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September 18, 2017 9:52 am

Is America Still a Beacon of Light to Other Nations?

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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The Statue of Liberty. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

We don’t need President Trump to tell us that he can make America great again. America is already great. The problem is that we are squandering our greatness by pursuing foreign and domestic policies that debase our moral authority and the values that made America great in the first place.

We must change course — but for that, we need leaders with vision, courage and determination. But these leaders are sorely lacking. The best and the brightest have become disillusioned with politics, making the prospect of renewal increasingly difficult. Therefore, it is time for every American patriot to raise their voice and remind one another of what makes America a great nation — and what it stands for.

The US Constitution is the backbone of America’s greatness, and the preamble of the Constitution says it all. It declares that: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Having lived in several countries in the Middle East and Europe, I know the meaning of discrimination and disdain — but here in the United States, no one is concerned about my religion, ethnicity or sect. I am accepted for who I am today, and what I believe in and stand for.

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This is the America I know — “the land of the free” — because for me, the values that are enshrined in our Constitution are what makes America great. We must relentlessly protect these values to make America even greater, but we must first realize what went wrong. Below, I present the ten most critical issues that America faces today; none are too difficult to overcome, if we only will it.

1. The events in Charlottesville were a deeply troubling manifestation of bigotry and hate that has become more pronounced with the election of President Trump. For a president to draw a moral equivalence between white supremacists, Nazis and antisemites, and ordinary law-abiding citizens is beyond contempt. No, there are not good people among the racists who abuse their right to free speech to malign and threaten others only because of their different origin, sect, belief or color.

America is “the land of the free,” and to preserve that, we must not tolerate those who want to cleanse America of what made America a great nation — the ingathering of people from all corners of the world, with their diverse cultural riches, resourcefulness and creativity.

2. Successive American presidents have promised, especially during their political campaigns, to fight poverty, but they all failed. The divide between the rich and the poor is greater today than it has been at any time in the past. The number of children living in poverty in 2015 was 14,500,000, and is growing. Millions suffer from malnutrition, perform poorly in schools, are exposed to drugs and violent crimes, and grow up angry, confused and lost.

Instead of becoming constructive professional individuals that contribute to their community and the state, they become hopeless, jobless and destitute — a liability rather than an asset. This is not the American dream. We must commit to lifting all people from poverty — because we can, and have the resources to do it.

3. Thousands of little towns and villages far from urban centers are crumbling — successive administrations spoke ad nauseam about renewal, but renewal never came. Homes are dilapidated and crowded; young and old wander the streets aimlessly. The old resign themselves to a meaningless life, and the young are despondent as they live a life of despair and desolation. Why can’t the wealthiest nation on Earth appropriate the necessary funding to restore such disintegrating places?

Why not allow the communities themselves to choose their own sustainable development projects that they can execute with outside expertise and government aid? The involvement of locals provides them with job opportunities, and allows them to develop vested interests in their community, and feel empowered as human beings. This is a task that we must never abandon or neglect.

4. The healthcare system in America is broken — because detached politicians never understood that healthcare is a human right. Every American, as former presidential contender Bernie Sanders eloquently articulated, has the inherent right to receive the medical care they need — and the government has the obligation to provide it. Whether it is done through the Federal government or the states, no American should die because of inaccessibility to healthcare, go bankrupt as a result of high medical costs, or suffer from a curable disease.

Millions of Americans have no health insurance because they cannot afford it. We are squandering hundreds of billions on foreign adventures, and much more is wasted on an inflated bureaucracy and the self-interest of government officials who fight for their pet projects. There must be a better way.

5. We have become accustomed to legislative paralysis as if it were normal. Democrat and Republican leaders alike seem to view the other as rivals committed singularly to the presumed interest of their respective parties. They must be reminded that they represent all the people, and are duty bound to cooperate and agree on any legislation that serves the American public. Years of deadlock in Congress point only to the ineptitude of so many politicians whose blind ideology is making them oblivious to what is good for America.

Collaboration between the parties produces better — and consensual — legislation that benefit all Americans. How else can we form “A more perfect union” when the zero-sum approach to politics and divisiveness reigns? America’s continuing greatness rests on leaders who put the nation’s, and not their personal or party interests, first. We need leaders who champion America at home and abroad, and live up to their responsibility with conviction and honor.

6. America is the world’s leader in incarceration, with more than 2,200,000 currently in prison (which represents an increase of 500 percent over the last 40 years). This is simply unfathomable and unacceptable. The dramatic increase of the prison population is not related to proportionate increases in crime, but mostly to changes in the sentencing laws that require mandatory incarceration even for petty crimes. As a result, prisons are overcrowded, and becoming incubators of extremism and crime.

Nearly half of prisoners have not committed violent crimes. More than 470,000 are in jail for drug possession or abuse, and 12 percent are there for public disorder. Billions are spent on maintaining this prison system, when nearly half of the prisoners could be discharged. We should instead be investing in rehabilitation programs, while giving people the opportunity to acquire a new profession, join the work force,and become an asset to their communities.

7. Many are now blaming the media for spreading “fake news,” but they often do so to cover for their own shortcomings. To use the media as a scapegoat not only undermines the freedom of the press, but subjects journalists and reporters to violent attacks by those who blindly follow their leaders. It is true that the revolution in social media has made the reporting of deliberate fake news easier and more pervasive. This, however, does not suggest that all media outlets are engaged in the dissemination of fake news.

There are scores of responsible, credible and public service-oriented media outlets that report the unfiltered truth regardless of where such reporting may lead. This is the heart of the First Amendment. No one, including the holder of our highest office, can or should be allowed to violate this sacred right with impunity. The media’s scrutiny of public officials is essential to a functioning democracy, and America must guard and respect this “fourth branch of government” to perform their duty for the sake of all Americans.

8. Climate change is not a fiction; it is happening in front of our eyes, and much has been said about the indisputable scientific evidence that supports it. For me, however, given that the US is the second biggest polluter after China, this means that we must take the lead and assume the responsibility to work hand-in-hand with the rest of the international community to combat climate change.

Just witness what happened during the last week alone: three huge hurricanes, a powerful earthquake,and wild fires and floods occurring simultaneously, inflicting damage at an unprecedented scale. To politicize climate change at the expense of the welfare and well-being of future generation is a crime. To withdraw from the Paris climate change accord is reckless, narrow-minded and sinister.

9. We have yet to learn the lesson of the Vietnam War, and it seems as if waging wars of choice has become the American way. We invaded Iraq under false pretenses. Nearly two trillion dollars were spent, and 4,500 American soldiers sacrificed their lives for an elusive goal along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Then Syria was abandoned to the criminal whims of Iran and Russia, while the world witnessed the slaughter of countless innocent civilians with equanimity.

The long war in Afghanistan continues unabated, and there is no end in sight. We toppled the Qaddafi government in Libya and forced Egypt’s President Mubarak out of power. America cannot lead when it leaves chaos and instability in its wake.

10. Our foreign policy, which presumably is guided by our values and national interest, seems to be inconsistent and often counterproductive. Whereas we make efforts to export our political system of democracy, we cater to dictators — ruthless and brutal head of states who govern with an iron fist — and ally ourselves with corrupt regimes in the name of ‘national interest.’

Diplomacy and common sense seem to give way to bombastic militaristic rhetoric, leaving our friends and foes bewildered. Whatever happened to America’s leadership? We simply cannot relinquish that role; we cannot abandon our moral responsibility, and we must never succumb to the caprices of anyone, including our president. America has carved a special role in the world and  we must now live up to it, because there is no other power that can replace America.

The greatest danger that America faces today is not being attacked by North Korea or any other enemy. The danger is from within: Republicans vs. Democrats, rich vs. poor, the bigot vs. the law-abiding citizen, rampant discrimination, common human rights abuses (especially against minority groups), widening social inequality, and our leaders’ failure to do their duty as they became increasingly self-absorbed and indifferent about America’s future.

The political, economic, cultural, military and technological achievements of America remained unmatched. We must now build on this strength and fight for America’s soul. This is what the American people want, and what the world expects from us.

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