As I’ve grown older, I have witnessed how the seeds of the future are planted in the present. Wise men, women, and visionaries make decisions by first looking back in history. What did we learn? Are there any similarities to the present challenges or opportunities. This is a time honored process of making careful decisions that will impact the future. Specifically, we looked for lessons learned.
Two examples are insightful. How we negotiated treaties at the end of WWI and at the end of WWII had very different outcomes. At the close of WWI, Germany was disabled by the imposition of brutal sanctions that disabled its ability to grow ties to the world nations through trade. That worked against securing a democratic course for Germany. President Woodrow Wilson tried to convince fellow world leaders to take the path of peace, to assist the perpetrators in creating democratic institutions and principles while building world peace in the process. He was ignored. The terrible hardships imposed on the German people became the forces that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Following WWII, the Marshall Plan reversed that tendency (to punish). Nations formed an alliance to provide a means of peaceful negotiation, and play a role as a watchdog for violations of human rights in member nations (the United Nations). Consequently, the world has not experienced a world conflagration since 1945, and Germany rose to take its place as a democratic nation in the world community. The leaders of the time had learned from history and corrected with purposeful actions.
The United States accepted a leadership role in the world as the seat of democracy. Granted we have not perfectly earned that great role, but we’ve done well over time in mediating among and working with fellow nations toward peaceful co-existence.
This has been accomplished by Republican and Democratic Presidents alike, building on each other’s accomplishment in foreign relations. It can sometimes be a reversal of a policy, but American policies always articulated with previous ideas and assumptions. Presidents have explained to the public why policies are changed or continued as should be done to gain public support through an understanding and awareness of the nation’s place in the world. In this manner America has advanced among nations. Presidents shape our future at home and in the world.
We need to evaluate President Trump in this light. Has he knowledge about our history and that of the world? Does he explain his policies in light of that previous body of actions and principles? Can our allies depend on him, i.e. are his ideas in line with the long history of how our nation had acted in the world community?
It is a rarity to have a President ignore who we have been, and who we are, for his own personal idea of what we should be. That is not leadership. Checking off a list of the pet projects of voter groups who supported his election by destroying decades of bipartisan work and policies is not leadership but old-time cronyism.
It is a Lesser Version of a President that we have not seen in our history. Leading a nation like ours, made of a dynamic informed public, requires the Big Leader version of the Presidency–a presidency based in the knowledge of where we came from and who we are. While I often feel sorry for Trump because he is completely overwhelmed by the job, I am more terrified of what is happening to us: the dismantling of our institutions that keep and foster democratic life, and the aimless leadership he imposes in the world community. All across the world, our allies are pulling back from us. Our enemies are gaining new confidence. We are less safe.
Where is this going?
Something to think about: