Jun 19th 2020

The Messiah of Mar-a-Lago

by Shlomo Ben Ami

Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

 

TEL AVIV – US President Donald Trump says he is “the chosen one,” and many of his evangelical supporters agree. But standing, Bible in hand, in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, after the police used riot shields and tear gas to clear the area of peaceful protesters, Trump had more in common with Jesus Christ’s donkey than with a savior. Far from liberating a fallen civilization, Trump is pushing one to its breaking point, creating precisely the kind of mayhem that many of his evangelical supporters believe will precede – and necessitate – the arrival of a messiah.

Trump ran for president in 2016 on the promise to “Make America Great Again.” His campaign for re-election in November pledges, with all the clueless arrogance we have come to expect, to “Keep America Great.”

Is this the same America that is facing widespread protests over systemic racism and police brutality, and in which the law-enforcement officers who are supposed to keep the peace are routinely stoking violence? The America where the police kill black men at 2.5 times the rate of white men?

Is Trump referring to the America that is in the throes of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, in which black people are dying at far higher rates than their white counterparts? The America where about 44 million people have no health insurance, and another 38 million have inadequate coverage? The one that, under Trump’s leadership, has lost the respect of its friends, allies, and partners, and become an international laughingstock?

To be sure, America’s problems did not begin with Trump. The US health-care system has long been broken, inequality has been rising for decades, police brutality has always been part of American life, and systemic racism is built into the country’s very foundations. US pretensions of moral leadership were being called into question well before Trump entered the White House.

But if the United States was a tinderbox of racism, inequality, and broken politics, Trump lit the match – and then held himself blameless for the resulting fires. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he declared, when asked about the government’s slow response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Worse, Trump continued to add fuel. He downplayed the pandemic’s severity, egged on (mostly white, Republican) anti-lockdown protesters, and touted unproven and potentially dangerous treatments.

When nationwide protests erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he threatened to deploy the military against Americans, prompting four-star general John Allen to warn that such a move could signal the “beginning of the end of the American experiment.” And, with a blatant racist dog whistle, he repeated a line attributed to Walter Headley, Miami’s police chief during the civil disorder there in 1967: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Trump’s behavior has been shocking, but not surprising. He has been exploiting America’s deepest flaws since he arrived on the political scene, stoking political and cultural polarization to appease his base, including its significant component of white supremacists. Meanwhile, he has maintained his grip on the Republican Party with a conventional combination of tax cuts and deregulation that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations. And, for four consecutive years, his administration has shifted public money from the social safety net and education to the military. The US defense budget is now the largest it has been since World War II, barring a handful of years at the height of the Iraq War.

Why, one might reasonably ask, is Trump arming America to the teeth? After all, he has abdicated US global leadership and let China fill the vacuum without firing a single shot. Not only has he abandoned diplomatic norms, dismissed and betrayed allies, and bullied countries with sanctions and threats. He has also withdrawn from international agreements, including the Iran nuclear deal (officially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and the Paris climate agreement.

For Europeans – who disagreed with Trump on most of these decisions – the US is no longer a source of strategic or moral leadership. It may not even be a fellow member of the transatlantic community. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent rebuff of Trump’s invitation to a G7 summit shows how far relations have fallen. Only desperate cynics like Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, evangelical liars like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, poseurs like Britain’s Boris Johnson, and bullies like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte still relish Trump’s friendship.

There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.”

Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world.

Such soft power requires the US government to promote civilian values, foster competitiveness and innovation, protect the environment, invest in social services, health care, culture, and education, and deliver opportunities to younger generations. In other words, it should be pursuing the opposite of Trump’s agenda.

Trump is the antithesis of the kind of leader that Max Weber believed should “be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history.” A large and growing share of Americans seems to recognize this: his approval rating has been declining for weeks. But a Trump victory in the November election remains a real possibility.

No one should have any illusions about the stakes. Winning another four-year term could embolden Trump to act even more irresponsibly, even criminally, and make his toxic legacy irreversible.

 

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

© Project Syndicate 1995–2020

 


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Aug 5th 2020
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Aug 4th 2020
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Jul 29th 2020
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Jul 23rd 2020
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Jul 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "I cannot recommend strongly enough Anne Applebaum’s recent book Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends. Advancing her arguments with eloquence and personal testimony, Applebaum passionately decries the corrosion of liberal, open-society values in the last three decades. Her book is a practical reminder of what all democrats should have learned from reading Karl Popper’s magisterial The Open Society and Its Enemies, itself written in liberal democracy’s darkest hours during WWII."
Jul 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Political motivations aside, Macron has said aloud what few others have acknowledged: NATO is experiencing “brain death,” owing to Trump’s dubious commitment to defend America’s allies. Given that the US drift away from NATO began well before Trump, there is little reason to believe that this trend will be reversed, though it may be slowed if he loses the November election. Unless Europe begins thinking of itself as a geopolitical power and takes responsibility for its own security, Macron argues, it will “no longer be in control of [its] destiny.”
Jul 18th 2020
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Jul 18th 2020
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Jul 18th 2020
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Jul 15th 2020
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Jul 15th 2020
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Jul 9th 2020
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Jul 7th 2020
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Jul 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "The war on Yemen begun in 2015 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has been a failure militarily and a vast drain on resources that, in the age of Covid-19, neither country can any longer afford. Not only has the war been Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam, it has inflicted untold human damage on Yemenis. UNICEF has a new report out warning that millions of Yemeni children are on the brink of starvation. Yemen, with a population of about 28 million (think Texas), is one of the poorest countries in the world. Saudi Arabia, with a citizen population of some 21 million, is one of the richest. The United Arab Emirates, with a citizen population of a little over 1 million, is likewise very rich. Both have waged a high-tech air war on the indigenous Yemeni Houthis, but in the past year have pitched their Sunni proxies against one another."
Jun 25th 2020
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Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
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Jun 9th 2020
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Jun 8th 2020
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