Union (EU) has been called our “foe.” We know that the Europeans are not our foes.

Going it alone, as the president believes, is clearly not the road the US should be, nor can be, traveling. When we work together with our allies we accomplish great things. In an age where dark forces seek to destroy the fabric of the Western society, such statements by the leader of the free world embolden these individuals to act against us. This is disturbing.

Where are the people to speak up against those of Trump’s remarks that undermine our democracy and the relations with our allies? The late Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was the exception rather than the rule.

With the midterm elections approaching in November, Republicans are not holding our president accountable for fear of their own political futures. They have taken the temperature of the American electorate, especially those in red states, and they see that Trump’s core base of support has not eroded. It would be important to see someone summon the courage to speak out against this president — something that was previously done by the late Senator John McCain. However, this is wishful thinking.

Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in his research on authoritarianism, wrote last year that he has conducted many interviews with individuals who fight against despotic governments in their quest to achieve freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The US should be aligned with those who yearn for our values. But the opposite is true. Klaas’ research shows that leaders such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela having a green light to continue to act with impunity as they do not fear Washington will stop them.

Finally, the president’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the heels of the indictment of twelve Russian agents for hacking the Democratic National Committee provides further evidence that Russia must have something on him. How else can one explain his Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement towards Putin? He had the opportunity to stand up at their July meeting and confront Putin regarding his country’s meddling in our democratic process — which Trump failed to do miserably. This is not “fake news”, this is fact.

Looking across New York Harbor, one sees Lady Liberty standing proudly welcoming those who seek a better life for themselves and their children. Yet, if you look very closely, you will see her shedding a tear for all those individuals who arrive on the US’s shores hoping to find a “shining city on a hill”, but to their dismay, all they could find is a ‘dark village in a valley’.

Michael Curtin serves as the Editorial Chair of Northern New Jersey Chapter, United Nations Association of the United States of America.

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