(CNN)It's not a good time for the "America" brand. Yesterday, two US icons -- the White House and the NBA -- threw out traditional US values on standing up to strong men and protecting human rights.
Meanwhile in America: Trump and the NBA are ditching all-American values
The White House was accused of betraying Kurdish allies who had fought ISIS side by side with America, after President Donald Trump appeared to bless a planned Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria.
And the National Basketball Association backed away from principles of free speech and democracy in pursuit of the mighty yuan, when it distanced itself from the general manager of the popular Houston Rockets, for tweeting support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests.
This is hardly American exceptionalism in action. It's American transactionalism.
Trump's Turkey statement was consistent with his "America First" policy of getting all US troops home. And the NBA's expressions of regret to mainland Chinese fans and businesses are the kind of behavior required of US corporations, in return for a slice of the country's massive, fast-growing market.
Many Americans will applaud sports leagues avoiding politics and the administration extracting soldiers from foreign quagmires. But after the immediate returns, such actions come at a heavy price for America's image as a champion for human rights and protector of the weak -- especially in the face of strongmen like Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and China's Xi Jinping.
The world's top basketball league is now on record as bowing to a totalitarian government. And after turning his back on America's Kurdish partners, who fear being wiped out by Turkey, Trump may find out that America's other friends think twice when it comes calling.
President Trump defended his Syria decision on Twitter, writing that "if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)."
And if unmatched wisdom isn't enough, he noted in a separate tweet, "We can always go back & BLAST!"
On Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, one anchor boiled down the calculations for any company hoping to rake in the yuan in China. Agree -- loudly -- with Beijing's territorial and political claims, or pay the price. "It is not realistic for them to earn a large amount of money from China while hurting the feelings of the Chinese people," she said.
Trump believes he was elected to end America's "ridiculous endless wars." And while the policy lurch of his pullback from Syria was a shock, his desire to get out of that country was not. That's what caused then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to bolt last year.
Exiting Syria is an easy one for Trump. His decision will likely please the vast middle of America, where he is most popular and where many have lost a relative to US wars. He's not interested in joining past presidents' struggles to tell the heartland why its kids must be sent to fight.
After his phone call with Ankara, Trump is also characteristically making policy from the gut -- in defiance of US diplomatic and military brass, and without a coherent policy process. By angering Republican hawks, Trump simply polishes his personal brand as a disruptive outsider.
From Syria to Ukraine, Trump's motivation is the same: To use foreign policy as a tool to cook up domestic political wins.
New public filings show that Trump's golf resort north of Aberdeen, Scotland, ran up losses of more than a million pounds last year -- the latest in a years-long losing streak. The business's director's report, first reported by national newspaper the Scotsman, quotes Eric Trump as saying the bottom line was hit by a slowing local economy and "adverse weather conditions."
But as any golfer knows, howling winds, horizontal rain and bone-chilling cold are germane to the game in the land of its birth. And on Scotland's bleak northeast coast, the term "adverse weather conditions" is another name for ... summer.
Vladimir Putin turned 67 today, and apparently that's the age when you stop taking off your shirt for pictures. The body-positive Russian President marked his birthday with a fully clothed mountain walk. Here he is pictured with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and a celebratory clump of moss.
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That's the number of states that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reckons his boss will win, if Democrats fire up the Republican base by impeaching the President.
This story was originally published in the October 8 edition of email newsletter Meanwhile in America. Sign up here to receive it every morning of the week.