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U.S. nationalism: not a laughing matter

photo of donald trump
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump’s recent speech at the U.N. General Assembly was deeply disturbing.
President Donald Trump’s recent speech at the U.N. General Assembly was deeply disturbing. When he announced that the United States rejects globalism and affirms patriotism, he rejected the world order that was defined in the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, a world order established to prevent future catastrophes through global cooperation. He proclaimed, instead, allegiance to isolationism and nativism.

author photo

Ellen J. Kennedy

Day-after pundits pointed out parallels to the rhetoric of fascists in the 1930s. The results of recent elections not only in the United States but throughout Europe do, indeed, show increasingly strong support for ultra-right-wing political parties supported by neo-Nazis, anti-immigrationists, isolationists, and xenophobes.

What did that post-World War II order look like?

Creating stability in 1944

In 1944, in the small New Hampshire town of Bretton Woods, the U.S. and our wartime ally the UK led a meeting to establish a postwar economic order, with the full expectation that the Allies would eventually win the war. The goal was to create financial stability that could prevent massive economic collapses like the Great Depression that precipitated World War II.

At this historic meeting, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank took shape. The U.S. had a real leadership role, and under a “gentleman’s agreement” from those meetings, the World Bank head and International Monetary Fund deputy head are always U.S. citizens.

America was the only major Western country that had not been decimated by the war. Indeed, U.S. factories had reached unimagined capacity in military production. That manufacturing achievement subsequently turned to peacetime production, creating American global economic hegemony that had previously belonged to the UK, Germany, and France, which were war-torn and in ruins.

America’s postwar global leadership was cemented not only economically but diplomatically.

U.S. diplomatic leadership in ’41

The United Nations came about through U.S. diplomatic leadership in 1941, before the U.S. entered the war as a combatant. President Franklin Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Conference. Roosevelt suggested the name “United Nations” for an entity that could work to maintain peace around the world. The governments of the U.S., the Soviet Union, the UK, and China formalized the Atlantic Charter proposals in 1942, and in June 1945, in San Francisco, the U.N. Charter was signed. At the first official U.N. meeting in 1946, it was decided that the organization would be located in New York City, where the headquarters continues today.

The U.S. role was a dominant one, and the four original founding nations, with the addition of France, became permanent members of the U.N.’s most important body, the Security Council.

On the military front, the U.S. was a leader in founding NATO, the 29-country military alliance of North American and European nations. The supreme commander of NATO has always been an American.

A shift in U.S. policies and role

Our global diplomatic presence, and our support for peace and multilateralism, has shifted. Today the U.S.:

  • is the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • is one of six countries in the world that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the others: Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Palau, and Tonga).
  • is one of only 18 countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement designed to counter China’s growing economic dominance in the Pacific region.
  • pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, to the great consternation of Western allies.
  • has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the world’s most important permanent tribunal, although 123 other nations, including all of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have done so.
  • is the only country in the world that is not part of the Paris Climate Accord.
  • is involved in brutal proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, with no end in sight.

We’re not leaders, or even followers, in protecting the planet; standing up for and with women, children, and the disabled; prosecuting perpetrators of the worst crimes on the planet; or taking a stand for peace. We’re allowing unbridled capitalism to triumph over democracy, and instead of a war on poverty; we wage war on the poor. We no longer cherish upward mobility; we create ever more entitlements for the top 1 percent. We don’t value freedom of the press, the diversity that built Silicon Valley, the virtue of e pluribus unum.

Instead, we have a leader who views a free press as the “enemy of the people,” our diverse population as threatening and ready to commit acts of terrorism, and our melting pot as one that must be remade so only whites can rise to the top.

Where does this leave us?

‘Offshore balancing’

Scholars suggest that the golden era known as Pax Americana, our period from 1945 to the present when we flourished, is behind us. They say that we must rely, instead, on a position of “offshore balancing,” depending on relations with key allies around the world. But those relations are eroding – or already gone. Our dialogue with once-strong-partner Mexico is increasingly hostile; the administration’s posture toward NATO and our European allies is negative; and the president labels African countries as “shitholes,” while China invests billions of dollars annually in soft diplomacy throughout that continent.

Our future is uncertain. It demands a realistic assessment of our role in the world and what that means for us at home. We must embrace the aspirational values that made us great: democracy, freedom, opportunity. We are weakening the democratic world order, something that Vladimir Putin has long hoped to achieve – and we are doing it for him. Trump was laughed at during his speech at the U.N., but his speech was no laughing matter. We are losing not only our stature in the world; we are losing our morality and our humanity.

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide.


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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/05/2018 - 01:12 pm.

    As we head down wether as individuals we like it or not this road of nationalsim I am anxiously reminded of the causes of particularly WWII -nationalsim, militarism and despottery (I know probably not a word but you get the point). Everything is present as it was then. The near miss of the gigantic military naval vessels in the South China Sea is frightening. As the madman continues to press his incredible nonsense and all the forces that are to check this sort of behavior bury their heads in the detritus of the past I am very worried. The sad part as horrible as we think we have it others are suffering even more of the policies of this nation. We lost our opportunity to do penance as we should have after 9/11 and now we are stuck with 11/9 until would could be the fiery end. Pardon my negativity as the Supreme Court likely returns to decisions like Plesey v Ferguson and the middle eastern wars are turned over to mercenary capitalists without any accountability representing our interests.

  2. Submitted by Alan Straka on 10/05/2018 - 02:21 pm.

    There is nothing wrong with putting America first. That is how it should be. The problem is we have an ignoramus with no knowledge of history at the head of our government. He simply cannot grasp that his way of going about it is not in the best interest of America. In the long term, America does best when the rest of the world prospers as well. Playing Trump’s zero sum game is a losing proposition.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 10/05/2018 - 02:26 pm.

    Thank goodness a US President decided a job in Minnesota is more important than a job in China. After 30+ years of “Globalism is great, Globalism is the future”( Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama) Trump said America first. Do you actually think China, EU, Canada, Japan and every other country are not looking out for themselves first? Do think those outdated trade agreements helped the American worker, American companies or everyone else more? It was never Globalism, it was always what could the other countries get from the USA.
    I personally am tired of the USA giving away manufacturing jobs in the name of Globalism. I’m tired of Canada having a deal with China to flood our markets with State run Chinese steel, putting USA miners, millers and shippers out of work. I’m tired of the U.N. and NATO using us like a piggy bank while still making the USA do all the heavy lifting.
    Enough already! As shown by Canada/Mexico coming to the table for a new agreement, we the people of America, have the economic power to do fair deals and take back some of what was foolishly given in the name of Globalism.
    One final note. I had to laugh when the MSM reported that the EU was going to defy the USA and do business with Iran, even if they lost the USA as a trading partner….. Look at the GDP and products produced by Iran and compare it to the USA…. Nobody thinks that is going to happen, besides a few Globalists.

  4. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 10/05/2018 - 04:43 pm.

    We must know and understand history. To counter this current assault on our country and all it was built on, and before the Nov elections, please watch these 2 new 2018 documentaries:

    Active Measures, a new 2018 documentary by Jack Bryan, avail on Amazon Prime Video (and hopefully other medium soon, too.) It deserves the widest audience!! It chronicles Putin’s rise over the years, but also includes tons of other ‘supporting cast’ and clearly demonstrates the tight relationship b/n Trump and Putin since 1984 (much earlier than many realize). .

    A 2nd new 1 hr show on public TV is hosted by Rick Steves, the travel guy. It chronicles the rise and fall of Fascism, esp in Germany and Italy, and it’s widespread effect on the entire world then. And again, how the events all helped Putin rise dramatically to power
    The two shows together are excellent primers for American voter before the Nov 2018 elections. We need to fight for our democracy. Not succumb to a second round of tyranny, dictatorship and suppressive fascism.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/05/2018 - 07:11 pm.

    The author sounds very unhappy. America is in the early stages of a glorious revival; this is sure to make the author even more unhappy.

    I want everyone to to be happy.

    Perhaps a change of venue would make her happy; I hear Canada is real nice in the summertime. Go to Canada and be happy!

    • Submitted by Roy Everson on 10/07/2018 - 07:29 am.

      I remember “love it or leave it” very well. It’s just as ugly now as it was in the 60s. Good idea to ponder that parallel with the fascist rhetoric of the 30s.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 10/08/2018 - 07:53 am.

      “Glorious revival?’ Speaking of unhappiness, I’m surprised you were able to buck up and slog through life here in the USA. considering your opinion of it pre-Trump.

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