Thursday, January 26, 2017

Overcoming National Humiliation

Roger Cohen thought long and hard before declaring Donald Trump a fascist. It’s more than you can say about many other members of the fourth estate.

Cohen did not want to indulge a cheap analogy between the rise of European fascism after World War I and America’s current political scene. And yet, the temptation was there and he could not resist it.

In Cohen’s words:

I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency — whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 — pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.

Keep in mind, keep firmly in mind, that Donald Trump has been president for exactly six days. Cohen is not attacking Trump’s record. He is attacking Trump’s rhetoric. There is a difference. Getting emotionally overwrought over a president’s rhetoric—some of which I find dubious—is not befitting a man of Cohen’s intelligence.

But, Cohen is correct to say that American democracy is resilient. Has Anglo-American civilization ever fallen victim to fascism? As it happens, denizens of the political left are constantly denouncing the Anglosphere for being fascistic. They fail to notice that fascism's cultural roots lie elsewhere. Cohen should have noted that the armies of America and Great Britain that defeated European fascism and Nazism. Thinkers who trash British and American civilization in the name of Middle European idealism are basically sore losers.

That being said, Cohen does light on a salient point. The point is so salient that I made it a centerpiece of my book Saving Face. In that book I examined what happens to a nation when it loses a war. I would add today a remark by Winston Churchill, namely that when it comes to war it’s worse not to fight than to fight honorably and lose.

Two decades ago I expounded at length about the cultural fallout from Vietnam. Cohen examines the consequences of our less-than-successful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He writes:

National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution….

Some 2.7 million American soldiers came home to a country that had been shopping while they served in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, with 6,893 killed and more than 52,000 injured. They returned to an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized polity; to the financial disaster of 2008; to the mystery of what the spending of trillions of dollars in those wars had achieved; to stagnant incomes; to the steady diminishment of American uniqueness and the apparent erosion of its power.

Cohen must have been short on space. He fails to remark that the national humiliation America suffered after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was engineered by Barack Obama.

After all, Obama declared that the situation in Iraq was stable and under control in 2011. Being the ultimate anti-war candidate, he surrendered America’s victory and withdrew America’s forces from the country. You know what happened next.

Obama ran around apologizing for America and bowing down to the mullahs in Iran. He allowed the Iranian Navy to humiliate America’s sailors. After that episode Obama’s Secretary of State thanked Iran for treating the sailors so humanely.

In Iraq, Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As for Afghanistan, America’s humiliation was on public display when Obama traded five Taliban commanders for a deserter named Beau Bergdahl.

Given Obama’s display of weakness, we should not be surprised that America turned to someone who at least sounded like he was tough and uncompromising, someone who would never apologize.

Cohen has understood perfectly well that the debacle of Syria was entirely the fault of Barack Obama. He should have added that another champion of national humiliation is German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

As it happens Cohen has strongly supported the Merkel policy. He believes in open borders for refugees, regardless of who they are and what they contribute. In that he favors the Obama/Clinton approach, approach that represents a failure of national will and a failure to protect the nation’s citizens. Where we see the downtrodden of the earth seeking refuge, the immigrants that Merkel invited into Germany do not consider themselves to be refugees. They see themselves as an invading army enjoying the spoils of their victory.

Faced with the weak Merkel, a woman who has allowed her nation and its people to be humiliated systematically by an unassimilable flood of immigrants, Great Britain voted to exit the European Union and America voted to build a wall. Whether and how well the latter will work, we do not know. The picture of an America that will no longer tolerate being invaded by people who have no business being here is clear enough.

All of this to say, first that when talking about national humiliation we need first to know who has brought this upon the nation. And second, that there is not just one way to respond to it. Fascism is one way, but it is certainly not the only way. After the Vietnam debacle, arguably a bigger national humiliation than Iraq and Afghanistan, America did not turn to a strong man. It launched the Great American Cultural Revolution.

If Cohen were as enamored of rational thought as he says he is, he would have considered alternatives to his cheap analogy.

And he ought to have thought a bit more clearly before dropping this at the end of his column:

Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought. 

Between you and me, when Trump’s opponents indulge in an irrational display of raw feeling they are not promoting the cause of rational thought. If you want to advance rational thought, practice what you preach. Consider all sides of the argument, take all of the facts into account and make a deliberate judgment.

Now that you mention it, how has the New York Times fostered rational thought about the Trump phenomenon? Has it presented all sides of the issue, kept its readers well informed and has it given them the facts they can use to make an independent judgment?

Cohen himself has no influence on Times reporting, and does not raise the issue. Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg wrote on the day after the election that the news media—aka the Times-- had let its readers down by keeping them in the dark about what was going on around the country. Statistical models had not compensated for their living in a bubble.

Rutenberg wrote:

All the dazzling technology, the big data and the sophisticated modeling that American newsrooms bring to the fundamentally human endeavor of presidential politics could not save American journalism from yet again being behind the story, behind the rest of the country.

The news media by and large missed what was happening all around it, and it was the story of a lifetime. The numbers weren’t just a poor guide for election night — they were an off-ramp away from what was actually happening.

No one predicted a night like this — that Donald J. Trump would pull off a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton and win the presidency.

The misfire on Tuesday night was about a lot more than a failure in polling. It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.

Of course, it was more than boiling anger. More than irrational emotion was on display in the election. After all, voting is a deliberative action; it is not the same thing as breaking windows and burning up limos.

People voted for Trump because they had had enough of watching the nation be systematically humiliated. The American people did not want to make the same mistake again.

They might have overdone it. They might have chosen someone who will not allow his office to enhance his stature. On the other hand, Trump did not invent autocratic government, ruling by executive orders. He is merely canceling the orders signed into law by his predecessor… a man who believed that if the Congress did not do what he wanted it to do, he would have to do it himself.

If you are looking for someone who ruled despotically, you do not have to look very far. Perhaps Trump will be as much of a despot as Obama. Perhaps not. But, we should base our judgment on something more than rhetoric. 

We all want to promote rational thought. And we recall that there was nothing rational about the way so many of Obama’s supporters in the media have been slobbering over him for eight years now. They never found fault with him and refused to hold him accountable for anything that happened during his administration.

That, in itself, will make people angry.

It is not just the media that has been trying to destroy rational thought. America’s universities have pretty much killed it. They killed it with a flood of adolescent sentiment and with political correctness.


Dennis said...

Along those lines;

Note a commenter's reference to Sun Tzu All the better that we have an arrogant media that consists of mostly democrats with a byline. Again, do not underestimate people for they may make you look the fool.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Obama ran around apologizing for America and bowing down to the mullahs in Iran. He allowed the Iranian Navy to humiliate America’s sailors. After that episode Obama’s Secretary of State thanked Iran for treating the sailors so humanely.

Stuart: In Iraq, Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As for Afghanistan, America’s humiliation was on public display when Obama traded five Taliban commanders for a deserter named Beau Bergdahl.

Stuart: We all want to promote rational thought. And we recall that there was nothing rational about the way so many of Obama’s supporters in the media have been slobbering over him for eight years now. They never found fault with him and refused to hold him accountable for anything that happened during his administration.

The Right really does have a problem. The only way they are able to shame Left politicians in sex scandals, and Obama failed to take the bait. So all that's left is to imagine humiliations at not starting wars and slobbering over a president who refuses to start wars.

Let's just hope President Trump can humiliate us so subtly. Oops, too late.

Trigger Warning said...

Cohen, like - quite literally - millions of Democrats, has fallen victim to Godwin's Law. No one outside the echo chamber is paying any attention to the HYSTerical HYSTrionics. [sic]

"59% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump’s job performance"
--- Rasmussen (1/26/17)

It used to be called "the vapours".

David Foster said...

America's problems in Afghanistan and Iraq do not remotely approach the kind of national experience that Germany encountered in its WWI defeat and the aftermath, or even America's own experience in Vietnam. For one thing, there has been no conscription, and only a very small % of the population has had direct personal involvement in these wars.

To the extent that Americans feel humiliation, it is in most cases driven by (a) an economy that has not worked well for them--viz, the former steelworker now working at a convenience story or as a hospital orderly, and (b) the obvious contempt for them which has been demonstrated by too many members of America's political and cultural elites ('bitter clingers')

Trigger Warning said...

Thank you, David.

50,000 Names

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
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Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Excellent piece, Stuart.

It seems that "fascism!" is the new "racism!" My, what fun these next four years will be.

The most interesting thing about Leftists is their lack of self-awareness. While they are so busy running around telling us how to think and act, they spend little time on introspection of their own. All the problems of the world are somehow "out there."

Leftism is an assault on value. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is an assault on responsibility as well.

The Left imagines itself as very, very, very smart. Just ask them. But aside from critiquing and bitching about what a mess other people are making of the world, they hold themselves as somehow exempt. They have no idea how to conduct themselves. They are emotionally pretzeled by rage stemming from their own inadequacy. They claim to be so sensitive, caring and nice, but they are the most wicked, divisive and heartless savages on the planet. Nasty, nasty people.

Trump is doing what he said he was going to do. For many, this is somehow surprising. Perhaps after being woo'ed by the power of phony words and narrative for so long they somehow reasoned there was no way a politician would do what he said he was going to do. Trump may be in politics, but he's not acting like a "normal" politician now that he's in office. Some find this troubling. I do not. Not one bit. I actually find it refreshing.

We spent the last eight years with a Chicago thug in office. Obama's way of governing wasn't with a phone and a pen, it was with velveteen words and a baton. I came to see that the baton was really all that mattered in the end. He savagely beat his enemies, who were his fellow countrymen. Now we're supposed to console the apoplectic Lefties amongst us. It's sad for me to admit that I really don't care how they feel at this juncture. They didn't care a whit about the things that mattered to me. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Just remember: With the Left, it's always your fault. Always.

In closing, I must say I am also growing tired of hearing such solemn talk about how divided our country is. Who's dividing it? I read these columnists like Cohen, and it's as though life is this big spectator sport. Because there's no introspection on the Left, they cannot see why anyone would disagree with their beliefs. They're self-evidently wonderful. Again, it's someone else's fault. We think they're wrong, they think we're MEAN. There's a big difference, and it sure ain't rational.

Trigger Warning said...

IAC: "We think they're wrong..."

Well, not quite, not all of us. I'm more in agreement with the irrepressible Wolfgang Pauli, originator of the Pauli Principle in quantum mechanics, when asked to review a paper. He's alleged to have said...

"This isn't right. It's not even wrong."

Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Perhaps Trump will be as much of a despot as Obama. Perhaps not. But, we should base our judgment on something more than rhetoric.

At what at point are we allowed to judge?

Case-in-point, I'm very happy the President of Mexico is standing up to Trump over the wall the claim he's willing to start a trade war to use tariffs to make Mexico pay for it.
...President Donald Trump is considering a 20% tax on imports from Mexico to pay for a southern border wall... Spicer repeatedly said the White House was aiming to be "illustrative" rather than "prescriptive" as he walked back the more definitive comments he made earlier Thursday.

The discussion over an import tax to pay for the project comes after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a planned meeting with Trump after the US president signed an executive order Wednesday kicking off the process of building the border wall and vowed once again to force Mexico to pay for it -- something Mexico has adamantly rejected.

This sort of behavior is sometimes called "punching down", which is what bullies do when they are too weak to pick on bullies their own size.

So the president of Mexico CAN defend his country, but at a price. He has to be willing to accept a falling paso (when markets bet in favor of the bully country), and job losses when Mexicans whose jobs are dependent upon exports to the U.S. are lost.

And outside of the legality under NAFTA, the primary response that the President of Mexico can do in response is to raise his own country's tariffs against U.S. imports, and that'll raise the prices of products in Mexico, and hopefully add suffering to American corporations who export to Mexico who will hopefully try to talk sense into Trump's egotistical vintictiveness.

So it all makes me wonder how ANYONE can hear Trump's outrageous rhetoric and cheer? And I suppose Stuart is right. If you're a humiliated America who feels taken advantage of, then you may be attracted to a bully who has the power to humiliate others.

I do accept something of the "Art of the deal" is to try to intimidate your rivals, by bluffing and overplaying your hand, by making outrgeous demands as an "Anchor" to make what you really want look reasonable in comparison.

Remember Trump's rhetoric at the debate, when questioned about Mexico paying for the wall, he said "The wall just got 10 feet higher."

So any sensible person knows Trump is not someone you want in your life. He's someone who will f*ck you over every chance he can, not because he cares how much he can hurt you, but because it makes him feel strong and powerful for a moment.

Mexico must be willing to walk away from ALL TRADE with the Unites States, NOT because it is strong enough economically to handle the loss of trade, but because if it gives in to this bully president, he'll make more unreasonable demands in the future, on Mexico and others.

And perhaps this is best anyway. Clearly the United States has become a country of losers who can't handle reality, can't handle adult behavior, can't even handle something as simple as voting for a competent leader.

And so the sooner Mexico withdraws from NAFTA, and refocuses its attention to jobs that meet the needs of its own people, the better.

And perhaps our A/C systems in the future will cost $12,000 instead of $3,000, but it'll be made by Americans, although I suppose there'll be fewer people who will decide A/C is something they can afford.

So this crap is happening all because America needs to overcome our national humiliation? If only bullying and scapegoating solved real problems, I'd have some hope in our future.

Anonymous said...

If Trump is a fascist, fascism = patriotism.

Cohen is making fascism sound good. What a fool.