Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Inauguration Words: “Civilized world”


As I reflect on the peaceful transition from administration to another, the differences are striking. The Obama and Trump administration have dissimilar approaches. Even the way and they look at the world is unique. In this blog, I would like to look at some of the words and phrases Trump used in his inauguration speech.

The inauguration speech provides an opportunity for a new president to set the tone for his/her administration. In the case of Trump’s speech, he revealed a clear worldview—one that is consistent with his campaign rhetoric. Trump views the world as a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers. To be a winner means beating someone else. Instead of cooperation and mutual gain, Trump sees individual gain. Somewhat ironic, this view is antithetical to trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics proposes that when the rich get richer, they spend more and the situation improves for everyone. In other words, a rising tide raises all boats.

One phrase jumped out at me. Trump said, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -- and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

I will treat the phrase “eradicate completely” at a later date. Right now, I want to focus on “civilized world.” What did he mean? The countries of the North Atlantic? Europe, the United States, and Canada? What about Australia and South Africa? N. B. Each area I listed has a majority of white/Caucasian people. Does he include South Korea and Japan as civilized? What is the President’s view of Bhutan? It is the only carbon-negative country in the world. Of course, he has called climate change a hoax. So, being carbon-neutral or carbon-negative would not be noteworthy to him.

By saying the words “civilized world,” we learn that he holds the antiquated view of some of the world as uncivilized. I can hardly believe that this needs treatment. 

If Trump was referring to Africa, a continent of 54 countries, he does not understand the nature of civilization. The 1.1. billion people of the continent have produced 22 Nobelauriates. Four of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are on the continent. One out of every three people who live on the continent are, actually, middle class. Sure, the continent has issues of poverty, inequality, and injustice. But, so does the United States.

We can relegate a phrase like “civilized world” to old books. When we read them, we can overlook it. These words are a relic of a Eurocentric or colonial worldview, like the sexist mankind, instead of humanity or the racist negro, instead of African-America.

Some of Trump’s most ardent followers long for a golden heyday of the United States. They seem to long for something like the world portrayed on Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66). Both television shows portray an idealized America of the 1950s. However, both shows miss the cultural richness of America, even within that era. Neither show portrays the depth of Appalachia and the Southern literature tradition. Both miss the Southwestern mix of a Latino culture growing in the United States. Neither touches African American or Native American culture. And, neither shows the diversity of American cities, like New York and Chicago.

There is no civilized and uncivilized world anymore. We live in a postcolonial world. We live in a world of pluralities and differing viewpoints. We recognize various cultures for their richness and what people can learn from one another. Referring to the “civilized world” and longing for an idealized past might play well with white supremacists, but it means nothing to those of us who feel blessed to live in a diverse land. These phrases miss the truth, beauty, and goodness of seeing other nations succeed with the United States.

The Bible is full of verses supporting helping others and seeing them as sisters and brothers, not uncivilized foreigners. As a Christian, my motivation for calling out this phrase is tantamount to God’s calling in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”


2 comments:

  1. This is tremendous perspective. I find this very insightful and helpful.

    ReplyDelete