Executive Director Judith Goldstein Writes on Global Politics
Judith S. Goldstein, Founder and Executive Director of Humanity in Action, wrote the following letter to the Humanity in Action international network.
March 30, 2017
One can grow dizzy, disoriented and completely distraught from all the regressive policy announcements, actions, and claims—false and true—from the Trump Administration. We race from revelation to revelation — trying to understand the ideological and personal forces surrounding the person — and his associates or co-dependents — now filling the most powerful political position in the world. The Congress is another matter all together.
We are pushing the limits of apt and satirical language to describe what is going on. The Wall Street Journal editorial on March 22 described the President as mired in “his endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.” The editorial stated that the President can’t drop the fantasy that his predecessor wiretapped his phones: “The President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle.” And if the President doesn’t wise up, the editorial surmised that Trump would be viewed as “a fake President.” And this from The Wall Street Journal, ever a beacon from the conservative perspective.
Since the election, we remain in the perfect storm generated by an ignorant, power hungry, mean-spirited President, a small government (or anti-government) Republican-led Congress and a majority of state governments that support the conservative right wing of that same party. No part of our civic life and discourse can escape the whirlwind.
How did we get to this place of danger and instability after the US election, the Dutch one which avoided the most extreme possibility and awaiting the next critical ones in France and Germany? We are trying to understand, not just in the United States but around the world. Throughout the media and in so many of our conversations, we analyze polarization, political and media divides, economic insecurity, objectivity, truth, falsehoods, civic disaffection, populism, racism and misogyny. There is so much to learn about all of these intersecting spheres of concern. One constantly looks for guidance from insightful commentators in the press and other media — articles, books, television and radio coverage — who weigh the gravity of our civic life. A good example: Angus Deaton of Princeton just reviewed Gaesh Sitaraman’s The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic. Deaton questions whether America’s middle class will be able to sustain the democracy: “Nor is it clear, postelection, whether the threat is an incipient oligarchy or an incipient populist autocracy; our new president tweets from one to the other.”
We are repeatedly asked how Humanity in Action is responding to these events. The first answer is that we have doubled down on what we have focused on for 20 years—we are just more relevant and needed than ever. We are working harder than ever to run relevant annual programs and provide support for the work of Senior Fellows: more fellowships with organizations and institutions that are in the thick of contesting many of the goals of the new administration.
The second answer relates to definitions. When asked what we do, I think we now need to emphasize more than ever the underlying goals—not the mechanisms—of the organization. For many years, we have broken up the Humanity in Action model into three functional parts:
- Educate Fellows
- Connect a Network
- Inspire Action
All true and relevant. But now we need to superimpose in bold terms a more urgent or focused set of definitions for our model:
- Sustain Liberal Democracies
- Support Diversity to Enhance Liberal Democracies and Social Justice
- Resist Forces Opposed to Pluralistic and Liberal Democracies
These are the subjects for our upcoming summer programs and the International Conference in Berlin from June 22 - 25, 2017.
- In the meantime, might I suggest a few readings:
- On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
- “Horrible Histories: The Perils of Comparing Trump to Twentieth-Century Dictators” by Jeet Heer. The New Republic, April 2017, pp. 52-55;
- “The Illiberal Imagination: Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?” by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, March 20, 2017
- Strangers in Our Own Land by Arlie Hochschild
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