“A closed country is a dying country.” – Edna Ferber
On this day in 1884 the French people presented the United States with the Statue of Liberty in honor of America’s commitment to democracy. Gustave Eiffel, engineer for the Eiffel Tower, designed the statue’s metal scaffold. Three hundred sheets of thin copper were hammered into shape and attached to the scaffold in France, then dismantled and transported to New York and erected on Ellis Island to greet immigrants who came here for a better life and to build America into the great country it is today.
On a recent trip to Eastern Europe I spent time with a young man I met backpacking on Mount Rainier. Petr is a native of the Czech Republic who lived through the Velvet Revolution which ended Communist rule and was the beginning of his country’s democracy. Petr loves to travel, and was leaving for a skiing trip in the Italian Alps the day I left Prague for home. He also loves the United States, and had considered moving to America, but is now unsure. He asked me what is going on in my country, a question several foreigners I encountered asked. It is startling that in a matter of a few short months this Administration has enacted policies that changed the perception of the United States from world leader to isolationist. From the experiences I had talking with foreigners on my trip it is clear that the reputation of the country I had been proud of my entire life has diminished in the eyes of the international community.
I’d only been home for a few days before the same sentient was reinforced when I visited my friend at his home in rural Pennsylvania. As a little boy, Daniel fled Paris with his parents to a farmhouse in the French countryside to flee the Nazi occupation. His father, a respected oral surgeon, worked for the French Resistance. When Paris was liberated by the allies two years later he and his family returned home. Daniel emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-one with no money and unable to speak the language, then went on to build a successful documentary film business and live the American dream. He adopted America as his own country, but today, for the first time, Daniel is frustrated and worried that the leadership of this Administration is on a path to systematically diminish our freedoms while enriching themselves. Always a robust and gregarious man, I’d never heard Daniel sound so pessimistic.
Independence Day 2017 is a day to reflect and reset on the values and freedoms of the American experiment. About the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “May it be to the world… the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … restore the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”