Thanks to the ‘heads up’ from Jackie Dinneen recently the White House Liaison and also Director of Gifts and Grants Management at the Peace Corps. — JC Note
What Our Children Show Us — and the World
By Mark Salter, RCP Contributor
February 22, 2017
Our daughter accepted an assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer yesterday. I’ll leave out the particulars of the job except to note she will be living on the other side of the world in a remote location without electricity or plumbing, and she won’t be home for two years and two months.
Her mother and father are experiencing equal measures of pride and dread, and suffering what you might call anticipatory separation anxiety. She won’t leave for several months yet, but I already find myself looking at her picture several times a day. We are going to miss and worry about her constantly.
In other words, we’re reacting as any parent would whose child is leaving for a distant land to live in trying conditions, from where she will be in infrequent communication with us, and where she will remain for two Thanksgivings and Christmases, two birthdays, two Maine vacations, her sister’s graduation and missed weddings, births, funerals and other important occasions attended by her family and friends.
But as deeply as we will feel her absence, the emotions it elicits won’t be entirely unfamiliar. She studied abroad for two semesters, and while she wasn’t literally off the grid as she will be for most of the next two years, we still counted the days until she came home.
What is new in our relationship is the dawning recognition that my daughter is a better American than I am. I’ve known for a while, though failed to acknowledge, that she and her sister are better persons. They’re generous, compassionate, empathetic, diligent, bright and funny. They consider how their actions affect others before and after the fact.
But a better American? I hadn’t thought so. I spent a career in public service, most of it working for a U.S. senator, whose sacrifices for his country were exceptional and whose patriotism is as privately felt as it is publicly expressed. I still participate in small ways in the public debates of our time, no doubt with more emotion than effect. But I believe as much in our founding values as I did when I was younger and more idealistic, and I defend them – if only with rhetoric.
But never did I give up the comforts of modern life and the society of family and friends to live in a village at the edge of a jungle for the purpose of helping strangers, and to represent America’s values and generosity. I never did that.
I understand American values are rooted not in fidelity to blood and soil, but in respect for human dignity, and that American world leadership should be dedicated not only to the protection of our interests, but to the global progress of freedom and justice. Yet, I never risked anything personally to advance those values or serve as an example of the humanitarianism that typifies much of America’s conduct abroad.
My daughter has the advantage on me there and is an example to me. She should be an example to America’s president, too. For she surely understands that our foreign policy and our self-defense should not be severed from our morals, and from the respect for human dignity that is the basis for our political values.
Donald Trump sounds as though he believes generosity is for suckers and humanitarianism is an unnecessary public relations campaign. He calls on us to shed our values to fight our enemies and take what we need from other nations. He threatens to disrupt an international order that respects human rights and has liberated hundreds of millions from tyranny and poverty, the work of generations of statesmen, in favor of an “America First, Last and Only” policy. His creed is the strong vanquish the weak, and its articles include “take their oil,” “kill their families,” and “torture them.”
My daughter and young Americans like her understand better than their president does what makes America exceptional. God knows those values serve her better than he does. Donald Trump can dismiss these young Americans as naïve idealists, and they might be. But let’s hope that if the world rids them of their naivete, it won’t rob them of their idealism. It’s so valuable to us.
Let’s also hope our historic conception of the national interest, the one that makes us exceptional, prevails in the contest with both Trumpism and with menacing challenges from foreign adversaries. And let’s hope the faith that our interests are safer where our values are ascendant will again guide our conduct abroad.
My daughter in her small, brave way is setting out into the world to defend that faith, and my heart is bursting with pride.
Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.