Opinion: American leadership in the world
Guest commentary by Dr. John Gong
["north america"]
US Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, announced in a remarkable speech in October last year that he will not seek another term and is retiring. This week he delivered another dynamite speech from the senate floor that pointedly compared President Donald Trump’s “enemy of the American people” assault on the free press to the many atrocious deeds by Joseph Stalin.
I strongly recommend readers to go through these two speeches carefully to have a deeper and better understanding of the real values and principles of what American exceptionalism truly stands for. Flake’s thundering rejection of populism, protectionism, isolationism and “alternative facts,” and his staunch criticism of the POTUS amid the Republican Party’s spineless submission to the White House, serves as a beacon of light in the dark sea of stormy partisan politics inside the Washington beltway. Flake quotes many to substantiate his arguments, including Madison, Lincoln, Moynihan and God, among others. But I think his quote of Roosevelt hits the nail right on the heart of the matter that has been characterizing the Trump administration’s many egregious policies, both domestic and foreign:
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
US Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks on the Senate floor in this still image taken from a video on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. /Reuters Photo

US Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks on the Senate floor in this still image taken from a video on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. /Reuters Photo

Morally treasonable, I would add, includes not just reticence to Trump’s assault on the press as the guardian of freedom, but should also extend to connivance of his wholesale retreat of American leadership and obligations in world affairs, from tearing up free trade agreements to sabotaging the global climate accord. Flake went through a moving portrait of America’s leadership role in building international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years. Flake will probably go down in history remembered most famously for illuminating on what American leadership truly embodies in that stretch of history.
“American leadership looks to the world!” he loudly proclaimed, and then followed by saying, “Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have also been at our most principled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.”
In a way, these powerful words sound strikingly similar to what President Xi’s speech at the 19th Party Congress a few months ago with regard to cooperating with all peaceful nations to strive to jointly build a community of common destiny for all mankind. Already in Xi’s historic Davos speech last year, he likened protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” and warned that “no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”
VCG Photo

VCG Photo

This year’s World Economic Forum will open on Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland. This year, it will feature a keynote speech by Donald Trump. I am sure that over 3,000 “Davos men” and the entire world will be anxiously waiting to hear what Trump has to offer at such a venerable venue that epitomizes globalization. If Trump continues to peddle his version of “fair and reciprocal trade,” it will be mission impossible to appear to be inheriting the traditional American leadership role in world trade and investment with such a pseudo-globalization banner. In my opinion, he simply cannot juggle at the same time between catering to this elitist crowd of movers and shakers of the world in Davos and still answering to his mostly xenophobic political base back at home in the US.
I will be spending four days in Tianjin to participate in CCTV’s live coverage of all Davos 2018 events next week, and I will be listening very carefully to what magic words Trump has to offer about American leadership role in the world. See you there!
(Dr John Gong is a professor at the University of International Business and Economics. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the view of CGTN.)