Wayne O'Leary

Donald Trump’s New World Disorder

Having successfully driven his fellow Americans half crazy with his inane and irresponsible running commentary on domestic affairs, President Trump has taken his show on the road, so to speak. Appearing before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19, the disrupter-in-chief informed delegates to the world body that the organization’s underlying principles of peace and international cooperation so many had worked so long and so hard to establish were not, in the view of his government, worth a damn.

Employing his usual blend of charm and subtlety, the Donald announced he was henceforth putting America’s interests first and advised the other 192 member nations of the UN to adopt a similarly selfish stance. No longer should the international community count on American generosity or altruism; moving forward, US foreign relationships would be placed on a purely quid pro quo basis.

Trump further proclaimed America would no longer be “taken advantage of” by other countries, insisting it has been, but offering as proof only that the world’s richest country is assessed an “unfair” 22% of the UN budget – exactly our percentage of the worldwide gross domestic product (GDP). (Significantly, two-thirds of Americans, in a December 2016 Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates poll, disagreed with the Trump reluctance to honor US dues commitments.)

Throughout his speech the president stressed over and over the importance of defending national “sovereignty,” especially US sovereignty, a concept presumably under threat by international agreements, cooperative alliances, and collectivist organizations like the UN itself. Don’t trust any other country, he seemed to say. All future American interactions on the world stage, Trump warned, would be based on “deals” beneficial to Uncle Sam; the famous Marshall Plan was, by implication, an aberration never to be replicated.

The most startling and unnerving Trump bombast, however, was directed toward the president’s new axis of evil — the nations his America was prepared to invade and annihilate, if the occasion arose. These “wicked few” comprised three of the usual suspects: Iran (its agreement to freeze nuclear-weapons development notwithstanding), Cuba (despite its rapprochement with the US under Obama), and Syria, but also included newcomers North Korea and Venezuela. North Korea was singled out for special condemnation and threatened with nuclear destruction, should it step out of line and further provoke us.

Conspicuous by its absence was Putin’s Russia, apparently not wicked at all, despite trading in its fledgling democracy for a dictatorship, undermining free elections here and abroad, and invading its neighbor the Ukraine. Also missing was China, the focus of Trump family business interests, which is still a political dictatorship, but safely capitalist in its economic structure. Nor were rising autocracies Turkey and the Philippines included.

Trump’s list of evil nations is nothing if not eclectic; inclusion appears based on whether a country was an American adversary during the Cold War period (Cuba, Iran), hostile to Israel (Syria and Iran again), presently on the revolutionary left (Venezuela), or sufficiently cartoonish to provide a black-and-white villain comparable to Saddam Hussein that the president can rail against (North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un).

The shocked reaction to Trump’s cynical and belligerent UN address speaks volumes about its potential to upset a precarious world balance. Negative evaluations came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, UN Secretary General António Guterres, European Union Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini, and most of the captive delegate audience forced to sit through this paean to narrow national self-interest.

But there were positive reviews, too. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing prime minister and a Trump favorite, loved the speech; so did John R. Bolton, UN ambassador under George W. Bush and a prominent neocon supporter of the Iraq war. Flag-waving Republicans were generally delighted.

The Trump screed proved beyond a doubt that, while Steve Bannon may be gone, Bannonism is alive and well inside the administration and still able to fill the empty vessel that is Trump’s brain with destructive radical-right notions. Rumor has it that Stephen Miller, White House policy director and one of the authors of the president’s wretched inaugural address, was the source behind this latest verbal outburst.

Miller, a former aide to Alabama Senator (now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions, and previously a staffer for bizarro former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, initially came to public notice when he informed Americans that President Trump possessed unlimited powers in the area of national security, powers that were not open to question. With Bannon’s departure, his 32-year-old understudy, always a presence behind the scenes, has emerged as the administration’s new Svengali. Among other things, he is given substantial credit (if that’s the word) for Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and foreign-travel ban.

As The Economist magazine sees it, Miller’s America First nationalism (assuming he authored the concept), which his boss expressed in bellicose fashion at the UN, represents the outlines of a “Trump doctrine,” an organizing principle for the world based on the triumph of narrowly construed nation-state sovereignty, or extreme patriotic nationalism, over universal rights and international cooperation — a new world order, in other words, containing little order except that imposed by the strong over the weak.

If the assembled nations of the UN take the emerging Trump doctrine to heart, we’re facing a return to the confrontationally nationalist world of pre-1945, which ended in the catastrophe of the Second World War. Substantial portions of the international community may well conclude that if the US is going it alone, they will, too.

Ominously, there are signs Trump’s every-nation-for-itself rhetoric could already be having its intended effect. The first major political event following his speech was the German election, in which the hard-right, ultranationalist Alternative for Germany (AFD) made leapfrog gains, finishing third behind Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, but tripling its percentage of the vote; it did particularly well in Bavaria, the ancestral home of (you guessed it) the Nazi party. There were certainly other election factors at work, but Trumpist ideas were in the air.

In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the fathers of the UN, drew this lesson from four years of war: “We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations. … We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.” Under Donald Trump, we’re unlearning that lesson.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prize-winning books.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652