Erosion of American Greatness

American greatness has certainly been eroded.

Last year’s presidential election drag US democracy down further, with accusations and claims still hanging over both Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. The integrity of the US political system, especially in relation to alleged Russian interference, is dependent on the outcome of ongoing inquiries and investigations.

Trump holds on to minority base support who still have faith in Trump shaking up the US political system and the world without creating too much mayhem and incurring too much collateral damage.

American greatness in the world is under real threat due to the uncertainties surrounding President Trump’s many proclamations and threats versus the actions of his top officials who seem to be working for good despite their leader.

We won’t know how much further American greatness has been eroded by the Trump presidency for a year or two, unless one event precipitates a dive, like an outbreak of nuclear war. Trump is currently in Korea trying to dampen down the threats there.

Roger Cohen via Der Spiegel: Donald Trump and the Erosion of American Greatness

Ten months into the Trump presidency, the world has not gone over a cliff. Nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea has not produced Armageddon. That this must be considered an achievement is testimony to how alarming Donald Trump’s erratic belligerence has been.

While things may look bad the problems are still mostly potential rather than real, but other countries are adjusting their global stance in light of the uncertainties over trump.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has concluded that Europeans must now take “our destiny into our own hands.” Dismay is widespread. The post-war order, stripped of its American point of reference, is frayed to the breaking point.

Trump’s election, like Britain’s perverse flight from the European Union, reflected a blow-up-the-system mood.

The US isn’t the only weakened link. Close ally Britain has been rocked by the Brexit vote and political power was then eroded by an ill conceived election, severely weakening Prime Minister Theresa May and her government.

The tens of millions of Americans who elected Trump had few illusions about his irascibility but were ready to roll the dice in the name of disruption at any cost.

The president, who continues to act principally as the rabble-rousing leader of a mass movement, is the ultimate provocateur. He jolts the facile assumptions of a globalized liberal elite. Rising inequality and rampant impunity for the powerful certainly demanded such a jolt.

Some sort of jolt certainly looked deserved, but a series of jarring statements along with a lack of real action currently suggests more dolt than jolt.

But the question remains: How dangerous is Trump to the world and the American Republic?

One school of thought argues: Not very. For all the presidential mouthing and angry ALL-CAPS dawn tweeting, there’s no sign of the wall on the Mexican border; and NATO is no longer “obsolete” (at least some days of the week); and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped; and the Iran nuclear agreement endures for now, despite Trump’s outrageous refusal to recertify it; and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv; and the North American Free Trade Agreement hangs on. Even Trump’s decision to quit the Paris climate accord has not yet been made effective.

Political reality and an entrenched system is a moderating influence on major changes. Division in the Republican Party over Trump’s leadership and aims also has also limited change.

So perhaps Defense Secretary James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness. Perhaps they have neutralized his ahistorical ignorance. Trump’s “America First” may be a slogan of impeccable fascist pedigree, but it will not upend the world.

It has unsettled the world but hasn’t upended it – yet.

But…

A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be substantial. America’s word, which has constituted the undergirding of global security for more than seven decades, is a fast-devaluing currency. Trump is likely to become more capricious in the coming months.

Trump has a record of reacting badly to criticism and failure. If major successes continue to elude him or if the custard gets lumpier then who knows how he will act.

Already, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China are stepping into the void. This is inevitable. The message from the Trump White House is one of withdrawal – from global responsibility above all, be it for the environment, European stability or the fate of the Middle East.

If the Iran nuclear deal is working but Trump chooses to trash it because the Islamic Republic did not become a benign power overnight – the deal was about centrifuges not Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s butchery in Syria – then why on earth should any other nation conclude a treaty with bait-and-switch America?

The most terrifying thing to me about the insults hurled in recent weeks between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, was that it was impossible to distinguish between them. The American president had descended to the level of a tantrum-prone totalitarian despot.

Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea and called Kim “Rocket Man on a suicide mission.” The United States, he proclaimed, was “locked and loaded.” Kim, in return, called Trump “a rogue,” a “gangster,” and a “dotard,” the last a word not much in vogue since the 17th century. Americans scurried for their dictionaries to discover that a dotard was a senile fool.

The unfunny thing is that when two thin-skinned men with nukes, grudges and mysterious hair hurl insults at each other, and one of them is the American president, there is no cause for comfort. Wars begin in unforeseeable ways; with nuclear brinkmanship, accidents happen.

I have just heard reports of Trump again stating that all of the United States’ military options remain on the table. Of course they do, but threatening another egotistical and unpredictable leader who may also have a nuclear arsenal is a high risk game of  chance.

Call all this a disturbing Asian flurry if you like. But something deeper is going on. The United States has often fallen short. Ken Burns’ remarkable documentary on the Vietnam War has been a recent reminder of this. So, of course, were Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

Yet, over time, American reinvention does its work and the idea flickers to life again: that we are a nation of laws; that all Americans, whatever their beliefs or faiths, have rights and responsibilities under the law; and that this law establishes checks and balances designed to safeguard our freedom and our democracy and our decency, the values we carry out into the world in the belief that if they cannot always deliver the best, they may at least avert the worst.

Already shaky, that all certainly now looks at greater risk.

President Trump has yet to meet a strongman who does not elicit his sympathy or a multilateral organization that does not prompt his disdain. The Saudi King, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Vladimir Putin are fine. Merkel in “bad, bad Germany” is not. I hear that Merkel and Trump scarcely speak to each other. This is worrying. Germany is the most important country in Europe and a core American ally.

Under Trump, the State Department has been eviscerated: a proposed 30 percent budget cut, countless critical posts unfilled, a secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has contrived to be ineffective and demoralize his staff. At the same time, military budgets have soared. Trump loves soldiers and has little time for diplomats. When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Trump seems poorly suited to and too impatient for diplomacy, and yes, seems to like swaggering about the military might he is in command of.

The reality of Trump’s autocratic tendencies should not be waved away. He is not harmless. Liberals paid a heavy price for failing to look facts in the eye at the last election. The Trump phenomenon – his appeal to millions of Americans – endures.

Helped to a large extent by how poor the Democrats and Hillary Clinton have been, they have been a major factor in enabling the rise of Trump.

Here’s a voice from Trump country:

People have to choose between heating their homes, buying food or buying health care and you want them to worry about the survival of the planet or transgender stuff?

I respect business and I distrust government. I don’t want illegal immigrants taking our jobs.

I don’t like liberals who shop at Whole Foods talking down their noses at me because I shop at WalMart.

I don’t want God and guns chased out of the country.

White lives matter, too, you know.

That Hillary forgot that – and was punished. We lost our discipline and our moral code in this country. So we need honest Trump to shake things up and get our country back.

“I want my country back!” This is the universal cry of the global wave of rightist reaction. It’s Trump’s “America First.” It’s Brexit. It’s Marine Le Pen’s nationalists against the globalists. It’s Germany’s nationalist AfD grabbing nearly 100 seats in the Bundestag. It explains the vogue word of the moment: sovereignty. Trump used it more than 20 times in his United Nations speech in September.

Behind all this lies a potent emotion: fear. This was Trump’s great intuition – and he has formidable, feral intuitions allied to a fiendish energy.

  • Demographic fear (the end within the next couple of decades of America’s white majority);
  • economic fear (the dislocations of globalization);
  • cultural fear (of the urban elite who want to chase guns and God out of the country);
  • primal fear (the white flip-out over having a black president);
  • fear of the stranger (the immigrant hordes);
  • fear of national decline (Chinese power rising and those endless post 9/11 wars without victory);
  • fear of the future (automation and the end of work);
  • fear of terrorism (the Muslim jihadi among us);
  • fear of speaking your mind (the liberal tyranny of the politically correct).

Take all this, inject the potent galvanizing force of Fox News and Breitbart (with their dime-a-dozen scapegoats), wrap it in a heavy dose of angry nationalism and drain-the-swamp elite-bashing, and a winning guerrilla offensive was there to be mounted.

Liberals in their arrogance didn’t – until it was too late.

Trump didn’t rise to fill a vacuum, but his success was helped substantially by the lack of a strong alternative. Clinton was seen as too much old school politics, the same old that was failing many people.

So Trump had an opportunity to make a real mark on the US. Unfortunately so far he has failed to make much impression, apart from giving bad impressions.

Yet, he is dangerous. Trump has already blurred the line between truth and falsehood. He has attacked the judiciary and a free press.

I had an alarming experience recently. Trump had lied, as he routinely does, about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They were pure inventions.

Asked if Trump had lied, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. And it was the shrug that was terrifying. This is how autocrats – or would-be autocrats – cement their power. They wear you down.

Recently, the president tweeted: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

This is Putin territory. This is Erdogan territory. We don’t know yet how far the president is prepared to go in silencing critics who do not meet his test of patriotism, while inviting his supporters to give free rein to their inner bigot.

At what point is it appropriate to challenge Trump’s licence? That has already been asked, but political attempts to impeach opponents is not new in the dysfunctional US political system.

The reality is that Trump probably has to actually do something bad to get to that. He may be smart enough to remain on the brink without tipping over.

Perhaps Senator John McCain has offered the best rebuke to Trump:

“To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Trump and his supporters may be happy to withdraw from the world, apart from occasional threats and perhaps attacks. That would be an erosion of greatness, as flawed as much of that greatness was.

It’s not just a US withdrawal from the world that has the potential for problems and possibly disaster. Power vacuums tend to be filled by others.

 

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28 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  November 8, 2017

    ISIS was the result of Obama’s power vaccuum. So is North Korea. Democrats are in no position to accuse Trump of one though self-awareness is not their strong suit. Blathering is.

    • Joe Bloggs

       /  November 8, 2017

      Yet more toxic garbage from the RWNJ revisionists.

      The instability of the Middle East transcends Democrat-Republican or Labour-Tory divisions.

      Bush, Blair, Obama, and Cameron all have blood on their hands. The Chilcott inquiry was very clear and thorough in that regard.

      The roots of ISIS lie in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fall of Hussein sparked an era of instability, and that created the optimum conditions for jihadist opportunism.

      • David

         /  November 8, 2017

        “The fall of Hussein sparked an era of instability, and that created the optimum conditions for jihadist opportunism.”

        Of course, Iraq was all chocolate rainbows and the very picture of stability under Hussan now wasn’t it?

      • David

         /  November 8, 2017

        Just to add, the rise of ISIS is a proixy war between Saudi and Iran, given Saudi is undergoing a revolution right now, the future looks even more interesting.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 8, 2017

        The Middle East has been unstable for millenia. It took the Progressives to run away and leave a terrorist cancer to spread around the world. And now they have the absolute gall to accuse Trump of a power vacuum. Fatuous.

    • artcroft

       /  November 8, 2017

      Utter nonsense.

  2. Trumpenreich

     /  November 8, 2017

    [Deleted. A personal slur on another blogger that seems unrelated to this post. PG]

    • phantom snowflake

       /  November 8, 2017

      Missed you. xx

      • Gezza

         /  November 8, 2017

        Probably just well, by the look of it!
        At least PG didn’t miss!
        Bullseye! 🎯

        • Gezza

           /  November 8, 2017

          🙄 😡 Probably just AS well … etc. Soz. 😕

          • phantom snowflake

             /  November 8, 2017

            I carry some guilt concerning my involvement with his temporary “exile” from this blog, which related to his refusal to apologise for demonstrably false accusations against myself. I don’t need an apology but definitely am entertained and amused by his “perspective”.

  3. MaureenW

     /  November 8, 2017

    Power vaccuum – don’t think so. Isolated? Japan, South Korea, China, meeting with Russian president. Crooked donors to Clinton Foundation just arrested. We must get our news from different places.

  4. Blazer

     /  November 8, 2017

    What is meant by greatness? The U.S still has the biggest military arsenal, that still counts.

    • Gezza

       /  November 8, 2017

      With Their Commander-In-Chief they’ve got the biggest military arse as well. That’s the worry!

    • Gezza

       /  November 8, 2017

      Mind you – Al Jazeera’s news presenter has been noting Trump has adopted a more conciliatory tone in his latest speeches saying North Korea must come to the table to negotiate. Obviously reading out something Tillerson drafted tho, Christ knows what the idiot might subsequently tweet. Not like his rambling thoughts or memory are connected in any useful way, is it?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 8, 2017

        Sounds like the best tradition of a shot-gun marriage to me. Negotiate or I’ll obliterate you.

        • Gezza

           /  November 8, 2017

          Oh really? So what did you think of this then, Sir Alan?

          How Donald Trump is making Chinese leadership look great in comparison

          When Donald Trump lands in Beijing on Wednesday, expect China to roll out the red carpet. And why shouldn’t they welcome the United States President who is making China’s leader look great in comparison?

          Ahead of Trump’s first visit to Asia, many commentators have pointed out how the US President has weakened American’s stance in the world and allowed China to assert more dominance. Essentially, the more Trump “made himself a laughing stock”, the better China appeared by comparison, University of Hong Kong’s Professor Xu Guoqi told CNN.

          “Ironically, he seems to have clearly helped make China great internationally,” he said.

          Chinese political expert at the University of Melbourne, Dr Pradeep Taneja said China had already been on the rise for quite some time but Trump’s attitude towards American leadership had enabled Chinese President Xi Jinping – who some consider China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong – to look good both domestically and internationally.

          http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11941592

          • High Flying Duck

             /  November 8, 2017

            I just read a story related to that this morning:

            These 5 Facts Explain Why China Is Pulling Ahead of the West

            1. As last week’s successful 19th Party Congress made clear, Chinese President Xi Jinping has no equals among the world’s most powerful people. Xi spent his first five years consolidating domestic power, launching a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign that swept up more than 1.4 million party members—boosting his credibility with the Chinese people while sidelining his political rivals. Xi’s been so successful in the pursuit of domestic power that “Xi Thought”, his personal political philosophy, has now been enshrined in China’s constitution, making him the most influential modern Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. All this at a time when liberal democracies around the world are struggling to keep the ship steady. From the perspective of the West, it’s bad luck that the U.S. has its weakest president at the same time that China has its strongest.

            http://time.com/5007097/china-winning-5-facts/

            • David

               /  November 8, 2017

              The idea that a ‘strong’ leader makes for a stronger country than a ‘weak’ one has been proved wrong time and again.

              Exactly the same reasoning, and almost exactly the same reasons, were used to explain why Stalinist Russia was ‘pulling ahead’ of the west in the 30’s.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  November 8, 2017

            Opinions from journalists and academics are free, Sir Gerald. But here is the counter from a political insider:
            http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/11/06/trump-shows-america-is-through-being-chump-in-asia.html

            Trump has to bear continuous sabotage from his divided country and almost undividedly hostile media and academia. Unlike Xi. He would of course be much more influential if he jailed and executed his critics and rivals, like Xi. They seem to stop short of suggesting that remedy.

            • Gezza

               /  November 8, 2017

              I don’t have to sit here & put up with that rubbish, Sir Alan.
              Hang on, I’ll get off the sofa & go over to an armchair, opposite, before responding more fully.

            • Gezza

               /  November 8, 2017

              Actually I might as well have lunch before destroying your argument.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  November 8, 2017

              I’m sure you’ll think.of something diverting eventually, Sir Gerald.

            • Gezza

               /  November 8, 2017

              Fox needs more road cones Sir Alan.

            • Gezza

               /  November 8, 2017

              Well, I’ve finally made time to read through that Al and it’s so typically Foxishly jingoistically parochial I’m embarrassed that you even bothered to post it. PG I think has covered the problems Trump presents for every Country in their dealings with America, the most obvious of which is that, because he consistently behaves like an arrogant twat, they think he’s a nutter and, given his propensity to lurch from one stance to another overnight, that he (and therefore America) can’t & shouldn’t be trusted in any dealings with an country. He’ll probably shit on the Kurds next, after they’ve cleaned up the mess Bush & Obama made for him.