Thursday, October 29, 2020

Articles of Liberal Faith

Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf is seriously concerned. His great liberal dream is being threatened, by none other than Donald Trump. It’s not just the liberal dream that is on the ballot this time, but it’s the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt himself.

Importantly, Wolf articulates one of the basic articles of liberal faith. Namely, that Franklin Roosevelt saved democracy, in America and around the world.

This US election is the most important since 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in the depths of the Depression. With much trial and error, FDR saved democracy, at home and abroad. The reelection of Donald Trump would undo much, if not all, of that legacy. Yet his defeat would not end the danger. If that is to happen, American politics has to be transformed.

Of course these are tenets of a secular religion. Economic historians have long since debated whether the New Deal saved free enterprise. Of course, capitalism was on the line in the 1930s, not democracy per se. Many historians believe that World War II, not FDR, saved the American economy.

As for saving democracy abroad, one can gain some rational perspective on the absurd idolatry directed toward FDR, by asking how well or poorly he managed foreign policy. Winston Churchill once asked the salient question, in regards to World War I and World War II. Who, he asked, could have stopped these catastrophes before they started? Who could have used diplomacy and even small military force to prevent the defining bloodbaths of the twentieth century?

Keep in mind, World War II cost tens of millions of lives around the world. How would you like that on your resume?

In the case of World War I, that great hero of liberalism, Woodrow Wilson was surely the man who could have stopped the carnage before it metastasized into the defining calamity of the twentieth. In truth, contemporaneous commentaries by one Theodore Roosevelt outlined how the Wilson administration should have acted to take charge of the situation, which might well have prevented the fallout from WW I—Bolshevism, Fascism, Nazism, and World War II.

When it came to World War II, obviously, the ineffectual and feckless FDR could have and should have intervened much earlier to stop what Churchill saw unfolding. As for FDR’s saving democracy, explain that to the European Jews he worked long and hard to keep out of America during the Nazi persecution and the Holocaust.

For his part, Wolf then proclaims the brilliance of Democratic American presidents, ignoring any contributions that Republicans might have made.

Just a few days after his commitment to make the US democracy’s “arsenal”, FDR made a still more remarkable promise to posterity. In his State of the Union address of January 6 1941, he committed the US to promoting four freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

These were not idle vows. Over the ensuing half century, the world experienced a great spread of democracy and reduction in poverty. Neither would have happened without the institutions the US created, the habit of co-operation it promoted and the prosperity it spread.

Perhaps Wolf does not think very clearly, but the massive reduction in world poverty was produced by the introduction of free enterprise into China in 1978. And, to the best of my knowledge, it did not happen because China had free elections. While drooling over liberal democracy, Wolf should pay a little more attention to reality.

Wolf imagines that a Biden presidency would return America to such wondrous international agreements as the Paris Climate Accord and perhaps even the Iran Nuclear Deal. Both of which are self-defeating sellouts to America haters around the world.

He happily lauds America for having a functioning liberal democracy, but that can only mean that he has not been paying very close attention to American politics today. The American system seems to be more dysfunctional than functional. And by nominating a corrupt washed-up shell of a man, suffering from senile dementia, the Democratic Party does not look like it is ready to affirm its leadership role in the world. Besides, a country that takes one AOC to be a serious political leader is simply not a serious country. Do you think that the advent of the Squad is enticing nations around the world to embrace liberal democracy?

Wolf then starts whining about Trump’s inability to resolve any big global challenge. Perhaps he does not read the Financial Times, but Trump has recently been succeeding in resolving the Middle Eastern conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It's a major accomplishment. He might recall that the Obama approach was to fund Iranian terror and to give the ayatollahs legitimate access to nuclear weapons.

This election is so important, because the US plays a unique role in the world. It has long been the paramount model of a functioning liberal democracy, leader of the countries that share these values and an essential player in resolving any big global challenge. The re-election of Mr Trump would signify a rejection of all three roles by the American people. No other country or groups of countries is able to take its place. The world would be transformed — and not at all for the better.

But then, in order to describe Trump Wolf offers the insights of a journalistic crank named Masha Gessen and a NeverTrumpian crank named David Frum. Surely, neither has any authority beyond personal opinion. Wolf takes their words as gospel, to his discredit: 

The US of Mr Trump rejects all of this. He is a man with appetites, not ideals. As journalist Masha Gessen tells us in Surviving Autocracy, Mr Trump’s goal is to do whatever he likes, unconstrained by law, Congress or anything else. He wants to be an autocrat. If he wins again, he may largely achieve this aim, as commentator David Frum warns. Mr Trump also runs a corrupt, malevolent and incompetent government, lies more easily than breathes and is even campaigning against the notion that he could lose in a free and fair election. In all these ways, he ransacks every norm of a decent democracy, on a daily basis.

Speculations about what Trump wants or does not want to be—are fictions. Since Trump has been functioning as president for nearly four years, one would need to show where he has acted unconstrained by law.

As for all this whining about democracy, we all recall, as noted by IAC in the comments section of this blog, that James Madison saw the country as a republic, a place where citizens would have a voice, but not the only voice. A system of checks and balances is not the same as government by referendum. Those who want to try out the latter should propose that we have a binding national referendum on certain social issues—you know what they are. 

Of course, Wolf does not once mention the name of Joe Biden. If he believes that Biden will return America to decency he has been smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes. Just like Hunter. If he believes in Joe Biden, he would have saids it. The prospect is too absurd even for someone who has taken up residence in the idealistic clouds. 


Sam L. said...

"Wolf then starts whining about Trump’s inability to resolve any big global challenge."
Four Nobel Peace Prize nominations for Trump must have escaped him.

"The prospect is too absurd even for someone who has taken up residence in the idealistic clouds." That boy's HIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH on something.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The United States of America is NOT a democracy. Enough of this rubbish!