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Monday, January 30, 2017

An ordinary relationship

You think this is going to be an anti-Trump screed, but he wasn't necessarily wrong about this. Before he even won last year's Republican primary, he put his finger on something that the world has lost. And we didn't even realize until now that it was gone.

Sure, it gives me the creeps that he held hands with the prime minister of Britain, as it would to see him touch any woman. Ronnie and Maggie this was not. But Theresa May is part of the problem, too--waiting for French and German leadership before her government would criticize the president's latest executive order. 

What we are seeing is not just a new administration in the USA or a new, pro-Brexit British government. This is the end of leadership in the world.

Since World War II, when the Allies were victorious, it has become customary to refer to the President of the United States as "the leader of the free world." But like so much about the presidency, it turns out that this was only custom. It's not written in law anywhere that the president should lead the free world, and when he was a candidate, Donald promised not to do so. Think about how many conventions--of respect for other American institutions--he violated, and gained support by violating. He ridiculed former president George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, who all Republicans previously had said kept the country safe. He spoke what many Americans think but no candidate had dared to say: that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a waste. And he implied that the sacrifice of soldiers (like Humayun Khan) was in vain.

If you need more evidence that America has turned upside down, look at the other side. It was the Democratic convention, not the Republican, that played on patriotism, military veterans, and how great America already was. Never before had a Republican painted such a dark, pessimistic picture of America as a loser--or been rewarded for it. And until Donald attacked the Central Intelligence Agency, had you ever heard a good word on the left for the CIA?

He promised a new world in which America would be great--on its own, with no leadership role. Not in NATO, nor in world trade. He promised tighter borders and protectionist laws. No longer will China, the emerging global superpower, take advantage of the US.

Republicans don't normally campaign by putting down America, talking about how awful it is to be black in "the inner cities" or how other countries are always taking advantage of our "stupid" country. The irony is, by winning with such a vision, the president all but guarantees that it will come true.
By vacating that global leadership role, he is ceding it. To China (and Russia, which is still a nuclear superpower). Those countries have lots more experience being dictatorships than the US does. They will eat America alive.

The USA has always thought of itself as an exceptional country, but it's been a long time since it was anywhere near the top on a host of measures: human rights, education, violent crime, work-life balance. There's nothing written in the Constitution that says the US has to be a leader, let alone an example to the rest of the world. 

In trying to make America a great country "again," this administration is actually making it more of an ordinary one. Now, there's nothing wrong with being just one of many countries. Every other country manages it. British people love Britain, the French love France, yet it has been ages since the French and British empires battled for world supremacy. Canadians think they live in the greatest nation on earth, but that doesn't mean they think all other nations want to be like Canada.

But think about what the USA has to lose. World-class researchers will no longer come to a country that muzzles scientists. The best and the brightest won't come where immigrants are unwelcome. The finest health care in the world will be affordable to fewer of America's own people than ever.

And you know what? The CIA was wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The war was a terrible mistake. A lot of people around the world will be glad if the US really does mind its own business.

I just hate to see what steps up in its place.