The Margaret W. Wong Forum on Foreign Born Individuals of Distinction
On Wednesday, April 12th, we went to the City Club for "The Margaret W. Wong Forum on Foreign Born Individuals of Distinction" which featured a talk by Dr. Yascha Mounk titled "Is the American Republic in Danger?"
We were pleased to see an abundance of people that we know in attendance including Mr. Steve Bennett, Ms. Wyn Antonio, Mr. Chuck Shaughnessey and Mr. Jake Marx from the Lakewood Democratic Club with whom we had an good dialogue about the current political situation. Also present was Mr. Erik Meinhardt from "Plexus" who we have encountered at several civic functions as of late. During lunch, we shared a table with Mr. Jerry and Ms. Jan Bohine and shared with them what we had read about and by Dr. Mounk. Sitting right beside us was Mr. Steve Caviness, Program Officer with the Cleveland Foundation who told us about some interesting projects that he was working on.
To be sure, Ms. Margaret W. Wong was there along with our good colleague Mr. George Koussa and his fiance, Ms. Liliana Bruckner. Prior to the start of the program, Ms. Wong enjoyed conversing with several old friends including Mr. Bruce Akers, the former mayor of Pepper Pike. During the introductions Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club President and CEO, referred to Ms. Wong as a "legend" and acknowledged that her firm "Margaret W. Wong and Associates" was renowned both nationally and internationally.
To prepare for the event we looked up Dr. Mounk's academic website at yaschamounk.com and read that he is "a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, a Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America as well as a Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund. Born in Germany to Polish parents, Yascha received his BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge and his PhD in Government from Harvard University. Yascha's first book, Stranger in My Own Country - A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the winter of 2014. It was reviewed in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the Times Literary Supplement, among many other publications; a German edition appeared in the fall of 2015. His second book, The Age of Responsibility: Luck Choice and the Welfare State, will be published by Harvard University Press in the summer of 2017. Yascha is now at work on The People versus Democracy: How the Clash Between Individual Rights and the Popular Will is Undermining Liberal Democracy. It will be published by Harvard University Press in English, by Droemer in German, and by Mirae N in Korean. Yascha regularly writes for newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Slate, and Die Zeit. He has also appeared on radio and television in over ten countries."
We also located an article by Dr. Mounk that was published on slate.com on April 9th, 2017 titled "Democracy Has Stood Up to Trump, But It's Far Too Early to Declare Trumpism Dead" in which he contends that the protest movement that has formed against the President has been very effective thus far at least and that the checks and balances of the judiciary are also doing well. Also, of course, President Trump has been "frustrated" by the U.S. Congress (the majority of whom are republicans) particularly regarding efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, Dr. Mounk expressed concern about what the potential harm that the Trump administration might do to "basic democratic norms" because, needless to say, the President's viral, perhaps dangerous rhetoric and the inconsistencies of some of his policies (i.e. Syria) have adversely affected institutions and individuals while at the same costing both President Trump, as well as the high office that he holds, a great deal of credibility. What really worried Dr. Mounk was what might happen if a catastrophe should take place and the President superseded his authority via his response. Dr. Mounk was quick to remind his readers, though, that in places like Turkey and Russia it took quite a few years for the dictators governing them to establish their powerbase and that the "democratic institutions" of these countries were fragile to begin with-so, despite its current political turmoil, he remained optimistic about the future of the United States largely because, overall, President Trump has thus far been "all outrageous talk and no real action."
Interestingly on this day, Dr. Mounk put the emphasis on the dangers facing our democracy and started off by citing some disturbing statistics on how the numbers have declined in the U.S. regarding the number of people who feel that living in a democracy is really that important largely because they are very frustrated by governmental bureaucracy, are convinced that the international trade agreements have shortchanged the U.S. and its workers, and, overall, believe that our elected officials no longer represent them and that the courts are out of touch with what is practical. Even the outcome of elections is not as respected as it once was; for instance, Dr. Mounk cited a recent example of how the North Carolina legislator stripped the governorship of some of its powers because the newly elected governor was not of the same political persuasion.
Because so many people feel assaulted on both the economic and social fronts not just here in the U.S. but all over the world, it is easy for them to find a populist attractive who puts the blame on "the other" and promises to dampen if not extinguish the checks and balances that they claim are keeping people from realizing their true potential. Referring to the U.S., we asked Dr. Mounk about how the current xenophobia about immigrants plays into this and he talked thoughtfully about how the resentment (though not as strong as it is in Europe) is not as apparent in urban areas which have a history of being multiethnic as it is in rural areas and small cities or towns that were once very homogeneous but now are becoming much less so; subsequently, their inhabitants feel that they are losing a vital part of their identity.
As for where the U.S. might go from here, Dr. Mounk indicated that three directions are possible: that the U.S. could be like Poland and have an obvious loss of our democratic ideals/institutions in a relevantly short time period; that the loss could be a forward/backward kind of process resulting in us all looking back after 30-40 years and lamenting that the U.S. is no longer the beacon of liberty that we once were; or, just as he wrote in his article that we previously talked about, the public will recognize the threat to our institutions, develop a new appreciation for our democracy while rallying against those who are threatening it along with supporting productive reforms that will address the societal factors that have so alienated people.
Along these lines, one suggestion that Dr. Mounk made that really impressed Ms. Jewel Moulthrop, who we talked to afterwards, was that political writers and historians could strive harder to find the proper balance between constructive criticism about what is wrong with the policies of the U.S. and praising what is right about them. Another item that impressed everyone at the City Club to the point of applauding, was when Dr. Mounk mentioned that a month ago he became a U.S. citizen.
Speaking a citizenship, we talked to Ms. Almuth Riggs who first immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1969. Around 1977 she settled in Cleveland and turned to a young attorney who had just established a practice named Margaret W. Wong for help on some immigration matters. On this day, she was glad to encounter Ms. Wong so that she could once again thank her for her help.
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