What Happened to America?
Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 10
One of the most memorable moments of my life was when I came as a young man from Saudi Arabia to California in the 1950s. America was everything I expected, and so much more. It was a rainbow of hope, beauty and elegance, made up of confident and modern people who took it upon themselves to save the world from its evils. As political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said in the 1830s: “When America fought for the most just of causes, that of one people escaping from the yoke of another people; when it was a matter of having a new nation emerge in the world, all souls rose to reach the lofty goal of their efforts.” I was possessed by the American spirit, the bias-toward-action attitude, the endless opportunities that America seemed to provide, alongside the strong moral compass that the country followed. Over the years, America has bravely led the Western world, winning the admiration of the world. Sadly, looking at America today is like seeing an old friend whose face is no longer recognizable. What happened to the America that salvaged Europe from the ashes of war? What happened to the America that fought to create a new, better society? Where is the America that stressed the fundamental importance of checks and balances, separation of powers, and living up to Abraham Lincoln’s model of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people?” Granted, the US democratic experience never followed a straightforward path. There were difficulties along the way. However, America’s greatness lies not in the fact that it is more enlightened than any other nation, but in its ability to correct its mistakes. What happened to the America whose President Kennedy said at his presidential inauguration: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country?” Where is America that created the Peace Corps in order to help less fortunate nations? What happened to the America of Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream to “let freedom ring?” Where is the “shiny city on the hill” that President Ronald Reagan spoke so eloquently about? This was the America I discovered when I first arrived there in the 1950s, and the America I have been a dear admirer of for most of my life. Today, I look sadly at America tearing itself apart, united only in its division. In my life, I’ve seen America at its best, but I’ve also seen America lose its way and become, in some ways, lost. I think this is not the America most Americans want, nor the America the world wants. America, united with its original values, and embodying optimism and moral leadership in the world, is what we need again today. It is time for America’s friends to speak truthfully and lend their support in fending off the dark clouds that obscure America’s beautiful mosaic and stifle nearly 250 years of American greatness. Allow us to return to de Tocqueville and his nearly 200-year-old warning that “America is great because it is good. If America abandons being good, America will cease to be great.” Before we make America great, let us make America good again. – Hassan Yassin (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)