Peace on Earth.
It’s an ideal and a hope that seems to festoon our greeting cards and other signs of the season come the holidays. As many of us celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how well we, as a nation, live up to the ideals so eloquently expressed by this remarkable historical figure.
The face that America has long presented to the world has been a complicated one, tinged at various times with either high ideals or crass self-interest. Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads, where America seems poised to abandon many of the ideals that have, at least on occasion, tempered our worst impulses.
“America First” was an effective piece of branding for candidate Donald Trump, even as it implied something that was never really true. America’s foreign policy has always centered first and foremost on America’s interests, yet our leaders have understood for more than a century that America’s interests are inextricably bound with those of our allies and others around the world.
Unfortunately, that’s not how President Trump understands global relations. Rather than recognizing our common interests and values, the new president views foreign relations through a simplistic, zero-sum prism, in which every gain must come at the expense of another. He rejects international agreements, such as the Paris Climate Accord, and the Iran nuclear deal, because these agreements offer benefits to all the parties involved— which, in his mind, means America somehow loses.
Instead, America loses by failing to address two of the biggest threats to humanity— nuclear weapons and climate change. The changing climate is already prompting the forced migration of millions of refugees, a number that scientists say will grow exponentially as huge parts of the world become increasingly uninhabitable. President Trump’s response is to build a wall, as if we can somehow isolate ourselves, both physically and morally, from the world we share with nearly seven billion other humans.
Rather than leadership based on ideals and commonality, President Trump offers little more than a big stick approach. He’s pushed for huge increases in America’s already grossly-excessive military budget, has talked recklessly of using nuclear weapons against others, and deploys playground taunts as his solution to a nuclear-armed North Korea.
He criticized George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq, but not for the rationale shared by most Americans. Trump says we should have stolen their oil.
These are neither the actions nor the words of a man of peace. These are not the words of a man who professes to follow the teachings of Christ.
Humility. Love. Compassion. These are some of the highest teachings of the Christian faith and they are traits no one would ever apply to America’s new president, a man who has built his career on the ostentatious celebration of greed, confrontation, and ignorance. No one would mistake America’s foreign policy as humble or compassionate in the age of Trump.
Instead, we offer a dog-eat-dog view of international relations, where the strong do what they will on the world stage. It’s a view expressed more clearly than ever by the image of President Trump roughly shoving aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro at a NATO summit earlier this year so he could stand at the front during a photo session. It’s America, as the land of the rude.
It might benefit us to recognize that our choice of leaders is an expression of our real values as a people and a nation. Especially at this time of year, as we try perhaps a little harder to live up to the sentiments expressed in our holiday missives, we should pause to consider that those ideals don’t just apply to our friends and family. The Prince of Peace taught universal principles that should apply to all with whom we share our only home.