In a single press conference in Helsinki yesterday, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the United States dealt what might be a death blow to democracy. With the refusal to hold Russia accountable for a dozen Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election, Mr Donald John Trump effectively conceded to the Russian Government world view: trust no one.
In the last 18 months since he took office, Mr Trump has shown his utter disdain anything good that the West has tried to achieve. By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement just as the only nations not in it were preparing to sign up, Mr Trump has signalled his contempt for the environment. By withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mr Trump has done likewise with human rights as his Immigration and Customs Enforcement ratchet up their campaign against anyone whose reasons for existing in the United States look even the slightest bit dodgy – whether they are being another story altogether.
But most of all, Mr Trump has given global consensus built on democracy a truly frightful knee to the stomach.
Imagine that. An American President declaring that no one should be trusted, thereby throwing into doubt decades of anglo-saxon co-operation. Imagine that. An openly contemptuous American President declaring that a country whose Government has long sought to undermine the United States at every opportunity, whose contempt for democracy is as legendary as its ability to rally in times of crisis.
It is a signal to every western nation. You are on your own. America no longer values or cares about you. It is a signal that global co-operation is somehow a bad thing and that the last 70 years trying to build more civil world and prevent World War 3 is all for nothing. It is a signal to N.A.T.O.: go stuff yourself.
But should we suddenly now kowtow to Russia and Vladimir Putin? To China and Xi Jinping? Because apparently strong men with grandiose visions of global influence, heading countries with strong militaries, and an authoritarian rule of their own people are suddenly good according to Mr Trump?
And what does that mean for little ol’ New Zealand, in the South Pacific? Does that mean we are on our own in a sea of increasingly hostile nations trying to make the best we can for ourselves? I hope not. New Zealand is too small to influence the big nations in a military or economic way, but not so small that we cannot set an example through how we treat other peoples, nations and cultures.
New Zealand needs to tread carefully, but that does not mean we should give up our values and principles. New Zealand needs to look after its own needs. We need to forge a path that suits us, whilst keeping in contact with as many friendly nations as we can – Canada, France, Germany, Britain. Just because America is determined not to be a part of the free world any more does not mean the rest should just give up all that lie in those many war graves in Europe, north Africa, the Pacific, where brave New Zealanders gave their lives for our freedom so bravely fought and died for.