• Matthew C. Mai

Putting America First

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

John Moore/Getty Images

Donald Trump will not be going on an apology tour anytime soon. His latest attacks on George Conway and John McCain, as unflattering as they are, are a reminder that we have a fighter in the White House. And while attacking the late senator is not the right type of fight to pick, Donald Trump hasn’t shied away from picking a fight with a world order arrangement that has grown detrimentally complacent.

While President Trump’s petty Twitter fights do not play out well from an optical standpoint, his rhetoric against aggressive Chinese trade practices, NATO, and our position on the world stage strike a chord with many Americans who feel that we rolled over for eight years and let the rest of the world pick us apart. Obama’s apology tour in Japan, his peddling to the brutal Iran regime, and the constant undermining of America at home and abroad left the nation feeling hallowed out.

Donald Trump, despite being the unrefined politician most people are used too, seized on this hallowed out version of America. He said that we could rebuild our military, fight and win against China economically, and stand up to global threats that had been given room to grow under his predecessor. When Assad used chemical weapons, Trump retaliated with Tomahawk missiles. When China cheated on trade, Trump weaponized tariffs and forced them to come to the table. When Europe mocked him, Trump told them to buck up and pay their fair share if they want to sustain NATO. Some on the right have criticized this as counterproductive but they miss the larger picture which is that Donald Trump is standing up for America. That could not be more clear than his 2018 address to the United Nations, where President Trump laid out a vision of embracing American sovereignty over a multilateral global structure. “America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination”.

Obama shied away from our role as an independent, global superpower and in doing so undermined our national fabric in the process. During his presidency, he disregarded the manifest destiny attitude that made this country great by making statements like, “You didn’t build that”! It was popular to fetishize other countries all while decrying the greatness and achievements of our own. His tenure ultimately brought on a lengthy period of self-loathing and withdrawal from the world via a “lead from behind” attitude.

President Trump has instead embraced American power to the fullest and simultaneously held the world to a higher standard. The Clinton and Bush administrations allowed the rest of the world to fall asleep and assume we would carry the mantle of freedom forever. Trump has woken them up to the reality that the United States doesn’t need the rest of the world to thrive, that we can unilaterally determine our own destiny and if they want to prosper they should get in line.

Rhetoric is key to Trump’s persona and while in instances like George Conway and John McCain it isn’t particularly effective, it’s overall net effect is a positive reassertion of American pride. It is infused with an urgency to achieve what is right for America and his consequent policy decisions are indicative of that urgency. He talks of winning at the global level whether it comes to trade, military engagements, or cost-sharing with our allies. Our allies in NATO have already committed to spending $100 billion more on defense over the next decade, the tariffs on Chinese products have brought them to the bargaining table for a trade deal that aims to fix unfair trading practices, and Kurdish forces backed by American firepower have eliminated the territorial claims of ISIS.

All of this is a reassertion of American primacy on the world stage. When President Trump campaigned on making America great again, that came with the obligation that he would stick up for it again. The guilt and shame Obama displayed in front of the world whether it was apologizing for the Vietnam War in Laos or comparing women’s pay to human rights atrocities in communist Cuba have no place in the Trump dialect. His track record thus far has only shown respect for America’s greatness and an appreciation for why we must never bow to anyone.

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