We are an American and a German shaped by our roots.
One of us is the descendant of a brave European who crossed the Atlantic in 1650 to reach the new world. Thus, words of the US founding documents are not taken lightly.
The other has a family that has been rooted in Germany for generations. Thus, the suffering that occurs when government is run by those who counsel “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it people will eventually come to believe it” is not unimaginable.
We have been reminded of this often as we watch the 45th president of the United States of America assume power. Whether it is debates over the size of inauguration crowds, the debate over healthcare or immigration in the US, or the value of international organizations like the EU, NATO, or UN, there seems to be little interest in facts. Instead of soundbites, tweets and “alternative facts” (i.e. what we were taught as kids to call “lies”) are used to distract, disengage and ultimately, denigrate.
While disturbing on its own, what is more disturbing is the way the focus on “America first” shows a strong desire to disengage from the world. The US has certainly gone through periods where it needed to address critical internal issues (e.g. civil and equal rights come to mind) and has suffered fatigue as the world’s economic and military policeman. However, the world has benefited greatly (as has America) through the leadership of the US and its willingness to respond to global issues.
The US has long served as an example of how a society can strive for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for its people and the “more perfect union” promised in the preambles of its founding documents.
Our children inherit our heritage and we want them to appreciate this moment. Understanding history and discussing facts is particularly important at a time when we see the US retreating, Europe divided, Russia threatening and China as the strongest defender of international cooperation. We do not naively assume globalization only has winners. However, that does not mean the best way forward is for everyone to only look out for themselves. That is a zero sum approach in a world where we must work together.
The problems of today – inequality of wealth and gender, degradation of the environment and climate, or shifts in demographics and migration – cannot be solved in isolation.
Labeling the EU a German conspiracy ignores the history of Europe and the desire to prevent a future war. Suggesting a wall will restore American prosperity ignores the history of the US as a beacon of hope for others. Engagement and compromise is the basis of democracy as we have learned in our time in Switzerland.
As Martin Luther King said – “Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it political? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.”
We remain cautiously optimistic. To do otherwise is to remain ignorant of history. For the future of our children we hope all those in power will do what is right.
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