One of the most disheartening comments on my recent visit to Ukraine for Monocle had less to do with the war and more to do with my home country, the US. A couple who had fled from the southern port city of Mariupol to western Lviv told me that they considered seeking asylum in the US but, upon further reading, had demurred. The recent abortion ruling, societal divisions and right-wing tendencies had scared them off. I’m not so naive as to believe that the US remains a shining city on a hill – perhaps we never were – but there’s something about a couple who are fleeing war rejecting your home country as an alternative that makes this reality hit home.
Following the coverage of the FBI’s recent raid of Donald Trump’s Florida home – and the visceral response from America’s entrenched camps – affected me in a different way. One of the hallmarks of an independent judicial system is the presumption of innocence. We should assume that someone is innocent until proven guilty, even Trump, but we must equally trust that federal investigations are conducted in good faith. Instead, Trump’s Republican backers claim that the mere fact that the US Department of Justice has dared to investigate the former president is somehow evidence of America becoming a “third-world country”.
It’s hard to overstate how damaging this kind of rhetoric is. Whatever side of the political aisle we’re on, Americans live in a liberal democracy. No one is above the law. Other developed countries have successfully prosecuted leaders – Silvio Berlusconi and Benjamin Netanyahu come to mind. While it’s never easy, it’s a hallmark of a democracy that it can hold its leaders to account. Are we incapable of that in the US? If that’s the case, the country really does deserve to lose its city-on-a-hill reputation that we have clung to for so long.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s news editor.