Editor’s Note: Former Ambassador Norman L. Eisen is the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Last Palace.” Elizabeth Beavers is associate policy director for the Indivisible Project. The opinions expressed are their own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Donald Trump is a danger to us all. If there were any doubt, his disturbing press conference with Vladimir Putin confirmed it. It’s time for leaders of both parties to respond, not just with words but with action.
To that end, we have a suggestion. Why don’t those who are tweeting statements of disgust recognize that they are members of the US Congress empowered with tools to do something actually? They can pass legislation (e.g., better protection for the special counsel – or our elections), refuse to fund Trump’s agenda and hold hearings to get to the truth and hold Trump accountable for the outrages of these past days. Any of these actions would speak far more eloquently to Trump and his new best friend Putin than any number of outraged press releases or tweets by GOP leaders.
That is called for because instead of confronting Russian attacks on our democracy, Trump used his time at the summit in Helsinki, Finland, to attack the Russia investigation itself. He laid the blame on both sides in an international version of his controversial remarks about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. He seemed to agree with Putin’s idea that the most sensitive aspects of the Robert Mueller investigation should be shared by both the United States and Russia – and that it should be expanded to cover US citizens. Trump has moved to acting openly against American interests and national security.
And that’s not all. This disastrous display comes right after Trump’s inexcusable behavior last week with our European partners. In an embarrassing interview that Trump conducted with British outlet The Sun, he bashed Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. We also saw Trump hurl insults at Germany over breakfast at the NATO summit and call the European Union our “foe.”
Trump’s choice to spend his time overseas harassing and insulting our closest friends while cozying up to our adversaries Putin and Russia is just the latest in his year-and-a-half-long campaign to actively harm US interests by exporting Trumpism abroad.
It’s reality television morphed into a horror show. Because our European partners are key to our success against threats posed by global terrorism, cybercrime and Russian provocation, we’re all less safe as long as Trump continues undermining those relationships.
Trump is inviting Putin to strike again at our 2018 elections, and alienating the leaders and their publics that we have called upon in our hour of need and certainly will again. After Trump’s recent actions, the European Council president admonished him: “Appreciate your allies. After all, you don’t have that many.” Simultaneously, Trump lavishes praise on authoritarians and dictators, and appears to aspire to join their ranks. The German foreign minister has said the United States can no longer be fully counted on.
As Trump squanders our alliances, he is also recklessly ramping up the American military presence globally. The civilian body count has increased throughout the Middle East as a result of his lethal force operations and loosened targeting standards. He’s ominously assembling a war Cabinet around him, led by noted Iraq War enthusiast John Bolton, as if he’s preparing for a new conflict – or wants one.
But even more dangerous than this creeping aggression, Trump is depleting the domestic and international systems that are best equipped to protect peace, prosperity and liberal democracy – and building up the enemies of those systems. It makes sense that Trump seems not to appreciate, or even understand, fully what NATO is (and exhibits active hostility to it). After all, this is the same Donald Trump who has gone out of his way to yank the United States out of every international agreement and institution he can get his hands on. He’s withdrawn America from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear agreement and the UN Human Rights Council, just to name a few. He’s also slashed US funding for civilian federal agencies that conduct development and diplomacy to protect global security, and presided over the hollowing out of the State Department.
Perhaps a clue to Trump’s embrace of Putin and his attacks on the trans-Atlantic liberal order is revealed by what he has in common with its European opponents, such as the ruling regimes in Russia as well as Hungary, Poland and Italy: a policy of intolerance. Trump frequently traffics in hate and fear, invoking baseless security threats to justify bigotry. Some of the domestic ideas he seems to be most excited about are his Muslim ban and quest for a border wall. Hate crimes in the United States are on the rise, while the most marginalized around the world disproportionately suffer from chaos and conflict. By stoking intolerance of the “other,” Trump helps to shore up the wave of nationalism and populism that is extending across the globe, threatening liberal democracy. Trumpism is dangerous, both at home and internationally.
By isolating allies, enabling adversaries and peeling apart multilateral institutions, Trump is making global conflict more likely. Instead of working with key partners to build stronger diplomacy and development across the globe, he’s ramping up tensions. It’s obvious that Trump’s “America First” really means America alone, America afraid and America at risk.
Perhaps instead of browbeating our NATO allies to match us in military spending, the United States should seek to mirror our European partners by investing in projects that ensure health care, education and a social safety net (programs that make the instance of military conflict much less likely). Instead of empowering the spread of nationalism, we should strengthen the institutions that keep democracy and civil rights strong and accessible for all. Instead of retreating on the global stage, we should take the lead in promoting human rights and solutions for climate change.
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Here in the United States, Americans are rightly focused on the danger to our rights, and to the rule of law itself, posed by the upcoming fight over the Supreme Court. But it’s important to recognize that the damage Trump is doing is also on the rise internationally, and it’s one and the same with the threats he poses here at home. He isn’t just doing harm to American security – he’s unraveling the global order, including through his shocking embrace of Putin on Monday.
Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress spoke out in response.
It’s time for those of both parties to come together to fight Trumpism everywhere.