Thursday, September 03, 2020

Trump Won't Bury America but He's Digging Its Grave

What goes up must come down. Even geopolitics has its own irresistible gravity. Dominant nations rise and decline, their places taken by some successor.  Some times this occurs peacefully. More often the new order is birthed out of war. It's called Thucydides Trap and history teaches us that war is a three-to-one favourite. That said, this will be the first dominant power transition in the age of nuclear warfare so let's hope we've moved into a different transition paradigm.

Today's protagonists are the United States, the champion, and China, the challenger.  There's little doubt that America is on its way out but that's not China's doing so much as it is an act of self-destruction. America is rotting from the inside out. And the world China is poised to dominate isn't the world over which America held sway.

Donald Trump isn't burying America but he is digging its grave and his job is almost finished.

I was at an American site where I waded into a truly ugly comments war between pro- and anti-Trump readers. I responded with this comment:
The rest of the world watches America divide and go at each other and we know we're watching the end. Lincoln, quoting Scripture, warned that a house divided against itself cannot stand. A house full of two warring tribes can't stand either. It's one screwed up Lord of the Flies. You're done but, please, don't stop gnawing on each other on our account. You're getting really good at it.
A fellow prog-blogger, Richard Hughes, of Cowichan Connections, drew me to an essay in The Canberra Times, "We are witnessing the fall of a great power" by Crispin Hull, the paper's former editor.
Just how rotten is the United States' political system? The answer is rotten, as in it will only take a small kick for the whole edifice to fall in, let alone a big kick like COVID-19.
Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wrote an essay in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine outlining Amalrik's theory of great power decay, very cleverly avoiding directly applying it to the US.

King wrote: "The 'comfort cult', as Amalrik called it - the tendency in seemingly stable societies to believe "that 'reason will prevail' and that 'everything will be all right'" - is seductive. As a result, when a terminal crisis comes, it is likely to be unexpected, confusing, and catastrophic, with the causes so seemingly trivial, the consequences so easily reparable if political leaders would only do the right thing, that no one can quite believe it has come to this ...

"Viewed from 2020, exactly 50 years since it was published, Amalrik's work has an eerie timeliness. He was concerned with how a great power handles multiple internal crises - the faltering of the institutions of domestic order, the craftiness of unmoored and venal politicians, the first tremors of systemic illegitimacy. He wanted to understand the dark logic of social dissolution and how discrete political choices sum up to apocalyptic outcomes."

Look at the US now. Its president is so psychiatrically disordered with narcissism that he is incapable of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in a coherent, empathetic way. Everything he says and does is through a prism of himself. He has now turned his whole re-election campaign into one of race hate, law and order and a bizarre invention of a threat from "left-wing fascists".

But worse, the US seems to have a national self-delusion that once Trump loses and is gone, everything will return to normal. The delusion extends to a belief that the COVID-19-stricken economy will bounce back to normal in a V shape.

Trump is as much just a symptom of the underlying rottenness as an integral part of it, even if his sucking up to authoritarian leaders in Russia, China and North Korea is unprecedented.

The underlying weakness in present US democracy is that partisanship has become so extreme that the nation is incapable of dealing with the major issues that face it. COVID-19 has illustrated that starkly, with every word and act predicated on party allegiance. Meanwhile, other problems like race, police violence, gun control, inequality, the health system, climate change and energy policy go unattended.

The motives of "the other side" are routinely vilified without evidence. The Democrats are blamed for everything. The Republicans can do no wrong. And to a lesser extent, vice versa. My side of politics, right or wrong.

In a vicious cause-and-effect circle, the imperative of winning at all costs corrodes the political process, and the corroded political process makes winning at all costs even more imperative.

The Trump presidency has made all this worse, but the seeds were there long before. He has appointed incompetent ignorant toadies to the most senior positions in his cabinet and the bureaucracy. He has undermined the Supreme Court with appointments based on politics, not law.
...Tragically, American exceptionalism - "we are the first and best democracy on Earth" - contributes to the self-delusion of indestructibility. There is nothing automatically self-correcting in US democracy. Even the so-called checks and balances are not working - they are causing gridlock, rather than adding a bit of mild caution to a system that is overall supposed to be geared to problem-solving, not political point-scoring.


Anonymous said...

I'm a little tired of the rot in the USA being blamed on the partisanship of both parties. The argument may have held water 30 years ago, but it doesn't now.

Since Newt Gingrich and the rise of Fox News, the Republican party has become hyper-partisan to the point where today it is completely unmoored from reality and openly supportive of presidential lawlessness. On the other side, we see former GOP operatives like Rick Wilson running ads supporting Joe Biden and Republicans speaking at the DNC.

It's not partisan hyperbole to say that in November the US will either hang onto the remnants of democracy or slide into a fascist autocracy.


Trailblazer said...

I wonder if the Canadian government is adjusting its foreign policy in response to the actions of the US ?

The Disaffected Lib said...

The recalcitrants are, hands down, Republican. It's Congressional Republicans who steer every major issue - whether it be environmental, medical, economic, the lot - into the abyss of the culture war from whence it may never emerge.

When Obama was inaugurated in 2008, Mitch McConnell rather brazenly (I thought) told reporters that the GOP agenda was simple. They would work to defeat any legislative initiative that came out of the White House. Anything, everything.

Many progressives fault Obama for the failure of his medicare initiative. That failure arose from a Republican controlled Congress bent on blocking everything regardless of merit or the needs of the American people.

The Disaffected Lib said...

That question regularly crosses my mind, TB. I think Canada is uniquely vulnerable to this American contagion with out deep economic integration and, of course, our vast and undefended border. There are some Conservatives with a definite taste for culture war politics.

Canada hasn't had an independent foreign policy since Harper came to power. From Israel to Saudi Arabia to South Asia, we've been pretty much in lockstep with Washington. If anything we're even more pro-Ukraine than the Americans.

There was a time when that might have been justified by the Great Protector from the South but, whether in matters of geopolitics, defence or economics, America has made it plain that it has a dim view of our alliances.

Owen Gray said...

"There is nothing automatically self-correcting in U.S. democracy." Winston Churchill was wrong.

The Disaffected Lib said...

I wonder, Owen, what Churchill would make of America today? The America he spoke of was from a much different time, in many ways a better time.