As a college student back in the sixties I took part in the struggle for civil rights. Looking back, we sought in those days to apply the American Dream of full equality and full opportunity to all Americans, regardless of race, faith, gender, or economic status. Now, half a century later, great progress has been made, yet the job is still half done. The election of a president with an African-American background was a high point in that struggle. Barack Obama was elected on a platform of “hope and change” and, indeed, there was plenty of room for change in a country where vast poverty persisted, especially among African Americans; where millions of Muslim Americans were blamed for the actions of a handful of radical Islamists; where electing a woman president is still an issue; and where 45 million Americans did not have health insurance.
Unfortunately, much of that hope and change was squelched during the past eight years. Was it because of Republican intransigence? Was it because Obama did not go far enough? His major change was the Affordable Care Act, pejoratively known as Obama Care. Currently, it is one of the casualties of a new administration that purports to make American great again by trying to do away with much of the progress made during the past fifty years, using methods that fly in the face of American democracy and the American Dream.
I can’t help but ask myself what would some great past Republican presidents, men like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Ronald Reagan have to say about those methods. Would any of them approve of demeaning respectable federal judges, reputable journalists, and practically anyone who disagrees with those methods?
America is going through a dangerous phase in its history as a democratic, just, and compassionate nation pursuing liberty and justice for all. It is somewhat reminiscent of the McCarthy and the Nixon eras, but it may be even worse. It comes at a time when the American Dream seemed to be closer to achieving its goals than at any other time in nearly 250 years of American history. It also comes at a time when Western democracies are experiencing political radicalization, and the very idea of democracy seems to be in jeopardy. One is reminded of the eve of World War Two in Europe, when European democracies were unable to stop a tyrant like Hitler from unleashing upon humanity the most devastating war in human history.
Has the American Dream run its course? I choose to believe it has not. I choose to believe it is stronger than those who seek to pretend they are pursuing it while their only motive is to line their own pockets or satisfy their lust for power. Lincoln knew you cannot fool all the people all the time. We have not heard the last word from the women who marched only a few weeks ago, and from the young people who protested in airports across the country. We changed America in the sixties and seventies. We can change it again.