I am among the apparent majority of American voters opposed to Donald Trump’s election and re-election. The majority wasn’t big enough in 2016 and may be too small in 2020 to overcome the negative effects of indirect election, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and foreign interference. As a citizen of a decidedly red state, I register my vote in full knowledge that it will not count in the final tally, since the presidential candidate with the most popular votes in Indiana, even if just a plurality, receives all eleven of the state’s electoral votes. Winner-takes-all rather than proportional allocation is the case in 48 of the 50 states, red or blue, big or small. It allows a candidate who loses the popular vote to win the office. If the electoral college was supposed to prevent the selection of a manifestly unqualified candidate, recent experience suggests that choosing the winner directly by popular vote might serve the country as well or even better. (more…)
Historian Alfred McCoy has quickened my interest in the discourse of geopolitics applied to the waning state of US empire. His book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), makes a clear case that the end of global dominance is near. The question is what kinds of disruption and what degree of violence the imperial fall will occasion. What might a post-imperial era mean for Americans and others caught up in the transition? From the perspective of geopolitics, McCoy sees a number of mostly disturbing possibilities. His observations are valuable for indicating the challenges ahead. (more…)
Donald Trump’s fizzled summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is yet another occasion for commentary on this president’s unfitness for office, particularly in matters of foreign affairs. The failure in Hanoi was Trump’s greatest blunder so far, according to Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian. It was another “Trump vanity project.” His “self-reverential style of personalized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants diplomacy” is irresponsible in nuclear talks, per se, and ineffectual more generally.
Tisdall’s summary of Trump’s failed leadership is stunning: (more…)
The myth of American innocence and virtue forecloses any question about US imperialism or, at least, makes it hard to imagine that we are perpetrating harm on others for our own purposes and to our own advantage. We may be flawed, but the responsibility has fallen to us to fend off the barbarians and advance the cause of civilization. So the myth insists.
At a relatively abstract level, empire may not seem an obviously appropriate label for US engagement in world affairs. The idea of dominating extensive territories and peoples is unpalatable to most Americans and inconsistent with the nation’s self-image, as I’ve discussed in a previous post. So the myth persists.
Seen in more concrete terms, US imperialism is harder to ignore, to explain away, but also harder to confront. One response when confronted with the record of US imperialism and militarism is reflection-acknowledgement-correction. Another option is denial-repression-projection. So the myth resists. (more…)
Consider for a moment that the way we communicate is an expression of who we are or are becoming. Do we communicate as a democratic people, as citizens of a republic, and/or as subjects of an empire—perhaps increasingly less as democratic citizens and more as imperial subjects, marking the impending loss of the soul of the republic?
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Imperial Presidency chronicled the systematic growth of presidential power since the founding of the republic, a trend that has increased since the book’s publication in 1973. Jeffrey Tulis and his colleagues followed suit in 1981 and 1987 with a discussion of the rise of the rhetorical presidency and its deleterious effects on republican government. Demagoguery and government by mood, in Tulis’s view, mark rhetoric as a degraded form of political communication that undermines the interests of the public and destabilizes the political system. Of course, not all rhetoric is demagogic, but rule by presidential mass persuasion that bypasses the deliberative function of the Congress, by this estimation, erodes the constitution of the republic. While I have criticized the elitism of the rhetorical presidency thesis in general terms, the present degraded state of presidential rhetoric clearly is deleterious to the prospects of representative democracy and the future of the republic.
War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism. The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals. Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.
The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile. The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization. The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror. The face of war is too ugly to unmask. Better to suppress it. Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection. (more…)
Tirelessly, Tom Englehardt works to raise our consciousness and tweak our conscience as citizens of an imperial war state. At TomDispatch.com, he offers a regular antidotal drip of posts by thoughtful and insightful critics of militarism. His newest book, A Nation Unmade by War, was released on May 22, warning that an empire made by war is also unmade by it.
A mere gesture to Englehardt’s observation is enough to underscore the country’s ominous trajectory.
We Americans do not like to think of ourselves as an empire. Nevertheless, Englehardt observes, America’s empire of chaos exists in a “cloud of hubris.” Hubris, you say? Yes, hubris—that condition of extreme pride and self-confidence, of outsized ambition that offends the gods, of overreach that leads to downfall. (more…)
Now, this is the way we give them the water cure…. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.
Letter by a U.S. soldier in the Philippines during the Filipino insurgency, 1899-1902.
Abject hypocrisy will bring about the collapse of the US Empire and the end of American democracy. Our tragic flaw was in resplendent, sartorial display last week: hypocrites accused each other of hypocrisy; crocodile tears were in abundance; psychological projections were the order of the day; pious, self-serving justifications were rampant; and all throughout the garish spectacle we could do no less than agree with Mark Twain and feel ashamed of the human race. (more…)
Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, as it relates to the military and war, specifies that:
The Congress shall have power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States (Clause 1);
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water (Clause 11);
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years (Clause 12);
To provide and maintain a Navy (Clause 13);
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces (Clause 14);
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions (Clause 15);
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States . . . (Clause 16).
In short, the elected representatives of the people in Congress are constitutionally empowered on military matters and warfare, including the declaration of war. (more…)
Doug Ollivant, Senior National Security Studies Fellow, New America Foundation
Mr. Trump’s hedge in his August 21, 2017 speech on Afghanistan was to sustain an interminable war, choosing neither to quit the war nor win it in the foreseeable future. He did say, “in the end, we will win,” but he offered no timetable. His definition of victory was rendered in the verb form of the gerund—“attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge”—which expresses a continuous, uncompleted action. His generals advised him there were no feasible options other than holding the line by sending a few thousand more troops to sustain the stalemated war until the Taliban eventually decide they have more to gain from negotiation than armed struggle. Even that, Mr. Trump allowed, might not happen: “Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows when or if that will ever happen.” Mr. Trump’s new strategy is not “time based.” It is timeless.
In short, there is no foreseeable military solution; the war cannot be won in any meaningful sense of the word; the immediate choice is between losing and not losing. So, Mr. Trump opts to sustain the stalemate, or as one anonymous US military official puts it, “to chart a way forward well into the 2020s.” A way forward does not mean a path to victory. It means more of the same.