Reg Henry: The bell tolled, and ‘America first’ took backseat
April 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., after the U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against civilians.
By Reg Henry / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
I know a guy called Bob. Who is Bob, you ask? Bob is the typical man in the street. He bobs up everywhere. But why is the Bob I know of interest?
Because he has decided to follow the Bob First policy.
The Bob First policy is modeled after the America First policy, which is central to the leadership of a certain person in the White House. As Bob thinks America First is a swell operating principle for the nation, it seemed logical to him to put self-interest at the center of his own personal life.
Could his experience with the Bob First policy have a lesson for us all? Some would call this absurd, but that snubs the populist impulse to bring complicated government problems down to the scale of the average person, the better to explain political stupidity in simple terms.
Consider the topic of deficits and the national debt, which require the federal government to borrow more and more money. People like Bob often say: If my family borrowed money like the government, we would be in the poor house. Yes, that’s why Bob and his Bob First policy can be instructive. The analogy is elastic.
So how is the policy working out for Bob? Alas, not so good. He is in trouble with everybody he knows, starting with his wife.
Since Bob instituted the policy of putting himself first, he no longer feels obligated to fulfill the “honey do” list that is a married man’s burden. He won’t pick up the dry cleaning for his wife, take out the trash or sweep the sidewalk.
If she has her sister over for dinner, he doesn’t wait for anybody else to be served but grabs the food first and starts eating first, as his policy dictates. He threatens to start charging her rent to live in the house.
His friends are not happy either. He always grabs the prime spot on the couch when they watch a football game on TV — and he eats all the potato chips and won’t fetch anyone a beer. When he plays golf, Bob always hits the ball first and to heck with the etiquette. Bob follows a policy which is all about Bob. As a result, Bob finds he has fewer friends these days.
I know a guy named Donald. Who is Donald, you ask? He is the guy in the White House. I don’t know him personally but he is everywhere, even more ubiquitous than Bob it seems. And as Bob goes, so goes the president. How is his America First policy working out for him?
Alas, not so good. It has had the effect of making America’s oldest friends concerned, exasperated and sometimes angry. He seems to think the rest of the world exists only to make deals favorable to America. He wants them to bow the knee and pay up.
Every nation operates on the basis of its self-interest; it’s only natural. The problem with Bob and the president is that they have forgotten a basic truth that is common to the religions whose holy days we are in the midst of celebrating: In our dealings with mankind, it is not all about us.
The great English poet John Donne said it 400 years ago. “No man is an island, / entire of itself; / every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on: “Any man’s death diminishes me, / because I am involved in mankind, / and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; / it tolls for thee.”
The other day a bell tolled — well, it was probably the anthem of the nightly news — and amazingly this blunderbuss of a president heard it and understood what it meant. America had not been attacked but innocent people in Syria, including babies, had been bombed with a poisonous gas by the forces of President Bashar Assad.
President Trump responded by ordering cruise missiles launched to attack the Syrian air base where the horror took flight. This wasn’t America First anymore. This was America’s interest being recognized as being the same as the world’s interest.
Arguments can be made to challenge this action — for example, it was a feel-good response and no substitute for a real policy. But boxing a dictator’s ears as a measured warning, provided it doesn’t drag us into a war in Syria unwittingly on the same side as ISIS, was for once the right thing to do. America’s friends in the world applauded. Bob and I did, too.
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