America is in Retreat

We all remember Trump’s campaign promise to “Make America Great Again”. Right? Well, it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. On the contrary, he is leading America in retreat from its former place of world leadership. How? Let us look at what he has done this year.[1]

  • He has withdrawn America from TPP. Now, no matter what you may think of TPP, the reality is that it was the deal on the table, and this withdrawal has implications, none of them favoring America. To my mind, the most important implication is that effectively takes us out of a leadership position in Pacific economics. And who is stepping into that position? China is. It has it’s own version of TPP, and it very pointedly excludes us. As a result, China, being the major economic power in the Pacific region, will be able to call the shots. And we will be left out in the cold, forced to trade as China dictates. Retreat.
  • He effectively withdrawn from the World Trade Organization. At last December’s WTO conference our representative gave a rather perfunctory speech and then left. But who did not leave? China stayed, and it was able to set the agenda, priorities, and regulations for the world’s trade. And the USA? We are left as followers rather than leaders. And China seems poised to take our place as the world’s leading economic power. Retreat.
  • He has, with great fanfare, announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, leaving us behind the rest of the world. And the result? For just one example, 18 of our top environmental scientists have left the USA and are now working in France under a multi-million dollar grant championed by Macron. Rather than serve under the Trump administration, they left the USA. And now we stand alone, the only nation in the world that denies the reality of climate change and is not dedicated to addressing the problem. (It is important to note that the earliest date Trump can actually withdraw is the day after the 2020 Presidential election.) Retreat.
  • He has denigrated NATO and alienated our closest military allies. The effect of this is that cooperation between our military and the rest of NATO is strained at best. When the American Commander-in-Chief cannot be trusted, how is NATO to plan and execute its mission? Germany seems to me to be taking our place. Retreat.
  • There was a time when our commitment to liberty, freedom, and the democratic process was the envy of the world’s people. But Trump has retreated from this historic commitment. The list of retreats is too long to reproduce here, but it includes retreat from universal education, voting rights, civil liberties, and compassion for the suffering and injured. And like a classic slumlord, he has allowed our own nation’s infrastructure to crumble and our people to suffer. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free”? “Build the wall!” Retreat.
  • For much of the existence of this nation, we have been among the leaders in the arts and culture. American poets and other writers, musicians, dancers, actors, photographers, painters and sculptors have created whole new worlds of art and have inspired people on every continent. But Trump is bent of destroying our artistic leadership. He is a mediocre man satisfied with artistic mediocrity, a man who fails to grasp the centrality of the arts to a great nation. Retreat.

What would a genuine leader have done?

  • Instead of blowing TPP off and abandoning the economic field to China, a genuine leader would have stayed at the table and negotiated a better deal that would benefit every country in the Pacific Economic Sphere.
  • Instead of blowing the WTO off, a genuine leader would have come to the December talks with concrete proposals for regulation, environmental protection, protection for intellectual property, and so on, and then stayed at the table to negotiate for these things.
  • Instead of blowing NATO off, insulting its leadership, and creating an atmosphere of incredulity and mistrust, a genuine leader would have sat down with NATO leadership, reassured it that the USA is fully behind NATO and discussed with them ways that the alliance can be strengthened. And a genuine leader would spend at least as much time listening as speaking, and perhaps more time listening.
  • Instead of ignoring the people’s needs and allowing the nation’s infrastructure to continue to crumble, a genuine leader would make these things an absolute top priority. And rather than going out of their way to exclude people a genuine leader would work for the inclusion of all people, be they native born, immigrant, or refugee.
  • Rather than discouraging the arts and the nation’s artists, a genuine leader would come into office with a commitment to strengthen America’s arts with education, funding, venues, and personal attendance.

In short, a genuine leader would come into office believing that, even with all its faults and shortcomings, America is already great and would be dedicated to keep the a nation great by addressing those faults and shortcomings. Trump does not believe America is great, for what else could “Make America Great Again” mean? He is leading a once great nation into decay, isolation, and mediocrity. And he doesn’t even realize it.

[1] The first two bullet points are taken from an interview of Evan Osnos with Terry Gross.

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