Your challenge is not make yourself great again, it is to remain relevant as a world power by the end of the 21st century. If you believe that your brand of liberal democracy should be an influential global voice, then you need to accept that you are no longer in a position of dominance. It is time to stop drinking your self-reverential Kool Aid, no matter how much it soothes you, and participate in building a better world rather than making yourselves great again (whatever that means).
This will be a hard reality to accept for a country which seems to believe it ‘won’ the Cold War and that power is a zero sum game. There isn’t one ‘winner’ and everyone else loses. Greatness is defined by the good you do, not who you beat. The truth is, the world is predominantly not white, it is 50 per cent female and not everyone is a card-carrying Christian. Your preoccupation with telling everyone else what to do has blinded you to some uncomfortable realities. Many people resent you America, for no matter how poor you believe yourselves to be, there are many who live in far worse circumstance. They, along with many others across the economic and cultural spectrum, don’t enjoy being lorded over or lectured by the US, economically, politically or culturally. They dislike your presumption of superiority.
It is not unreasonable for people outside of the US to want to generate jobs in their countries to improve the living standards of their people. It is not unreasonable for women to believe they are equal and deserve to be treated as more than objects for men. It is not unreasonable for people who are not white to believe they should be treated with equal respect and have equal access to the opportunity to create their own destiny. This doesn’t mean you are losing power, it just means others get some too. Power is not about domination, it is about a sense of control of your own destiny without fear of repression. Everyone can have access to that power. We can all rise together, even if we don’t all agree with each other. There can be cultural diversity without one being better than the other.
It is about understanding. Understanding that people who don’t share the same beliefs or lifestyle as you aren’t necessarily threatening you and can be very nice neighbours.
It is about respect. Respecting that I don’t have to look like you or agree with you but we can respect each other’s right to live as we wish without harming each other.
How we debate ideas, how we speak to each other, the accusations we make, the evidence we use to make a point and the names we call each other matter. It sets the tone of civic culture, it can leave deep wounds that make people scared and angry. It is the foundations we create to justify our action. Some things cannot be taken back with leaving scars, some things destroy people’s lives, even though ‘we didn’t mean it, we were just really angry at the time’. This applies to everyone. Those who voted for Trump and those who ridiculed Trump supporters. In that ridicule and the dismissal of their views, a lack of respect and an inability to listen was revealed.
To quote the Dalai Lama: ‘When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; But when you listen you may learn something new.’ Have we all become so in love with our own voices and so entrenched in our own ‘rightness’ that we cannot listen and really hear other points of view? Is it so important to dominant the argument?
The American media has a great role to play in this. It does need to make itself great again. Engage their critical faculties – that is their most important job. So much of the Trump coverage was about his antics, his attention-seeking activities and how outrageous his behaviour was on any given day. Because it makes good headlines and great vision for broadcast. A lot of time was spent deriding the inconsistency of his comments and the paucity of his policy but not enough time was spent understanding the fear and concerns, real or imagined, of Trump’s voters and asking their candidate about his detailed policies to fix those concerns.
America did not invent democracy but it does have a virulent strain of it that is worth protecting and it should be remembered how easily it can be taken for granted.
The saddest time is likely to be in around 12 months when those people who voted for radical change in the hope to make their lives better realise that this is unlikely to occur under this President. It will be when those looking to reimpose American dominance discover that bombing your enemies to kingdom come can’t achieve that, and those that thought their President was a breath of fresh air is really only full of hot air.
Trump is unlikely to govern for the betterment of the American people, but rather for the glory of himself. We only need to reflect on the rise and falls of previous great empires to understand the result of hubris, self-glorification and such baseless high self-regard.