Once upon a time, there was a very powerful country that was trying to sort out how to fix a world broken by massive economic and political disruptions. The leaders of this country spent years trying to articulate a better way for countries to treat one another, as well as their own citizens. These new rules involved things such as multilateral organizations, economic openness and attention to human rights in some developing countries. This better way was far from perfect, and the leaders who articulated the rules did so in a very elitist fashion. Soon the country’s voters grew sick of the debate and voted in a nationalist who cut taxes for the rich and erected punishing trade barriers. Other, weaker countries tried to preserve the liberal global order proposed by his predecessors, but it soon wobbled and then collapsed.
But enough about 1921 and Warren Harding.
Well, maybe just a little bit more. Harding’s return to “normalcy” meant, among other things, a very conscious U.S. retreat from diplomatic engagement with the rest of the world. Which meant that those who had supported the United States’ engagement with the rest of the world started creating organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations to take up some slack. I’m increasingly convinced that this is what will need to happen during the Trump administration.
To be clear, it’s not that a Trump administration will not try to advance U.S. interests in the world. It’s just that the values portion of U.S. interests — human rights, democracy promotion, economic development, the free exchange of goods and services — will be at the bottom of the queue.* In a world of ascendant populist nationalism it’s going to be an awful time for small-l liberals.
Think I’m exaggerating? If there is a core to Trump’s worldview, it is that world politics is a zero-sum game and the United States is losing. No one named to Trump’s foreign policy team gives a flying fig about human rights, democracy promotion or trade liberalization. Roger Cohen’s description in the New York Times of Trump’s foreign policy seems pretty accurate:
Trump is not interested in the rules-based international order the United States has spent the last seven decades building and defending. His foreign policy will be transactional. If it profits America, fine. If not, forget about it. Trump’s United States will be agnostic on human rights, freedom and democracy. America, suspending moral judgment, will behave a lot more like China on the world stage.
Reason’s Nick Gillespie makes a similar observation:
Trump sounded distinctly authoritarian notes during the campaign and he’s no fan of free speech, free trade, and anything remotely resembling open borders. On foreign policy, he’s bounced back and forth from straightforward denunciations of 21st century interventions into the Middle East and North Africa as terrible and bragging that he’d “bomb the s—” out of ISIS.
Obviously, civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations cannot completely make up for a state that is bound and determined to change the rules of the game in an illiberal direction. So, in the spirit of Giving Tuesday Two Weeks Late, which NGOs are worthy of year-end giving to promote the pluralistic, liberal values ideals that U.S. rhetoric — if not always U.S. actions — has extolled?
If you want to promote the values that the United States used to promote, might I suggest a small donation to the organizations listed below? Each of the links below are directly to their giving pages.
- Amnesty International
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Doctors Without Borders
- Freedom House
- Global Centre for Pluralism
- Human Rights Watch
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- International Rescue Committee
- Scholars at Risk
Note: I’m sure I’m missing some valuable organizations promoting an open society that are not mentioned above. Suggest them in the comments!
*In fairness, Commentary’s Noah Rothman is correct to note that the Obama administration also shortchanged much of this agenda.