Ronald G. Suny


The United States can be proud of its liberal ideals of human rights, democracy, equality, and tolerance of difference that it inherited from the European Enlightenment. But when it attempts to export those ideals to other countries, particularly when it does so with bayonets, tanks, drones and missiles, its idealistic civilizing mission is bound to fail.

Is there a way out? The struggle is clearly more difficult in authoritarian countries, and it must take the path of increasing democratic possibilities.

Many of my friends and colleagues ask me, why are Turks and their government unable to recognize what happened in 1915 as a genocide? Why can they not simply acknowledge the factual truth that the ruthless Young Turk government that ruled in the final years of the Ottoman Empire carried out a brutal ethnic cleansing and mass murder of their Armenian and Assyrian subjects in a frenzied time of imagined danger to their regime?

The liberal vision of American foreign policy, now being revived by Biden, has its own historical narrative.

Trump and Trumpism have left a trail of wreckage in their departure from Washington, a devastated landscape of racial, social, and ideological division. The Democrats propose unity and healing, more generous social programs, and less racial division, though their ambitious and laudable program is unlikely to win over the fractured but still Trumpist Republicans.

The sturdy democratic system in the United States withstood the attack, but it was evident that democracy is a fragile system always in danger from unscrupulous politicians, demagogues, and power-hungry opportunists.

Governments, like many people, find it difficult to face facts. They make up stories about the past, and they fabricate tales about enemies within the country and outside. Denialism and the creation of convenient fictions help self-interested politicians stay in power. But ultimately reality bites back and forces one to look at the facts.