Domestic breakthroughs are few and far between in today’s America. Congress is mired by gridlock, but gridlock on the fault of the voters, not the system. Lawmakers would be more willing to compromise if they weren’t scared of primary challengers and litmus tests of party loyalty. Making laws should be difficult and should be formed on consensus, not oligarchy. Lawmakers going to their far flanks are doomed to never reach agreement with each other and until that political fever breaks, passing laws will continue to stifle the American public. Regardless of the lack of legislative achievements, many fear the outcome of a Trump presidency as it continues to unfold and their fears should lie with the true purview of the American presidency: foreign policy. What is truly happening in the world today is an erosion of international perception of the American government, and that will be the ultimate result of the Trump presidency.
Ever since the end of World War II, the United States in conjunction with NATO have established themselves as the bastions of Western civilization, pushing the same fundamental ideals to the rest of the world in direct confrontation against Communism and now fanaticism: capitalism, democracy, an impartial judiciary, freedom of speech and religion. For many countries (Iran, Egypt, Vietnam), the push by the Western world was a facade of half-truths or outright lies, governments seen as chess pieces to a larger endgame as unpopular monarchs and dictators were financially supported by a country terrified of seeing more nations fall prey to Communism. After Vietnam and the birth of 24/7 media, democracy became a guiding pillar of US intervention. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, this system has rushed to every corner of the globe, met with open hands by some and resistance by others. Some countries, such as China, have embraced Western economic systems while shunning human rights while others have bought into the United States concept wholeheartedly.
For years, the United States and Europe remained united in their attempts to push their doctrine, utilizing free trade to engage with many different nations. The hope is that this constant communication and trade can introduce a system of a strong central government with checks and balances, capitalist society and basic human rights to nations that never had them before, creating a unified, prosperous world.
Regardless of whether or not you personally agree with capitalism or the United States dogma, the push into the world has been dramatic and swift. The problem for many is a feeling of invasion of culture as Western ideals clash with ancient philosophies in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen. A direct clash ensues as fears of racial and religious tarnishing erupts in places that for so long had were secluded in their own borders.
One need only look at the Middle East to see this clash result in bloodshed. What had always been apparent was that the United States was committed to weathering the storm against insurgents, backed by other countries of similar minds such as Canada, the UK, France and Australia. Today, those alliances are fraying and creating a dangerous future world order.
The Trump Administration’s natural inclination is to retreat from world leadership. They’ve pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accords, the Iran nuclear deal and have threatened to pull out of or dramatically change NAFTA. The one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un appears to have yielded little other than a photo op. The President has routinely criticized NATO as not pulling its fair share and has frayed relationships with Germany, Canada, France and the UK. Immigration has slowed considerably under stricter policies enacted and isolationism is now the unofficial mantra of the Republican party. The argument that the United States is pulling too much weight and should be left to its own devices, with closed borders, is an antiquated, outdated idea of foreign policy. The world is too small today for isolationist thoughts. There is no going back.
Retreating from international order will only result in a vacuum of world leadership for the United States. China, Russia or other spheres of influence will move in and direct the order of international events. And these countries’ poor civil rights records will supersede our previous intentions.
There is plenty of debate on what creates terrorist organizations. Is it our presence in countries such as Saudi Arabia that ignites resentment or our absence that allows despots to assume power and blame outsiders? There’s a natural inclination to attack the ones at the top so it might not matter, but the only solution to international conflict is strong leadership and a united global community. A retreat from responsibility leaves the weak vulnerable to despotic forces much akin to the period between World War 1 and 2 when the League of Nations failed to maintain a global order and left a struggling Germany, Italy and Japan with no direction to turn to except fascism. This is not to say that the current state of affairs is going to lead to a World War III, but the ingredients are falling into place for a new world hierarchy with potentially catastrophic ramifications. For most, there has never been a world where the United States has not been the strongest, most prosperous country in the world. Waking up to find a new world order would be an unwelcome surprise, the results of which many can not even comprehend.
Without the United States’ leadership, Russia can continue to flex in muscles in an attempt to regain its former empire, Crimea just the tip of the iceberg in their pursuit. China can grow its economy exponentially with wider avenues for trade, dethroning the United States and costing us trillions of potential dollars. Terrorist organizations can gain in strength in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, threatening millions of lives and unstable governments, and they could acquire new methods of warfare such as nuclear and chemical weapons. And lest anyone think that the rest of the world is not our problem, history teaches us that fires started by our neighbors will eventually reach us.
This will be the lasting result of the Trump presidency: a fractured global community, unreliant on the United States, where power struggles between nations become commonplace and regional violence escalates. There is always the possibility that Trumpism will be a one-off. Many Republicans in Congress are squimish about shirking international leadership and have forced the President’s hand on a number of international issues such as sanctions against Russia and a commitment to NATO. Perhaps once the Administration has passed, there will be a return to normalcy.
But such a conclusion does not take into account the amount of damage by the time all is said and done. China or Russia may have swept in and taken the reins in Pakistan or Cameroon or El Salvador. ISIS or al-Qaeda may have grown resurgent. The European Union may fracture even more.
Isolationism may sound great in theory, but much like communism, it is a deeply flawed, dangerous guiding principle. Worldwide intervention and leadership is a terrible burden to bear with the potential for loss of human life and a confrontation against malignant forces, but it is the strength of our convictions that will ultimately save us. The world needs a shining light to push through against oppressors and the whims of corruption, and the United States is losing its glow. It is imperative it find it again.