Has America in electing Donald Trump as its next President and Commander-in-Chief forfeited its moral leadership in world affairs? As international leaders wrestle with what to make of Donald Trump and decipher his twitter rants for evidence of his geopolitical worldview, a broader question arises in my mind. Will the United States under the coming Trump administration be able to maintain the global moral high ground, its moral credibility and authority around the world, if such a philosophical plane in global power politics has ever existed? It is difficult to see how America can with a leader like Donald Trump. There are many strands to American foreign policy and how it views itself among the community of nations. One such idea has been the concept of a shining city upon a hill, a phrase from the parable of Salt and Light in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14, he tells his listeners, «You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden».
This piece of Christian scripture has become popular with American politicians. The incoming President John F Kennedy on January 9th 1961 when speaking to the General Court of Massachusetts reflected that: « We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us». President Ronald Reagan referred to the same event and used the same image on the eve of his election in 1980: «I have quoted John Winthrop's words more than once on the campaign trail this year — for I believe that Americans in 1980 are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining «city on a hill». Reagan chose to bid farewell to the American nation in January 1989 with a further reference: «I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still».
The shining «city on a hill» metaphor has underpinned what has been termed «American Exceptionalism». American Exceptionalism is one of three related ideas. The first is that the history of the United States is inherently different from other nations. In this view, American Exceptionalism stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, thereby becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called «the first new nation» and developing a uniquely American ideology, «Americanism», based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy and laissez-faire economics. This ideology itself is often referred to as «American Exceptionalism». Second is the idea that the US has a unique mission to transform the world. As Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg address (1863), Americans have a duty to ensure, «government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth». Third is the sense that the United States' history and mission give it a superiority over other nations. Ironically, President-elect Trump, for what it is worth, is on record as disavowing the notion of American Exceptionalism.
In April 2015, two months before Mr. Trump officially announced his Presidential campaign he spoke at an event called «Celebrating the American Dream» that was hosted in Houston by the Texas Patriots PAC, a local tea party outfit. Trump was asked this query: «Define American exceptionalism. Does American exceptionalism still exist? And what do we do to grow American exceptionalism?» Refreshingly for Donald Trump he showed some humility and wisdom by rejecting the concept of American Exceptionalism. «I don't like the term», the future President stated. He questioned whether the United States was «more exceptional» and «more outstanding» than other nations. He also said that those who refer to American exceptionalism were «insulting the world» and offending people in other countries, such as Russia, China, Germany, and Japan. It is «not a nice term», he said, maintaining it was wrong to equate patriotism with a belief in American exceptionalism. He derided politicians who use the phrase.
Perhaps just as well for President-elect Trump that he did disassociate himself from the moral concept of America as a «shining city on a hill» and Reagan's epilogue that «if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors open to anyone with the will and the heart to get there». Mr. Trump is hardly a moral poster child for American morality and exceptionalism. There is the fact that Trump was the first Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon not to release his tax returns. This is because he hasn't paid any taxes for almost twenty years which he indicated during the fall Presidential debates made him «smart». The American public also have no clarity over the myriad labyrinth of potential conflicts of interest due to Mr. Trump's sprawling international business empire. This lack of transparency means that a business man who it has been speculated owes hundreds of millions of dollars to Wall St and foreign banks will not be in the strongest position to regulate Wall St or direct American foreign policy in the national interest due to him being heavily indebted to such entities. The White House under Donald Trump could very well become a subsidiary of the Trump Organisation with the lines blurred between the for profit family business and the not-for-profit work of the US Executive Branch especially given the overlap between the dual roles of his children working on the Transition Team and the Trump Organisation.
Then there is his record as a businessman. According to CNN Money: «no major US company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years». Aside from his hotel and casino bankruptcies which numbered six times between 1991 and 2009 there has been the staggering $25 million pay out in compensation he acquiesced to in November 2016 shortly after the election regarding the fraudulent activities of the now defunct Trump University. There was the 1973 Justice Department investigation into alleged racial discrimination against Africa-Americans seeking to rent accommodation from the Trump Organisation.
Aside from his ethically dubious business dealings, Mr. Trump, has had a chequered personal life. He is a well known serial philanderer who has five children from three different women. Ivana Trump, Mr. Trump's first wife was granted an uncontested divorce in 1990, on the grounds that Trump's treatment of her, such as his extra-marital affair with Marla Maples, had been «cruel and inhuman». After Maples and Trump divorced in 1997 Trump found his third wife, a catalogue bride if ever there was one, 24 years his junior, the former Slovenian model Melania. While married to his third wife Melania, Trump was caught on video in 2005 giving an interview with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood stating: «I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married». Then further comments such as: «You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything». Yes ladies and gentlemen, you have read that correctly. The 45th President of the United States is on record on saying those vulgarities. Then there are his more «general» comments about women. Trump is on record calling women «fat», «dog», «slob», «disgusting animal». He said on television women should be «punished» for having abortions. There have also been the string of sexual assault allegations made against him dating back from the 1980s.
On top of President-elect Trump's well documented history as a sexist misogynist there are also a string of racially charged xenophobic comments he has made. He labelled, at the launch of his Presidential campaign, most Mexican immigrants coming to the United States as rapists, criminals and drug dealers. He proposed banning all Muslims from abroad from travelling into the United States. He questioned a United States judges Mexican heritage. There is is infamous leadership of the «Birther» movement which set out to question the birth status of America's first African-American President. He also accused President Barack Obama of being the «founder of ISIS». Then there is his penchant for indulging in conspiracy theories. Besides birtherism Trump has stated that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of JFK; that millions of people voted fraudulently in the 2016 Presidential election; thousands of Muslim-Americans in New Jersey celebrated on 9/11; climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. That is not an exhaustive list. Clearly President-elect Trump has a severe problem with telling the truth, presenting fantasy as fact and compulsive telling lies. Why does any of this matter? It matters because 61,900,651 American adults don't think it mattered and helped Donald Trump become President of the most powerful Government on Earth.
It matters because Donald Trump in little over a month will be the person making the crucial decisions regarding global peace and security. It matters because the credibility of the President of the United States carries great weight and authority especially in matters of war and peace. It matters because what the President of the United States thinks, says and does has massive global implications far beyond the shores of America. Any rational, logical, deep thinking person would conclude that Donald Trump is a deeply disturbed man whose word is meaningless and whose integrity and credibility are as Mitt Romney put it: «Are as worthless as degree from Trump University». But come January 20th thanks to the US Electoral College Trump will assume the Presidency and all the power and authority that goes with. Internationally, even the most pro-American steadfast friend of America will have a hard time believing what the Trump administration says. Pro-Americans will have a hard time supporting the Trump Presidency and its policies both domestic and foreign. Pro-Americans will have a hard time defending a blatantly deranged confidence trickster. By electing Donald Trump those 60 million plus Americans have succeeded, perhaps, in doing something Nazi Germany, the USSR, al-Qaeda and ISIS have failed to do. That is to fatally weaken American moral credibility and authority as a global force for good and a moral superpower. It will be very hard for anyone, even the most Pro-American, to say with a straight face that President Trump and the Government he is assembling and will lead is a moral force for good.