The Idea that America Was

If you’re American, you must be wondering: it’s none of their business, so why do so many people from other countries care whom we choose as leader?

Here’s why.

In 2012 Chen Guancheng, a blind dissident from rural China, fled house arrest and sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing. Following negotiations with the Obama administration, China decided to let the dissident leave the country. After securing a US visa and safe passage from the Chinese government, he boarded a commercial flight with his family to head to a new life in America.

His is only one of millions of stories about oppressed peoples in the world who have looked up to the US as a beacon of hope and liberty. For many budding democratic movements in repressive countries around the world, even in my home country of Cameroon, the election of Donald Trump has dashed their democratic aspirations. For me, growing up under an oppressive regime, the US was more than just a country. It was an idea: It was freedom; It was liberty; It was hope. It was inspiration for me to work hard and get the opportunity to someday get my share of the American dream. For me, an American was not just some one from the USA, but anyone from around the world who aspired to the values and ideals that the idea of America embodied. The American dream was a dream promised not just to US nationals, but to everyone who had the chance make it to the shores of the US and live by its precepts and abide by its rules.

That is how America came to earn its place in history as the leader of the free world. No other civilization before it, not the Roman or British empires, meant so much to so many people. So what has changed, you might ask? DJT will be president for only four, or at most eight years and the US will continue long after him.

What has changed is that, from early indications, Trump’s presidency has chosen dictators over the oppressed instead of affirming that fundamental American creed, which JFK captured when he said “let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

What happens to the democratic aspirations of Alexei Nalvany and his supporters in a world where America’s government sides with Putin? (For more on this, check out Garry Kasparov’s comments on the elections) What happens to the dispossessed of Syria when Trump supports Assad, instead of standing up for what’s right? What happens to the nascent democratic movements brewing across Africa when dictators feel vindicated?

So people all across the world are concerned because, suddenly or gradually, America ceases to become an idea. With the onset of a Trump presidency, if his campaign is any harbinger of things to come, then the “light unto the world” that America was ceases to shine as brightly. Instead of a set of values, America now becomes just any other country. It’s no wonder that not once on the campaign trail did Trump appeal to American ideals which so many of his predecessors, Democrats and Republicans alike, have touted. Sure, many other emerging superpowers could step in to fill the void. But they do not by any means embody or espouse the set of ideals that America stood for.

America was an idea. An antidote to tyrannical regimes. In 4 years, it may be just another country. And that’s how our world changed.

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