Restoring the world's faith in America
July 31, 2008
By Steve Mount
I recently heard on National Public Radio the story of a Billings, Mont. businessman who was in a bind. In his low-unemployment city, he was having a hard time filling an information technology position in his small company.
Driving to work one day, Rob Hunter heard the story of Bahjat, an Iraqi IT specialist who worked with the Americans in his country. Because of his work, Bahjat was targeted by Iraqi insurgents. He applied for and got refugee status, moved his mother and sister with him to Florida, and began looking, in vain, for work.
Hunter contacted Bahjat and offered him the open position. Though unsure why someone from so far away would want to help him, Bahjat eventually accepted the job.
As the family drove a donated car from Florida to Montana, Hunter organized his friends and neighbors to contribute home goods to furnish a small apartment and to ensure that Bahjat and his family would feel welcome when they arrived.
Throughout the world, America is reviled, looked down upon, feared, hated. But in a world where crowds are wont to chant “Death to America!” stories like that of Hunter and Bahjat give me some hope that we can turn this negative perception around.
While hatred of America is nothing new, it is surprising when you look back at where we were in September 2001.
As I'm sure you recall, in the days following the attacks on Washington and New York, we enjoyed an outpouring of support from all corners of the world. The Bush administration, with its arrogant approach to diplomacy, has squandered most of that good will.
We need more Rob Hunters to restore our position in the world.
Locally, we are doing our part. My parents run an employment agency in Burlington, and over the years I've heard many stories of refugees coming here to start over. Be they Vietnamese, Cambodian, Croatian, Bantu, Congolese or Iraqi, desperate to make their own way, they would take any job they could find.
Similar stories dot the pages of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program's online newsletters: Vermonters lending their language skills to newcomers; Vermonters donating gently-used winter gear to Africans seeing snow for the first time; and Vermonters introducing immigrants to the wonders of an American grocery store.
We Americans have big hearts, and it is disheartening when the world reacts only to the negatives.
So it was with some great enthusiasm that I watched Barack Obama visit Europe last week. According to some estimates, the size of the crowd that he addressed in Berlin was even larger than his largest thus far here in the U.S.
Some of the onlookers were spurred by curiosity, to be sure. But I think there is more to it than that. With some exceptions, I think that most of the world wants, desperately, to look up to the United States. It cannot bring itself to do that while Bush is at the helm, and McCain just looks like more of the same.
Obama is bringing ideas to the American people, and, by way of wide media coverage, to the world. Most of them are not new ideas — they are long-held Democratic Party principles — but they seem fresh after eight years of Bush.
But more than restating Democratic Party ideals, more than a return to an America that values conversation, diplomacy and cooperation, Obama is seen as a realization of a classic American ideal, the same ideal that Lincoln's log cabin once evoked.
That's the ideal that anyone, from whatever background, can excel in America. That regardless of our checkered history, even the son of a Kansan and a Kenyan can become our head of state.
Obama is also seeking to restore another classic American ideal — that of John Winthrop's City Upon a Hill. Though Winthrop envisioned an America worthy of almost religious worship, the phrase has evolved to mean an America founded on democratic principles that all nations should aspire to.
Restoring our position of leadership in the world must be a goal of the next president. With people like Barack Obama and Rob Hunter working to that goal, either deliberately or tangentially, we can restore our position, we can be a beacon, we can again be that city upon a hill.
Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.