As we mark 50 years of Sister Cities International, the program is feeling the impact of President Donald Trump’s words and actions.

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It was a bold move, asking Americans still tending to the wounds of World War II to look beyond their backyards and see their former enemies as something more: humans.

But President Dwight D. Eisenhower did just that in a White House speech in 1956, laying the foundation for Sister Cities International and calling it “the most worthwhile purpose there is in the world today.”

The other night, as people poured into the Seattle Yacht Club to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association (SBSCA), there was a sense of damage done.

Sister Cities International — which has linked students, citizens, businesses and cultures around the globe — is feeling the impact of President Donald Trump’s less-than-diplomatic words and actions.

“Right now it’s absolutely critical,” SBSCA President Lori Ann Reinhall told me. “There’s a lot of unknown and fear. Students are afraid to come here because they think there’s a xenophobic tone here.”

That’s what happens when you sign an executive order to ban people entering the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries. When you call Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers.

The world hears it, and responds. And a reputation — and decades of goodwill work — can recede.

“We’re all diplomats, trying to build relationships between people,” Reinhall said. “Our message is friendship and sharing.

“If people just got to know each other …”

Mary D. Kane, the president and CEO of Sister Cities International, came from Washington, D.C., for the gala.

Consider the time Sister Cities International started, she told me. It was not long after the end of World War II, when America’s relations with parts of the world were still raw and tenuous.

“Our country had been bombed and soldiers had died,” Kane said. “And President Eisenhower was asking us to put out our hands and say, ‘Let’s be friends.’ It was so uncomfortable for them, and yet, people did it.”

Indeed, one of the first sister-cities relationships was between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Nagasaki, Japan — where soldiers had made connections with people in a time of war and put them ahead of whatever pain they brought home.

Students signed up for exchange programs. They learned other languages and other cultures, and that friendships influenced — or outweighed — politics.

“Only 70 years later, look where we are with Germany and Japan,” Kane said. “They are strong allies. They are people we would turn to.

“Just because your leaders aren’t great people …”

My mind flashed to the moment two weeks ago when President Donald Trump seemingly refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for photographers during a meeting at The White House. (Trump has since said he didn’t hear the request.)

Since the election, Kane has seen a downturn in the number of students seeking to spend a semester abroad, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

“People have hunkered down a bit,” she said. “And we encourage just the opposite. We need to be out there.”

Jennie Eisenhower, the president’s great-granddaughter and a freelance actor and director who flew in from her home in Philadelphia for the event, would not only sing “America the Beautiful,” but read a speech her great-grandfather delivered at a White House conference on citizen diplomacy in 1956.

“If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace,” he said, “then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments — if necessary, to evade governments — to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.”

President Trump has made that difficult already in pursuing a Muslim ban that has torn families apart, sent artists and students back where they came from, and planted seeds of suspicion on Main Streets all over the country. Mosques have been vandalized, Jewish cemeteries desecrated.

We don’t see each other’s hearts, as Eisenhower urged all those years ago.

“Americans consider themselves to be a melting pot,” Jennie Eisenhower said before her speech. “For that to be a part of who we are, we have to actively pursue it.”

“The biggest breeder of discrimination and judgment toward others is ignorance,” she said. “The truth is, we all want the same things.”

Despite the political climate, Kane remains hopeful.

Technology has allowed virtual exchanges, “so even when you can’t travel, you can stay connected.”

U.S. schools have thriving relationships with schools in the Middle East and North Africa.

“High-school kids will ask each other anything,” she said.

She marveled at how Council Bluffs, Iowa, has connected with four cities: El Hajeb, Morocco; Karadah Baghdad, Iraq; Tobolsk, Russia; and Herat, Afghanistan.

Seattle has 21 sister cities, including Kobe, Japan; Christchurch, New Zealand; and Mombasa, Kenya.

“You keep going because it works,” Kane said. “Sister Cities have been here for a long time. Your elected leaders are not.”