I cant imagine Trump is a historian or a philosopher behind closed doors, but I have to wonder if his “advisors/puppet masters” had a larger more grandiose plan to “Make America Great Again” that involves…..ready? WAR.
There are two was of looking how war plays into Trump’s agenda.
- Were they prepared for such blow back and new once it hit fever pitch that imminent war would unify the country behind Trump?
- Knowing what a major war can do for a country and knowing we would eventually have a crisis on our hands, was war baked into the “making America Great Again” agenda?
Avenue A – War will unify our country
Our country has always been divided by many things, ideals, religion, race, class even the state you were born differentiated you, i.e the labels “Yankee” and Redneck.” In the past we were able to put these differences aside for the great cause. Under threat, labels went away and we all became Americans. In so many cases this is always the case. Take sports for example –– Football players are out to destroy each other week in and week out, but if their league comes under attack, the worst of rivals can come together for the greater cause, their league for which that they all have equal love and loyalty to.
Would this still be the case for Americans today? I would like to think so, but more and more I am becoming a skeptic. As I wrote in my last article, the 24 hours news cycle, unregulated social media and constant divisive rhetoric from Trump is pushing people further and further in their respective left and right corners. Are we becoming so divided that regardless of what sort of threat our country is under, we wouldn’t be able to come together as in years past? To be clear –– I am talking about a war / conflict / assault on our country that puts us and our nation at risk, not a politically charged war like Vietnam or Iraq. Would it become a blame game and a never ending debate on two VERY different strategies on how we should handle the issue. We have a segment of the country that believes Trump is the messiah and what he says and does is gold. We also have a segment that thinks he is dramatically unqualified and a danger to our nation. Not sure how that would play out under dire circumstances.
Now I want you to get real with your thoughts and you don’t have to say this out, but take a moment and think about if a”right wing nut job” or a “snowflake Libtard” were both in harms way and you could save one easy or save both, but potentially putting yourself in harms way… That thought is your own, but I think it may drive home how bad the divide has gotten. This applies in so many areas –– What if the 1% were labeled forced to be identified, how would they be treated when seen in public? What if hard line Black Lives Matters folks were asked to storm a town to rescue a group of police officers? Again, all of these hypotheticals are just to stimulate thought, not galvanize an ideal.
Avenue B – War was baked in to the equation the whole time:
Knowing all of the hot spots we have in the world, many currently on pause or slowed down from their goal of becoming a force to be reckoned with, Trump and his team had to know that a war wasn’t just possible, but likely. As we have seen in the past, wars that threaten our very existence brings our country together, manufacturing increases, jobs come home and increase and we (by necessity, pride and survival), revert back to a Nationalist society –– which, if I had to guess is Trump et al’s vision of MAGA. I mean look at some of these staggering numbers from after WWII:
- US nominal GDP, from $101 billion in 1940 to $175 billion by 1944. In other words, the war effort caused US GDP to increase close to 75% in just four years!
- The War also wiped out the country’s chronic unemployment problems. In 1940, eleven years after the Crash, unemployment was still at a stubbornly high 8.1%. By 1944, the figure had dropped to less than 1%
Of course this was all done with the government increasing their defense spending by 6 fold and at $661 Billion, that’s just not plausible today, but who’s to say that Trump and team have even thought that far?
Regardless the Avenue, a warning to Americans:
War is not a get out of jail free card, Especially today when all it takes is one miscalculation. For some, war has become a punch line to an anti-Trump Tweet, but I don’t think Americans grasp how close we are and how much different it would be for us this time around.
Americans once had an appreciation for tragedy and its effects. Americans once felt the healthy fear that we aren’t invincible, our country isn’t untouchable. After World War II, Americans understood how catastrophic a breakdown of world order could be, and they were constantly reminded by the looming Soviet threat that international stability and peace could not be taken for granted. Learning this –– over a period of decades, the United States undertook an unprecedented geopolitical effort ensuring world order did not collapse once again. The result was a postwar international system that was never perfect, but one in which aggressors were contained and ultimately defeated, democracy spread more widely than ever before and American prosperity reaching dizzying heights. This awakening of tragic sensibility propelled Americans to do amazing things…..BUT, as it has been said before, Americans are serial amnesiacs. And today, after more than 70 years of great-power peace and a quarter-century of unrivaled global supremacy, Americans have lost their sense of tragedy, taking their peace and continued role as world leader for granted. They have forgotten what that world order that took decades to put in place is designed to prevent. And this amnesia has become most pronounced, as American power and international order are under attack with Donald Trump’s isolationist agenda. Today, the United States and the world are courting tragedy — precisely because Americans have lost their ability to imagine what tragedy really is and are lead by someone who is not only embracing it, but almost willing it to happen.
After World War II, American leaders concluded that failure to stand up for friendly nations in the face of external aggression, failure to speak up on behalf of democratic values under assault, failure to prevent a trade war born of or sparked by protectionism, and failure to support international organizations by withdrawing American support produced a world with a leadership vacuum and an invitation of chaos –– Sound familiar??
What we now think of as the brilliantly successful postwar international order was a response to the repeated tragedies that had preceded it — and the menace of an expansionist, Soviet Union reminded Americans that tragedy could all too easily recur if the United States pursued a any other path…
As of today 57 percent Americans think we need to mind our own business, when it comes to other nations problems. This is some of the most anti-globalsim that we have seen since the years immediately following the Vietnam War, and it reflects a growing sense that Americans are no longer so eager to bear the burdens traditionally associated with global leadership, which is hard to blame them, but at the same time, as stated above, is a result of a generation dying off and many never facing tragedy or completely forgetting its effects. As great as winning WWII was for our country it also put us in a position from which we could never stray from, global leader. Which, as scary as it sounds is exactly what we are doing today.
Donald Trump has repeatedly characterized America’s alliances and other commitments as sucker bets that allow other countries to make a killing at Washington’s expense; he has revived the language, and even proposed reviving some of the policies, associated with the “America First” program of the 1930s!!
There is, particularly in Trump’s worldview, no tragic sensibility to be found here — no recognition that the Global system and the United States itself, has avoided tragedy and made so much progress over the past seven decades only because America has labored so diligently to make it so. And there is no recognition that attacks on free trade, admiration for autocratic leaders, and questioning of U.S. alliances threaten to undo these very accomplishments, in-turn opening our country back up to a tragedy that we have so easily or arrogantly forgotten are possible.
If Americans have grown tired of bearing the burdens of international leadership, it is probably because they have simply forgotten why that leadership is worth bearing in the first place. Why do we have troops and military hardware stationed around the globe? Why do we have an extensive system of alliances the world over? Why do we worry so much about what happens in faraway places like Ukraine or the South China Sea? Why do we pursue free trade even when it sometimes comes at a near-term cost to certain industries and workers in the United States? There are, of course, good historical answers to all of these questions, and they all come back to the very nasty things that tended to happen to the international system before the United States took up its role as the Global police officer. Most of the country has forgotten this history and we have an Administration, who normally would remind us of why we do what we do around the world, its benefits and of course, consequences if not. The simple passage of time, but more precisely, the successes of America have made it very easy to forget.
The darkening horizon
The irony is that this amnesia is afflicting us precisely as the international environment is once again becoming more threatening. In East Asia and Eastern Europe, revisionist authoritarian powers are coercing their neighbors and nibbling away at the international order. Chinese leaders are laying plans for a Sino-centric Asia, and Russian leaders are talking about the transition to a “post-West” world: It is hard to see how either transition can be accomplished without coercion and violence. In the Middle East, Iran is asserting its regional ambitious, Bashar al-Assad is perpetrating a slow-motion genocide, and the Islamic State and other jihadi groups continue to wreak havoc even as their military fortunes decline. North Korea is racing ahead with its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of the international community, posing an ever greater threat not simply to its neighbors but to the United States as well. And across these various regions and issues, the rules that seemed to have gained such global dominance in the wake of the Cold War are increasingly being challenged and transgressed. Nonaggression and the peaceful resolution of disputes, the ability of countries to choose their economic and geopolitical alignments free from intimidation or coercion, freedom of navigation in the world’s key waterways — all of these norms are being tested more severely today than at any time in decades.
The threats today are diverse, but they do share a common theme. They represent the warning lights flashing on the dashboard; they are indications that an international system that has long been so historically exceptional in its effectiveness and stability is now fraying at the edges. The revival of great-power competition is back and very much a reality. America could be making the same mistake EVERY major empire that has ruled and eventually fallen has made… “it cant happen to us, we’re (insert empire), America, Rome…”
Henry Kissinger observed that “in the long interval of peace the sense of the tragic was lost; it was forgotten that states could die, that upheavals could be irretrievable.” Today, Americans are likely to end up rediscovering their sense of the tragic one way or another — either by reacquainting themselves with the tragic sensibility that they seem to have lost or by experiencing the real-world tragedy that their amnesia, if not corrected, may help bring about. I for one am hoping for the awakening, before the lesson…