It has been quite a ride for this American expatriate. Settled in Europe, married to a European, and now a citizen of Sweden as well as the US, I was trying to make Europe the focus of my attention, and even my allegiance, but the election of Donald Trump changed all that. I became addicted to the news from America, subscribed to the Washington Post as well as the New York Times, and spent about an hour every morning reading through Trump-related news. It got old after a while – I began losing interest because like many others, I suppose, I became so habituated to stories about Trump’s misconduct that I didn’t think I had anything to gain by reading about more of it. So I stopped reading so much.
Until this. And you know what I mean by this.
A left-wing cosmopolitan, since even before I became an expatriate, I have long worried less about the well-being of “America” than the well-being of the world within which America has done so much harm. The overthrow of governments, like Chile´s, because its democracy had voted for a socialist. The War in Vietnam. The clientage of repressive regimes, like Saudi Arabia’s, and, more recently, Egypt’s. The corruptions of Big Business, with government approval, such that exploitation and unfair advantage have become virtues of capitalism. The injustice of the taxation system, such that corporate America has received subsidies for any number of depravities at home and abroad.
But now I have to worry about America itself. What if it doesn’t survive? Or in other words, what if that which is so important about it doesn’t survive? The rule of law in America has never been perfect, but still, it has been a rule of law. Immigration regulations have seldom been perfect, but still, with the exception of the period that began in the 1920s, which denied immigration rights to non-Europeans, and ended in the 1960s, America has always been welcoming to immigrants, without prejudice. The balance between the three branches of government, the executive, Congress, and the judiciary has never been perfect, but still, there was a balance. And apparently, America has had presidents – even presidents whom someone from my perspective were loathsome – who respected the rule of law, the tradition of immigration, and the balance of powers. Apparently, you can include Reagan and the Bushes in that list, much as it pains me to have to say that.
Trump is something different. He is an amoral con-man who respects nothing except his own advantage. Someday there will be historians and political scientists who will document this, I hope. I hope – because the idea implies that we will get over this, and that America will have survived. But in the meantime, the very idea of America is at risk. We in the left want to think that all political battles are about economics and domination, about class warfare, but our current situation is something different. It is about respect for the rights of humanity, whether those humans are detainees in Trump’s concentration camps for migrants, or native workers without proper healthcare, and regardless of what class those targeted belong to. (A lot of immigrants, including those seeking asylum in the US, are not impoverished.)
Respect: Growing up in the 1960s, it seemed to me that there was nothing so important as disrespect. Down with authority! Off with the pigs! But now we seem to need authority – the legitimate exercise of political power – as well as gratitude for those who capably and honestly conduct themselves in the administration of the law.
In the face of what Trump is, and what he has done, what we need is respect, or maybe rather reverence, for the decent embrace of democratic norms. The recent crises of capitalism need to be attended to. An economy of and for the 1% needs to be challenged. But first of all, we need decency, and respect for the rule of law.
We have long known that Trump was indecent. We now know too that he has breached the rule of law, and that if he is permitted to continue what he has been doing – I hate to use the word, but in fact it is treason – there may well be no more “America” at the end of it.