Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump and American Moral Leadership

Mary L. Dudziak

It has been a staple of presidential rhetoric, on both sides of the aisle, to hold up the American example as a model for others (even though there is of course disagreement about the degree to which the United States lives up to its own values). So it was striking this week to read Donald J. Trump's response in a New York Times interview to a question about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's detention of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens.

Here's an excerpt:
SANGER: Erdogan put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you? And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?
TRUMP: I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.
My take on this appears in today's New York Times. Two small snips:
This argument — that the United States could not be a model because of its domestic problems — was made during the early years of the Cold War, when racial segregation and violence against civil rights demonstrators generated international criticism. But this case was made by Soviet propagandists, not American presidential candidates....
As the world looks at the United States’ election this year, it is ultimately the American electorate that will have a final say about whether we, as a nation, are ready to embrace the idea that American democracy has nothing to offer the world.

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