Sunday, June 28, 2020


The Unwelcome American

I’ve hardly been ignoring our country’s loss of stature during the Trump presidency, but still a bit of news that The Times broke yesterday afternoon left me stunned.
“European Union countries rushing to revive their economies and reopen their borders after months of coronavirus restrictions are prepared to block Americans from entering because the United States has failed to control the scourge, according to draft lists of acceptable travelers,” Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported.
“That prospect, which would lump American visitors in with Russians and Brazilians as unwelcome, is a stinging blow to American prestige in the world and a repudiation of President Trump’s handling of the virus in the United States, which has more than 2.3 million cases and upward of 120,000 deaths, more than any other country,” she added.
What a mess we’ve devolved into. What an embarrassment. I know that’s blunt. I know that’s depressing. I also know how badly such censoriousness can come across — how it can smack of condescension or seem to carry a perverse touch of “I told you so” glee.
But that’s not at all what I feel. I just feel deep, deep sadness, twinned with anger about how much of our national good fortune we’re throwing away.
I say and mean “we” because the sum of us opened the door to Trump and haven’t been able to sweep him back out of it, at least not yet. But he of course deserves special, outsize credit for our country’s diminution and disgrace.
It’s not that all of his complaints in the realm of international relations were or are bogus. It’s fair of him to ask whether our trade agreements were serving us well, fair of him to ask whether our allies are pulling their weight, fair of him to ask whether there’s sufficient cause for our troops to be deployed where they are. Those questions are even important. And he has posed them, under his “America First” banner.
But the fashion in which he has done so — the egregious bullying, the epic bellyaching, the obvious desire to assert dominance and nurse grievances rather than work toward constructive improvements — yielded these “America Last” results. And his corrupt approach to diplomacy and chaotic stewardship of domestic affairs certainly hasn’t helped.
America’s old friends around the globe don’t trust and respect us as they once did, and America’s new friends are a lesser lot. Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? Viktor Orban? “Trust” and “respect” aren’t even in their vocabularies.
And now, fittingly, this: the contemplation of a de facto barricade against Americans in some of the Western democracies that have, over the past half century, been most tightly aligned with us in terms of liberal ideals and human rights.
It’s a sort of full-circle thing, isn’t it? We’ve gone from Trump’s call for a Muslim ban to our allies’ mulling of an American ban, from his fixation on a physical wall to their flirtation with a metaphorical one.
He hasn’t fulfilled all of his campaign pledges. But his promise to redefine America’s place and role in the world? Check.

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