Opinion: Remembering who we are, a beacon of democracy

I hit a low point the other day. 
Trump had just handed the NATO alliance to Putin on a platter, his cacophony of self-serv¬ing, untruthful tweets had reached a new crescendo and the persistent images of separated immigrant children had brought back mem¬ories of my own boyhood when I was forced to leave my parents in Austria to save my life from Nazi persecution. 
In the years that followed I, like so many of us, served America with pride and deep conviction in World War II and, for decades after finishing my education, represented it as an American Foreign Service Officer. Of course, big mistakes were made. But we reached compromises and moved forward and retained the world’s respect as the beacon of democracy. 
That was then. What is now going on is no longer the America I knew. 
And then a strange thing happened. 
My renewed passport arrived in the mail. I flipped through its pag¬es, each empty except for a famous American quotation in small print at its head: Well-worn quotations we all know, from the Declaration of Independence, from Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln and in more recent times from people as diverse as Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Martin Luther King. And as I read, my spirit lifted — for, taken together, they recalled the guiding principles which had formed us as a country and helped lead us out of the morass before. 
Perhaps the most pertinent to our times was a line from Anna Julia Cooper, the famous Black Liberationist and prominent American scholar, who wrote that “the cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanities.” 
That, it struck me, should be the key thought for our time, so troubled by our current social and economic inequalities and rapidly shifting racial balances — troubles and insecurities which Trump’s demagoguery so effectively exploits. Things are at a point where growing numbers feel that America’s drift to far-right “populism,” a new way of talking about nationalist author¬itarianism, is actually the wave of our future — dividing us into irreconcilable camps, compromising our world standing and imperiling our freedoms. 
Perhaps they are right. 
But the country has pulled back from the brink before. If we could just remember that we are all human and so “endowed with inalienable rights,” if we were to choose great, farsighted leaders who could bridge our angry divisions rather then deepen them and through far-reaching compro¬mise lead us out of our current social and economic discontents. If, in short, we could again reach back to our roots, we could, with luck, get through this too and right the American ship once more. 
It’s a long-shot at this troubled point, but it’s our call — if we can remember who we are. The stakes are high. 

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