President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Jan. 30 resembled an American-style self-congratulatory gala. Trump described the previous year under his administration as a new American moment, and defined it as the best moment in history. He depicted the country a year ago as terrible and how now, under his leadership, it is an economically vibrant and strong country.
American politics seems to like this sort of self-congratulatory ritual, as Trump’s speech earned much applause at the time, even if the sound seemed out of tune with the serious fracture that American society has suffered in the last year.
Trump’s speech lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes, with 10 minutes devoted to the North Korean problem. The parents of the American student once imprisoned in North Korea was present for the speech as was a North Korean defector. Trump obviously paid a lot of attention to North Korea. Together with with CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s recent concerns that North Korea would have the ability to attack America with a nuclear missile in “just a few months,” was Trump mobilizing American society?
In the entire State of the Union address, Trump mentioned China three times, two of which were in passing, and the third time clearly referred to China and Russia as America’s “rivals.” In the Obama era, China was considered a partner or competitor, but the Trump administration’s definition seemed to cement a negative perception of China, a tendency prompted by the recently released National Security Strategy Report.
During the speech, Trump emphasized the importance of “nuclear power” and a “powerful military” to America. As the world’s number one military power, America still insists on expanding its military might and national security budget. It is apparent that President Trump and the American elite who applauded his speech don’t care about the negative impact this will have on world order.
The Washington elite sees America and the rest of the world this way: America is great, and most countries are trying desperately to take advantage of it. Any country in conflict with America is at fault. Some evil forces, like North Korea, need to be eradicated, while China, as America’s largest trade partner, also challenges America’s interests, economy and value system.
But Washington has to admit that its policies have worried many in the world. Washington’s trade protectionism and exit from the Paris climate agreement were seen as signs of America’s selfishness, and its claims that an “America First” policy would benefit international society was also seen as hypocritical. People failed to see, over the past year, what extra effort America has made toward maintaining global stability.
The world is suffering, and America is the only lucky one … is this possible in a global era? Washington has used “fair trade” as an excuse to force every country’s market to make exceptions for America, to work outside World Trade Organization rules, to force American firms to withdraw investments from overseas and to force foreign firms to invest in America so that Washington can use these monies to invest in more nuclear power and an invincible U.S. Navy. Perhaps, during every annual State of the Union speech from now on, America could show off a list of what the world has contributed to the American economy. Is this the world order America prefers?
One cannot “Make America Great Again” from force. The amount that America has achieved in the past year is debatable at the moment, but any achievements have definitely cost America in international relations. International society’s discontent toward America is growing, potentially eroding and threatening America’s continued prosperity.
America congratulated itself via the State of the Union speech in the midst of concerns of the world at large. American leaders are not required to be moved by outsiders’ worries, but failing to be moved by those concerns is not a plus for American national interests. If the international community continues to be uncooperative with respect to making America “great again,” this will erode much of what America achieves, if its objectives can be achieved at all.