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Opinion | America First, America Hated, America Alone

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Above all, it’s fair to prod and cajole and quarrel with our core allies — in private. But Trump is out to embarrass them in public, putting them to the choice of becoming enemies or toadies, breaking up or sucking up. That’s no doubt fine with him: America First is America Feared. But it is also America hated, and hated with justification. Where’s the upside in that?

For Trump, the upside is the substitution of a liberal order with an illiberal one, based on conceits about sovereignty, nationality, religion and ethnicity. These are the same conceits that Vladimir Putin has long made his own, which helps explain Trump’s affinity for his Russian counterpart and his distress that Robert Mueller’s investigation “really hurts our relationship with Russia,” as he remarked Friday.

It also explains his undisguised contempt for contemporary European democracy and his efforts to replace it with something more Trumpian: xenophobic, protectionist and truculent. This is the Europe of Germany’s Alexander Gauland, France’s Marine Le Pen, Britain’s Nigel Farage, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Italy’s Matteo Salvini. Note that the last three are already in power.

All this must be gratifying to Trump’s sense of his historical importance. For America, it’s a historical disaster. The United States can only lead a world that’s prepared to follow.

But follow what? Not the rules of trade that America once set but now claims are rigged against it. Not the democratic ideals that America once embodied but now treats with disdain. Not the example of fighting bullies, after it has now become one.

This will suit Americans for whom the idea of a free world always seemed like a distant abstraction. It will suit Europeans whose anti-Americanism predates Trump’s arrival by decades. And it will especially suit Putin, who knows that an America that stands for its own interests first also stands, and falls, alone. Surely the dead at Colleville-sur-Mer fought for something greater than that.

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