The Distraction of War


Colossal statue of Mars (Pyrrhus). Marble, Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Charles M. Blow, in a New York Times column, expresses a worry that must have crossed millions of minds many a time.  It certainly troubles me.

Mr. Blow begins his column, “Donald Trump:  Man of War,” by quoting a tweet from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying Donald Trump “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea.  This is the most perilous moment in modern American history–and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”

In agreeing with Haass’ assessment of our present peril, Blow makes explicit the dynamic at work.  Trump is getting desperate, which makes him dangerous.  He will harness the power of the presidency to save himself, which is why he is heading toward actual war.

Would Mr. Trump take the country to war to save his presidency?  This would not be the first time that starting a war has raised a president’s approval ratings. 

Columnist Dahleen Glanton made the point over a year ago in the Chicago Tribune, very early in Mr. Trump’s troubled administration.  “Wars,” she wrote, “have a way of pulling the country together.”  The approval ratings of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush “skyrocketed” when they started wars in Iraq.  And now?  “The only thing that could get Trump out of this slump is a war.  I’m not saying that’s what the president wants, but I fear it could be where we’re headed.”

We must remember that war is a low threshold to cross in contemporary America.  It isn’t really a matter of starting one.  We already are accustomed to forever war.  It is more simply a question of refreshing a stale war by relocating and/or escalating it.  Sometimes that can be accomplished in small increments, such as disclosing a battle between US forces and Russian mercenaries in Syria.  Other times it calls for opening a new theater of war, perhaps in North Korea or Iran.

The US military budget keeps growing, just in case.

In Donald Trump we confront a deep anxiety:  Do we worship the war god as the savior of our material soul?  Is our president more representative of the country than we wish to acknowledge?  Does he have his finger on the pulse of a nation increasingly desperate to save its privilege?  Does Mr. Trump personify our dark impulses?

Worshipping the god of war, as blogger Tim Gore rudely points out, is a way of preserving the nation from its enemies and protecting the prosperity of empire.  The two motives are entangled.  We worship this god in the guise of patriotism and on patriotic holidays.

Perhaps worshipping this martial deity is something we disguise rather than acknowledge because we are ashamed enough to accuse others of our sins.  For this reason, the likes of Tim Gore must be ignored and relegated to the far margins of collective consciousness.

Maybe this is one reason much of the country loves to hate Donald Trump and much of the rest of the country simply loves him.


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