(This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on November 15, 2016.)
Though I voted for Hillary Clinton, I am a product of the American system and a believer in it. As such, I am prepared to accept and support Donald Trump as our 45th president. I hope we can all get behind him.
And who can disagree with his main election slogan: “Make America Great Again”. As an American patriot and retired Army officer, I am all for this. I guarded the frontiers of freedom for five years of my life: four years on the Inter-German Border and one year on the De-Militarized Zone in Korea. When President-Elect Trump, a baby boomer as I am, has referred to a Golden Age of America, he seems to look back to the late 40s and 50s, a time when “we were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war.”
I remember those good ole days. While he was across the Hudson River in New York City, I was a few miles west in northern New Jersey, in a solid middle-working class town, Hasbrouck Heights. Even at that young age, I could sense the vigorous economic growth of the post-war years. A cow pasture at the edge of town suddenly turned into a huge factory; large grocery markets appeared where once farmers sold their vegetables by the bushel-basket.
By the early 60s, America seemed to dominate the world. We had a young, charismatic president with a beautiful wife and two young children, who led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis. American culture pervaded the world: Coca-Cola, blue jeans, Mickey Mouse, Rock ‘n Roll, and Hollywood. Our German landlady in Mainz, Germany, once related to me how in the 50s and 60s, “Made in America” was sought after; however, this was not the case by the late 70s and 80s. Yes, the good ole days—I am all for bringing them back.
Unfortunately, that world is gone with the wind. To name just a few of the changes: In 1960 the world had 3.04 billion people; today it has 7.4 billion, most expecting water, other scarce resources, and internet access. In 1960, China was ranked 6th in gross domestic product and was about to enter its disastrous Cultural Revolution. By 2010, it had climbed to 2nd behind the US, had turned capitalistic, had rebuilt its infrastructure, and was in the process of building a blue-water navy. In 1980, as I walked to teach my undergraduate class, the eyes of just about every student I passed met mine; now, most have their eyes on their iPhones.
A second concern is his credentials. When the Chicago Cubs wanted to break the century-old curse and build a championship team, they did not hire the head of Proctor & Gamble or General Electric. They hired successful baseball insiders, many from our championship Boston Red Sox. By one count there are over ten former Red Sox players and administrators who were acquired by the Cubs, including Theo Epstein, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Mike Napoli. They also hired a seasoned manager in Joe Madden, a proven performer with 21 years of coaching experience.
Mr. Trump brings to the Oval Office great credentials as a manager, businessman, and communicator; however, these a leader do not make. Especially in the current age of the anything-goes internet and after such an ill-mannered election campaign, it is essential that he be our first citizen of civility. Beyond America, I hope our president can continue to be the leader of the free world and speak to the hopes and aspirations of, not only America’s down-trodden, but the huddled and persecuted masses of the world. Even though the full promise of the American Creed, highlighting human rights and dignity for all, is yet to be fully achieved in our own country, our pursuit of these has defined America not simply for 240 years but for 400, certainly here in Rhode Island.
It has not been simply because of our battleships, bombs, and brains that we have been bestowed with this leadership mantel, but also because of our moral leadership, specifically our defense of human rights and our pursuit of social justice, however flawed and inept these pursuits may have been at times. It was one of us who formulated those transcendent words which continue to capture the hearts of so many: “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Mr. Trump’s welcomed words of conciliation and unity on election night reminded me of one of his fore-runners, also a Republican, as our country was stumbling toward the Civil War: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies… The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Fred Zilian is a writer and performer. He also teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.