The following essay by Henrik Clausen has been translated by the author from the Danish version, which was published earlier today by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Goodbye, America. It was good to know you.
by Henrik Clausen
I grew up with America and lots of good things coming from there. An America with a constitution written by fine people, an America with movies and stories about the Wild West, an America that saved us from the atrocities of the National Socialists. I recall watching the lunar landings on my grandparents’ television, and listened to Doors, Hendrix and Janis Joplin coming out of the old tube radio.
Back in the 1970s, America’s global influence was as remarkable as it is today. The US was entangled in a strange war in Vietnam, with painful accounts of war in the jungle and civilian suffering reaching us. I rejoiced when President Nixon showed that the threat from China was not really that great and that the United States could pull out. OK, so the Chinese had a communist regime. With good alliances with Japan, Korea, etc., the threat was manageable.
Together with my parents, I had the extraordinary experience of living in Iran in the late 1970s, “an island of stability” in the chaotic Middle East. The close ties between Iran and the United States guaranteed stability and the rapid development of the country. However, that lasted only until President Jimmy Carter, under the pretext of ‘human rights’, let down Emperor Pahlavi and opened the gates of revolution for a brutal Islamic regime. A regime that poses a security problem even up to today.
I followed the changes in the 1980s, when a proud and confident President Reagan pulled the United States out of inflation and decay. Reagan had campaigned on the economy as his main issue, but soon realized that the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union was severe, and had to be dealt with. In particular, I recall the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 and praying intensely that they would find a solution to the nuclear tensions. It did not happen there, but a few years later the threat disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But darker sides of American foreign policy also emerged. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tolerated Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, where a third of the island is still occupied. President Carter politicized the Olympic Games after his security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski provoked the Soviet Union to send its army into Afghanistan. And President Clinton kept his election promise to bomb Serbia, even though Serbia constituted no threat to the United States.
All of that paled, however, on September 11th 2001, when Islamists attacked America. It was without question that we would stand with America to eliminate the efforts of Islamists trying to spread Islam and Sharia. Here in Denmark, we did our part. Not only with practical military support on dangerous missions, but also by way of art and humor. Danish artists entered the fray for freedom of expression, and despite a massive diplomatic crisis, we stood our ground in our right to mock and ridicule what we find deserving.
Like many others, I used to consume large amounts of American culture. The carefully crafted Disney movies provided unforgettable cinema experiences. The Little House on the Prairie books were devoured quickly, spending only a few days on each volume. Later, I marveled at the subtle family drama of The Godfather, absorbed “Thirteen Days” (about the Cuba crisis) and JFK (the John F. Kennedy), and many other important movies. Even today, driving down an open highway, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bruce Springsteen move me to tears.
But these days the United States is in serious trouble. The country has fallen into the trap called the “Triffin Dilemma”: Having the dollar as the global reserve currency requires massive trade deficits, and has led to decades of shrinking manufacturing in the US proper, all while finance and services have been expanding disproportionately. It is my personal suspicion that the unrest that has shocked the United States this year may be due more to poor living conditions, not the ‘racism’ alleged by leftist political leaders.
Over time, the United States has also been home to excellent philosophers. Persons with a profound understanding of ‘freedom’ really means, and how the State should play a low-key role in protecting citizens’ freedom. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson showed in words and action how this can be done for the benefit of all: In particular, it was the US Navy that put an end to a thousands of years of piracy in the Mediterranean, and in doing so sent the Ottoman Empire into terminal decline. A decline that led many nations to regain their freedom and independence.
At the time of writing, the presidential election has not yet been decided. But the greatest loser has been found already: the American democracy. In an election that was marred by poor candidates, rude rhetoric and riots not worthy of a mature democracy. The fact that the incumbent President Trump has systematically expressed his distrust of the democratic process as also cost dearly in terms of public confidence in democratic processes. Whoever wins in the end, the United States has lost the moral right to lecture other nations about democracy.
The United States we used to know has changed irrevocably. Now we must expect the United States to solve its own problems, without the mental of physical capacity to be our Great Protector. And as France has recently shown, we Europeans are able to stand up to our challenges ourselves. And we can still read American philosophers of freedom such as Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt and Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls), all while we hope for America to come to its senses again. For I sorely miss the America that I grew up with.