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United States

Jun 19, 2017

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In a few years’ time, the inevitable analysis of the Trump presidency and its historical legacy will begin. Political commentators and historians from across the world will weigh in on Trump’s foreign and domestic policies, his political convictions, his opinion polls, his rapport with his colleagues and fellow world leaders and his responses to national and international crises. Each will evaluate the enigma that is Donald J. Trump, and each will attempt to answer that age-old question of American democracy: was he a good leader?

The answer, of course, will be no. They will find him to be the president who single-handedly destroyed everything America once stood for, and believed in.

Since the turn of the 19th century, the United States of America has been convinced of its divine right to lead other nations — to be a world power concerned with the protection of all benevolent states and the beneficial spread of Liberalism. From this stemmed the idea of “American exceptionalism”, an unwavering belief that America’s unimpeachable democracy and capitalism makes it a nation superior to all others — a vanguard of morality, equality, justice, sovereignty, freedom, and free economic enterprise.

For hundreds of years, America has seen its position as world superpower epitomised by a single passage from the Bible: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14-16). Like a beacon of hope, America has strode through the world confident in its ability to be the defender of liberalism and protector and benefactor of its allies. From World War I to the fight against terrorism in recent years, the world has looked to America to lead the way in taking action to achieve world security against various existential threats.

The election of Donald Trump has now changed all this.

In the course of a few months, Trump has had no scruples in shattering every image of respectability and superiority the US once held in the international arena. The world has seen his unhinged tweets, his juvenile treatment of leaders of strong allies like Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, they have heard his well-documented and offensive views on women, Muslims, Mexicans and various minority groups and they have seen a leader facing threats of impeachment over allegations of Russian election interference less than half a year into the tenure of his presidency.

[Rundle: it’s Watergate on speed now]

These numerous controversies have tarnished that once spotless city shining on a hill. Courtesy of Trump, American democracy has become a rusted and crumbling shack, seemingly susceptible to foreign interference and blackened by the numerous scandals of its elected leader.

But most crucially, the global community bore witness to the single most horrific point of his leadership, the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Climate Accord. In that one move, Trump transformed America from a “Nation of Exceptionalism”, to a “Nation of Dereliction”, failing to fulfil its global duty of achieving global security from one of the greatest threats the world has ever seen: climate change. Under Trump, America has joined the likes of Syria in refusing to co-operate with the world to act while there is still time left to do so.

In his address to the nation on June 1 to justify his withdrawal, Trump made the following statements:

“So we’re getting out. But will we start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine …

“Thus as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.”

The scientific facts are clear: if mankind fails to take action to stop human-induced climate change, we will see a scale of destruction as catastrophic, if not more so, as a nuclear strike by North Korea. Sea levels will continue to rise, a greater number of species of animals will become extinct, Earth’s temperature will continue to increase at an alarming rate, air quality will continue to decline, the numbers of climate change refugees will grow rapidly, and finite natural resources will dwindle at such a rate that they will eventually become a source of multinational conflict and war.

For the first time in an extremely long time, America has turned its back on a global security threat that grows daily.

For the first time in a long time, we are seeing an unexceptional nation that failed to show leadership when leadership was needed most.

In the coming years, this moment will be remembered as a turning point for America’s position in the world.