Friend or foe, ally or rival, it no longer seems to matter: hey, world, make way for the guy who pushes in at the checkout, double parks at the school gate, dumps his garbage in the park, talks through the movie, and calls in sick every Monday. The idea of American Exceptionalism was bad enough, but now comes ‘American Entitlement’.
I refer you to these passages from the Inauguration Day speech of President Donald J. Trump:
For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military…We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon…From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first… Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
So, yes, I say, thank you, Mr. Trump for showing such consideration for America’s friends in the world, for showing such awareness of the sacrifices they have made in support of interests shared with America, and for showing such concern––you who likes to quote from the Bible––for the world’s millions obliged to live off the scraps fallen from the American Century’s table of plenty.
Thank you, on behalf of the more than 60,000 Australians who died in the First World War, most of them killed before Americans decided to get their hands dirty.
Thank you, on behalf of the nations left in the lurch by America’s abandonment of the League of Nations, after having talked up the virtues of collective security.
Thank you, on behalf of the more than 27,000 Australians killed in the Second World War, standing against fascism years before Americans nailed their colours to the mast.
Thank you, on behalf of the hundreds of Australians killed in the Korean War, answering the call of the United Nations, and in support of American hegemony in North Asia.
Thank you, on behalf of the hundreds more Australians killed in the Vietnam War when we were ‘all the way with LBJ’.
Thank you, on behalf of all present-day Australians who consume American goods and services worth billions of dollars more than we sell Americans every year, and whose tax dollars are spent helping develop joint weapons systems and meeting our obligations under the ANZUS Treaty.
So nice of you––had you cared to remember.
Donald Trump thinks that America has no debts outstanding with the world. Tell that to the people of Okinawa, for example, or any number of places where American military ‘forward defenses’ make daily life for local residents a hazard and a humiliation.
If, from now on, it’s to be exclusively ‘America First’, then all bets are off. Any cooperation with America, whether in trade or foreign policy, would implicitly involve the surrender to American Entitlement. No honourable partnership distributes benefits to one side only.
Trump’s ‘new vision’ of an utterly self-interested America, one that lamely blames foreigners for ‘stealing’ what was never American ‘property’ in the first place––hard work, ambition, innovation, cooperation, discipline, diligence, and all the other human qualities that have made other nations relatively more successful over the past fifty years––is a form of historical blindness. It is not a vision of renewal. It is a comic-book version of Jeffersonian America: a bucolic dream of ‘your daddy’s rich and your ma is so good looking’, and the cotton is already, magically, high.
America, you don’t have to work for it. You’re entitled to it. Dream on and fade away, while the rest of the world gets on with finding solutions to the challenges and realities we are not afraid to face up to together.
Walter Hamilton has been a journalist for 45 years.