As we all remember, one of the main themes of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency was “Put America First.” But as we are now sadly witnessing, President Trump’s conduct of U.S. foreign policy is leading the United States to a different place in the world. His words and actions during just the past few weeks have clearly illustrated that Trump’s true impact on America’s standing in the world is twofold: relegate America to a subservient position in our relations with some of our foreign adversaries and cast aside America’s historic leadership role in relations with many of our traditional free world allies.
Trump’s inexcusable public statements during the recent Helsinki press conference with Vladimir Putin are simply the latest example of his denigration of our country’s values and institutions, while supporting and endorsing the actions of the strongman leader of America’s most powerful foreign adversary. Some of the president’s statements in Helsinki, with Putin standing by his side, seemed to “blame America first.” Can any of our Republican friends imagine such sentiments emanating from Ronald Reagan, or any other recent Republican presidents? Such behavior should be cause for total condemnation from every patriotic American, especially from the elected leadership and members of the Republican Party, having propelled Trump into the presidency under the premise of “Putting America First.”
While endorsing the lies and excusing the hostile actions of our county’s most powerful foreign adversary is bad enough, perhaps equally damaging is the callous disparagement and disrespect Trump directs at America’s international friends and allies. Does it make any of us feel better or more secure to see our president call into question the underlying purpose and value of the NATO alliance, which has kept the member countries at peace for seventy-three years? Does it make any of us proud to have our president deliver public personal insults against the admired, respected, and democratically elected leaders of our traditional allies, such as Britain’s Theresa May, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau? Again, such petulant and shameful behavior by our president should be cause for condemnation from every patriotic American, especially from the elected leadership of the Republican Party.
Before entering their elected offices, the Vice President of the United States and all members of the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives take the following oath of office:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
This is similar to the oath taken by the President of the United States, the one exception being that the president’s oath of office does not include swearing to defend the country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” An important distinction, perhaps allowing some to claim that Trump may not have actually violated HIS oath of office by failing to defend our country against the attack on our democracy by an foreign “enemy” (in this case, Putin’s Russia). However, one must view quite differently the behavior of Vice President Mike Pence, who not only supported but praised President Trump’s Helsinki capitulation, as did most all elected Republican members of the U. S. Senate and U. S. House of Representatives, all who have been largely compliant with the president’s subservience to Putin and his trashing of America’s allies.
While a few of the current Republican members of the House and Senate may offer occasional “tut-tuts” about some of the president’s most egregious actions and statements, overall their silence has been deafening. By ignoring the president’s trashing of fundamental and deeply held American values, these elected members of Congress are in fact enabling it. Such complicity says that at best, these elected officials are ignoring, and at worst, violating their oaths of office to defend the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
While not directly affecting America’s national security like the issues mentioned above, Trump’s ill-advised and unilateral imposition of trade tariffs is another example of his smashing long-standing international norms. These recent actions contradict the traditional Republican orthodoxy of free trade, and it’s already evident that Trump’s tariff actions are hurting America’s workers, consumers, farmers, and businesses.
While it has been reassuring to hear a few Republican politicians, such as Senator John McCain, as well as prominent Republican columnists and commentators call out some of the worst actions and behaviors of our president, it’s not enough. With Democrats in the minority in both houses of Congress, it is only the elected Republican members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who can exercise the needed checks and controls over the policies and behaviors of the president when they harm America’s institutions and national security.
Since all elected members of Congress have sworn a solemn oath to protect and defend the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” it is up to American voters – most importantly, Republican voters – to hold their representatives in Congress accountable to that oath. Here in Maryland’s 1st District, where our current congressman enables and excuses even the most outrageous presidential behaviors and instead blames the press for negative outcomes, voters have a patriotic duty to put country before party, i.e., “Put America First,” when voting in this November’s congressional elections.
Rick Lynch is a former president and remains on the board of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. He writes from Royal Oak.