It’s Time to Re-Think Who “Won” the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and World Wars

It’s 2018, and Germany has a roaring economy, universal health care, and an impressive infrastructure. China is building a world order that doesn’t center around us. France, the United Kingdom, and Canada are adjusting to life without an absolute alliance with us. Russia interfered in our elections, got away with it, and is being rewarded with Presidential summits. We have a President who is a reality TV star, who bankrupted a casino, and who tweets in all caps, LIKE THIS!

You’d have to pardon anyone wondering out loud if the story of American Exceptionalism that came out of the 20th Century was a myth.

While Europe built strong social-safety nets, Asia innovated, and Russia put their energy into mastering the internet, the United States built the largest military industrial complex in the world. While America built up corporate profits, built up a credit bubble, slashed taxes for the wealthy, and increased the income inequality gap, Germany went in the opposite direction, in a span of less than 30 years. While America assumed the success of the 1950’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement, the electoral polarization that came from it became bad enough that Russia preyed on our racial tensions in interfering with our 2016 elections.

At the end of the 1980’s, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union was in collapse, and China was “modernizing” their economy towards capitalism. Kids were taught about the progress that had been made by the Civil Rights movement in school. The 1990’s were a period of remarkable, broad-based economic success in America. The United States was considered the world’s greatest military superpower, and used that power and influence in places like the former Yugoslavian republics. We were instrumental in peace agreements in the Middle East, even bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together in the Clinton years. It seemed as though America had defeated the evil of the world, and was creating a peaceful, prosperous world order.

The 21st Century has to make us ask questions- children in cages, Iraq, white nationalists coming out of the shadows, Russian hacking of our elections, mass shootings with no government reaction, Abu Ghraib, tens of millions uninsured, massive student debt, Gitmo, sham summits with foreign dictators, no action on climate change, a massive bank meltdown, and so much more. Is the United States still making progress? Does our federal budget and government match our values? Have we made the right choices on how to spend our dollars? How did we squander the booming economy and budget surpluses we ended the 90’s with? How did we end up with a crumbling infrastructure, school shootings, a health care system that leaves millions behind, no plans for clean energy development and energy independence, white nationalists in the streets, school students testing out rather mediocre against other countries, but the largest military budget in the world, by leaps and bounds?

It is clear now that things were not quite what they once seemed, at least to me. It’s clear to me that our priorities for spending our collective dollars were wrong. It’s clear to me that Germany, who lost both World Wars, is set to be in a much stronger position moving forward than we are, 100 years after World War I. It’s clear to me that China has become far more effective and innovative at solving societal and global issues, without matching us in bombs. It’s clear that 30 years after the Cold War, Russia is effectively meddling in our elections, and causing America to damage itself. It’s clear to me that the successes of the Civil Rights movement have given way to a tyranny of the majority, where resentment and re-segregation is happening both politically and in regular life. It is entirely fair to me that we question how America spent it’s capital, it’s hard-earned global power. Rather than enriching our people, building a strong, stable society, we enriched the few and built a strong country for yester-year. Obviously in the short term, we have to defeat Trump, and get his ilk out of power. In the longer term, we have to reconsider our entire paradigm, ditch our toxically polarized politics, and reconsider the decisions and actions we’ve taken with our great power.

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The Schizophrenic American Soul

I’ve always tended to view America as an exceptional place. We’re a great nation. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have inspired nations around the world. We put the first man on the moon. Our great cities lead the world in commerce, and in awe-inspiring skylines. We defeated The Nazis and communism in our world. Our national parks are beautiful. Our streets are safe, our economy booming, and our people are living in relative peace. We created suburbia and the Middle Class. The Interstate Highway system that President Eisenhower created was visionary. America is an incredible place. Millions of people want to come here. My ancestors picked up their lives and came here. I’m thankful every day that they did.

Every once in a while though, we’re reminded that there’s more to America, sadly. We enshrined slavery in that great Constitution. The brutality of the “Trail of Tears” is one of our worst offenses. While Ellis Island is a beautiful part of my American story, the racial quotas and crackdown on immigration that was enforced after Ellis Island closed is a black mark on our history. Jim Crow existed here, and with it segregation, for a century. The Japanese internment camps of World War II were real. Bull Connor and George Wallace are a part of our DNA.

The same country that elected JFK, also elected Richard Nixon. The same country that elected Barack Obama, then elected Donald Trump- in fact some of the same people actually voted for both. The same country that welcomed my Slovak great-grandmother and her family at Ellis Island would close their borders and enact racist immigration rules just months later. We can be great, and terrible, almost in the same breath. Our friends, our families, our neighbors can be the nicest people today, and rationalize unspeakable atrocities tomorrow.

I have tried to remind myself of this throughout the national debate over taking children from their parents at our border, but it’s not quite working. We are taking babies away from their mothers as a “bargaining chip” for the President to get his border wall. We are arresting people in violation of international treaties when they seek asylum at our border. What we are doing to these people, people who are not violating our laws by simply asking for asylum, is barbaric, inhuman, and unjust, even if they were violating our laws (to be clear, any asylum seeker is not). I’m struggling to remember the good things about our country right now, because we elected this barbaric regime.

I got into politics during the time of George W. Bush, and I thought the Iraq War was the atrocity of my time. That war pales as a wrong next to what we are doing right now. We are destroying the lives of children, damning refugees coming here seeking our mercy, and once and for all proving that our supposedly religious nation is very good at being soulless and heartless.

I think back on my great-grandmother often. She died when I was nine, and we were very close. Her English was broken until the day she died, she had no higher skill to offer her labor, and she certainly didn’t come here rich. How would Donald Trump’s America have treated her? Would my friends who voted for Trump have wanted to “send her back” in 1925? It took her almost 20 years to become a citizen then, but would she have ever now? I’m very afraid of these answers, and if these hypothetical questions bother me, surely the pictures of actual babies taken from their moms must bother me now.

In a strange twist of fate, I find myself in support of the voice of former First Lady Laura W. Bush right now. She is standing up as a moral leader in our time, challenging the Trump Administration on this moral question. If only more Republicans would follow her lead, and show as much fortitude in this moment of moral reckoning, maybe America could stand up and be a moral leader again.

Donald Trump Actually Shares Putin’s World View

In the midst of all the insane news that came out of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit, I think we all are missing the big point. Sure, Trump saluted a North Korean General and elevated a tin-pot dictator to his level in direct negotiations, but that is a blip on the overall radar. In the long run, bringing North Korea out of it’s pariah status is a good thing, if it’s possible. Having a poor, starved, nuclear state sitting next to South Korea and Japan isn’t beneficial to anyone.

The important thing is the suspension of “war games” with our allies in Asia, coupled with our refusal to join the rest of the G-7 in the joint statement of principles at the end of that conference, our threats to pull out of NAFTA and other trade agreements, and our willingness to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris Climate Change treaty. Donald Trump is moving the United States towards isolationism, out of our world leadership role. A United States that doesn’t counter-balance Chinese power in the Asian Pacific, doesn’t lead in negotiating Middle East Peace, doesn’t lead on international trade, and isn’t part of solving global problems is simply not a superpower anymore. Trump is creating a militant, inward looking, isolationist state, complete with fraying alliances abroad and a nativist, nationalist identity driven immigration policy at home.

There is someone happy about that, and that’s Vladimir Putin. His stated world view is that there should be no United States superpower, but instead a collection of regional powers. Russia should dominate the old Soviet-bloc, China should move into the void we leave behind in Asia, we should dominate our hemisphere, perhaps Germany controls Western Europe, and someone should emerge in the Middle East. Even if all of that doesn’t work out, he just wants the United States to stop leading a strong Western coalition. If he can get us to break our bonds with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, he’s happy. If he can get us out of Asia, even better. If he can get us out of the Middle East too, he now can grow Russian influence in every direction. For Putin, that’s the goal.

Trump’s foreign policy and Putin’s long held aspirations seem to be perfectly aligned. It’s beginning to be a lot less shocking that Putin’s Russia was so solidly supportive of Donald Trump’s campaign. After all, this is the new alliance that matters.

The Updated Bucket List

I am almost 35. I feel the need to update my bucket list. As of April 19th, 2018, here’s my new list:

  • Rome, Italy
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Austin, Texas
  • Athens, Greece
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Udol, Slovakia
  • Moscow, Russia
  • The JFK Library, Boston, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • Kiev, Ukraine
  • Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
  • Wembley Stadium, London, England
  • Tehran, Iran
  • Jerusalem
  • Havana, Cuba
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
  • Beirut, Lebanon
  • Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • The San Francisco Bay Area, California
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Glasgow, Scotland

Feedback about any and all is welcome. All stadiums, I obviously want to see a game there. All other places, I haven’t spent any real time in.