|Trump as Wilhelm II.|
Donald Trump's mantra is to "make America great again" yet his regime is rapidly destroying standing in the world. While using many of Adolph Hitler's tactics of attacking the free press, demonizing targeted groups, and lying incessantly, as noted in a prior post, Trump's behavior mimics that of the narcissistic, impetuous Kaiser Wilhelm II who used nationalism to lead Germany into WWI and ultimate disaster, including an overthrow of the monarchy. The other irony, of course, is that if one looks at those who attended Trump's rallies - e.g., his recent kick off in Florida - they look like losers and what my late maternal grandmother would have described as "white trash" were she still living. Hardly folks that reflect American greatness. Under Trump, America has gone from the recognized leader of the democratic world to being an untrustworthy ally with a leader who prefers hobnobbing with dictators and autocrats, or in the case of Saudi Arabia, out right murderers. A column in the New York Times looks at America's accelerating decline under Der Trumpenführer. Here are excerpts:
So Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has told The Financial Times, “The liberal idea has become obsolete.” It has, he says, “outlived its purpose.” President Trump finds him amusing. In Japan, at the G-20 summit meeting, he wags his finger at Putin and says, with a grin: “Don’t meddle in the election, President.”
It’s a measure of American decline over the past three decades that Putin’s claim, however objectionable, is no longer preposterous and Trump’s frivolity no longer surprising. Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. Two years later, the Soviet Union was gone. The liberal idea was triumphant, and American power virtually uncontested in “the unipolar moment.”
Liberalism posited the indivisibility of freedom and human dignity, as well as the idea that the rule of law and democracy offered the best chance for human advancement, peace and prosperity. Its spread appeared inevitable and irreversible. Its guiding spirit was the United States.
The road from that high-water mark of the American idea to Trump’s autocrat-coddling indecency offers a story of squandered American opportunity and eroded American self-belief that Edward Gibbon would have qualified as “decline and fall.” All Democratic candidates should be asked what they intend to do about it.
I can think of no better guide for reflection than William Burns’s book, “The Back Channel,” his wonderful memoir of a life in diplomacy. . . . back in 1993, in a memo to the incoming Clinton administration, he wrote: “Democratic societies that fail to produce the fruits of economic reform quickly, or fail to accommodate pressures for ethnic self-expression, may slide back into other ‘isms,’ including nationalism.”
Burns, now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, attributes the loss of America’s “unrivaled position of strength” in part to inevitable geopolitical trends, including the rise of China and India in the “Pacific century.”
This was, however, compounded by what he calls “grievous missteps.” They included the post-9/11 “inversion of force and diplomacy” that saw a disoriented United States lurch onto a “road to war in Iraq” that “was distinctive for its intensity and indiscipline.”
The unhappy sidelining and devaluation of diplomacy is a theme of the book. It has, for Burns, culminated in Trump’s “savaging of American diplomacy” that has left “our friends confused, our adversaries emboldened, and the foundations of the international system we built and preserved for seven decades alarmingly fragile.”
He writes of “unilateral diplomatic disarmament” under Trump, born of “equal parts ideological contempt and stubborn incompetence.” The president’s view of diplomacy is “narcissistic, not institutional,” Burns observes, full of “muscular posturing and fact-free assertions” that insult allies and indulge autocrats.
Burns played a leading role in negotiating [the Iran nuclear deal] that Trump called “the worst deal ever” before withdrawing from it. This, Burns writes, “was exactly the kind of risky, cocky, ill-considered bet that had shredded our influence before, and could easily do so again.”
For Burns, the erosion of American power and influence long predates Trump. He regrets the loss of the extraordinary American cohesion that, at the end of the Cold War, secured the place of a united Germany in NATO. He notes the failure to perceive early enough how Russian “humiliation and wounded pride” would, under Putin, spur a Russian resurgence.
NATO expansion was, he suggests, “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst” — a debatable point in my view, given the need to secure and stabilize the liberation of more than 100 million long subjugated people in Central Europe and the Baltic States.
He thinks President Obama made a mistake by not upholding his “red line” against the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The Obama administration “had blinked” and, Burns notes, “it would leave an enduring mark.” Into that vacuum Putin strode.
Now the Russian president claims liberalism is obsolete. He is wrong. It is more necessary than ever even as Trump scoffs at it. But America’s ability to promote liberal democracy cannot be served by what Burns calls “a State Department in which officers are bludgeoned into timidity, or censor themselves, or are simply ignored.”
Be very afraid.