On 5 February, President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his second State of the Union address. In evaluating the speech, one should keep in mind that the state of our American union is inevitably intertwined with the state of our wider world.
The core policy implication is clear: Without a more willing planetary identification, this country will be left trailing behind its once-impressive potential.
Trump's "America First" policy misfires on all cylinders.
This belligerent orientation portends not only more-or-less irremediable fiscal losses, but also this country's growing incapacity to secure itself from wars and terrorism. For just one current example, U.S. siding with Russia and Syria in the Middle East will weaken Israel and invigorate new waves of militant Jihadist activity.
As just a single country in world politics, as one of almost 200 unequal or asymmetrical nation-states, the United States is not exempt from planet-wide responsibilities simply because it is a "great power."
Trump's former National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed the president’s everyone-for-himself view of the world: "President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE has a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community,’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage."
Now Trump has another National Security Advisor and another Secretary of State, but this "realistic" view of the world remains proudly unmodified. With Trump’s announced suspension of the INF treaty, the United States has thrust itself into a new nuclear arms race without any theoretically-based tactics of endgame in sight. The result can only be increasing rancor and correspondingly diminished American national security.
How shall we best proceed? What should now be undertaken to encourage more caring feelings between nations? How can we re-imagine the state of our world so as to best ensure a more viable and prosperous fate for the American commonwealth?
These difficult questions are proper matter for the "State of the Union."
How shall our always-intersecting nation-states produce a triumph for global civilization that is simultaneously essential and implausible? Empathy for the many is a precondition of any more decent world union — of any purposeful U.S. political movement beyond "America First" — but what might foster such feelings without causing intolerable individual pain?
The answer can never be found in political speeches or clichéd programs, especially where they would likely express the retrograde sentiments of "America First." The answer can lie instead only in a resolute detachment of individual citizens and subjects from their innately competitive tribes. Recalling the Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, any more perfect union, both national and international, must stem ultimately from a determined human replacement of civilization with “planetization.”
This redemptive replacement would be premised upon an historically inextinguishable global solidarity or "oneness."
Individual human beings, not their cumulatively composite and warring nation-states, must become the primary focus of national and global reform. Without such a transformational focus, there could be no long-term human future of any kind. In turn, this replacement must depend upon prior affirmations of Self, that is, upon a steadily expanding acceptance of human sacredness absolutely everywhere on earth.
Dreadfully short-sighted American policies such as "America First" cannot continue to disregard the basic human rights of those who live in other countries or even within these United States. The founding fathers — believing firmly in natural law and natural rights — held that the human rights expectations of the Declaration of Independence must necessarily apply to all peoples, for all time, and could never be properly reserved solely to Americans.
This overriding State of the Union imperative is not just a matter of accepting cooperation; rather, it’s an integral requirement of a U.S. domestic law, one that already incorporates various binding norms of international law. For casual doubters who would remain politically committed to contrived bifurcations of U.S. law and international law — bifurcations expressly built into Trump's backward-looking vision of "American First" — they can begin by examining Article 6 of the US Constitution. This "Supremacy Clause" mandates adaptations of authoritative treaty law.
Overall, President Trump should finally understand that the state of our domestic union can never be better than the state of our wider world. To act pragmatically upon this core understanding, he must first range far beyond his presumptively "realistic" orientations to world politics.
"America First" is a colossally unrealistic stance, one disadvantaging the United States along with other nations. In essence, the state of our American union should never be fashioned apart from much broader and more primary considerations of planetary survival. This is the case even though such a seemingly fanciful conclusion will be wrongly dismissed in Trump country as "utopian."
At some point, as President Trump must learn, strategic and legal truth can be counter-intuitive. Following his State of the Union address, it would be best for thoughtful Americans to recall film director Federico Fellini's observation: "In the end, the visionary is the only realist." In reality, of course, it is unlikely that American politicians of any stripe would ever accept a film director's philosophic observations on U.S. policy — after all, these same politicians generally do not accept or even recognize certain long-codified insights of the Founding Fathers.
It does still suggest that the very worst strategy for America and the wider world would have us continue on a lethal and time-dishonored course, a tortuous path to expansive struggle and perpetual conflict.
Louis René Beres, Ph.D. Princeton, is emeritus professor of international law at Purdue University. He is the author of 12 books and several hundred articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. His newest book is “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018)