Trust fall

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the United States on January 19, and is headed toward the Eastern Mediterranean to help with refugee assistance. He’s making a few stops along the way.)

If you were involved in theatre in high school, attended church camp in the summer, or ever participated in a “team-building” session courtesy of your company’s human resources department, you’ve probably experienced some variation of the “trust fall” exercise. Remember? You stand feet together, arms crossed over your chest, eyes closed, and, at a signal, you lean back and… fall. Your partner or group catches you as you fall, restores you to your vertical position, and then you do it again—dropping a little farther each time, until you’re falling almost all the way to the floor.

It’s become a cliche, true. But it really can be a great experience, for both the faller and the catcher(s), because it’s not just about the trusting part. It’s also about being trustworthy, and focusing your full attention on someone else’s well-being.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have that guy—you know the one, that guy that likes to pull practical jokes on people, or say something outrageous to them, or even physically intimidate them, just to see what kind of reactions he can get out of them, with little if any regard for his victims’ feelings.

You know, a guy like Donald Trump.

Trump went to some “team-building” sessions, if you will, with NATO and G-7 leaders during his recent trip abroad, and he showed a distinct distaste for being any kind of “team player.” On issues from climate change and trade, to Russia and the very notion of mutual defense that is NATO’s main reason for existence, Trump’s belligerent adherence to his “America First” approach to foreign policy alienated and alarmed his fellow attendees.

“The times in which we could rely fully on others—they are somewhat over,” stated German Chancellor Angela Merkel diplomatically, after it was all done. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested that Trump’s supporters were motivated by a “a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

Perhaps there are levels of gamesmanship at play here. It’s no secret that many conservatives want to pull back from worldwide engagement, and force our allies to spend more on their own defense (to the benefit, of course, of the transnational military-industrial complex and to the detriment of their citizens and social programs). And I for one certainly would approve of the notion of a more multi-polar and less hegemonic world order, one where we get away from the idea of “superpowers” altogether, though I don’t think that is exactly what Trump’s handlers are aiming for.

But it may be worth remembering that Article V, the “mutual defense” part of the NATO Charter that Trump dithered about reaffirming support for, has actually been invoked only once: after the 9/11 attacks.

Trust, after all, must be a two-way-street.

[Editor’s note: After two weeks delay following his speech at the NATO Summit on May 25, President Trump finally committed the U.S. to its NATO Charter, Article 5, obligations on Friday, June 9.]


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