Without Trump's Accountability, New Cast of Western Leaders Are in Uncharted Waters - By Greer Clem
In homage to my Los Angeles roots, I will begin with an entertainment analogy: I feel as though I was going to see a well-reviewed play only to find out fifteen minutes beforehand that the main cast has a vicious case of food-poisoning so all the understudies will be taking their place. Allow me to explain further:
The current cast of leaders in global politics contains some very green newbies and, more importantly, a sinister cast of seasoned old-timers. Let's start with Brexit, a vote that shook the European Union and global financial markets and ushered in a new prime minister, Teresa May. Then we have the American political shitstorm that was 2016 and end up with Donald Trump as President. Then, in South Korea, after a scandal ousted the seated president, Park Geun-hye, and opened an investigation into the entire administration, a new President, Moon Jae-In, was quickly elected. So, over the last 12 months, we have seen drastic leadership changes from three major players, all three of them unexpected.
Aside from the fact that each case is uniquely troubling, why does this matter? Well, it matters because these new cast members are joining the ranks of seasoned leaders with ill intentions. May, Trump, and Moon all joined the political stage already familiar to Vladmir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, and Bashar al-Assad. There are two other experienced players who are worth mentioning: Xi Jinping of China and Angela Merkel of Germany. They are less volatile and therefore the only stable players at this point in time.
Now, one might ask why these changes should be regarded more carefully than prior shifts of the same sort. After all, political leadership changes in the US every four years, every five years in South Korea, and with some frequency for Prime Ministers in Great Britain. I am not an expert on British politics, and certainly not an expert on South Korean politics, so I will primarily speak to Trump's influence. The reason this change in cast is so threatening to America and global politics at large is because of Trump's lack of accountability.
Accountability; seems like it should be a fairly easy standard to hold our leaders to, especially in the U.S. We elect them, they run under the guise of having our best interest, and we consider our relationship to be mutual. They serve us and in turn we allow them to remain in power. However, the first few months of the Trump presidency have been an alarming departure from this tradition, and we need to pay attention to this change.
Trump seems to advocate a "do-it-myself" policy when it comes to both national and global politics and criticizes international organizations for their lack of efficiency. Back in January, he accused NATO of being "obsolete" because there is still a global terrorism crisis. What a rational actor would say is, "I want to work together with NATO to strengthen the global community's response to terrorist threats which continue to jeopardize the safety of our collective countries." Boom. Trump also criticized the United Nations, calling it "just a club where people get together to talk." What Trump fails to appreciate are the varying circumstances that culminated in the creation of these international organizations.
NATO was established after the second World War to promote international military diplomacy. Having analyzed miscommunication between Europe and the US, NATO was founded to encourage consultation as a way to avoid military conflict. The UN was also established after WWII as an organization to promote communication and maintain international order. Yes, sometimes that means people get together and talk, but the pure value of conversation is not appreciated by Trump, a man who himself is largely incapable of crafting a coherent sentence.
What these organizations contribute to the global community is a degree of transparency. NATO and the UN provide necessary structure to international relations to keep our individual paranoia at bay. They also exist to provide accountability, which was perhaps one of the most important lessons learned from WWII. The intense accountability forced on Germany after the first world war gave rise to Hitler's Third Reich and the Fascist Party, and we all saw how that played out. This is why playing the blame-game does not provide long-term solutions. After the most costly and deadly war to date, the international community decided that accountability needed to be established through mutual discussion, hence NATO, the UN, and an emphasis on international relations that surged in the mid 20th century.
What Trump fails to understand when he tells us he will "make America great again" is that what made us the power-house of the 20th century was our high-regard as an accountable international player on the global stage. We were seen as pillars of these international institutions that existed to keep the global community safe. This is what inspired the reverence other countries had for America, not just the might of our military.
The "do-it-myself" method that Trump favors eliminates this transparency. Trump could say one thing to your face and then go do something else entirely, both devaluing the international institutions he is supposed to work with and making him a threat to the American public. Trump will lie but will do so in a way that eliminates accountability. How do we know this? Well, he's removed everyone from office who he has seen as a threat to his own position. His removal of Sally Yates and James Comey are evidence enough but his attack on the "fake media" that reports on his actions is the nail in the coffin.
The threat this poses to the global community cannot be overstated. Not only is the US a founding member of NATO and the UN, it is an implicit leader in international relations. The President therefore has a duty, not just to the American people, but to the world in general to uphold these high standards of transparency and accountability. In a time where the cast of global actors is changing, leaving behind only those who threaten our democracy, Trump is showing he cannot be the glue that holds us together. Putin has shown unwavering support of Assad as millions are slaughtered in Syria. Kim Jong-Un has decided to prod new western leaders by defiantly launching missile tests that are explicitly prohibited by international law. And, quite frankly, the world looks to us during times like these.
Trump again misunderstands this. He thinks the world looks to him as an individual for who he is and what he represents. In fact, the global community is looking to us in spite of this. America is great because of the longstanding reputation we have achieved for promoting international peace and human rights (for a reminder, read McCain's recent op-ed). There may have been presidents in the past whose world views differed from my own, but I have never doubted that these people understood the immense responsibility America has to the global community. Until now. The EU has been weakened by Brexit and narrowly saved by Macron's win. South Korea stands on the precipice of the most democratic regime it has ever had, which gives me hope. But all of these things are so very fragile and require an American leader who understands the complex web of global politics. Nationalism is a very shortsighted political stance, and yet Trump fails to grasp this fact. In a time where our cast of world leaders is very new and global organizations are very fragile, we need American strength more than ever.
It will not come from Donald Trump, but it may still come from the people. I won't go into details about how Congress is failing us, you can read about that anywhere. There have been worthy parallels between the Nixon administration and Trump, but Congress held Nixon accountable. Thus far, the Republican majority in Congress has refused to do the same for Trump. But I have not given up hope, because we, the people, have not changed. I think that fundamentally most Americans value our role as a global leader and understand that transparency is necessary. I think that our greatest challenge as citizens is to continue to support the international community even when our leader refuses to do so. Whether this is through the media, through fundraising, through protest, we must make our voices heard. I know the rallying cry gets tiring, but truly the stage is set precariously. We had anticipated a failed Brexit vote and to have a President Clinton. But we're stuck with the shady understudy and plot twists we had not foreseen. I would urge everyone to remember that the audience has a voice, and without us, the stage is set for no one.