AS I HAVE TRAVELED around the United States and abroad since leaving office, I have heard—and asked myself—many variants of the same question: “Are we going to be okay?” We have ample grounds for alarm.
The sources of America’s strength—our diversity, our embrace of individual rights and dignity, our commitment to the rule of law, and our leadership in the world—are under severe threat.
The basic lessons my husband Cass and I try to teach our two boys (tell the truth, count and share your blessings, treat everyone equally) are being abused and ridiculed by the person holding the highest office in the land.
President Trump’s contempt and bigotry, his rage and dishonesty, and his attacks on judges, journalists, minorities, and opposition voices are doing untold damage to the moral and political foundations of American democracy. (From Samantha Power’s recent book, The Education of an Idealist.)
His cruel rhetoric and actions have not only unleashed vitriol toward those he has branded “enemies,” but have also fueled violence by extremists within our own borders. In late October of 2018, I received a call from the FBI’s Boston field office. The agent informed me that Cesar Sayoc, the man accused of mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of President Trump, had done internet searches for the home addresses of other potential victims, including me. This call came the same week Declan and Rían had been incessantly checking our mailbox, awaiting the arrival of a mystery novel and science kit I had ordered for them. Extremists with malicious tendencies like Sayoc have always been with us. But today our culture is saturated with misinformation. Even when falsehoods don’t contribute to violence, they frighten people and turn us against one another. The decline in respect for objective truth and facts means we lack a stable underpinning on which to base our debates—and, ultimately, our decisions. Trump and his enablers in politics and the media have been effective in fanning fear. While I once viewed the conflict in Bosnia as a last gasp of ethnic chauvinism and demagoguery from a bygone era, it now seems more of a harbinger of the way today’s autocrats and opportunists exploit grievances, conjuring up some internal or external threat in order to expand their own power. Those of us who reject these tactics have yet to figure out how to convincingly reach people who are frightened by false claims.
Power, Samantha. The Education of an Idealist, Afterword,
Dey Street Books. Kindle Edition.