For a U.S. citizen there are few words more emotionally charged than un-American. It has been used to demean political opponents and discredit those who question authority. It will no doubt be directed at me following this publication, but lately I have been feeling a little un-American. (Notice the qualifier – I still have trouble saying it out loud.)
In my defense, I believe it is the country that has changed, not me. I feel the Trump administration and congressional leaders have drawn the nation away from traditional American values and it doesn’t feel like home these days.
We used to be a country in which anyone with a good idea who was willing to work hard could make it big, or at least end up better off than the prior generation. We were a leader in the fields of military power, human rights, global stewardship, humanitarian assistance and (sometimes) peaceful resolutions to regional conflicts. We took care of Americans who needed help getting by and protected those in the sunset years of their lives. The U.S. used to be a beacon of truth because freedom of the press generally kept government honest.
Most of that seems to have changed recently, although the military power part remains intact and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws encourage entrepreneurial endeavors. The rest, however, is in flux and it feels un-American.
The U.S. under the Trump administration is acting like a bully. Mr. Trump has decertified Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal even though Iran has followed the letter of the agreement. If Congress decides to implement new sanctions, most or all of the other countries which signed the deal would side with Iran. Senator Tom Cotton’s response is indicative of a bully mentality: “Do they want to deal with the United States’ $19 trillion economy, or do they want to deal with Iran’s economy … about the size of Maryland?”
The U.S. is also getting good at blaming the victim. President Trump’s tweets and speeches are full of examples which include blaming Iran for an ISIS attack in Tehran, blaming Puerto Rico for the hurricane damage it suffered, and blaming women in the military for the 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in 2014. And then there’s Charlottesville, although Mr. Trump is not alone there. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar put forth a completely false claim that the rally was “created by the left” and carried out by an “Obama sympathizer.”
The big picture is disturbing. The Republican leaders in the federal government have worked hard to strip health insurance from tens of millions, cut social safety net programs, greatly reduce taxes on the wealthy and add to the federal deficit. They are intent on weakening environmental stewardship at home and around the world, they will make it more difficult for business upstarts to succeed by eliminating net neutrality and they will reduce access to birth control so there will be more unwanted pregnancies, but also restricted access to abortion and pre-natal care.
It is simply un-American.
This behavior is likely the result of too much power concentrated in one nation. The United States certainly has the world’s strongest military by far, but its economy is also a powerhouse. There’s an 80:20 rule in business – eighty percent of the sales come from twenty percent of the customers. In a healthy economic system, that should also apply to charitable donations, college financial aid packages, and gross domestic product (GDP) of countries. The world’s economies do not meet this rule. Twelve percent of the countries generate eighty percent of the GDP, and the United States accounts for twenty-five percent by itself.
And so, under our current leadership, that position of strength is viewed as a reason to force their agenda onto others – domestic and international. Past leaders viewed our place in the world a little differently. Our strength was both a virtue and a challenge. We recognized the benefits of being in a position to lead and that a stable world order would be good for both U.S. and other countries. We took that blessing and responsibility seriously.
America has become selfish and is rife with infighting. President Trump’s tweets fuel this divisiveness and the country is losing its identity. We have become a nation of us versus them, rather than one of unity. Past leaders have attempted to bridge the divide, but Mr. Trump thrives on sowing discontent; that is how he won the presidency after all.
My wife’s Canadian relatives always complained that the United States co-opted the term ‘American.’ Canada is in America too, as are all the other countries in North and South America. Canada is also a strong proponent of the freedoms that the United States has historically been known for. They take care of their people, offer a helping hand to those in real trouble, work hard for unity and strongly believe in the freedom of the press. No wonder Canadians would like to claim the ‘American’ title.
Perhaps I’m not feeling un-American lately; maybe I’m actually feeling Canadian. It’s all that CBC radio I used to listen to, I bet. (Rest in peace, Stuart McLean.)