America’s new faceMy fear that Washington was turning into the epicenter of global conflict and unrest has come true. The 45th U.S. president has stupefied and upset the world as soon as he moved into the White House.
In his first week in office, President Donald J. Trump signed a series of executive orders acting on his campaign promise to clamp down on immigrants. He commanded the erection of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, ending of federal funding to sanctuary cities and states that do not report undocumented aliens. Over the weekend, he ordered suspending entry of all refugees for 120 days, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely and denying admission for three months for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Muslims around the world have been stranded at airports because their U.S.-destined planes denied them boarding following the ban and those who already arrived were compelled to turn around upon arrival in the U.S. Even legal residents of the seven nationalities who are abroad cannot return to their homes in the U.S. The construction of a wall along the southern border and the ban on Muslims were not a bluff. Despite the seismic shockwaves and chaos he has sent across the world and all the condemnations from people and leaders around the globe, Trump defended the ban. His mission to protect America is “working out very nicely,” he said.
Trump is ready to legitimize waterboarding of terror suspects and bring back secret prisons notorious for torture techniques after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as well as keeping open the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also plans to sign an executive order to cut U.S. contributions to international organizations by more than 40 percent. He is wiping out the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama.
Few thought Trump would go through with his bizarre idea of building a wall across the 3,141-kilometer border with Mexico. Nor did anyone believe a Muslim ban was possible, given the consequences and backlash about religious discrimination. Outbursts of unorthodox ways and thoughts from a political novice on the campaign trail are one thing. What can be done as a president is another. There was a firm belief in the U.S. system and its institutions rooted on balances and checks. There also was confidence in the U.S. media. But nothing stood in the bulldozer ways of Trump.
Above all, Trump confronted the media. Displeased with the way his inauguration day was portrayed, he slammed journalists as being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” His team contrived what were “alternative facts” in order to claim that the audience watching and attending his swearing-in ceremony was the largest-ever even as the viewership and head counts of the inauguration crowd showed otherwise.
Trump chose to deny or ignore the reality and facts and directly communicated with his die-hard supporters through social media with false statements instead of going through the traditional media platforms. The media’s critical voice is muted by his overbearing style. Democracy cannot work and the government won’t have public confidence if the leader chooses to pay heed to only the intelligence that is pleasing to his ears.
In his inauguration speech, Trump declared he’d make America great again through his America First policy. If he means greatness is building a wall along the border, discriminating against people because of their religion, violating human rights by using torture to interrogate, and bickering with the media, he must have a very different definition of greatness. To judge and decide all polices from economic to security issues based on American interests is hardly great. Only Adolf Hitler bore such dangerous thoughts.
The U.S. built its reputation as the defender of freedom and democracy following World War II. It established a global order based on a free democracy and economy. It contributed to world peace and prosperity by upholding values of freedom, openness and tolerance. But Trump is out to undo all those legacies. How he would rebuild a nation based on isolation, inwardness and selfishness is utterly questionable.
A nation simply does not become great through force and riches. It earns greatness through respect from others. No country can be great by placing itself first. Only magnanimity by placing others first makes a country respectful and great.
Trump is shooting himself in the foot. His America First policy could bring immediate gains to Americans, but irreparable losses in the longer run.
The country could end up as the “Disunited States of America.” French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited America 180 years ago to learn how the young nation came to defeat the mighty British Empire, declared upon returning to France that “America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” That statement stands.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 31, Page 27
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.