During my 87 years, I have been inspired and energized by the events and persons that made the 20th century the “American Century.” My education in this American history has been facilitated by being one of seven brothers in two generations who served in Europe in the U.S. military during America’s conflicts with global tyrannies.
My father and two of his brothers served in combat in France in the final U.S. and allied offensive against German imperialism that ended the first World War 99 years ago on November 11, 1918.
I am daily reminded of what the defeat of Hitler’s Nazis meant to the world and the United States by the presence of a vibrant 93-year-old neighbor, most of whose Jewish family in Poland were killed by the Nazis. She survived by hiding, along with four other Jews, in a Catholic family’s farmhouse attic for 22 months. After the war, she and her physician husband became immigrants to the United States and then U.S. citizens. They and their family have made significant contributions to this nation, which was conceived by immigrants and which has been sustained ever since by new generations of immigrants.
My family and her immigrant family, as well as numerous millions like them across this land, have all made many sacrifices to protect and maintain this nation’s welcoming and democratic society.
Over two centuries of American courage to promote liberty and justice for all, and of American generosity to those in need, made the United States of America the respected leader of the free world and the most powerful nation in human history by the beginning of the new millennium in 2000.
When our new president was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, I wished him success since we have only one president at a time and I have the utmost respect for the American presidency.
I can well understand why the early months as president have been frustrating and challenging for Trump after his financially successful leadership of a business enterprise with apparently no independent board of directors and no shareholders other than immediate family members. Furthermore, unlike millions of other Americans, he never previously served in the U.S. military nor as an elected public official. Also, unlike the many millions of U.S. taxpayers, he apparently is paying little or no federal taxes, which is funding essential for supporting the millions of dedicated men and women in the federal government and the U.S. military.
The new president assumed leadership responsibility not only for the almost 63 million citizens who voted for him but for all 320 million U.S. citizens, who are now his “shareholders” and who will be affected directly or indirectly by all the decisions he makes.
He also is now the leader of a nation with a free and independent press that since George Washington’s time has monitored, reported and editorialized on the function of the individuals who have been honored by being elected to govern this exceptional and still evolving American experiment in democracy.
In 1789, the U.S. Constitution was adopted and the United States of America became a nation in the eyes of the world. John Jay, one of America’s wise Founding Fathers and later the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, had successfully argued against several smaller nations of adjacent states on this continent and for a single USA. He warned the new nation, however, of the dire consequences if it did not have “free, contented and united” citizens and an “efficient and well administered” national government. If this happened, he predicted, “what a poor, pitiful figure will America make in [other nations’] eyes” and “how liable would she become not only to their contempt but to their outrage.”
In the year since the inauguration, we have sadly witnessed Jay’s prediction emerge before our eyes, as our president’s words and actions at home and abroad have divided our people, weakened our national government, belittled our allies around the world and emboldened our adversaries. Furthermore, his approach to governing with tweets, insults, falsehoods, spontaneous pronouncements and abrupt policy changes have distanced him from many whose support he needs to implement his policies.
William W. McLendon, MD, lives in Chapel Hill.