President Trump recently had a “very friendly conversation” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and reportedly invited him to visit the White House. Such state visits are not uncommon, however, what makes this invitation stand out is the fact that Duterte is a certifiable lunatic who has been terrorizing his country for decades as a mayor of Davao City –– and now as the new president.
Ad nauseum during the US presidential campaign, Trump assured the American people that he would “make America great again.” America cannot be both great and strive to be a unipolar hegemon. America’s past and potential future greatness lies in our core values, values that must be cast off in the pursuit of global primacy. If Trump is serious about making America great, he will kick Duterte and other reprehensible American clients to the curb and no longer provide aid and US backing.
For those unfamiliar, Duterte is the authoritarian president, elected last year, who has pledged to kill hundreds of thousands to millions of Filipinos in his war on drugs. He has urged people to engage in extrajudicial killings of drug users, told police he will protect them if they kill large numbers of people while fighting crime, and has bragged about participating in the killing of three suspected criminals when he was a mayor. As of the beginning of April, the death toll from his lawless rampages has exceeded 7,000.
Clearly such a thuggish boor stands against everything Americans claim to believe in and cherish, such as the right to a trial by jury and due process, not to mention the separation of powers that prevent the executive from instructing law enforcement to ignore the law. Yet, not only is a ruffian like Duterte feted by past and present administrations, the U.S. government has agreed to a 10 year defense agreement, shackling us to the unhinged madman for the foreseeable future.
If it were not for the primacist drive to establish and preserve global US hegemony, ensuring that the US government has some degree of control over nearly everything that happens in the remotest corners of the globe, the US would be free to condemn Duterte, or at the very least refrain from consorting with such a vile regime. However, according to US interventionists, it is necessary to work with the Philippines in order to contain the power of a growing China. China, Therefore, the President of the United States will debase himself and the entire country he supposedly represents in order to get this lowly gangster’s cooperation and keep him from aligning the Philippines closer to China and away from the US. However, thanks to the geography and the lack of power projection capabilities, China is only a threat to the ambitions of interventionists seeking to run the world, not to any truly vital national interest that would necessitate an alliance or partnership with the Philippians.
America’s potential for greatness doesn’t lie across the Pacific Ocean, or in trying to dictate how other nations will be run; it lies in our institutional values and norms that have facilitated the creation of the most prosperous society in history. Improving the United States has been a long and drawn out process that has taken decades upon decades of difficult self-improvement. In fact, it’s a process that is far from being complete.
Despite the United States’ continued evolution towards being a “shining city on a hill,” interventionists seem to have already concluded that America is already so perfect that rather than working on improving ourselves, it is our duty to run the rest of the world. Yet, if anything, our continued fraternization with despicable tyrants like Duterte shows just how much moral growth our society still has left to do (not to mention the numerous domestic issues that indicate such growth is still needed). Rather than attempting to run the world, America can serve as an example to others through humbly admitting that there is work that still needs to be done and reaching out and engaging in friendly dialogue, rather than self-righteously throwing stones from our own glass house.
The extent that America has been great in the past, and the potential it has to be great in the future, is tied to the extent to which America embodies principles of justice that create opportunity and flourishing. If Trump truly wishes to make America great, he should put an end to America’s shameful practice of consorting with tyrants and strongmen (of which Duterte is merely one of many) for the sake of trying to run the world and instead focus on improving America first. Until he does so, there is no chance that America can be great.