Fifty years ago I was granted the privilege of becoming an American citizen. Over a subsequent 35-year career as a U.S. diplomat I have been allowed to serve our country with great affection and a deep sense of pride abroad and at home. Today I share the concerns of so many of my fellow foreign affairs professionals and fellow countrymen and women over U.S. foreign and domestic policy as articulated by our President. I did not support Donald Trump in 2016 and I do not support most of his policies now, either domestically or internationally. I do not condone his behavior. But he is my President and I cannot simply argue that I did not vote for him. The Presidency of the United States is too critically important an institution not to accept responsibility for it, including for its incumbent.
In private and public encounters over the past year, I have argued that it does no good to express outrage over our President’s policies and conduct in office. He and his supporters are convinced that he is doing right by our country. Mr. Trump has shockingly, but convincingly stated that he could literally commit murder and still maintain the support of his political base. Simply joining the growing chorus of criticism will not change that sad misperception. Offering a positive alternative worthy of a great nation and its remarkable people will.
Not everything Mr. Trump says is wrong or untrue. Many things are. The way he expresses himself and claims to be speaking for all of us is totally wrong, however, and deeply counter to our interests at home and abroad. He will not change, but we can change how we deal with each other, both those who support the President’s policies, and those who don’t. Here is a list of reminders of who we are as Americans, of things we believe in, that can guide us in finding back to each other and to a world community hungry for principled American leadership:
- It does not have to be this way.
- We embrace empathy, not populism and individualism, not selfishness.
- Constructive relationships are based on respect and courtesy, if not agreement.
- Partnerships and teamwork are more successful than solo acts.
- Character-driven leaders bring out the best in people, accept responsibility, absorb risk, and give credit for success to others.
- Good governance requires commitment, experience, and skill.
- Politics and politicians are essential elements of democratic governance, not “the swamp.”
- A democratic society needs dedicated public servants focused on getting to “yes.”
- Empowered citizens of democratic societies act as guardians against extremism.
- We taught the world that the pursuit of happiness is not just American and neither liberal nor conservative, but global.
- Our national culture is built on diversity, fairness and compassion.
- Great nations and their leaders act with character, humility and compassion.
- Strong societies share their attributes and reduce suffering around the world.
- Problems are best addressed at their source.
- The future of the modern world rests on collaboration, not confrontation.
- We are patriots, not nationalists.
- We know who our friends and allies are and who are not.
- Diplomacy may be tedious, but it is very cost effective and it works.
How about this as a (re)start for a country that began with “We, the people?”