A tale of two cities
I left my native country, Venezuela, in 2003, because I felt that staying would either force me to abandon principles and values I have always cherished or die in despair and frustration, living under the Venezuela Hugo Chavez was creating with the support of the corrupt Venezuelan armed force.
I emigrated to the United States of America, a country I have always loved, first as a young university student, later as a frequent visitor and, now, as my country of adoption.
When my wife and I were deciding to leave Venezuela, she asked me: “What shall we do if the U.S. also deteriorates?” and I answered: “We will have to wait and see. I believe that when the U.S. gets a cold, the rest of the world already has pneumonia”. We took the plunge and came and I can say, with much gratitude, that we have been living our American dream ever since, in a country of plenty, where seniors are respected, where life can be lived in a civilized manner, where things mostly work. There is no doubt that, in most aspects of life, living in the U.S. is ideal. The country offers its citizens equal rights, a strong civic tradition, quality of life and, for many years, was characterized by a bipartisan approach to the solution of national issues.
Soon after we arrived it became apparent to me that the city upon the hill had lost some of its gleam. The country I remembered had changed. Of course, this was to be expected. Wars had taken their toll, horrible terrorist acts had taken place in U.S. soil and an already monstrous national debt appeared to be accelerating. The immense territory of the United States, where immigrants had long found a home and had ben eventually integrated into the national texture, was feeling the strains of new waves of immigration that did not seem to the same agenda of earlier ones. Reputed political scientists such as Samuel Huntington had written about the different objectives of some of the new immigration into the U.S., including the reclaiming of the land that had once belonged to their ancestors. In the political arena something had also shifted, bipartisanship being replaced by bitter ideological debate and loss of trust among adversaries. National issues were no longer seen as common problems to be solved through bipartisan effort but denounced as generated by the ineptitude of the “other side”.
Still, the sheer dimensions of the country allowed for a significant absorption capacity. The high level of civic education, the respect for the rights of other, the civility of community life, the healthful “habits of the heart” of the citizens, mentioned by De Tocqueville, all of these characteristics remained largely in place and provided a welcome contrast to the country in turmoil we were forced to leave behind, now in the claws of a uncouth and corrupt autocracy.
The tragic current situation in my native country, Venezuela, has fully validated our decision to leave. We are happy living here and will stay, doing our civic duties as citizens of this great country. Since 2012 we are no longer Venezuelans living in the U.S. but also citizens of the U.S.
As such and as citizens of the world we are now facing situations that no longer affect only a relatively small country like Venezuela but have a global impact over the destiny of the human race and the future of civilization. As members of the U.S. society our civic duties are of a greater magnitude, including how to contribute to the stability of what still is the most powerful country on Earth. Because of its power the U.S. is called upon to exercise the highest quality of leadership.
As a political conservative, based on my Venezuelan experience as victim of authoritarian demagogues, I am concerned about the direction the U.S. is moving. The country is losing its capability to solve national problems through a bipartisan, rational approach. Instead, emotions run freely, obscuring common sense. When a courageous and dignified leader like John McCain objects to this, someone within the official hierarchy responds “It does not matter, he is dying anyway”.
The presidential elections of 2016 offered us a difficult choice: a seasoned political figure with poor transparency, Hillary Clinton, and a notorious businessman with a tempestuous public record, Donald Trump. What we knew of the two candidates offered us no guarantee of statesmanship at the presidency of the United States. Frankly, one could have thought that this great country had more, better choices to offer.
President Trump has been an extremely controversial leader. In matters of global significance for the human race he has decided against the majority of nations. He decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord on Global Warming. Moreover, he put into practice a policy of promotion of U.S. coal production, going against the global trend to reduce the use of highly contaminating fossil fuels. In the complex matter of immigration, where severity should be tempered with compassion, he has implemented a policy of zero tolerance that, although understandable, will not solve the long term, underlying problem and increase international conflict. In the European arena, he has shown a confrontational attitude against U.S. traditional allies, choosing to browbeat them in public on the issues of NATO, trade and BREXIT. He has shown much tolerance for Putin’s policies and behavior, promoting Russia’s entry into NATO and showing reluctance to admit that Russia has tried to influence the U.S. presidential elections. President Trump has also antagonized Canada and is currently engaged in a trade war with China. He has denounced the Iran Nuclear Agreement and has entered into negotiations with North Korea’s leader, perhaps without sufficient assurances that this autocratic leader means to do what he has promised. Although the world knows Kim Jong-un as a cruel dictator, President Trump opinions of him have been highly laudatory.
I am sure that President Trump and his collaborators are trying to do what they think is best for the Nation. He still commands an approval rating of about 41% (Gallup, July 2-8). However, his unorthodox bedside manner and his decisions on major geopolitical issues seem to promote tension and animosity both abroad and at home. Institutional checks and balances seem to have weakened due to the politicization of government powers and agencies, a process in which both political sides of the aisle are engaged. As a result national strength appears diminished while significant global opposing forces gather strength.Time for our leaders to stop and think.