Arlington National Cemetery is not your average, everyday graveyard. Spreading out over 624 acres, this is the place where America keeps the memories of its fallen heroes alive. Walking through this garden of stones, you cannot help but reflect on the amount of history that is buried there. And among these graves is the final resting place of Captain Humayun Khan, whose Pakistani American parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan made their presence felt at the Democratic National Convention last year.
Before listening to Khizr Khan’s speech I didn’t even know about Captain Humayun. When in town I decided to visit his grave and offer prayers there. At the grave of this fallen soldier, who would have been exactly my age today, one question kept nagging me: What is it about this country that so many people from around the world do not just take pride in becoming its citizens but are ready to render such remarkable sacrifices for it? The only answer that came to my mind was about the American dream.
The most stunning thing about the American dream is the clarity of thought behind it. It is one articulate idea. When writing about 240 years ago the framers of a nation’s constitution did not forget to mention ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’ as unalienable rights of mankind, how could it not be. And while in his work ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, Thomas Piketty reminds us that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is steadily increasing everywhere, America is one place where upward social mobility based on true merit is still possible. That in itself, in this day and age, is not a small accomplishment.
But two things in recent years have drawn attention away from the American dream and threatened to undermine it. One, the never-ending American wars of the 21st century. Two, the 2016 presidential race culminating into the triumph of Donald Trump. The former brought American power to your doorstep. When you witness endless conflicts one way or another centered around one nation’s political will one cannot help but wonder if the country in question is overstretching itself. Wars also create a lot of bad blood regardless of their positioning. Hence the chatter about declining American power has been rampant. Many of us did not realise it back then but a reset was inevitable. Now it is being broadly debated whether this is the awaited reset.
And now to the purported reset which is our second point. Trump’s victory. The president-elect has built his image as a ruthless go-getter. Someone who is not ashamed of being politically incorrect while being right. But that essentially is the image of a non-politician, someone who is insensitive to the political complexities of the age. The resulting election campaign has been bedlam. It has thrown the hitherto concealed fault lines in the American society into sharp relief. This situation has provided the America bashers around the world another propaganda tool to spread more anti-Americanism. But the bigger problem still is that as race relations once again become part of the national discourse it is affecting America’s self-image. That can damage the world order as we know it and play right into the hands of the terrorists that want to harm us all.
It is critical at this stage not to lose sight of two crucial facts. First, after this devastating election cycle America needs to come together, because it is the working model of a political ideal light years ahead of any other found elsewhere. American democracy and American dream are two terms that still inspire countless millions around the world. Judge it by this. Moved by the potent force that is the American dream I have spent past decade advocating that instead of endless ideological debates what Pakistan needs is a dream of its own. Second, no matter how surreal the result of the 2016 election, it is time to accept it.
If Mr Trump can deliver the reset he promised without bringing the entire house down, it will be a victory of American people and freedom lovers around the world. If not there always will be scope for a course correction in the next election cycle. And as the post result pandemonium among world leaders revealed the world still needs America. Maybe a good idea not to demonise it now.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2017.