“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”-Theodore Roethke (American poet)
In essence, Donald Trump’s ideas about “America First” represent a retrograde vote for expanding global fragmentation. Whatever decisional uncertainties we may have concerning any specifically preferred course of US foreign policy direction, one thing is certain. Prima facie, these crude ideas can augur only disunity and an endless future of belligerent nationalism and catastrophic war.
Accordingly, pertinent US national policy imperatives should not be difficult to decipher. Now, instead of “America First,” this country’s rational posture should firmly reject any stubborn adherence to long-failed ideological orientations. Though generally difficult to understand, what at first may seem pragmatic in foreign policy decision making is only a prescription for despair. To wit, any nation that seeks to maximize its own well-being at the intentional expense of others – a zero-sum view – will actually be acting against its own security interests.
It’s about interpenetrations. In world politics, everything is interrelated. Among other things, no single country’s meaningful success can typically be achieved at the sacrificial expense of other countries. Moreover, no such presumptive success is sustainable if the world’s myriad “others” must thereby expect a more violent and explosive future.
Everything is interrelated, as system.
Now, certain absolutely ore questions must give direction to relevant strategic dialectic. More precisely, we must inquire, what should we realistically expect from Donald Trump’s conspicuous contempt for sensible notions of widening global unity?
Here, history is instructive.
Here, on earth, the basic story has never really been any different.
Here, the tribe, in one form or another, has long undermined all indispensable opportunities for authentic world order.
It is this latest expression of a corrosive national tribalism that is currently being championed by “America First.” Ironically, when all cumulative policy impacts are taken into careful account, America First is revealed as virulently anti-patriotic. Starkly. What else could reasonably be concluded about a national policy that injures one’s own country and various others at the very same time?
Plainly, America First represents an expression and posture that is dangerously misconceived and prospectively lethal. Unchallenged, it will reveal an atavistic mantra that would further harden the hearts of even our most recalcitrant enemies. In brief, what is required now is the literal opposite of an incessantly belligerent nationalism. What is needed, at the core, is a substantially broadened acknowledgment of human interconnectedness.
Says the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his masterwork, The Phenomenon of Man: “No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present fragmenting moment, world politics has been shaped by a continuously shifting balance of power, and by certain relentless correlates of war, terror, and genocide. Ideally, hope should still exist, but now it must sing more softly, unobtrusively, and in a decisively prudent undertone. So, what now?
Finally, merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of us, together, must seek to rediscover an individual life, one that is consciously detached from any ritualistically patterned conformance, cheap entertainments, shallow optimism, or disingenuously contrived expressions of American tribal happiness. At a minimum, such survival will demand a prompt retreat from what US President Donald Trump has termed “America First.” In this regard, Trump’s so-called rallies are just the symptom of a much deeper pathology, a know-nothing populism more closely reflecting the philosophy of Joseph Goebbels (“Intellect rots the brain”) than the pro-education credo of Thomas Jefferson.
It was Donald Trump, after all, who said unashamedly during the 2016 campaign: “I love the poorly educated.” This is the very same president who once exclaimed confidently that the moon “is part of Mars,” and who openly lamented that Denmark would not consider selling Greenland.
As Jefferson and the Founding Fathers had earlier understood, there is a respectable place for a proper erudition. Learning from history, Americans may yet learn something from “America First” that is still useful and redemptive. They may learn, even during this national declension Time of Trump, a time for authentic tribulation, that a commonly felt agony is more important than astrophysics; that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any transient financial “success;” and that shared human tears may reveal much more deeply consequential meanings than “everyone for himself” tax reductions or porously unsuitable border walls.
In The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler asked: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” This remains a vital query, one that will assuredly never be raised in our universities, on Wall Street, or absolutely anywhere in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive about these “grand questions” by more closely studying American responsibilities in world politics.
Then we might finally understand that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by further militarizing global economics, building larger missiles, abrogating international treaties, or replacing one abundantly sordid foreign regime or movement with another.
In the end, even in American politics and foreign policy decision-making, truth is exculpatory. In what amounts to a uniquely promising paradox, therefore, “America First” can express a blatant lie that may nonetheless help us see the truth. This peremptory truth is not really dense or unfathomable. Americans require, after all, and above all else, a substantially wider consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human beings and between nation-states.
“In a dark time,” we may learn from the
poet Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”
 From the standpoint of classical political and legal philosophy, such a national policy would be the diametric opposite of the statement by Emmerich de Vattel in The Law of Nations (1758): “The first general law which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”
 Collected Poems, 1966.