On Trump, His Supporters and Isolationism

Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings isolation. Result: Loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.

~ Dalai Lama

July 27, 2016

Earlier, I wrote about Donald Trump and the nationalism that he inspires in his followers. Tonight, I want to write about that other word we’re flinging around without defining. That’s isolationism.

Isolationism: The belief that a country should not be involved with other countries: a policy of not making agreements or working with other countries.

As I watched the Republican National Convention last week, I wondered over its many “themes.” “Make America Safe Again”, all right, I get it. People are afraid, shit looks like it’s really out of control, and I don’t blame anyone for his or her fear, I feel it too. I can think over that fear, which I will probably touch on at some other point, but I can understand it. “Make America Work Again”. Again, I can see that. Even though unemployment is under 5.0%  some people aren’t working and many more are underemployed and that’s a deeply personal issue that hits a lot of sensitive spots. Then, on the third night, we get “Make America First Again”. This one threw me for a loop. What exactly was that even supposed to mean?

At first, I thought it must mean something similar to the generic “Make America Great Again”, that it meant retaking our place on the global stage and winning back a right to call ourselves a superpower. But as the night went on, I began to understand that that was not, in fact, what “Make America First Again” was intended to mean. What “Make America First Again” was intended to mean was isolationist in nature. It means, “put America and American citizens first, above all other nations and peoples.”

To be fair, this doesn’t actually sound like such a bad idea. I mean, this is America, we should put our own citizens first, right? What could possibly be wrong with putting our own people first? I can relate. I’m tired of war, that’s how this whole blog came about. I grew up completely touched by war, totally immersed in it. I completely understand being exhausted by war after war after war and having the desire to just say to hell with it all, but I also understand that even though it looks like it, global politics is not made up solely of wars and attempting to remove ourselves from global politics is both futile and unethical.

When I ask Trump supporters how they can possibly defend a man who says we should ban all Muslims from entering the country, I get a seemingly innocuous response, “Well, it’s just for a little bit, just until we get our own shit figured out.”

Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen, and therein lies the problem.

Here’s the thing. We are NEVER going to get all of our own shit figured out for everyone all of the time. It is NEVER going to happen. Anyone who believes that has his or her head buried in the damn sand. It is absolutely impossible to please everyone in a country that has almost 320 million people. I’m sorry if I’ve somehow burst your bubble, but this is reality.

If you look at the basic facts, we actually do have a lot going for us. Despite Donald Trumps’ apocalyptic rhetoric, things are going relatively well. Unemployment is down, the stock market is up. We’re lucky.

Syria is not lucky. 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. 6.6 million people are internally displaced (meaning they are in Syria but not in their homes) and 4.8 million people have left the country. 2.7 million of those 4.8 million people are in Turkey, which isn’t doing so great itself. Perhaps you’ve heard that they’ve recently had a coup?

Turkey is a NATO country. An ally. Not that that matters much to Donald Trump as he’s recently said that he would have to consider whether or not to defend a NATO country in the face of Russian aggression.

See how everything is connected? Seven degrees of separation and all that.

But let me expand on that NATO point for a minute. Specifically, Trump was asked about three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries are right on the border of Russia though I doubt many of us would be able to point them out on a map. Here’s a map, for your reference.

map-new-europe-map-1000

You’ll see the three countries in question on the right just below Finland, next to Russia, and just above Poland and Belarus.

Now, back to Trump. What he said in the same interview with the New York Times in which he says he would have to consider whether or not to defend these nations is as follows:

Trump: I would prefer that we be able to continue [upholding our alliances and defending those we have decades-long treaties with], but if we are not going to be able to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth – you have the tape going on?

Interviewer: We do.

Trump: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations you will be defending yourself.”

Countries that are “massive” and have “tremendous” wealth. On its face, this looks like an almost reasonable argument, if you take into consideration that we are in fact dealing with a man who will choose economics over morals every single time. The argument goes like this: You don’t pay your bills, you’re big and wealthy and mighty and thus could have paid your bills, sorry, we’re not showing up. We’re going to Make America First Again.

Except that’s not actually the situation we have here. Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million people, Lithuania is at just about 3 million people while Latvia has a population of right around 2 million people. That means that Estonia has a population equivalent to Maine’s, Lithuania has a population equivalent to that of Iowa’s and Latvia has a population about the same as New Mexico’s. In terms of size, Estonia is 17,505 square miles, Lithuania is 25,212 square miles, and Latvia is 24,938 square miles. That means that Estonia is bigger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia while Lithuania and Latvia are about the same size as West Virginia. So…not “massive” at all, as it turns out.

In terms of wealth…well…the GDP per capita for the United States is $55,836.80 according to the World Bank. So what about these tiny Baltic countries with “massive wealth”? Estonia’s GDP is at $17,295.40, Lithuania’s is $14,172.20 and Latvia’s is a WHOPPING $13,664.90. (As a side note, the world’s GDP is reported to be $9,995.60 and Syria’s hasn’t been reported in awhile but the last available data has it at $2,065.54).

Wait…I’m confused then. Trump said if the country is “massive” and has “tremendous” wealth and didn’t pay its bills he wouldn’t defend them. But these countries are not massive and do not have tremendous wealth. Actually, WE’RE the ones who are massive with tremendous wealth. So…why might we not show up again?

Well, because Trump is an isolationist. He doesn’t want to interfere in world politics because he allegedly wants America focused on America. But what he’s not saying is this – we are a global society. The internet has made it so. We have a global economy. We have military personnel in over 150 countries across the globe. We have allies and enemies all over the world. We cannot just shove our heads into the sand and hide because Donald J. Trump doesn’t understand how to deal with globalism.

And that’s really what we’re talking about – isn’t it? He doesn’t understand how to deal with foreign policy. He doesn’t understand foreign affairs. He likely doesn’t know what the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim is. Hell, he probably doesn’t even know what the difference between a “radical Islamic terrorist” and the Muslim grocer down the corner is. He isn’t equipped to handle foreign relations. He doesn’t understand Japan’s policy on nuclear weapons (which is wholly developed around the fact that we nuked them by the way). He doesn’t understand the delicate relationship between Turkey and its Kurdish population. He doesn’t understand the implications of Brexit. He doesn’t understand what NATO does to protect us. He just doesn’t get it.

His solution? Blather, noise, yelling, ban everyone, break all our ties, hide, then yell again. God bless America. I mean, even before he wanted to refuse entry to all Muslims as a “solution” to home-grown terrorism, he wanted to ban all American doctors from returning to the United States after treating Ebola victims.

Seriously. This guy? This is the guy you actually want to be president of the United States? And to all of you who say that Donald Trump “has a pair” and that’s why you like him, think again. Isolationism in our global world is nothing but a cover up for cowardice.

On Trump, His Supporters and Nationalism

Here is your country. Cherish these national wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.
~Theodore Roosevelt
Nationalism – that word is getting thrown around a lot recently. Trump is a nationalist, isolationist. These words are being used without definition or anecdote, they’re being flung around as if every person should know what they mean. But in my experience, even if you know what nationalism means, you may not know what it breeds.
My first up-close look at nationalism took place when I was 19 years old. At the time, I was dating a survivor of the genocide which occurred at Srebrenica, Bosnia. Up until then, I had only understood nationalism to be a bold word underlined in AP European history textbooks. It was a word I’d put on one side of a study card with its definition on the back. It was a word that I recognized without understanding.
Nationalism: Loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.
Yes, I knew what it meant, but during my 11-month relationship with a Bosnian national here on a war-refugee VISA, I began to understand nationalism in a way that I never had before.
On this man’s closet door hung a scarf, blue and yellow, the colors of the Bosnian flag with white words “I Krv Svoju za Bosnu Moju”. My Blood for My Bosnia. Those words resonated with me. To me, they were beautiful. They also made me feel deeply lonely, like I was a child without a country. Never had I felt such an intense emotion for my own homeland, not even in the wake of 9/11. But then again, never had I been forced to endure a war on my own soil.
And it’s true, nationalism is beautiful, but with all beautiful things, it is also dangerous. As the months passed, “my” Bosnia began to take shape for me, and it was a confusing mess. The more I learned about the fall of the former Yugoslavia and the ensuing Balkan Wars, the less I seemed to understand. How could someone born in Bosnia, to Bosnian parents, who happened to be Catholic see him or herself as Croatian? Was he or she not simply a Catholic Bosnian? How could it be possible for a tiny nation, smaller than West Virginia, to divide itself into thirds? How could people wake up one day and all of a sudden see their neighbors as the enemy?
I was fortunate. I grew up in a post-9/11 America that was full to the brim with patriots, but I had never been a part of a country wrapped up in nationalistic fervor. I had been raised in a country that valued the principles of immigration and assimilation. I was surrounded by African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans. These people, whether generations removed from their ancestors or freshly arrived, retained their cultural heritage while managing to become embedded in the American fabric. Put simply, I grew up in a nation that had no “other”. So to me, seeing nationalism in practice made no sense.
But what seemed so confusing to me then makes sense to me now. Then, I had not experienced nationalism in practice, I had taken my unique American experience for granted. Now, in a time when patriotism is giving way to nationalism, my eyes are opening. The thing that I once found to be so beautiful is also oddly divisive, because somehow, to have that awe-inspiring sense of self that nationalism requires, one also has to be stripped of any other identity.
To perform such a cleanse, we must first define what self we will rally behind. Donald Trump has done this for us. He has gone about systematically defining what it “means” to be American for the past year. What it means is to be a white, Protestant, straight, able-bodied male or subservient female.
In creating this identity, Donald Trump has not only set us back decades, but he has also given strength to all those who feel disenfranchised. He’s created a home for people who feel like I once felt, like a lost child. He is preying on a feeling of isolation that is created for those of us who don’t define ourselves as anything other than American. He is the devil disguised as Peter Pan, ready to lead the lost boys home. Except, like the true Peter Pan, the one who existed in the dark mind of J.M. Barrie, this Peter will make sure to slaughter all those children who should desire to grow up and grow apart from their hero.
Do not doubt for one second that this is in fact what is happening here.
What I once found to be so beautiful, has turned ugly. What the Trump phenomenon has led me to understand is that feeling like a child with no country is vastly superior to feeling like a child with a country gone mad. Because in Trump’s America, you must be an American’s American. You must bleed red, white and blue and scream One Nation Under God at the top of your lungs. To be anything else is to be un-American and thus “other” and “other” is dangerous to the nationalist ideal and thus must be destroyed. #Merica is more than a hashtag to be laughed at, and we should all be aware of this now. The Heartland of America feels that their country has been hijacked by the other, and they will do anything to get it back.
It is our responsibility as a society to make sure that this dark Peter does not get his hands on the lost boys of our country. It is our responsibility not to divide further, but to unite. We must reach across the aisle and give our neighbors a boost up. And the disenfranchised must try to remember that no matter how lost they feel, they have been, and will always be, Americans. No one can take that from them and it therefore does not need to be protected.
We don’t need Donald Trump to protect us. We are many things, but first and foremost, we are Americans, and we are strong.