Trump’s ‘America first’ looks more and more like ‘America alone’
“Everyone knows what that means, right?” Trump asked rhetorically in the Oval Office. It meant, he said, that the country would start winning again in the face of unchecked globalization that had harmed ordinary Americans.
But on the 295th day of his presidency — during a trip to the region where the trade pact was most vital — a competing narrative emerged. Trump’s “America first” slogan has, in many ways, begun to translate into something more akin to “America alone.”
As the president’s motorcade wove up a mountain road Saturday to a regional summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang, news broke that the 11 nations that had once looked to U.S. leadership to seal the deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership had moved on without the United States and announced a tentative agreement among themselves.
It marked a stunning turnabout that foreign-policy analysts warned could further erode U.S. standing at a time when China is embarked on a major economic expansion and further undermine global confidence in the United States’ ability to organize the world around its own liberal values.
For Trump, the Asia trip has cast into sharp relief the high-stakes bet he placed that turning the United States away from multilateralism will make the nation more prosperous and safer.
“The world has many places, many dreams and many roads. But in all of the world, there is no place like home,” Trump told business leaders in Danang, cribbing the “Wizard of Oz” line in which Dorothy tries to wake from a dream about a misadventure in a frightening world.
“For the glory of God, protect your home, defend your home,” Trump said, ending a speech meant to assure the region of U.S. staying power on a protectionist note of the sort that defined his campaign.
It is not just on trade that Trump has sought to stake out positions that have isolated the United States from the rest of the world. His plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord at the earliest opportunity in 2020 could mean that the United States is the only country in the world not committed to it, since Syria announced its intention to join last week.
And Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal last month put him at odds not just with China and Russia, but also with U.S. treaty allies Britain, Germany and France.
Another ally, Japan, where Trump made a state visit this week, is among the signatories of the new TPP, as are Australia, New Zealand, and U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico. Vietnam, where Trump is making a state visit in Hanoi on Sunday, is projected to be the biggest beneficiary of the trade pact in terms of net impact on its gross domestic product.
White House aides rejected suggestions that the United States was being left behind, leaving a void that others, including China, are rushing to fill. They emphasized that Trump’s five-nation, 12-day Asia trip — including his participation at regional summits in Vietnam and the Philippines before returning to Washington — was designed to reaffirm U.S. commitment.
In a speech to the South Korean legislature, Trump issued a rallying cry for other countries to join the U.S.-led effort to tighten economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. And in his address at the Asia Pacific Economic Forum in Danang, Trump sketched out a vision for an integrated “Indo-Pacific” that includes half the world’s population stretching from India to Oceania to Northeast and Southeast Asia.
Trump also insisted that, despite tough talk about other countries, he gets along well with virtually all the world leaders he has met — including China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as well as the heads of liberal democracies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
“China likes me. And I get along with them; I get along with others, too,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One while flying from Danang to Hanoi. “I get along very well with Angela. You people don’t write that.”
He said an incident in which he appeared to snub her during a photo op at the White House in March was misinterpreted by the media, asserting that he had not heard photographers asking him to shake her hand.
Trump emphasized that he is working hard to improve U.S. relations with authoritarian regimes in China and Russia to win greater cooperation on the threats in North Korea and Syria. He faulted former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for lacking the right “chemistry” to have a productive relationship with Putin.