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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Thursday, May 23, 2019

At Risk—the Idea of America

by
Mel Gurtov

Perhaps
the most damaging legacy of the Trump years is the disservice he and his
associates are doing to Americans’ sense of self and nation. In ordinary times
there would not be much debate about what it means to be an American or what
are American values. Every school child learns these things: It’s Civics 1.
Race, class, and gender identity have always been important, but generally they
have been subsumed under a larger identification with the nation. “We’re all
Americans, we all share the dream, we live in a land of opportunity.” But under
Trump identity politics has come to the fore, pushing aside the tenets of
liberal democracy and respect for diversity, and replacing them with right-wing
white nationalism framed by a (false) populist (i.e., anti-establishment)
political agenda, a narrowing of opportunity, and mean-spirited discourse. 

Liberal
intellectuals uniformly denounce that agenda but they differ among themselves,
as the latest issue of Foreign Affairs shows, about whether or not racial,
class, and other identities promote or undermine national unity. Those
identities are critical to maintain in the face of unequal treatment, yet the
(liberal) nationalists fear they will undermine a focus on repurposing America.
A related debate is evidently taking place at the state level. In Michigan we
learn that public school educators are
arguing
over whether curricula should describe the American form of
government as a republic or a democracy, with implications for how civil
society and social equality are taught. These debates reveal just how uncertain
the idea of America still is.

So
long as these debates persist, America will have no special claim to being an
enlightened example to the world. Instead, America will remain divided,
consumed by antagonisms between races, classes, and gender, and by contending
nationalisms, rather than propelled by demonstrating how a pluralistic society
is able, through consensus politics and democratic choice, to surmount
differences. Chalk up these painful debates to Trump’s intentionally divisive
way of governing, which he relied on to get to the White House and is relying
on again to stay there. 

The
closer we get to November 2020, the more vindictive, threatening, and desperate
Donald Trump will become. Witness, for instance, not just his preparedness to
use illegal means of stemming immigration, but also his more frequent
accusations of “treason”
against anyone who defies him. 

Bottom
line for me: The Democrats need a candidate who, like Obama in 2012, will speak
passionately on behalf of national unity as well as on the virtues of diversity
and the restoration of democratic rule.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of
Political Science at Portland State University.

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