|John Moore's heartbreaking image has captured world attention|
Late in his book Stamped From The Beginning, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi makes a point I’d never considered before (one among many): America’s elected officials didn’t embrace the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s because it was right. They didn’t write laws extending voting rights, police protection, and public schools to African Americans because they felt fuzzy inside. They weren’t moved by some overwhelming change in America’s social conscience.
They did it because they knew the world was watching.
Following World War II and the upheaval caused by carpet bombing and the Marshall Plan, America had the moral heft necessary to change the world. We alone had the military might, economic power, and simple numbers to help create a better world. Granted, this happened because Europe and Asia had been bombed into oblivion, their industrial and cultural bases obliterated to expunge global fascism. But still, America had a unique opportunity in world affairs.
This opportunity wasn’t unchallenged, though. Having paid the high cost of two world wars, the Soviet Union desperately didn’t want to meet the postwar global landscape alone. Having established COMINTERN and the Warsaw Pact, it settled into a long-term global strategy session. It provided strategic help to revolutionary anti-colonialists like Patrice Lumumba and Fidel Castro. And it waited.
As the public face of capitalism, liberal democracy, and Enlightenment freedom, America needed to press the case before a global audience that our model of government better suited the world’s needs than Soviet mandatory collectivism.And we couldn’t do that if we kept designated groups subordinate at home. Civil rights weren’t merely a social good in the 1950s and 1960s; they were a PR front in the Cold War. A front we fought aggressively.
I couldn’t help remembering this fact as President Trump’s concentration camps for immigrants became a national and international news-gathering controversy. John Moore’s heartbreaking photograph of an unidentified two-year-old girl weeping at the border over her separation from her parents, has become an international phenomenon. This has become the face America currently presents to the world. And it’s a face we should all feel ashamed of.
This isn’t hay. I’ve written previously that America won the Cold War in part by subsidizing art, science, and education. Come to our side, we pledged the world through our actions, and you’ll have more beauty, more knowledge, and more opportunities for upward advancement than any other system our planet offers. We won partly on this platform. Then, having won, we burned the platform to the ground.
|This, sadly, is how the world will see America for years to come|
It’s impossible to disregard America’s precarious place in today’s world. Having won the presidency partly by telling voters “the world is laughing at us,” Donald Trump has prosecuted his presidency by openly disregarding global opinion. He’s launched tariffs on our allies in NAFTA and the EU, sometimes in defiance of treaties, while snuggling up to notorious opponents of freedom like Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Un.
Donald Trump is apparently immune to scrutiny, at home or abroad. He shows no awareness that people watch him, as America’s public face, and make determinations about how trustworthy Americans are on trade, rights, or economy. He doesn’t care that he’s telling the entire world they can’t trust us to keep our word, uphold our values, or present the global community a better choice than complete anarchy.
And I’m forced to wonder what’s the alternative.
The only countries capable of seriously challenging American global dominance today are China and Germany. China is currently on track to becoming history’s longest-surviving one-party state, and for obvious reasons, history takes a dim view of potential German world hegemony. This means we’re facing a potential future world without any sort of moral leadership, and the alternative is international lawlessness. Today’s economic and military complexity absolutely demands some form of world leader.
America absolutely needs to resume its former practice of showing the world its best face. We won the war against Soviet Communism, in no small part, by rejecting our worst impulses and enshrining antidiscrimination into our laws. Admittedly, we still have long strides to achieve the potential of our goodness. But showing the globe the worst aspects of our racist past is essentially surrendering the international PR front.
Donald Trump needs to become aware that the world watches him. Sadly, our era’s defining image may be that notorious G7 stare-down between Trump and Merkel. The forces who captained World War II are back at it again. And that, sadly, is the face the United States is currently showing the entire world.