I have travelled to more than 70 countries. In 2016 alone, I have been on six continents. I have never been to a place that was not endowed with people, history, culture or other qualities that did not recommend it — even the roughest of places in the roughest of times. The world is like that. It’s not a bad place.
Yet, every time I return home to the United States, I feel a surge of pride and joy. There is no place else I would rather live, no place with so much to recommend it. From natural splendours to economic opportunities, from personal freedoms to the riches of its cultural mosaic, it is a wonderful country, and it’s getting better all the time.
I know that’s not a popular point of view in some quarters these days. If you’ve listened to much of the rhetoric of this election year, you would think we were on our knees. The slogan of one of America’s major political parties at the moment is ‘Make America Great Again’, implying that Americans are not great now, that they have lost their mojo. But I would argue that not only are we still great; we are greater than ever.
In fact, Americans are at a special moment in their history.
Purely objectively, Americans are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, the people live longer than ever and they are healthier and better educated than ever. America is still the No 1 destination for immigrants from around the world and the No 1 destination for students seeking higher education. America still produces more patents than anyone, is home to more capital than anyone, fosters creativity and entrepreneurship better than anyone.
Are Americans flawed? Deeply. They are haunted by inequality, racism, corruption, violence, misogyny, and too many whose views are too tightly moored to a past that is thankfully receding rapidly into memory. This political campaign has revealed, as democratic processes are wont to do, many of these bad traits — with more of them associated with one candidate in particular than perhaps at any time since our first elections more than two centuries ago.
But this election is revealing not only the greatness of democracy, but the greatness of the American people. Democracy — messy, ugly, coaxing out of the shadows America’s inner demons — is actually working. When this election is said and done, provided voters do not become too complacent and do their duty on Election Day, not only will sanity prevail and the most qualified candidate win (and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified, accomplished and deserving candidates for a president America has ever seen), but the forces of darkness will be repudiated soundly, unmistakably rejected by the majority of the American people.
This dispiriting election has been dominated, thanks to Republican candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, by mean-spirited, even vile, rhetoric. But the American people are now rising up to repudiate it, and that is encouraging and profoundly reassuring. Americans have been given a choice, a stark one. They have vented; they have argued. And they have decided.
Trump may huff and puff and make noises about determining whether or not he will accept the election results, but the beauty of the American system is that the choice — despite his autocratic impulses — is not up to him, no matter how much money his father gave him, no matter how much he has scammed or sleazed his way along. He does not have enough power — no one has — to overcome the collective and clearly stated will of the American people.
But there is more that is encouraging than either the objective facts of American vitality or the soundness and solidity of US democracy: What is best in America’s leaders complements that which is best in its people. And there is the promise of America’s collective future — especially if we find a place for America that better recognises its strengths, its place in a global community and what still needs to be fixed.
As for America’s leaders, let’s start by looking at President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Although they have much to be proud of over the past eight years — despite the inevitable struggles, misfires and errors associated with any presidency (as I have often pointed out in my columns) — they have covered themselves in glory during these last few months. Their speeches on the campaign trail have not only been extraordinarily powerful — the best delivered by anyone on any side — but they have been eloquent and inspiring. Indeed, I would go further and say that Michelle has emerged as the most compelling and trusted voice in American politics. Why? Because she combines passion with the right values. And say what you will about Obama, but his administration has been devoid of scandal, marked by serial dignity and an unwavering, unrelentingly intelligent effort to find the best way forward.
All of us stumble. What sets Americans apart is the path they have set out on and their ability to continuously move onward and upward despite the obstacles they face. No American president of the modern era has left office with greater dignity nor has any other in recent memory done so much, with such effectiveness, to help elect his successor and ensure the continuation of his policies.
Hillary, too, has grown in the last weeks before our eyes from being a compelling and worthy candidate into looking very much like the next president of the US. She has followed Michelle’s advice and largely taken the high road. She has begun to set aside wonkery and campaign spats for a resolutely optimistic vision of the country. She has articulated directly what must be her top objective as president: Being a leader for all people — including the alienated and frustrated who fuelled the campaigns of Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. What is broken in America requires that Americans do what they are supposed to after even the most divisive campaigns — even civil war — and that is reach out to one another. The next leader of America must therefore do that most leaderly thing: She must listen even to those who offer only criticism. She must find compromises and she must rise above or work around those who seek only to impede. And in this promising moment, that is precisely what Clinton is promising to do.
At the threshold of powerful changes
Finally, what makes this a great moment to be an American is that its prospects are so good. In America, that means people enter this next chapter in America’s history having made extraordinary progress at healing old divisions. America’s incoming president will, for the first time in history, be a member of the majority population — women. This should be profoundly moving to all who love the central idea of democracy or simply the best values of humanity. America’s outgoing president was the first African-American chief executive in the country’s history. Under his watch, the US fully embraced the idea of marriage equality — that the government would no longer seek to regulate love between people. And America is at the threshold of powerful changes that will build on these breakthroughs. For the first time in US history, children who once were thought of as members of minority groups — African-Americans, Latinos and Asians — now make up the majority in America’s schools. Within roughly a quarter century, that will be true for the US as a whole. America will be living the promise of being an open, diverse society, culturally richer than any other in the world, which provides benefits in the lives of the people in countless ways — from offering a multitude of experiences and traditions to helping its workforce better compete in the global era.
America is also entering an era in which Hillary offers the promise of a different kind of American leadership — neither the unilateralism of George W. Bush, nor the hesitancy of Obama, but one that is both engaged and committed to strengthening alliances. Indeed, that type of leadership may be best characterised by Hillary’s campaign slogan (even though it was intended, I presume, to speak to domestic concerns). “Stronger Together” should be America’s motto overseas, with allies and even with rivals. And America will have an incoming president with the most foreign-policy experience of any since Dwight Eisenhower to help oversee this.
America leads in energy production and in so doing have greater independence from foreign producers. It leads in the technologies of tomorrow, from the internet to biotech, from neuroscience to nanotech. It has the people and the resources and the outlook and the leadership necessary not just to lead the world for the foreseeable future but, better still, to work with the rest of the world, to share with the world, to improve the world and to be open to letting it improve.
That, of course, is the genius of the American system. It is designed to reinvent itself. It is designed to succeed even if those who are elevated to high office within it are imperfect. In fact, it was designed based on the understanding that none would be, that the best system succeeds when its leaders are just average, and thus inhibits and constrains those who are or would be worse than that. In other words, it is a system whose architects had both great aspirations and realistic expectations, audacity and humility, flaws and a desire to overcome them. In other words, it is a system that looks like the people it serves. And Americans are nearing — if they all do their jobs and vote not just their consciences, but their collective wisdom — yet another moment in which to celebrate it and the country it has helped build.
— Washington Post
David Rothkopf is CEO and editor of the FP Group. His latest book, National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear, was released in paperback earlier this year.