Donald Trump seems determined to make America ugly again.
He has insulted scores of nations, undercut our allies and projected the worst of American xenophobia, racism, small-mindedness and vulgarity overseas.
In a world that is deeply interconnected, he wants to isolate the United States. It’s working — our image gets worse every day. That doesn’t make America great. It hurts all of us.
On Tuesday Trump announced he had fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson had been on his first visit to Africa — a continent made up of nations Trump tarred as “shithole countries,” and one that obviously wasn’t all that important to the White House.
Indeed, the US has been losing influence across the continent for years, while China’s influence spreads.
Even the manner in which the Tillerson ouster was accomplished signals that at best Trump views Africa with general disregard, and at worst with open disdain.
Tillerson was mid-travels on Friday when he was informed by Chief of Staff John Kelly that he would soon get some news from Trump, according to news reports. A few days later, he would ultimately learn his fate from — no surprise here — a tweet from the President.
On his way back to the US, Tillerson departed from the White House line on the shocking poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter living in Britain. The attack “clearly came from Russia,” Tillerson said, calling it an “egregious act” that would “certainly trigger a response.”
The British government has said it is nearly certain the Russians are behind the poisoning. If that’s true, it may well amount to a brazen act of war and an indication that Russia has no respect or fear of the UK.
Tillerson backed up the British government, as one would expect the United States to do in the face of such an extraordinary action against one of our closest allies. The White House, though, has refused to point a finger at Russia, except in the most provisional terms. Trump told reporters: “as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia — or whoever it may be.”
His reluctance fuels further speculation about this administration’s Kremlin ties, and why exactly we would go so easy on an anti-democratic government widely understood to be waging a covert war against stable democracies around the world.
Trump is also moving forward in his plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico by looking at prototypes this week in California. America’s relationship with our southern neighbor is already in shambles thanks to Trump’s race-baiting and immigrant-bashing, and Mexico is not going to pay for the wall as Trump has promised. But Trump may very well use American taxpayer dollars to build it himself.
It’s hard to think of any historical period celebrated for wall-building designed to keep certain groups out. From Berlin to Northern Ireland, walls that have the effect of dividing people from each other tend to not go down well in history. Trump presses forward anyway, sending the message that America is so weak and fearful and hateful that we are willing to barricade ourselves in.
We’ll be walled in with all of our guns, though. This week Trump also walked back his earlier comments supporting a handful of reasonable gun control measures, apparently after the NRA — and the NRA-cowed members of his party — got to him.
And so another mass shooting in America makes international headlines — another episode in which our children are slaughtered in school — and the rest of the world, where this simply does not happen in peacetime nations, looks on aghast and wonders why we don’t do anything.
This is the America the Trump White House projects overseas: violent, hateful, afraid. A reflection, sadly, of the President himself.