Trump is not the problem

The problem is not Trump.

The problem is an increasingly alarming high proportion of the American population has forgotten what their country stands for – its founding principles of liberty, equality and tolerance.

Otherwise, “The Donald” would have run off the political stage when he started his run at the U.S. presidency by making outrageously racist comments about Mexicans immigrants to the U.S., legal or not.

One of the huge ironies about Trump is his campaign slogan, “Make America great again.” Just what does he think is, or was, “great” about America?

Democracy is not an easy thing to maintain. We’re all human after all, imperfect beings indeed to stand guard over such a precious thing as freedom. Americans, and Canadians, for that matter, have risen to the challenge to defend democracy time and time again; and certainly not always by waging war.

This is one of those times. I confess the murderous, terrorist attacks in Paris, followed by San Bernadino, gave me pause. But the increasing “war” talk in response is leading the world down a dangerous path. It is playing into the hands of the so-called Islamic State terrorists. They might as well be pulling the strings, like puppeteers.

Closing America’s borders to Islamic immigrants or refugees, shutting down mosques, or even outlawing the Muslim religion, as a shocking proportion of likely Republican Party voters now think, according to the most recent polls in the U.S., is similarly a bad idea.

They might as well demolish the Statue of Liberty. The colossal copper statue, standing on a small island at the entrance to the City of New York harbor, was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States. It is officially a National Monument, and recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Since 1886 it has welcomed millions of hopeful immigrants to the United States.

The New Colossus, a poem by 19th Century American poet Emma Lazarus, is engraved on a plaque mounted inside the pedestal on which Liberty stands. It includes these most-often quoted lines:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Surely, that aptly describes the  mass of refugees risking death by drowning, trying to get into Europe. Four million Syrians have fled their war-torn country and destroyed homes, the threat of brutal, so-called Islamic State terrorism, and the inhuman cruelty of Syrian government forces. They continue to flee, as the fighting and the bombing continues with no end in sight.

The Statue of Liberty – a female figure, by the way – holds a huge stone tablet in her left hand. Inscribed on it in Roman numerals is the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, when leading American patriots from the 13 British colonies, signed the historic document formally setting out their grievances and the reasons why they were involved in a revolutionary war against Great Britain’s King George III and declared themselves independent states.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” the Declaration begins, as every American school student, present and past, must know.

But memorizing and understanding are two different things.

“Men,” of course, now includes women. It also includes people of African descent, the descendants of people shipped from Africa in chains to be sold at auction as slaves. Some of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson. So was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief of the American revolutionary army, and the first President of the new country.

The American civil war was fought to free the slaves, among other things perhaps; but that certainly was then President Abraham Lincoln’s preoccupation. It’s worth noting here, in case anyone has forgotten, that Lincoln was a Republican, a member of what’s also as often now called the GOP, or Grand Old Party.

Lincoln’s determination to see the Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming freedom for the slaves, became law even as the civil war still raged. Surely that qualifies him as a liberal.

But that word has been practically demonized in the increasingly conservative socio-political landscape of the U.S. And yet it was the first liberal democracy in the modern world, the first with a full-fledged government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address.

I suppose there’s an argument for saying Trump has done one good thing: he has exposed the urgent need for Americans to re-discover and renew the democratic principles on which their country was founded. And they certainly include freedom of religion.

 

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