Monday, November 7, 2016

A Superpower in Crisis and the Disgrace of Mr. Trump

 by Nomad

Win or lose tomorrow, Donald Trump has achieved one thing from his campaign. He has justified unspoken international concerns that the US is no longer a dependable ally.

Doubts and Worries about Donald

Even at a superficial glance, this year's election has been a fairly pathetic spectacle. There really haven't been any high moments. Only a dismal record of low points, which somehow defied expectations of how low the presidential race could actually go. 
Much of the blame for that must rest on the sloping shoulders of one man, Donald Trump.

Whether he beats the odds and becomes the next president or not, Mr. Trump has accomplished something quite out of the ordinary. Through his bombast and his vulgarity, through his extremely volatile populist rhetoric (accompanied by a remarkable ignorance about all things), this unlikely candidate has accomplished something that no other American candidate has done before.  

Trump, his history, and his manner of politics all have created a sense of doubt and suspicion amongst even our oldest allies. 

A “hate preacher” was how German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described Trump. French President François Hollande said  that Trump’s “excesses” had produced “a retching feeling.” Members of the Britain’s Parliament have had an opportunity to exercise their wit at Trump's expense, referring to the businessman-turned-candidate as  a" “demagogue,” and a “buffoon.” 
And that's just the opinion of our closest allies.

Angst and Denial

The problem Trump presents the world is taken much seriously closer to the Russian border. NATO countries have been on edge by Trump’s numerous pro-Putin comments, some of which go back as far as 2007.

Trump's remarks on America's commitment to NATO have left a feeling of unadulterated angst in Eastern Europe. 
And, if you look at the map, it should be no great surprise.  
The Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia - have every reason to be worried of a Trump victory. 

Without the deterrent effect of an American alliance, these tiny nations would have no chance to defend themselves in the event of a Russian invasion. Earlier this year, the commander of US ground forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, said
'Russia could take over the Baltic states faster than we would be able to defend them.'
He also agreed with an assessment by military analysts that says Russian forces could conquer the capitals of Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia within 36 to 60 hours. 
In less than 48 hours, the map of Europe could be drastically redrawn by Russian adventurism. The only thing keeping that dreadful scenario from taking place is the possibility that a Russian invasion would be suicidal, meaning a forceful counter-offensive by NATO forces. 
Trump's statements are exactly the wrong message to be sending America's allies in Europe and especially the wrong message to send to Vladimir Putin. 

Linas Linkevicius, the foreign minister of Lithuania, recently attempted to quell the fears that Trump has raised. He told a radio interviewer:
"We do not have reason to doubt that our allies will fulfill their commitments to the alliance."
Perhaps that true and yet, it wouldn't be the first time people have misjudged Trump's willingness to overturn the things which were taken for granted. 
Perhaps it is a form of denial and yet, it is dangerous to underestimate the damage that a Trump presidency could do. The risk is impossible to calculate. Not just to America but to the world. 

An Irresponsible Man

For some, a Trump administration is altogether too implausible to begin to imagine.
According to one source, some European analysts believe that Trump's foreign policy objections are so extreme and radical that he would be unable to implement them. It would be, they suggest, impossible to find enough qualified people committed to carrying them out. 

Yet, pinning one's hope on that could be a major miscalculation. Trump, in his campaign, has not been excessively worried about the dubious qualifications of his staff. (The cast of characters that Trump considers "experts" seem to have emerged from a theatrical farce.)
Why should it be any different when he is president?

European Parliament President Martin Schulz in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, explained:
“Trump is not only a problem for the EU but for the whole world.. If a man is sitting in the White House … with no clue and describes expert knowledge as elitist nonsense, a critical point has been reached: Then an apparently irresponsible man is in a position which requires the highest sense of responsibility.”
A critical point has been reached. That is about as bold a remark as you will ever hear a European politician say.

From Trump's outlandish (and illegal) suggestions that the US should have "taken" Iraqi oil to his support of torture, Trump has demonstrated that he would make a very undependable and dangerous type of superpower leader. 

What It Means to be a Superpower

There can be little doubt that Trump has called into question the manner in which the Republican party (and by extension, America) currently vets its candidates for its most important position. When Sarah Palin came along, it was written off as a fluke. McCain's poor judgment. The silly woman might have been annoying and ignorant but the general verdict was she was relatively harmless.. as long as she stayed in the vice-president position. 

But, in Trump's case, nobody could plausibly say it was just a quirk of politics. This was the presidential candidate. 
Something is manifestly wrong with the system when Donald Trump can rise to the top of a group of something like 18 Republican candidates. All of these men and women had more political experience and nearly all of them had quite a bit more intelligence than the eventual nominee.  

There's a wider question than just the selection process. There are now serious questions about the fitness of American government and its political system. 

To claim the mantle of "superpower" and "leader of the free world" requires more than an expensive military. It requires from the political structure a sense of accountability, unflinching respect to both the limitations of international law and the protections guaranteed by human rights agreements.  
Those are the defining characteristics of a liberal democracy with superpower aspirations. Not brute force. Not intimidation or uncompromising coercion.

The Shame of a Dysfunctional Government

By any measure, the US government has become dysfunctional. There's little room for denial of that fact. We live in a country in which 8 out of 10 people are dissatisfied with their government. A full 69 percent are at least “somewhat angry” with the country’s direction.

Last year, a poll reported that unhappy Americans blame Congress in particular, with 85 percent disapproving of the legislative body’s job performance. Republicans are far more likely to be angry — half of GOP voters, compared with about one-quarter of Democrats or independents.

Yet let's look at who Republicans are angry at- a Republican-dominated Congress. These are the people they themselves have voted into power. It boggles the mind. Conventional wisdom should dictate that angry people would not continue voting for the same party.

Nevertheless, the very last thing these angry Republican voters appear willing to do is to vote for a Democrat. Besides that, the Republicans have effectively found a way to install itself into power (through gerrymandering) and have refused to do the job they were hired to do.

And this, in turn, has affected other branches of government, rendering, for example, the high court inoperable. The ideological balance ensures that rulings by the perfectly divided court achieve nothing. The judicial branch of government was designed to be the final arbitrator of contested legal matters and now that has been lost.  
In addition to that, the Republican party has utilized the vital mechanisms of oversight, such as bipartisan committee hearings, in a purely partisan way to conduct politically-motivated witch-hunts. And GOP leaders have implied that they will continue their obstructionism as long as a Democrat is in the White House. The only solution to break the impasse is to elect a Republican president - Donald Trump- who would quite conceivably destroy the nation through his impulsiveness and incompetence. 

None of this, of course, reflects well on America's position in the world. The nation is being run like a banana republic. If Americans do not seem to have much faith in their government, then think about the rest of the world that depends on US leadership?

The Will and the Consent of the People

That brings up the final but most essential element in any liberal democracy: The consent of the people. After all, a political structure isn't just a collection of agencies and bureaucrats. It's not based simply on elected officials or laws 
It's much more than that. As Thomas Jefferson said:
“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
It's all very well but there's a potential flaw in that idea. The will of the people relies on wise and careful decision-making. Additionally, there has to be an agree-upon process that is respectable and respectful.  Moreover, there has to be a sense that the people ought to be represented by the best in themselves. 
Not the worst. 

Beyond and behind the apprehension of one man's recklessness, there's is the question of a nation's electoral dependability. Can America be trusted in any true sense if the majority of its population is unable to comprehend the nature of this candidate- a man so clearly unfit for office? 

To put it more bluntly, if the American populace is so intellectually stunted (or manipulated) as to elect an obvious charlatan and swindler, why should any other country show the least amount of respect of the nation as a whole? 

It's not the first time voters have been duped, to be sure. However in this particular case, even when the facts were on public display, there were still large numbers of voters who refused to accept them. Facts that certainly would have disqualified any past candidate has been largely ignored by Trump supporters. 

Compare that to candidates in previous elections who have been forced to withdraw because of a relatively minor gaffe in a debate, or claims of plagiarism.
Not so with Donald Trump.
Things we would never have been accepted in 2012 are, in 2016, excused with a shrug. Trump being Trump.
That says a lot of about the culpability of the American voter, not to maintain a certain standard, regardless of party.   

Sitting on Blisters

As President Lincoln, who lived in a time of national division and foolish choices, once said:
“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
These angry voters would prefer to burn down the nation than solve the problems with their government in a sensible way. They are so angry that they are eager to put a man into power who would make things exponentially worse. 

Whether these people wish to admit it or not, the past year has been a series of political embarrassments, which should serve as warnings to the wise.

We have seen a candidate making thoughtless remarks about the arrest and the assassination of opposition party nominees. We heard a long list of slanders that were taken as fact by his supporters and that have been promoted by the majority of compliant news organizations. Journalists who did not follow the Trump party line were threatened, both physically and legally. We have watched harmless dissenters being brutalized by the mob at political rallies. 
These are all the marks of a fledgling fascist. 
Instead of public apologies by Trump campaign officials, we have heard defiant rationalizations for inexcusable behavior. 

And, the most pathetic part of it all? The fact that the majority of Trump supporters- all who claim to be proud and patriotic- are incapable of feeling any shame about the degradation of their own country in the eyes of the world. Who cares what those foreigners think?
Tomorrow they will vote for a man who promises to degrade the nation's image in ways we cannot at this moment even begin to imagine. Tomorrow they will use their vote to approve of a man who is a horror to our allies and a godsend to our enemies. 

Trump is America's Disgrace

As we come to the end of a sorry excuse for an election, it is a time for reflection on all those things. America- as a significant player in the world dynamic- should collectively hold its head in shame for what has taken place. 
That's probably not going to occur.

Trump's traveling circus, witnessed by the entire world, has certainly achieved one thing. It has called into question a superpower's reputation and its legitimacy to lead the free world. 
That's quite an accomplishment for one man. 
Of course, Trump's had a lot of help. Cowardly party leaders who put partisan politics over the welfare of the country and propagandists (masquerading as journalists) who cared more about ratings than the dignity of the nation. 
Most of all, the greatest Trump enablers of all: a surprisingly large percentage of Americans who were too hateful and too stupid to realize they were being conned by a master con artist. 

And if American voters enjoy having an imbecile represent them on the world's stage, then who can fault them? It's exactly the humiliation that they deserve.

The question is: what will become of the rest of the world which once sincerely believed that democracy was better than tyranny and that the will of the people would triumph over autocratic governments. 
For them, the American experiment- all two hundred and forty years of it-  will be an abject failure.