Being Right

Last week, US President Donald Trump gave his first ever address at the United Nations. And from the reaction that mainstream media gave, one would think the speech was nothing but pure evil.

“Very dark”, said Hillary Clinton on CBS, “undiplomatic” said The Independent. CNN’s Brian Fallon called it “intellectually confused.” Politico simply labeled it “bad.”

Quite interesting, when all Mr. Trump said was to tell North Korea to stop its illegal missile testing, renegotiate the Iran treaty, and reiterate “America First.”

Indeed, studying the speech, one could even think it a good blueprint for Philippine foreign policy:

• strengthened sovereignty and unashamedly “country first”;

• advancing capitalism and letting people know the failure of socialism; and,

• emphasis on national security.

My preference would have been that Trump gave more emphasis to pro-life policies supportive of human dignity and the traditional family, considering their impact on the economic and social development of a country.

As it is, passing mention was only made: “if we do not invest ourselves, our hearts, our minds, and our nations, if we will not build strong families, safe communities, and healthy societies for ourselves, no one can do it for us.”

The core of the speech (and this article) was on sovereignty: “In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty. Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens, to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values. As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.”

Contrary to the CNN-minded, Trump laid a clear unconfused vision (actually, closer to the “original understanding”) of international relations: “To overcome the perils of the present, and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace, for themselves and for the world. We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

Hardly evil passages that.

Still, in today’s irrational world, even foundational concepts like “sovereignty” are considered anathema.

But as Roger Scruton correctly points out, it is only “the nation State” that could serve as “the sole vehicle for democratic legitimacy,” able to “integrate all our communities into a shared national idea.”

Furthermore, for civil society to work, such “depends upon a common loyalty and a territorial law, and these cannot be achieved or retained without borders. Immigration must therefore be controlled and contained.”

For our locals unquestioningly denigrating Brexit or Trump’s immigration/security policies, they need to remember that (to paraphrase Scruton’s phrasing) the essence of democracy is distilled in the citizen’s right “to vote for his own rulers and to change laws.”

“We willingly sacrifice some independence to conduct international trade and to use the world’s sea, air and wireless lanes. But whenever possible our law should be made” by our own elected legislature.

Not by some foreign bureaucrat in ASEAN or the UN.

So let’s not be too quick in discarding sovereignty.

Academics mutter “Westphalian” every time sovereignty is mentioned, to deliberately imply how passé the idea is. But experience tells us it is not so.

For every European, Canadian, or even liberal American encouraging developing countries like the Philippines to adopt “internationalism” or cosmopolitan mind-sets, all it takes is a strong Filipino (or Chinese or South Asian) investor competing with their local industries for them to regain their adherence to sovereignty and secure borders.

So, Trump is right: sovereignty “is the foundation for cooperation and success. Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect. Strong sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny. And strong sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish in the fullness of the life intended by God.”

In closing, we turn to a fellow Filipino, Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ, writing in 1971, of sovereignty’s (and nationalism’s) place in today’s supposedly “globalized” world:

“We might point out that the very word ‘internationalism’ presupposes nationalism. If nations are to be united, there must be nations to unite. Those who have already achieved full nationhood can afford to take their nationalism for granted, can even be high-mindedly apologetic about it. But we who, having been colonial subjects for four hundred years, are still seeking national identity and purpose, may perhaps be forgiven if nationalism is uppermost in our minds and boringly recurrent in our conversation.”


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula