Trump can’t help himself. He is missing his chance to live out “America First.”
In January or February, he could have convened world leaders, determined a plan to stop the coronavirus, and shown what American power can really do with all of the pomp and circumstance of summit stages and Fox News backdrops. He could have made the world grateful for his leadership. Even now, as the world stays home FaceTiming with family, Trump could convene a video conference of world leaders, sitting in Washington’s big chair in the middle of the virtual table, directing help, aid, relief, supplies, NATO militaries and the narrative. He could have even liberals and TV pundits praising him as the global leader he believes himself to be.
The coronavirus pandemic is more than a 9/11 moment. It’s a Reagan-second-term-chance-to-beat-the-Soviets moment. It’s a political opening to soften up, wake up, and bring the world together. It’s an opportunity to diminish Beijing and Moscow and marginalize violent extremists. The United States should be leading the world through this pandemic. Americans should be leading the world. Trump should be leading the world.
He could have thought big, but instead he plays small. On Tuesday night, the president of the United States was up late retweeting posts from the partisan and anti-Semitic information warfare site Breitbart, amplifying their praise and thumping liberal snowflakes and the corporate media.
Yesterday, the number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus rose by 160. The number of Americans who tested positive for the virus rose by 10,000. The number of infected reached 26,000 in New York state. The number worldwide is nearly 500,000.
Trump even retweeted a Breitbart clip of his own daily coronavirus press conference under the header “Trump dunks on globalism.” Globalism is a well-known euphemism for the conspiracy theory that Jews run the world. (Veteran White House reporters and public health advocates are begging the media to stop airing the conferences live because he spews false information against the advice of the medical experts and scientists standing behind him.)
The president and his far-right allies see the pandemic as one more chance to again rip apart the notion that countries do better by cooperating.
“We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,” Trump said in a speech that was astounding and typical. “This crisis has underscored just how critical it is to have strong borders,” he continued, reading a speech that should alarm every other member of the United Nations. Read on, from the White House transcript:
And this really shows — this experience shows how important borders are. Without borders, you don’t have a nation.
Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals, and American equipment for our great American heroes.
Now, both parties must unite to ensure the United States is truly an independent nation in every sense of the word. Energy independence — we’ve established that. That’s something incredible that we have established. We’re energy independent, manufacturing independence, economic independence, and territorial independence enforced by strong, sovereign borders.
America will never be a supplicant nation. We will be a proud, prosperous, independent, and self-reliant nation. We will embrace commerce with all, but we will be dependent on none.
A supplicant nation. That’s what Trump and his teammates like Stephen Miller and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo think America was, has, or could become. Rather than lead the world with every resource the United States can muster, Trump wants the world to hear his message: the walls between you and us are as high as I can build them.
Trump is not entirely to blame. He began saying such things long before his 2016 campaign, and Americans elected him anyway. It’s part of the populist rejection of globalization, which is quite grounded on plenty of evidence. In the 2020 race, nearly all of the Democratic candidates echoed Trump or his sentiments with their intense focus on domestic issues to the near exclusion of defense and national security issues, and token pledges to “end forever wars.” Only a few truly spoke frequently and prominently of U.S. security leadership abroad, including former Vice President Joe Biden; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran and major in the Hawaii National Guard; and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a Iraq veteran and retired Marine Corps officer. Biden’s team renewed that call this week. Erstwhile front-runners Sens. Elisabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, and Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, filed foreign-policy articles, speeches, and platforms, but in them America’s global leadership came second to America First-like messages of pulling back from the world in some way and rebuilding back home.
Trump, of course, goes deeper into xenophobic, isolationist, and often racist views and policies than what most Americans say they want. Like the British who voted for Brexit, many Americans wanted something different than what globalization gave. But it’s hard to believe they wanted this. And it’s easy to understand why. Most Americans are still taught in school the history of the 20th century, the world wars that spewed millions of dead into the age of industrialized warfare, birthed international systems of cooperation, and with it the subsequent pledges that universal human rights should be the guiding principle all nations should aspire to achieve — not the nation-first whims of kaisers, fuhrers, and emperors.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “It is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,” while also affirming that “everyone has the right to a nationality that shall not be “arbitrarily deprived.”
Americans should want a leader to strive to all of the declaration’s standards, in times of peace, war, and pandemic. Eleanor Roosevelt did. As Article 28 states: “Everyone” — not just Americans — “is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”
“We the peoples of the United Nations determine,” says the preamble of UN Charter, among other things, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security” and “to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”
While we have to self-isolate from the virus, we don’t have to isolate ourselves from the world. Trump could be uniting our strengths. We all could.