Throughout its long history, Europe has known a great many “problems” that were so tightly knit to the fabric of the space in which they occurred that they became known as national problems. The Turks had a problem, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Polish, the Jews and then the Germans.
Now, across the pond, a new twist in the plot of history has created a new such problem, one that seems to engulf the very memory we had of an industrious, tolerant and neighborly people. Now we see torches, populism and nepotism, a new form of media censorship and attacks on the judiciary.
For students in political science, westward is always the direction when it comes to the best colleges and research institutes, the most innovative and thorough authors and the most respected journals. The pinnacle of this entire area is naturally the United States, the birth place of the discipline, the country that gave or supported so many political scientists. Dahl, Lasswell, Huntington, Almond, Lijphart, Verba, Lipset, Fukuyama, Strauss, Downs, Olson, Collier and many others added their own contribution to our shared understanding of the world, each of them bringing us closer to a better system of managing our society.
“The United States is more than the home of the best and brightest political scientists. The country itself is a model of governance, policy-making, citizenship and civic engagement, a place where liberties have been won and defended with brilliance for long now, where corruption is a weakling and where justice for all is not just a concept.”
Moreover, for students of political science residing and studying in the former Eastern Bloc, the United States is more than the home of the best and brightest political scientists. The country itself is a model of governance, policy-making, citizenship and civic engagement, a place where liberties have been won and defended with brilliance for long now, where corruption is a weakling and where justice for all is not just a concept.
This, along with many other praises was how the United States was presented to us. When in doubt, look to Washington and to the individual states. Do what they do and maybe one day you will be a democracy as consolidated as the country of the Founding Fathers. This element of wonder has remained with Europeans ever since Tocqueville first traveled the newly-independent American colonies.
Except that image is now dead.
The United States, in the European mind, is no longer the country of Washington, Adams, Jay, Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt or Martin Luther King. Instead, it is the playing field of Rush Limbaugh, who paints hurricanes as conspiracies while running from them, of Fox’s Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, the country of politically-active evangelical pastors and “Build the wall!” rallies, of Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts”, of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
It is the country where Nazis march with the tacit approval of the authorities and where they are publicly defended by prominent political figures, where environment protection is enveloped somehow in conspiracy and rejected, where some people build their own cars with the specific design to pollute as much as possible, where a president was dogged for years to show his birth certificate but another defended against obvious collusion with a foreign government.
During his relentless crusade to end all Obama-made policies, Trump is now targeting the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, which protects young immigrants, also known as “dreamers”, from deportation.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Those are the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty. When a journalist quoted those words at Steven Miller, Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor, Miller responded with a Soviet-era anti-Semitic insult, accusing the “cosmopolitan bias” of the media.
What does that mean, precisely? As Politico puts it, the term cosmopolitan is “a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality.” That, to Steven Miller and to the now 234-days-old Trump administration, is an insult to be thrown at their critics.
Where is the American dream? The example to the world?
The point that was made before us time and time again is that power in the American political system is always kept in check by impersonal and impartial institutions. One of these is the U.S. Supreme Court. But even there the Trump current manifested itself with the president-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, a judge that is anti-marriage equality and anti-abortion.
Another institution was the FBI, which was beheaded with the firing of James Comey after he refused to publicly clear Trump’s name. Another insult was added to judges and prosecutors of the country with the Arpaio pardon which, above all, was wholly unnecessary. Congress, led by McConnell and Ryan, barely dares criticize the president.
“Donald Trump and the European Union have less in common than Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.”
Where is the tolerance that America once trumpeted to the world?
Trump is the executive. The GOP is the Congress. The justice system is constantly put down. The media is obsessively attacked by the president, who launched his own propaganda channel. Donald Trump and the European Union have less in common than Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Where are the checks? Where are the balances?
And it is not just us in academia who look at the U.S. through different glasses. We now live in a world where the supposed leader of the free world receives less confidence than the Chinese and Russian presidents, effectively giving over his moral high ground to the German chancellor. Germany is now looked upon as the beacon of liberalism, of social inclusion, rule of law, tolerance and as a bastion against extremism.
One of the few nations that think highly of Trump is – shockingly – Russia.
Europe, however, is where the U.S. lost so much of its former glory. If Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville claimed to be defending the “European heritage” of the United States, Europe has now fully rejected them and their president, seeking its own global path.
It is not simply a matter of preference. The United States has fashioned itself into the champion of democracy, and any damage brought to that image proves to the world that even the champion of democracy can go backwards into authoritarianism.
To the scared, hateful and unskilled, Trump says “Make America great again.” To corporations, industry tycoons and Lehman-style bankers, Trump says “I want you in my cabinet.” To the dictators, strongmen, military leaders and the corrupt politicians of this world, Trump says “fear no more, for we are the same.” To the authoritarians, the violent, the incompetent and the greedy, Trump says “we should follow your example”.
The “American Problem” has made it clear that European nations should cooperate more than they do now, that the pathways between each European capital and Brussels are now more important than the ones leading to Washington.
Europe is left without a model. If anything, the American Problem has made it clear that European nations should cooperate more than they do now, that the pathways between each European capital and Brussels are now more important than the ones leading to Washington. Poland, France, Romania, Spain or even Germany cannot compete with China, India, Russia or the United States. Europe, however, can and must.
External contribution by Radu Dumitrescu of the Political Science Club – UniBuc