By Louis René Beres
Special to Jewish Business News
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“The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of everyone for himself is false and against nature.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
Ominously, Donald Trump’s retrograde ideas about “America First” are “false and against nature.” While the US President clings desperately to various time-dishonored notions of “everyone for himself,” this country’s core prospects for growth and security are being steadily diminished. Accordingly, Mr. Trump ought to soon be reminded of the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin’s cautionary warning about world politics. It is, in essence, that “no element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
Viewed intellectually, as it should, the pertinent US national imperatives are not complicated. Instead of “America First,” the only rational presidential posture must reject any stubborn adherence to long-failed zero-sum orientations. In the final analysis, the vital corollary of any such rejection will lie in the seemingly-unrelated insights of Italian film director Federico Fellini: “The visionary is the only realist.”
It’s not really complicated. No single country’s meaningful success can ever be achieved at the sacrificial expense of other countries. Absolutely no such presumptive success is sustainable if the world’s myriad “others” must expect a more violent and correspondingly explosive future.
Let us be more interrogative. What can we plausibly expect from Donald Trump’s plainly conspicuous contempt for notions of wider global community? To begin a suitable answer, history is instructive. Here, on earth, the basic story has never really changed. Here, the tribe, in one form or another, has persistently undermined utterly indispensable opportunities for authentic world order.
Now, unambiguously, it is this latest expression of corrosive national tribalism that is being fostered by “America First.”
Again, it represents an expression that is invariably misconceived and prospectively lethal. Left unchallenged, it reveals an atavistic mantra that will further harden the hearts of even our most recalcitrant enemies. What is required now is the literal opposite of incessantly retrograde nationalism. What is needed is a substantially broadened acknowledgment of human interconnectedness.
“No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present unraveling moment, world politics has been shaped by a continuously shifting balance of power, and by certain relentless correlates of war, terror, and genocide. Hope, perhaps, should still exist, but now, it must sing softly, unobtrusively, in a decisively prudent undertone. Now, although counter-intuitive, the opportune time for visceral celebrations of science, modernization, entrepreneurship, technology, and (especially) social media is at least partially over.
There is more. Merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of us, together, must finally seek to rediscover an individual life, one that is consciously detached from any patterned conformance, cheap entertainments, shallow optimism, or disingenuously contrived expressions of American tribal happiness. At a minimum, such survival will demand a prompt retreat from what US President Donald Trump has so mindlessly termed “America First.”
It’s not complicated. Learning from history, we Americans may yet learn something from “America First” that is both useful and redemptive. We may learn, for example, even during this 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 generally reveal much more deeply consequential meanings and opportunities than “everyone for himself” tax reductions or porously 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?” This remains a vital query, one that will assuredly never be raised in our universities, on Wall Street, or absolutely anywhere in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive about these “grand questions” by more closely studying American responsibilities in world politics.
Then we might finally understand that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by further militarizing global economics, building larger missiles, abrogating international treaties, or replacing one abundantly sordid foreign regime with another.
In the end, moreover, even in our insistently squalid American politics, truth must be exculpatory. Ironically, in what amounts to a uniquely promising paradox, “America First” can express a stunningly blatant lie that may nonetheless help us see the truth. This peremptory truth, moreover, is not really all that complicated: We Americans require, above all else, a far wider consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human beings, and also between their respective nation-states.
By definition, this illuminating new consciousness would imply a well-founded rejection of US President Donald Trump’s incontestably lethal mantra, the distraction he so disingenuously calls “America First.”
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published in 2016. His other writings have been published in Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; Oxford University Press; The Jerusalem Post; Infinity Journal; BESA Perspectives; US News & World Report; The Hill; and The Atlantic.