THE BIG PICTURE

This blog aims to portray America in a fresh and sometimes funny light, as a young and developing country with much to learn from the world and from a big-picture, long-term take on our politics and policies. It very much addresses today’s news, but where possible puts that news in broader, comparative contexts.

A DEVELOPING DEMOCRACY

At the start of my career in international development, I lived in the Philippines from 1987 to 1993. At first employed by a U.S. foundation and later supported by a Fulbright Fellowship, I funded and then researched efforts to rebuild democracy in the wake of the 1986 demise of that nation’s dictatorship.

It was wonderful work. Filipinos are the nicest people in the world. I had the honor of befriending or funding human rights lawyers, investigative journalists, and other incredibly courageous folks. And the Philippines, a former U.S. colony that modeled many of its institutions on America’s own, made for a fascinating political development case study.

LAUGHING AND CRYING

Despite my rewarding work there, I joined expatriate and Filipino friends alike in both chuckling and fretting over the country’s peculiar politics, which was marred by chronic corruption, gun-toting warlords, cartoon character congresspersons, endemic inequality, indifference to injustice, excessive religious influence, mendacious media, and super-macho chatter. We cringed over what a leading Filipino political scientist called his country’s “primitive political culture.” And we cracked jokes about that sad state of affairs.

FAST FORWARD

Fast forward from the Philippines 1993 to America 2016. Witness the character of many U.S. candidates and congresspersons, the fact-free policy debates, the legalized corruption that is campaign finance, the anti-foreigner xenophobia in a land of immigrants, the injustice and inequality, the religiosity that sometimes turns a God of love into one of hate.

Who’s laughing (or crying) now?

AMERICA AS A DEVELOPING COUNTRY

Which brings me back to this blog. Particularly since I am launching it in the middle of a presidential campaign, it concentrates on current events. But it also aims to sometimes escape the prison of the present, our national tendency to take an extremely short-term view of the news. It seeks a bigger picture perspective. The blog presents America as a developing country – a young, evolving nation that can learn specific political and policy lessons from abroad and from our own history.

This developmental perspective is important because, for all of America’s influence in the world, we are often all to insular in engaging with it.

The problem partly springs from American exceptionalism, the national narrative that depicts our country as the world’s best, with a mandate to lead, yet a right to stand apart from international norms and experience.

Other factors cut across the political spectrum. Often with the best of intentions, we tend to see our role across the globe as to lead and teach, rather than to listen and learn. The general public’s perspectives are sometimes narrowed by what crosses their television or computer screens. And busy policy-makers tend to ignore information about foreign experience when it is not easily accessible or framed in ways immediately relevant to the U.S. context.

AUDIENCES

A Promised Land addresses an evolving range of policies and political issues, not least the current presidential campaign, in ways that I hope prove at least a bit illuminating for American and foreign audiences alike.

For Americans, the blog aims to selectively cover current events with which we are familiar, while often placing them in a different light.

For foreigners, I hope some posts help explain the sometimes mystifying ways in which American society and democracy work.

For all readers, I welcome feedback including your own insights, questions and reflections.

Since we all can use some relief from and perspective on the daily grind of political and policy debates, the blog includes some funny and odd items as well.

A FEW LESSONS

Now, briefly back to the Philippines: Its pervasive problems persist. But a rising middle class and a sincerely anti-corruption president have put the country on a brighter path than the my friends and I laughed about and despaired over a quarter century ago…though much could hinge on the outcome of its own presidential election this May.

Our former colony’s very general lessons for those of us who bemoan the state of American democracy? Darkness passes. Things can and do change in the long run. The struggle never ends.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY…AND A PROMISED LAND

The current state of U.S. society indeed leaves much to lament. Jingoistic claims that we’re the greatest country on earth end up masking our challenges rather than facing them. Our contradictions are profound. Even as they fade in some respects, inequality and injustice intensify in others. Far be it from me to maintain that we will necessarily overcome all of this.

But, in fact, and with the long run in mind, we do sometimes overcome seemingly intransigent obstacles. Tens of millions of Americans have gained health care coverage and the right to marry today, compared with five years ago. Though the bloom is off the rose of his presidency, ten years ago how many people would have bet that we would elect someone with the name and race of Barack Hussein Obama?

So even as it can drive us to despair, America is a dynamic land of incredible promise – particularly when seen not as a place fixed in place, but as a developing country. As with any development endeavor, this blog will probe its problems but also seek solutions. And in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “I believe in a promised land.”

 

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