Read a very good piece in the NY Times this morning by David Brooks (read the whole thing) entitled "Donald Trump Poisons the World". Yesterday, Trump, with a band playing "Summertime" on the White House Lawn, made an announcement that the US would no longer be part of the Paris Accord regarding climate change action. Was this a principled issue? Not unless you put selfishness as a prime motivator.
This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.
The essay explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. This essay explains why Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.
Brooks goes on to talk about the virtures of humanity that *do* motivate people. That includes, for me, the actions of the two Oregonians who, last week, stepped up to confront a man who was harrassing two Muslim women and were killed by him.
Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.
I like to think that, at a personal level, as well as a national level, Americans, as well as the world, admire selfless actions, cooperation. It doesn't mean that people are perfect or dont' have to struggle against poor impulses, including selfishness, but that we strive, in the name of humanity, to rise about it. David Brooks again.
Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.
Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.
I like to be able to admire the people we elect, not only to serve us here in the US but to represent us on the national stage. That doesn't mean that I always agree, but when someone acts as a statesman, it raises the level of goodness in the world.
Donald Trump is not such a man, not anyone to be admired on a personal level, unless the person doing the gawking loves selfishness.
By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.
By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.
If there are those that believed the United States was taking the lead in the world at large, Trump has now destroyed any idea of that and yes, our American ideals are now ground under his unreflective heel. I hope our country can have a conversation in which we agree to some extent about what values, ethics and morality we can all somehow agree about and put someone in office who does not appear to be a selfish grifter who ignores all laws and ethics in the name of selfishness.