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President Trump Disdain for State Visits Signals America’s Disdain for Others

December 28, 2017

Ever since our country became an international power, we have made an effort to present ourselves as generous and welcoming. After World War II we did this by providing millions of dollars to nations whose cities were decimated by wars, by sharing any surplus food we had with nations whose citizens experienced starvation, and by being full and active participants in the creation of the United Nations. Over the past several years, an America First mentality has emerged: one that does not want to spend money overseas unless it is on armaments; one that does not want to share our bounty with countries that are less fortunate; and one that does not want to seek harmony in the United Nations unless we are looking for “allies” to join us in punishing one of our enemies. This mean spirited attitude is manifested in the election of Donald Trump who, in turn, is reinforcing that mean spirited attitude in the way he conducts business.

Associated press writer Darlene Superville described one element of Mr. Trump’s mean spiritedness in a recent article that reported on the fact that he is the first president in almost a century to skip hosting a state dinner in his first year of office. This is not an oversight on his part. As Ms. Superville notes:

Trump spoke dismissively of state dinners as a candidate, when he panned President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping with a 2015 state visit. Such visits are an important diplomatic tool that includes a showy arrival ceremony and an elaborate dinner at the White House.

“I would not be throwing (Xi) a dinner,” Trump said at the time. “I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say we’ve got to get down to work.”

But, as Ms. Superville notes, when our President visits other nations he expects red carpet treatment, and the leaders are happy to flatter him:

Knowing Trump enjoys flattery, Xi pulled out all the stops to impress him on that November stop in Beijing.

The visit opened with an arrival ceremony considered lavish even by Chinese standards, with Trump and his wife, Melania greeted at the airport by Chinese and American dignitaries standing at attention, a band playing military music and scores of flag-waving children chanting “welcome.”

Trump was then whisked away for a private tour of the Forbidden City that included dinner. The meal was a first for a visiting foreign leader at Beijing’s historic imperial palace since the founding of modern China. Trump also raved about an outdoor opera performance.

The following morning brought another welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People featuring a military parade that Trump said was “magnificent.” He said “the world was watching” and claimed to have received telephone calls about it from around the world. “Nothing you can see is so beautiful,” Trump said.

Xi also honored Trump at a state banquet that included video highlights from the Chinese leader’s visit to Florida, along with clips from Trump’s trip and the screening of a video of Trump’s granddaughter, Arabella, singing in Chinese.

That is a marked contrast to Xi’s visit to our nation. He was treated to a luxurious lunch at the President’s residence in Florida, but not given the respectful treatment that comes with a state visit, which Ms. Superville describes as follows:

The White House portion of the visit begins with an elaborate arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, including the pomp of a military honor guard, a troop review and leader statements. The leaders meet privately in the Oval Office before they hold a joint news conference in the East Room or the Rose Garden. The evening ends with the foreign leader as the guest of honor at a lavish state dinner attended by hundreds, including members of Congress, business leaders, celebrities, political donors and others.

The visiting leader also has lunch at the State Department, and sometimes will address a joint meeting of Congress.

Such visits are reserved for when the U.S. wants to put on its “best face” for a particular leader and ally, said Peter Selfridge, who served as a liaison between the White House and visiting foreign dignitaries as U.S. chief of protocol from 2014 to January 2017.

“It’s a really important arrow in a president’s quiver when it comes to the diplomatic nicety side of his work,” Selfridge said.

But our current President sees no need to “put on its “best face” for anyone… and as a retired school leader I find this lack of statesmanship deplorable. It sends a message to our citizens– and children– that we are superior to everyone else on the globe and “the others” in this world should treat us with respect even if we treat them with disdain.

This is the third example in the past three days of President’s Trump disrespect for others. His snubbing of Nobel Prize winners and snubbing of Kennedy Center winners are examples of his disdain for science and the arts and his decision to deny visiting heads of state with the treatment his predecessors offered is an example of his disdain for their nations. For better or worse our children look to the President to set a tone for the nation. The anti-intellectual and xenophobic attitudes we are witnessing in the White House are not the examples we need to thrive in the interdependent world we live in today.

I’ve tagged these recent posts under “self-awareness”, for I fear that we are losing the ability to put our nation in the proper perspective in the 21st century… and I fear that in doing so we are diminishing the greatness our President aspires to.

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