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Supremacy, not exceptionalism, is what Trump is seeking for US

By Cai Hong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-20 07:43
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US President Donald Trump addresses members of his cabinet and the news media as he holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, US, Aug 16, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

"We shall be as a city upon a hill…. The eyes of all people are upon us," proclaimed John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630.

Winthrop encapsulated what would come to be called "exceptionalism", which suggests the United States is a model for the world and exists in part to redeem humankind.

For Americans, the US is distinct from the "Old World"-or, to be precise, Europe in early US history-and the rest of the world today.

However, many US commentators deem the election of Donald Trump as US president to be the demise of American exceptionalism. Complaining that the rest of the world is taking advantage of the US, Trump has embraced "America First" as his guiding foreign policy, which, his critics assert, risks isolating the country even from its allies.

The fact, however, is Trump is redefining the narrative of American exceptionalism with his "Make America Great Again" slogan.

Trump has banned people from six (originally seven) Muslim countries from traveling to the US. He has ignited a tariff war, which many say could lead to a full-blown trade war with China.

And he has continued to issue threats, both direct and indirect, to countries. For instance, in a signed article published in the Sunday Telegraph on Aug 12, US Ambassador to Britain Woody Johnson called on Britain to support Trump on Iran or risk "serious trade consequences" for British businesses. Britain, Johnson said, should break with its European partners who are seeking to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, from which the US withdrew recently.

Earlier, in a joint statement, Britain, France and Germany had said that since the Iran nuclear deal was "working and delivering on its goal", they "deeply regret" the US' withdrawal from the deal and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Johnson, on the other hand, threatened: "The President (Trump) has been explicit: any businesses which put their own commercial interests in Iran ahead of the global good will risk serious consequences for their trade with the United States."

Another example of how the US president is redefining American exceptionalism is his signing of an almost $750 billion defense spending bill aimed at building a "Space Force" that would make the US the dominant power in outer space-that is, bigger than Russia and China.

If we add to the above details the fact that a US new law gives the Committee of Foreign Investment the authority to review a broader set of mergers and acquisitions by foreign buyers, it would be clear that Trump is pursuing US dominance in the world.

In an article published recently in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, said that what makes the Trump administration unusual is that it is almost all about "rights exceptionalism" and virtually no "responsibility exceptionalism".

The Trump administration has also pulled the US out of several other multilateral and international agreements and institutions such as the 2015 Paris climate accord and UNESCO.

But despite all this, he continues to pursue protectionist and inward-looking trade policy. How is that possible?

Because he has the support of people such as US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who declared last year: "Our leaders should not expect nor should they seek the approval of the internationally high-minded." Besides, a Pew Research Center survey in June showed that although only 40 percent of the Americans approved of Trump's job performance, about 84 percent of the Republicans backed him.

Trump has also fueled nationalistic and protectionist passions across the globe that are upending political and economic systems worldwide.

As such-and notwithstanding what he has read or misread into Winthrop's remarks-Trump is not interested in building "a city upon a hill". He is only interested in establishing the supremacy of the US.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. 

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