Tag Archives: 4th of July

The U.S. Retreat From The World

Happy Fourth of July. Okay–not so much.

I guess Fox News doesn’t mention this sort of thing–or perhaps all those “Make America Great” fans don’t consider leadership of the free world necessary to greatness–but for the rest of us, as this year’s Independence Day dawns, there’s a lot less American greatness to celebrate.

Anyone who actually follows the news is aware, of course, that Trump has embraced authoritarian bullies while consistently insulting our allies and denigrating long-standing alliances. If he and his MAGA troops actually believe that these boorish and destructive behaviors are solidifying America’s stature, or earning the respect of other countries, they are delusional.

Here, for example, is a recent news item we might ponder on this 4th of July:

In a rare snub of the Trump Administration, the United Nations failed to approve an American pick to head an international migration group.

After a third round of voting on Friday, Trump nominee Ken Isaacs was removed from the list of potential candidates to lead the International Organization for Migration.

This is only the second time that an American won’t lead the IOM since the organization’s founding in 1951. Portuguese politician and European Union diplomat Antonio Vitorino earned the necessary two-thirds majority and will become the IOM’s next leader.

Apparently, the United Nations is less enamored of the blatant bigotry displayed by Trump’s nominees–and for that matter, the entire Trump administration–than the enthusiastic and terrifying crowds at his rallies.

Isaacs, the vice president of the evangelical Christian non-profit Samaritan’s Purse, had faced criticism for derogatory statements about Islam that were discovered on his Twitter page. He wrote“#Islam is not peaceful,” “Muslims fast, they also blast,” and “All #Islamic #terrorists literally follow #Islam.”

As a prior Ambassador to the U.N. has noted, the position of IOM Director has been seen as an ‘American seat’ and Trump was unable to place an American in it. So much for all that bluster about “strength.”

Then there’s this:

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia — a NATO ally bordering Russia — abruptly resigned Friday, telling friends that he cannot abide President Trump’s apparent hostility toward institutions that have stabilized Europe since the end of the Cold War.

James D. Melville Jr.’s resignation comes at a crucial moment for independent countries along Russia’s western border — amid the possibility of military conflicts and as Trump suggests he is rethinking the United States’ traditional support for its allies in Moscow’s shadow.

“The honorable course is to resign,” Melville wrote on Facebook. “Having served under six presidents and 11 secretaries of state, I never really thought it would reach that point for me.”

He added: “For the President to say the [European Union] was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.”

When America’s longtime allies turn elsewhere for leadership, when principled and knowledgable public servants feel they can no longer serve their country in good conscience, when a mentally unstable and profoundly ignorant President retains the support of a significant minority of our fellow citizens by appealing to their racism and resentments–faith in the eventual victory of the Resistance is the only thing we can celebrate on this Independence Day.

We have to believe that victory will come in time to divert inescapable disasters.

Happy July 4th.

 

My Country ‘Tis of Thee….

If you are looking for an uplifting, “ain’t we great” post appropriate to the 4th of July, you probably need to stop reading now.

I began my reading this morning with Kurt Anderson’s Op Ed in the New York Times, on the downside of liberty. Anderson revisited the historic American tension between individualism and community, and concluded–in concert with many other contemporary observers–that Americans have confused a robust defense of individual rights with a wholesale abandonment of our civic obligations to the wider community. He argues that we have lost the ability to distinguish between individual rights and self-interested greed.

Anderson points to a cultural phenomenon. Thanks to the recent weather, I have been pondering a structural one.

As anyone who isn’t spending time in the arctic knows, we’ve been having an unprecedented heat wave. Much of the nation has also been battered by ferocious storms, and television news has been featuring visible evidence of the damage–especially shots of the downed power lines responsible for a massive loss of electricity. As of last night’s newscast, more than a million homes remained without power. Elderly people and children, especially, are at risk without air conditioning.

My question is simple: why don’t we bury our power lines? My answer is equally simple: because we have a political/economic structure that privileges short-term savings over long-term quality–a structure that rewards those who are penny-wise and pound foolish.

It costs more up front to bury our utilities. It’s cheaper–initially– to string lines. But not only does burying those lines improve the appearance of our cities and towns, it is much cheaper in the long run. It doesn’t take extraordinary storms to down the lines; more predictable weather also takes a toll. Over a period of years, utilities will more than save the extra dollars spent to bury the lines and consumers will enjoy more dependable service.

This same “penny wise, pound foolish” mind-set permeates our public services. Go to Europe (yes, I know, it is heresy to suggest that other countries might do some things better than we do) and walk on granite pavements that have lasted longer than most of our cities. Expensive to build, much less expensive to maintain and replace. Look at the current rush to sell off public assets–Toll Roads, parking meters, even the City-County Building–rather than spend what is necessary to maintain those assets for future generations.

In business, the triumph of the shareholder and manager over the entrepreneur-owner has meant that the next quarter’s bottom line is privileged over the long-term best interests of the enterprise. It’s more important to return an extra twenty cents per share now than to invest in improvements that will benefit the business ten years hence. In politics, it has always been the case that “long term” means “until the next election.” So we have the ridiculous spectacle of the State of Indiana returning $100 to each taxpayer rather than applying those funds to necessary improvements in education or infrastructure that won’t yield such immediate gratification.

Maybe it’s fitting that we have fireworks on the 4th of July. Children love fireworks, and we seem to have become a nation of children.

Thoughts for the Holiday Weekend

This is the 4th of July holiday weekend, and most of us are planning cookouts, fireworks celebrations and the like. In my house, we’ve been getting ready for a long-planned European trip–giving instructions to the graduate student who has graciously agreed to “house sit,” making sure our packing list is complete, etc.

But it is also an appropriate time to think about the state of our country and its government. So as this celebratory weekend gets off to a start, allow me to share some random concerns.

  • One of America’s great assets has been the fact that, as a nation, we’ve never been particularly ideological.  We’ve been one of the newest and most pragmatic of countries, and as a result we’ve escaped some of the worst results of hereditary privilege, class resentment, and zealotry. That seems to be changing.
  • Checks and balances were meant to ensure that no branch of government got too powerful; is it possible that we have gone too far toward “checking” and lost our “balance”? The founders didn’t have political parties, and I doubt they envisioned a time when a political party in the legislative branch would close ranks and simply refuse to co-operate or negotiate with the administration. Whether this is due to ideology or politics hardly matters–it makes governing virtually impossible. (The Democrats would undoubtedly love to do the same thing if the situations were reversed, but they lack the ideological consistency and organizational discipline to pull it off.) Structures matter more than current punditry might suggest, and when lawmaking is structured to require a measure of participation and compromise from all sides, the absence of that co-operation is a very serious problem.
  • This country has given so much to its citizens, yet some of those who have benefited the most seem least willing to acknowledge that debt, and least willing to pull their own weight. The other day, a wealthy man of my acquaintance told me that he’d made his money without help from anyone, and didn’t see why he should pay taxes to support people who hadn’t worked as hard and been as successful. No one gave me anything, he said. Of course, his parents were able to raise him in a stable society, and could send him and his siblings to good public schools. Public agencies made sure his food was safe to eat. When he graduated from his (public) university and started his business, he didn’t have to pay off the local authorities. He had access to public roads that allowed him to receive raw materials and ship his goods.  Municipal police and firefighters ensured the safety of his home and business. Impartial courts decided his disputes with customers or suppliers. The existence of a stable, regulated economy meant he could borrow necessary capital. And on and on…..These are assets that people in many other countries lack. Good governments create the conditions that make free enterprise possible. It constantly amazes me that so many people fail or refuse to understand that.
  • Our governments–state and federal–are far from perfect, and some of our policies are positively insane. (We may or may not agree on which ones those are.) But dammit, patriotism isn’t wearing a flag pin on your lapel. Patriotism is civic involvement in the nitty-gritty of politics and governance–voting, attending public meetings, writing letters to elected officials. And paying taxes–so that America can continue to provide a social and physical infrastructure that allows people to succeed.

Happy Fourth of July.