The Danger of Decoupling

Brian Gongol

"We summon all our knowledge of the past and we scan all signs of the future. We bring all our wit and all our will to meet the question: How far have we come in man's long pilgrimage from darkness toward the light?" - Dwight D. Eisenhower

We're in a time of a widespread contagion of disengagement. People all over the world are pulling away from international encounters of all kinds, and it's a road we've been down before.

Every time the world strays from engagement, things get worse.

The bozos from our own country who are part of this movement want us to believe that any engagement with the rest of the world is a zero-sum deal, and it's one in which we're the chumps. Dreadfully, the President is leading this charge. He complains about NATO, he threatens to tear up NAFTA, and he rallies people around walls and travel bans.

To think that there's only one kind of engagement with the world and that it's always a winner/loser encounter is as dumb as thinking there's only one kind of way of being healthy.

Being healthy isn't just about cutting your calories. It's watching what you eat -- and eating your vegetables. It's going for a walk and getting enough sleep. It's washing your hands and getting your vaccinations.

The same goes for our place in an international world. We're about 4% of the world's population. That's all. So it's not just naive, it's downright stupid to believe that we can decouple ourselves from what happens everywhere else.

We need to engage on issues of military security, of course. But we also need to engage on trade and on public health. We need to engage on students who study abroad and travelers who go on vacation. We need to engage on public health and environmental policies. We need to engage on the Internet and on intellectual property.

I'll say it again: It's not just naive, it's stupid to think we can just unplug from our relationships with the rest of the world. At best, in so doing we set into motion a chain of events that brings about a complete upheaval of the world order, probably involving substantial warfare. I say that's "at best" because when it's happened before, we've usually been insulated from the worst of it for a year or two. That's what happened in the two world wars.

At worst, a true decoupling of the world breaks down into an abomination of tribalism. One where it's not just "the West" versus "the rest", but where it becomes the US against our neighbors. And then it's Midwesterners versus Easterners or Southerners. And then it's Iowans versus Missourians and Minnesotans. And then it's central Iowans against eastern Iowans. And on and on until there's nothing left.

It's not as far-fetched as that may seem. We're living in a time when Brexit is happening, when provinces are trying to break apart from Spain, and when the President is picking on individual mayors in order to score points.

Humanity has gone through true Dark Ages before. It's not impossible that they could happen again. Good people have to know that the threat is real, and the antidote is to plug in again.

To plug into internationalism.

To plug into community life.

To plug into news and events that have something more substantial to say than turning every issue into a partisan dogfight.

"So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord." - Dwight D. Eisenhower