Photo Credit: United Nations Photo / Flickr
“We will serve the citizens of the United States of America, believe me,” said President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24th. “There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.” Four days later, in his first speech before a joint session of Congress, he continued, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
Donald Trump and his consigliere Steve Bannon (the likely author of those sentences) are hardly the first to nail so precisely this most basic feature of what political scientists call the “world order” of today. At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, President George H.W. Bush was hounded and harassed by environmentalists at every turn. He wasn’t doing enough, they said. He needed to protect the planet, they said. Finally he lost his cool, and — in words remarkably similar to those uttered by President Trump at CPAC — exclaimed, “I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the President of the World. And while I’m here I’m going to do what best serves the interests of the American people.”
The sovereign state system these two American leaders so accurately described, exactly a quarter century apart, is likely to persist far into the foreseeable future. But someday, is it possible that people around the world might actually sing a global anthem together? And hoist a global flag? And dwell together as citizens of a United Earth?
Why Not a “Global Anthem?”
If there is a global anthem floating around out there it’s not in any way official, hardly anyone knows it, and hardly anyone feels anything about it. The tone of Trump’s assertion, however — and of much his nascent presidency — implies that it’s self-evident not just that there is “no such thing,” but that there shouldn’t be, and never will be.
Most of us, however, maintain many different kinds of loyalties. Our affection for our schools and hometowns is a huge part of why sports are such a huge part of our culture. People feel fidelity to non-geographic communities as well — one’s bicycle club or the dog park gang or (for me) one’s fellow geeks at the science fiction convention.
Yet the most primal devotion that most people feel today is arguably their allegiance to their nation. What American — even those who agitate every day to make their country live up to its ideals — has never gotten at least a little bit choked up at spectacular fireworks on July 4th, or singing The Star-Spangled Banner at a ballgame, or seeing a fluttering American flag leading a parade?
But our world grows smaller and more interconnected every day. No grand historical development is more defining of the modern age. Can we imagine the same feelings of camaraderie, kindred spiritedness, and tribal solidarity about our single human community? Can our loyalty to the world as a whole — as it does for many for one’s nation — make our blood rush a little more quickly through our veins? Might our allegiance to our nations be accompanied by an allegiance to humanity?
There’s no reason why people cannot declare right now that they seem themselves as both citizens of their countries and citizens of the world. That their national patriotism is for them transcended by their planetary patriotism. And that all of us on this fragile planet must now consider ourselves, in the science fiction author Spider Robinson’s memorable phrase, to be “crewmates on Spaceship Earth.”
One can imagine this becoming a hot button political issue quite suddenly. Imagine a dozen college students, perhaps half from countries outside the United States, enrolled at, oh, the University of California.
Perhaps they constitute the local student arm of Citizens for Global Solutions — the 70-year-old NGO that openly advocates the establishment of a world republic. These students band together because they embrace th e principl e that above and beyond their devotion to the country where they happen to have been born is their loyalty to the human race.
So they arrange a meeting with the chancellor. They introduce themselves, and then announce that they do not consider themselves to be primarily American or Nigerian or Iranian or Mexican or Chinese. They are Earthlings. So they request that above the flag of the United States on the official university flagpole, the university will now fly a flag depicting our beautiful blue Earth from space.
The chancellor hesitates. She isn’t quite sure how this will go over with that $1M donor whose name just went up on the dormitory right across from that flagpole. The Daily Californian school paper does a front page article about the hesitation. Students begin to march and demonstrate. Other students — declaring that their only patriotism is their American patriotism — confront the Earthlings. Commotion ensues. Now the San Francisco Chronicle does a front page article about it. That gets picked up by Asahi Shimbun andDeutsche Welle. And a transnational conversation begins to unfold.
These ideals of larger loyalty have been promulgated by some of the greatest figures in the human heritage. It’s what Voltaire called “the party of humanity.” It’s what Victor Hugo meant when he said, “I belong to a party which does not yet exist — the party of revolution and civilization.” It’s what the signatories of the 1955 “Einstein-Russell Manifesto” were describing when they claimed to speak “not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.”
And in July 1979, Neil Armstrong was asked what had been going through his mind ten years earlier when he stood on the surface of the moon, and saluted the American flag. His reply? “I suppose you’re thinking about pride and patriotism. But we didn’t have a strong nationalistic feeling at that time. We felt more that it was a venture of all mankind.”
Who Does “Represent the World?”
President Trump — and the first President Bush — were also not wrong about who they “represent.” It’s that way for every president. There’s nothing unusual or unprecedented or groundbreaking about it. The oath an American president swears is about protecting the United States of America and its constitution — nothing else!
This is why President Bill Clinton, agonizingly, did not dispatch American military power to rescue perhaps ¾ of a million people being hacked into pieces with machetes in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 — because the genocide, as horrifying as just about anything could possibly be, did not directly threaten American interests. It’s why President George W. Bush DID dispatch attack helicopters from the U.S.S. Kearsarge into Liberia during an eruption of civil war and atrocity there in 2003 — to evacuate the American citizens on the scene. (Back home at the same time, the U.S. Navy was running recruiting commercials on ESPN, describing itself as “a global force for good.”)
But this leads to a rather severe problem in our ever shrinking world. Some 200 separate sovereign units, each pursuing their own individual national interests, can hardly guarantee optimal outcomes for the common human interest. And we see this in cold, hard realities, from the massive displacement and refugee flows generated by economic hopelessness, to transborder cyberattacks and runaway climate change. Stronger multilateralism, robust support for international institutions and enhanced mechanisms of global governance are the optimal policy tools — not Donald Trump’s cultivation of xenophobia and far-right nativism (which is what these straw men truly represent).
So who, today, which individuals in which elected offices, can we identify whose raison d’etre is to serve the larger collectivity, the whole of the human community, the global public good?
The answer is no one. It’s not Donald Trump’s job … but it’s no one else’s either. There is no supranational authority that stands above the nation state. There is no institution, no elected official anywhere, whose job it is to “represent” the human race.
How About a “Global Flag?”
Although our students at the University of California would undoubtedly design something visually wonderful, President Trump is also right to say there’s “no such thing” as a global flag that officially represents anything. But it’s hardly self-evident that what those political scientists call the “Westphalian state system” (originating in the peace treaty of 1648 that ended Europe’s calamitous wars of religion) will endure as a permanent feature of human history.
We can imagine a redesigned and democratized and empowered United Nations. (Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and her “Commission on Global Security Justice and Governance,” have proposed a “World Summit on Global Governance” during the UN’s 75th anniversary year in 2020.) Further down the road it’s not impossible to envision that the same basic structures of governance long established almost universally at city, state, and national levels worldwide — a legislature and an executive and a judiciary — might someday be fashioned and founded at the global level as well.
This vision too — not just the intangible ideal of global citizenship but the tangible idea of a world state — has been put forth by some of the greatest figures in the human heritage. “I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be … Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furl’d, In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.” That’s Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate to Queen Victoria, in his 1842 masterpiece Locksley Hall.“The Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” That’s Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, in 1857. (By most accounts it’s the first or second fastest growing religion in the world today.) “Without some effective world supergovernment … the prospects of peace and human progress are dark … (But) if it is found possible to build a world organization of irresistible force and inviolable authority … there are no limits to the blessings which all men may enjoy and share.” That’s conservative hero Winston Churchill in 1949. (Take that Alt-Right!)
These kinds of possible future developments might someday give tangible content and historical meaning to the planetary patriotism that, perhaps, more and more Earthlings might over time declare. Perhaps this hypothetical future entity might be established, some distant day, by a duly negotiated and legally enacted world constitution. They might call it an “Earth Union,” or the “Federal Republic of the World,” or a “United Earth.” In the fictional future history of STAR TREK, after all, the “United Federation of Planets” in the galaxy was preceded by a “United Federation of Nations” on Earth. Hundreds of science fiction novels contain similar depictions of a politically unified human race. If writers can make such a future seem so plausible and believable, is it really so ridiculous simply to ask whether we can aspire to it as an actual historical goal?
“We are one people with one destiny,” said President Trump toward the end of his speech to Congress — addressing himself, of course, exclusively to Americans. But perhaps it is not too much to suppose that someday, some political leader will sit in a position, and maintain the responsibility, and show a sufficient elevation of the human spirit, to say not just to the citizens of one particular country but to all the people of Planet Earth, “We are one people with one destiny.”
The Road to One World
So which comes first? A sentiment of planetary patriotism or an actually politically unified planet? It’s sort of like the proverbial question about the chicken and the egg — only prospective instead of retrospective. It may be that we’ll never see any kind of tangible progress toward world political unity until a substantial number of people feel, deep in their bones, something like an ethic of human unity. Or it may be instead that we’ll never have a great many people who see themselves primarily as citizens of the world until every living human being has in fact become a citizen — with both rights and responsibilities — of a United Earth.
In 1946, the writer Phillip Marshall Brown wrote a cover story on world government agitation for Newsweek magazine. (Yes, for a brief but incandescent few years immediately following the Second World War, the movement to actually create something like a world republic was enough a part of the zeitgeist — especially among high school and college students — that it generated that kind of attention. My own occasional co-author, former U.S. Senator and JFK White House aide Harris Wofford, served as the founder then of the “Student Federalists” — which established fervent chapters on 367 high school and college campuses around the U.S. , and which still exists today as that student arm of Citizens for Global Solutions.) At the end of the piece Mr. Brown took a stand on the chicken/egg question, and asserted that “all attempts, no matter how idealistic, to establish a world government will inevitably fail unless the people of the world can be united into one brotherhood.” That forecast may well eventually prove to be right. Or it may turn out to be entirely the other way around.
In Steve Bannon’s own CPAC speech, he said that “national security and sovereignty” were one of the Trump administration’s three central purposes. And both he and President Trump have repeatedly used the phrase “America First.” So the two of them are unlikely to embrace the suggestion that perhaps there ought to be a global anthem and global flag, or any contention that individual national interests might sometimes be trumped by common human interests.
One thing that might mean for those of us open to such expansive future possibilities? It just might make for yet another point on which to resist the Trump agenda. It just might provide yet another vehicle for getting under his skin.
Because maybe, someday — though likely long after Trump and Bannon have been consigned to the dustbin of history — there will be a global anthem. Maybe, someday, there will be a global flag. Maybe, someday, we’ll all live together in One World.