But the Trump administration has a good case that some of these institutions are in dire need of reform. Trump was right to reaffirm the administration’s decision to pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, like its predecessor, became captured by many of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
At the same time, much of what the president had to say was undoubtedly music to the ears of many of those nations.
Nationalism, which Trump’s speechwriters called “the doctrine of patriotism,” is a lot like individualism. Everyone — liberals and conservatives alike — embraces individualism in the abstract because it implies the notion that people are responsible for their own actions and should be free from unjust coercion. But liberals and conservatives typically have very different ideas about what individualism means in practice.
Similarly, everyone agrees in the abstract that nation-states should be “free” to do what is in their own interest and what is valued by their own cultures. But at times we have fierce disagreements about how that theory is put into practice.
Every culture is indeed unique, and every custom is rooted in tradition and history. But that does not mean all customs are equally worthy of respect or deference. Many nations have traditions of slavery, cruelty to women and unchecked authoritarianism. That doesn’t mean it’s the obligation of the United States to crush these customs at gunpoint. But we are obliged to at least bear witness to evil and to do what we can not to led aid and comfort to such things, even rhetorically.
Nor, as the leader of the free world, should we pretend that just because every nation-state is sovereign as a matter of international law that the people of every unfree nation chose to live under despots and dictatorships.
Trump was right when he said, “Sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, democracy has ever endured, or peace has ever prospered.” But we should not confuse necessity and sufficiency. Sovereign and independent nations have also been among the leading vehicles of barbarism and tyranny. And that’s why countries such as North Korea, China, Russia and Iran were so happy to hear the leader of the free world champion the “doctrine of patriotism” instead of the doctrine of liberty.
Writes for Tribune Content Agency.