John Zaccheo and Kael Weston: America must regain its standing in the world

(Frank Molter | dpa via AP, File) In this June 13 photo, a sign with the opening hours of the border checkpoint between Harrislee in Germany and Padborg in Denmark is displayed in front the border crossing in Harrislee, Germany.

This election year has an important dimension that deserves a lot more attention: the U.S.‘s role in the international community and how much damage has been done to our global standing and leadership since Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The Trump administration’s approach to world affairs – “America First” – has alienated our longtime allies. In the case of COVID-19, such nearsightedness has resulted in a catastrophic response to a true international crisis just as our government pulls out of the World Health Organization.

Today, nations are banning U.S. tourists because the pandemic’s hottest spot of all is ... The United States of America. Our blue passports have preemptively been stamped “rejected” across Europe. A new kind of scarlet lettering.

In the eyes of much of the world, well beyond the European Union, Americans are considered an outright risk to global public health. Mask-less equals selfish and careless. In contrast, Germany and New Zealand have strong leaders, women, who faced pandemic facts up front and then mobilized their nations. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not politicize face coverings. They rallied their people in solidarity. They made crucial policy decisions based on science, with input from trusted medical experts. They led.

There is another matter worth recalling. When The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had received information that the Russian government had put bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, we expected our elected leaders – from both political parties – to speak out. But Republicans largely downplayed the reports.

Chris Stewart, who has a seat on the House Intelligence Committee, has been noticeably silent save for a couple of statements defending the White House. Perhaps it is because he has placed loyalty to Trump above all else while also specifically pushing a bill on behalf of companies that make gun silencers.

The legislation to eliminate export controls was titled, the “Suppressor Act of 2016.” In past administrations (George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s), these restrictions were enforced because such equipment might be used against our Marines and soldiers in combat zones.

An Afghan in Kabul named Zia, whom one of us met while serving with the State Department for three years in Afghanistan, said on Twitter: “… common Afghans were aware that Russia pays 20K for US tank blast, 10K for US civilian killings, and 15K for US soldier Killing …” While we cannot verify this information, he writes from Afghanistan.

Thankfully, Utah’s junior senator, Mitt Romney, has sometimes stood up to Trump, including his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany – a shift that would be in line with Vladimir Putin’s desire to weaken NATO. Other Utah GOP politicians remain quiet. Or, worse, complicit in Trump’s troubling deference to Russia. They seem more afraid of an angry presidential tweet directed their way than about fundamental U.S. national security interests.

Our country recently marked an important anniversary – the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, which put humans on the moon for the first time. While the flag placed on the lunar surface was our Stars & Stripes, U.S. astronauts were given an important follow-on mission once back on Earth. Our government sent them on a 38-day goodwill tour to 28 cities in 24 countries across six continents (Mexico City to Rio to Oslo to Kinshasa to Tehran to Bombay to Bangkok and beyond). The message was simple: space exploration has the power to unite us, regardless of what other issues might divide us.

That is something all of us should miss deeply. An America, while far from perfect, that led by example. A country of bridges. Not walls. A country of dreams. Not nightmares. When we welcomed the differences in others, rather than be told from the Oval Office that we should live in fear.

The major repair work – and there is a lot ahead of us – both at home and abroad needs to begin on Nov. 3. The stakes could not be higher. After all, Donald Trump has already said he might not honor the will of “we the people” should he lose the election. That is the talk of a would-be tyrant enabled by collaborators in congress.

Another American president, John F. Kennedy, challenged our nation to journey all the way to the moon. And we did. Not because it was easy. But because it was hard.

We need to return to that kind of inspirational leadership. It is up to us. Our votes.

John Zaccheo

John Zaccheo, a 93-year old Rotarian, is a former pizza and Italian restaurant owner and business executive, who has called Utah home for five decades.

Kael Weston

Kael Weston, author, teacher, former State Department official, and Rotarian, is the Democratic Party nominee in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. www.westonforcongress.com