America in retreat
Until recently, America appeared to be the wave of the future. That has changed with Donald Trump in the White House.
In so brief a time, Trump has managed to create an alternative America, unrecognizable from the land that produced the likes of Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. It was once viewed, in the words of Robert Kagan, as a place “where reason and humanity might develop more rapidly than anywhere else.” Only a short while ago US leadership was enlightening and inspiring. Today it is parochial and intolerant.
As the world’s only superpower, America has been broadly guaranteeing international peace and stability. With its military might and alliances, it has been pivotal in managing tensions and conflicts around the globe. Of course, it has done so primarily to protect and advance its interests and only incidentally those of the world at large.
But America’s role in world affairs is also rapidly changing under Trump. Policymakers in developing countries see America as an imperial power, and rightly so, although they concede that US strategy and global reach are manipulative but essential in an imperfect world. What is irrefutable is that US actions and influence shape the lives of people in every country, often with even greater sway than the decisions of their own government.
US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to fight global warming is a case in point. This historic accord to preserve planetary life took almost the quarter of a century to conceive, negotiate, and find unanimous acceptance by 197 members of the United Nations. Much earlier, in 1965, an advisory committee had warned US President Lyndon Johnson that the greenhouse effect was already a matter of “real concern.”
This is why Trump’s recent rejection of this far-reaching accord is being universally denounced. Linked directly to his “America First” policy, the repudiation has triggered a calamitous erosion of America’s global leadership, prestige, and moral authority. Far from engendering America’s exceptionalism and burnishing its soft power abroad, Trump’s decision is damaging Washington’s alliances and putting its commitments abroad into question.
Already, Trump has undermined America’s longstanding transatlantic relationships with his high-handed and impolitic attitude. As a result, there is now a sudden awareness that the interests of America and Europe are sharply diverging. And Germany’s Angela Merkel, the leading light of the European Union, has concluded that the time has come for Europe to fight for its own future.
America’s own future, too, has been thrown into serious doubt. Trump’s key domestic policies—undoing Obamacare, building a wall on the Mexican border, banning Muslim immigration, negating the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Barack Obama clinched with Japan and 10 other nations, reversal of Obama’s policy to reengage Cuba—are not only expressions of a manic obsession to demolish his predecessor’s legacy but also evidence of a steep decline in America’s civic and political culture.
America’s fall from grace in so brief a time is a cautionary tale, captured by the startling contrast between Obama and Trump. During his first year in office, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for dramatically changing the world’s perception about America and its moral ascendancy to elevate the world’s hopes.
Trump, in his first few months, has dramatically brought his administration into disrepute for widespread allegations about Russian collusion with his campaign. And his jingoism has succeeded in reaping the contempt of the Western world.
People of all creeds have long been captivated by the American Dream and the “shining city upon a hill.” We have treasured US goodwill and generosity, just as we have emulated its democratic space and liberal values. We have celebrated its animating vision to construct a more humane, prosperous, and multicultural global society.
That vision seems remote today, and we must ask: Is America’s retreat from its ideals the summit of its crass commercialism, as personified by Trump?
Only time will tell. For the moment, we are profoundly shaken that the man who sits today in the Oval Office cannot even begin to contemplate the disarray he has unleashed on a world that is badly fragmenting and in need of transforming leadership.
Rex D. Lores ([email protected]) is a member of the Futuristics Society of the Philippines.
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