They laughed because President Trump said something laughable. He told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday: “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of the country.” The boast isn’t remotely close to true. In making the claim, the president left the impression of a cartoon character more than a statesman, let alone a leader protective of that essential quality of credibility.

The gathered diplomats and officials appeared dismissive, the presidency diminished in a way rarely seen. Yet this still is the president, and it matters that in promising to make America great again he proposes to undo much of what this country’s Greatest Generation achieved.

The president declared that “we reject the ideology of globalism and embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” That may sound reasonable. Who doesn’t want to be a patriot? The global economy has brought disruption and hardship, though growth and opportunity to a larger degree. Unfortunately, the president takes a narrow, poorly informed and harmful view of serving American interests and asserting American leadership.

Again, he portrayed Americans as victims of “global governance, control and domination.” He sees other countries somehow ripping us off, financially, diplomatically and strategically. Thus, he argues for a version of America First, the country playing transactional hardball, using the leverage of our market and might to deliver for the bottom line, to get the better of the deal.

No question, the global trading system needs improvement, especially in getting China to comply with its rules. Our European allies must pay more for the collective defense, which they started to do — before the Trump presidency. What the president doesn’t seem to grasp is the enlightened thinking behind the international institutions he frequently disparages.

The leadership of that greatest generation had in mind securing the peace following World War II. It did not want a repeat of the World War I aftermath, armed conflict returning two decades later. It led the way in creating bodies to resolve disputes and fulfill other tasks such as stabilizing economies. Those bodies are not perfect, as the far-from-controlling United Nations makes plain. All together, they have preserved the wider peace and expanded prosperity.

Thus, the United States isn’t the victim. It has been at the front, shaping these institutions, according to its designs, recognizing how they help to extend American values and influence.

The president neglects how internationalism checks destructive nationalism. He does so at the country’s expense. For instance, he wants to pressure Iran into better behavior. That is more likely through collective action than the United States mostly on its own. The same goes for getting China to trade more fairly. America needs partners, yet the president picks unnecessary fights with Canada and European allies. There is only a global solution to the urgent problem of climate change.

The leaders of the Greatest Generation did not put somehow the country’s sovereignty at risk. They enhanced its standing and served its interests. They got the connection between globalism and patriotism.

 

Correction: The Thursday editorial, “B&W comes to town,” erred in identifying the company, Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises.