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Looking beyond “America First”: war, politics, and human community

The polarity between self-assertive and integrative tendencies is characteristic of all human life on earth, even including the life of separate states in world politics. In this connection, regrettably, President Donald Trump’s conspicuously proud emphasis on “America First” represents an unambiguous preference for the former. In time, this unfortunate preference could subvert any still remaining chances for wider human community, residual opportunities for cooperation now so desperately needed to prevent some “final” form of global catastrophe.

The president’s core mantra is inherently crude and injurious. Instead of “America First,” the only sensible posture for any US president must soon be some variant of “All the world together.” Indeed, it is already discoverable in the soaring words of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of everyone for himself,” intoned the gifted Jesuit scientist and philosopher, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
The fundamental “Teilhardian” message here is both simple and persuasive. It is that no single country’s individual success can ever be achieved at the painfully sacrificial expense of certain other countries. In essence, no such presumptive success is sustainable if the world more broadly, or even in its entirety, must simultaneously expect a diminished future.

What should we really expect from President Trump’s literally glaring contempt for wider world community? Here on earth, the tribe, in one form or another, has always undermined indispensable global community. Today, it is precisely this degrading and potentially lethal expression of national tribalism that is openly fostered by “America First.”

“America First” is wholly misconceived. If left unchallenged, this atavistic and bombastic mantra will further harden the hearts of our most recalcitrant enemies, and thereby retard the obligatory search for viable American remedies. What we need now is the very opposite of retrograde nationalism; this “antithesis” is a steadily broadening acknowledgment of human interconnectedness and global solidarity.

From the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to the present “self-assertive” American national moment, international relations have been shaped by (1) a shifting “balance of world power,” and (2) certain relentless correlates of war, terror, and genocide. To be sure, hope still exists, but now, it must sing softly, in a prudent undertone. Although counter-intuitive, the time for visceral celebrations of science, modernization, technology, and even social media is already partially over, or perhaps even past altogether.

In a uniquely promising paradox, “America First” expresses a lie that can help us to see the truth.

Merely to survive on an imperiled planet, all of us together must seek to rediscover an individual life that is consciously detached from patterned conformance, cheap entertainments, shallow optimism, and disingenuously contrived expressions of American tribal happiness.

With such refreshingly candid expressions of an awakened human spirit, we Americans may yet learn something that is useful and redemptive at the same time. We may learn, even during the national declension time of Trump, that a commonly felt agony is more important than astrophysics; that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any transient financial “success;” and that shared human tears may reveal much deeper meanings and opportunities than narrowly self-serving tax reductions or imbecilic border walls.

In The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler asked: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” It remains, to this day, a noteworthy query, one that will likely never be insistently raised in our universities, let alone on Wall Street, or anywhere in the White House. We may, however, still learn something productive about these “grand questions” by studying American responsibility in world politics.

At that time, we might finally learn that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing global economics, by building larger missiles, abrogating international treaties, or by replacing one abundantly sordid regime with another in the naively presumed interests of “national security.”

In the end, even in our currently squalid American politics, truth is exculpatory. Accordingly, in a uniquely promising paradox, “America First” expresses a lie that can help us to see the truth. This immutable truth is that we Americans require, above all else, a distinctly contrary (to “America First”) consciousness of unity and relatedness between both individual human beings, and their respective nation-states.

Such lucidity is integral to all plausible possibilities of extended American security and well-being. Now, before it is too late, is the last best time to replace the prospectively lethal intensity of international tribal competition, with an improved national commitment to global oneness. Privileged by the informed conviction that correctly denounces “everyone for himself” behavior in world politics, the multiple internal contradictions of “America First” could quickly recede into decreasing influence, and then into an increasingly well-deserved oblivion.

Featured image credit: earth globe north america by TheDigitalWay. Public domain via Pixabay.

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